Good-bye to Chios, for now

For many years now, I’ve always said that home is where I sleep since I’ve been lacking anything close to permanent for a very long time. Even if I’m staying somewhere, a hotel or with friends, for a day or two, I will always refer to how I’m heading “back home” for the afternoon or I left something “at home.” I don’t feel like I have a home anywhere except where I sleep. There are places that are more comfortable than others, because of my familiarity with them and the friends present in those locales, but nothing that is a “home.”

I commented last week to a few friends, I think about the time that I was in Lesvos, that I was homesick for a home. While I’ve been okay with not having a place to return to for some time, a place of my own, it’s been getting more difficult to not have that.

What helped when I was in Lesvos feeling homesick for a home? Returning to Chios. I said to the hotel staff where I’ve been staying when I returned from Lesvos that it felt like returning home. And, in a small way, it has become a home to me.

It’s the first time in I can’t remember how long where I felt like a regular somewhere. The café I went to for a coffee every day, I know all the staff there. At the restaurant I ate at 3-4 times a week, I know all the waitstaff. And the cooks. And the owners. With one waitress all I have to do is tell her “my favorite” and she knows what that means for two courses and a drink. I’m not sure I’ve had that anywhere before.

Chios is small, so it’s easy to know (at least superficially) where most things are. I walked the half-hour through “downtown” to Tabakika and back