Another Door Opens

Hello again!

As usual, it's been a while since my last update. I've been waiting for the right moment to talk about some exciting news but who knows when that right moment will ever be.

I am writing from inside the gates of Moria. Pictures are forbidden so I implore your imagination to design a small town made of aid-tents and container-sized buildings with metal bars clinging to every window. The hedges in this town have been replaced by three meter tall barbed fences. A spotlight, a loudspeaker and a security camera are fixed on the corner-post of a small basketball court surrounded by razor-wire and sweltering unused in 40-degree heat. Camping tents line the sun-stroked entrance to a mound of utter desolation where the camp's inhabitants have now been waiting nearly 5 months for a chance to plead their cases before tribunals which have been recently re-staffed according to a new Greek law which all but precludes the possibility of acceptance.

I am here to present a project to a group of community leaders from each nationality in the camp who meet every week to discuss collaborative approaches to camp problems. I tell them about Mosaik support centre in 20-second intervals followed by slightly longer pauses where the room fills with murmurs as my speech is translated into a dozen languages. Mosaik stands as an affront to the retrograde hostility which has been meted out so ruthlessly over the course of my 5-month stint on the island. It is the collaborative  brainchild of a handful of volunteers who embody the welcoming spirit this island represented before the mass detentions made it incredibly difficult to deliver this type of blind hospitality in good conscience. We serve migrants and locals alike in the centre of Mytilini, offering language training, legal support, art workshops, and music lessons in a beautifully restored manor whose 25 square meter stone mosaic sits under the shade of orange trees flanked by cafe tables and flowers. In the first 2 1/2 weeks of operation over 250 people signed up for courses which offer respite from the banality of camp life and an opportunity to take part in activities tailored to integration in Greek society.

The Rose and the Rat

Today at 8 o'clock the "Big Fish" left for Athens like it does every day. Cars and passengers and trucks got on the ferry like they do every day. Some of the passengers used fake IDs that they bought for a lot of money like they do every day. Like every other day, some were arrested or denied access to the boat, and some of them got the ride to the mainland that they had been dreaming of. And like every other day, one of the trucks which had been sitting in the port all day waiting for the boat to arrive had been broken into and had some people in the back of it who couldn't afford a smuggler and took matters into their own hands. Today there were three of them. They knew it was a refrigerator truck but thought that 12 hours in the back of a meat truck was a fair price to pay for a chance to sneak further into Europe. The friend who closed the door behind them and stayed on the island had left it unlocked so that once the boat started moving they could make their way up to the passenger deck. They had no idea that the driver would lock the open door when he did is routine check before boarding the ferry. They had no idea that there wouldn't be enough air in that cold space to last the length of the journey, or even the first 2 hours for that matter. Right now they are very luckily still alive because my friend is a rose and I am his rat.

Where Have All The Migrants Gone?

I have a friend who walked 2 hours every day from Moria to get to Mytilini where he sat in a quiet corner of a cafe, nursed a coke or a coffee, and spent all day chatting with his family in Gambia. He couldn’t stand being in Moria and so these daily trips were his escape. He hated life on the island but was willing to wait out his asylum process rather than risk his chance for protection status by acquiring fake papers to make the trip to the mainland and beyond. Because he was given his ‘freedom papers’ which restrict his liberty of movement to the island of Lesvos, he resigned himself to spending his time like this. On Monday evening on the way home the police stopped him and asked him for his papers and he obliged. They looked them over, gave them back, and arrested him on the spot without cause.

Yesterday afternoon a former Lesvos volunteer who is now working in Athens contacted me to ask if I had seen or heard from him in the past days. I had not. When the police arrested him they also confiscated his phone so he would have no contact with friends, family, or anyone else who might be concerned about his disappearance.  I went to the police station and told them I was concerned about a missing person and gave his name. “Oh, you’re looking for one of the prisoners?” the guard replied. Yes, he might be one of the prisoners. They looked up his name on a long list, four pages in landscape, 12-point font, about 150 names. His was one of them. The young police guard saw no harm in having me talk to him for 5-minutes, so he opened the window of an iron cell door and shouted his name. I heard it echo down a corridor as more people shouted it out until he was found. I have no idea how big the space is where these arbitrary detainees are being held but in my imagination there were between 100 and 150 people in 7 or 8 small holding cells. With all the time I’ve spent bouncing my voice off the walls of various rooms as a singer, I can say with certainty that the voices didn’t travel far, not more than 15 or 20 meters and the natural reverberations of the hard concrete room were absorbed by bodies.

The Big Fish

Today I got a message from a friend that shocked me: 

"moi j suis a paris"
(i m in paris)

No exclamation point, no punctuation.

He succeeded in doing what everyone on this island dreams of doing by pursuing what seemed like the only option available to him: flight. I met him less than 2 months ago at the fence in Moria. As I read his message today a vivid image of our first meeting flashed through my memory. He pulls me to the side and shows me pictures of his wife and his daughter in a safe-house half a world away. He tells me his daughter asks him every day when she'll see him again and with hurt in his eyes he tells me he can't imagine when or how he will ever get there. When I met up with him in Athens two weeks ago, all that pain was gone and it was clear that he wasn't sticking around there either. He was very purposefully putting together the pieces of a 3000 euro puzzle to procure a temporary identity, fly to France and start over again. He is not the only one looking of an alternative to the legal route off the island.

Every day at the port, a group of would-be escapees stalks the ferry terminal from a distance. They sit on the pediment of a 15m replica of the statue of liberty cast in bronze after the 1922 population swap that brought the last wave of refugees to this island. From here, they study what people in Moria call The Big Fish and plot their escape. Some make their way there early in the morning to break into containers before they get loaded onto the ship bound for Athens. Some sneak around the rocky breakwall waiting for the right moment to dash into the belly of the beast and hide among the cars and passengers. Others pay 300 euros for a recycled travel document so they can buy a proper ticket and hope the police don't call their bluff. It takes a bit of cunning to pull it off.

Palios Love Song

I started writing this song the night before the pope came to town and finally got a chance to record it. I'll keep it up here for a couple weeks but I've also added it as a bonus track on the XENOPHILIA! EP which is still only available to people who support my crowdfunding campaign. I've been kind of regrouping - the CK team disintegrated as the boats stopped arriving and I've been offline, on the road, and generally figuring out what to do next. Right now I'm opening a support centre in Mytilene with a group of friends and I think it's going to be really great. We have a big mansion in the centre of town and are now organizing language courses, lawyers, psychologists, art & movement workshops, and transportation to and from Moria. Now that I'm settled again, I can start doing regular updates about what's going on on Lesvos. In the meantime enjoy this song before the paint dries... I just recorded it today!

Freedom Party Unveiled

It's been 2 weeks since the riots in Moria and as usual everything has changed completely since my last update.

The First Reception Service inside Moria has started handing out papers to people who have been there for 25 days that allow them to move freely on the island of Lesvos. It sounds like great news! I was waiting for two hours at the front gate of Moria to meet with the chief of police the day that they started handing the papers out (he never came). It was really uplifting to watch people approach the open door with their papers in hand, look around suspiciously, take the first step outside Moria and then breathe a huge sigh of relief, or shout cries of joy, or wave their arms around and SMILE. I felt really really lucky to watch that happen. I had heard that these papers were going to start getting distributed soon and had been telling a lot of people about them because I think it gave them something to look forward to. The next day my pals called in the morning saying they were getting their papers at that very moment and that I needed to get there NOW. I spent all of my money on snacks and beer and we went to the beach and did this:
It was awesome.

Blood Moon Escape

Here is the next chapter of my story and I'll start it by saying that I now regret not having written it all down immediately because the situation seems to change with every passing moment!

Last night when I got to the beach I was anxiously scanning the sky for a shooting star in order to make a very calculated wish. I arrived late, having rushed down to Moria in the evening when the news finally reached me: "the refugees have taken over Moria!" The daily fights which break out in the 400 meter-long food line were exceptionally bloody and riots had started later in the day when police allegedly beat children as they were trying to break out of their safe play-zone. The police fled the camp to regroup and one registration office was burnt to the ground as all out war broke out between rival groups. Nationalism is rife even in this grey zone where everyone waits to know if they are inside or outside of Europe's legal prerogative. By the time I arrived, the access roads were blocked by riot police and my presence felt awkward at this morbid hidden spectacle. Four of us drove 45 minutes home in silence, confused and sad on our way to take up our posts on the night watch.

On an abandoned beach amid suffocating darkness my phone started ringing with a call from a friend on the inside. Her distressed voice told me that a group of men holding rocks and other crude weapons were outside their tent threatening to kill everyone inside and burn the tent to the ground because they hadn't joined the fight against the police, who were now nowhere to be seen. They had all of their possessions in hand and were frozen in fear until the rocks started flying. Then there was a lot of screaming on the other end of the phone and it went dead.

Freedom Party?

It has been a very busy week since my last update which left me at a cliff-hanger ending, waging a legal battle with papers and pens and basic information about the asylum procedure and charging through the front gates of Moria. Spoiler alert: I still haven't made it into Moria! I tried for a few days, arriving at the front gate relatively proper, sporting a collared shirt and a list of names & contact details of my Morian friends ('clients') that I kept in an old brief case found in the CK team warehouse. I told the guards I was there to provide counseling services to people who had requested them, as is their right under the Asylums Procedures Directive. I brought that directive with me in case there was any confusion. They told me to come back later, to talk to a chief of police who wasn't there, to arrange a meeting with Anthi Karangeli of the interior ministry (the so-called dragon lady who runs Moria) without any information about how to get in touch with her other than come back and talk to the next guard after the shift change. In many ways they told me to go away over and over again.

I went back to the gate with actual lawyers and even one supreme court lawyer from Lesbos and found that the situation at the gate was identical even for non-undercover-musicians. It's crazy. At the legal coordination meeting for advocacy groups working on the island, we heard similar stories, but most frightening was another fact which came to light in our discussion. There is no protocol, no set of procedures which the Greek Asylum Service is following and applying uniformly to everyone in the camp. Even if we could get into the camp to give advice, we don't know what we're preparing people for and the evidence we've seen so far in the form of rejection letters issued on the basis of inadmissability suggests some form of blanket expulsion that does not examine the merits of the cases in question. And so we wait. The pope came and went, everybody was fed for a couple days and the place got cleaned up a bit but now it's degrading back to its previous state of hunger, violence and disorder.

Undercover Hippy Legal Services (Lesbos Update #3)

It has now been 9 days since we had a boat landing on the north coast and I am busier than ever! Since we haven't been receiving boats, I've been reading a lot about EU asylum procedures, qualifications, and returns in my tent at night and I've been making more trips to Moria with my guitar in the daytime. Some really magical things are coming together.

Last week I met an incredible group of people who fled political violence in their home country. This was on the one day when I left in a hurry without my guitar and one of these new friends told me I needed to come back and bring it with me because everyone where they come from is a singer. We spent most of the next day singing in the shade of an olive tree that straddles the fence line of the detention camp and shared a beautiful musical moment that brought us closer together. In between songs they told me bits and pieces of stories that reflected the very reasons why the international community felt compelled to protect human dignity with legal instruments like the Geneva Convention or the European Convention on Human Rights. And in spite of horrible experiences like kidnapping, torture,  murder, and now this seemingly indefinite detention that none of us understood, we were smiling, laughing, singing, dancing, clapping, tapping and whistling out all the parts we couldn't remember in an olive grove on a Greek island thousands of miles away from home.

Update from Lesbos: My first night off!

Tonight is my first night off since I got to Lesbos so I'm taking advantage of it to give you another update. I've only been here for one week and already we've been nominated for a nobel peace prize and the pope is coming to visit! There is a NATO warship rumbling through the 10km wide channel between this Greek fishing village and the Turkish coast where I can see the lights flickering into the night. I can only imagine how tempting the view must be from the other side. I've spent the last 7 nights watching these lights from various campsites along the rugged northeast coast of the island waiting for boats to land. So far I haven't met any personally but every day is still very exciting here!

Medicins Sans Frontieres gives us 4x4s to drive down winding dirt roads that remind me a lot of the back country in BC. These roads lead to isolated places that were seeing 4 or 5 laindings each night when the traffic peaked. We are there to meet the boats, give first aid and coordinate transportation to an abandoned cheese factory that serves as a makeshift welcome center. There is a bit of a cat and mouse game going on with the local authorities but that's OK. In spite of everything we've heard about increased border security, nobody else is waiting along the coast at night and this brief moment we have to give them tea, dry clothes, medical attention and a crash course on EU asylum procedures is critical.

On my way to Lesbos!!!!

I'm on the night boat to Lesbos and should get there in about 7 hours. Two days ago when I got to Ancona I had no clue which boat to get on... Either the one for Igoumenitsa to get on a bus to Thessaloniki and then head up to Idomeni where there are 15000 refugees camped out next to the Macedonian border, or the boat to Patras to take the train to Athens and then another boat to Lesbos. It's a tough call because the situation is not as crystal clear as it seemed to me a month ago when I decided to come to Greece. When I decided to come, Lesbos was swarming with volunteers and international aid organizations that, to me at least, represented the open arms of human decency, bearing the fruit of compassion and welcoming war-torn families into a better world. Nobody asked these volunteer organizations to be there but they still came in great numbers to help refugees get off boats, feed them, warm them up, give them clean/dry clothes and help them find their way into a legal framework that was ready to accept them. That situation got turned on its head last week!
'Europe' doesnt really know how to accept all these refugees. It has a little bit to do with racism, a little bit to do with security, a little bit to do with concerns about integration, and a little bit to do with all the myths that drive a european dialog which is always about who is being unfairly asked to do more. The long and the short of it is that there is no coherent plan on what to do with an extra million or 3 million or 6 million people. The land route beyond Greece is closed and the feeling I got from talking to Greek people so far is that the country is in such a sorry state that they can't possibly help all these people even though they would love to. They feel ill-equipped to serve as Europe's waiting room.

Cougars in the Aegean

I've launched a crowd-funding campaign so I can go to Lesbos and help the volunteers there!!! Click HERE to check it out! Everyone who donates to the crowd-funding campaign gets a new EP called XENOPHILIA.

The Might-Have-Been-Imaginary Back-On-Tour TOUR Part !

A few months ago I decided I was ready to get back on the road and set out to do so with great intention. Madda and I loaded up the Aquarius and took off to the Kootenay mountains to start the 'tour' even though there were no concerts planned and I wasn't sure if Erik actually had a ticket to Canada. I have a really hard time planning for the road unless I'm already there so this was a perfectly logical albeit insane course of action. Days and weeks and months have gone flying by and now, sat atop the Parvis de St. Gilles with just 2 days left before the 'last gig', I can scarcely believe what just happened. I got to play 60 concerts across 2 continents and come back to my favorite place in the whole world to hunker down, record, and get ready for the next part of the adventure (Part !!). Erik was there (here!) for over half of it and this Friday we will bookend Part ! feeling very much physically, musically, and generally whole as a musical duo.

Nothing further to say other than THANK YOU that was awesome.

2015-2016 Back-On-Tour Tour PART !
Friday, September 11 - The Royal on Baker - Nelson, BC
Saturday, September 12 - Kaslo Hotel - Kaslo BC
Sunday, September 20 - The Wrong Turn Tavern - Keremeos, BC
Thursday, September 24 - Skinny Fat Jack's - Vancouver BC
Friday, October 2 - Rolla Pub (Acoustic Northern Lights Set THANKS PATTY!) - Rolla, BC
Saturday, October 3 - Rolla Pub - Rolla, BC
Monday, October 5 - Nancy O's - Prince George, BC
Tuesday, October 6 - Wells Hotel - Wells, BC
Wednesday, October 7 - Dandelion Cafe - Forest Grove, BC
Friday, October 9 - 557 Artist Block - Penticton, BC
Saturday, October 10 - The Wrong Turn Tavern - Keremeos, BC
Wednesday, October 14 - Café Deux Soleils - Vancouver, BC
Thursday, October 15 - Logan's Pub - Victoria, BC
Friday, October 16 - The Vault - Nanaimo, BC
Saturday, October 17 - Char's Landing - Port Alberni, BC
Tuesday, October 20 - Jamie's Rainforest Cafe - Tofino, BC
Friday, October 23 - Royal Canadian Legion#66 - Lillooet, BC
Wednesday, October 28 - The Wrong Turn Tavern - Keremeos, BC
Thursday, October 29 - The Elite - Penticton, BC
Saturday, October 31 - Ellison's Market - Nelson, BC
Saturday, October 31 - Newkey's Place - Crawford Bay, BC
Wednesday, November 4 - Infinitea - Fernie, BC
Thursday, November 5 - The Green Door, KIMBERLEY, BC
Friday, November 6 - Elk and Oarsman - Banff, AB
Saturday, November 7 - Good Earth - Canmore, AB
Monday, November 9 - DV8 - Edmonton, AB
Tuesday, November 10 - The Ironwood - Calgary, AB
Wednesday, November 11 - Vangellis - Saskatoon, SK
Thursday, November 12 - McNally's Tavern - Regina, SK
Friday, November 13 - The Jam Space - Lemberg, SK
Saturday, November 14 - The Double Decker - Brandon, MB
Sunday, November 15 - TBA Studios - Winnipeg, MB
Wednesday, November 18 - From The Grind Up - Fort Frances, ON
Thursday, November 19 - The Apollo - Thunder Bay, ON
Friday, November 20 - Serendipity Gardens - Rossport, ON
Saturday, November 21 - Loplops - Sault Ste Marie, ON
Thursday, November 26 - Speakeasy - Sudbury, ON
Friday, November 27 - Griffin Pub - Bracebridge, ON
Saturday, November 28 - The Garnet - Peterborough
Tuesday, December 1 - Call The Office - London, ON
Wednesday, December 2 - Phog Lounge - Windsor, ON
Thursday, December 3 - Faux Pop Station - Goderich, ON
Friday, December 11 - Le Grand Balle Salé - Brussels - BE
Sunday, December 13 - Lava Café - Brussels - BE
Tuesday, December 15 - Le Pop-IN - Paris - FR
Thursday, December 17 - Da Emilia - Torino - Italy
Sunday, December 20 - Botz - Torino - Italy
Wednesday, December 23 - Twiggy - Varese - Italy
Saturday, December 26 - Arci Canara - Verona - Italy
Thursday, December 31 - Da Livia! - Borgo Stremiz - Italy
Sunday, January 3 - Da Vicenzo - Modena - Italy
Monday, January 4 - House Concert - Bologna - Italy
Tuesday, January 5 - The Battle of Castello Don Pears - Verona - Italy
Wednesday, January 13 - 7(7) - Metz - FR
Thursday, January 14 - House Concert - Karlsruhe - DE
Saturday, January 16 - House Concert - Viersen - DE
Sunday, January 17 - Ehrenfeld - Koln - DE
Friday, January 22 - New Year's Drink - Gent - BE
Saturday, January 23 - House Concert - Berlin - DE
Friday, January 29 - Gourmand - Brussels - BE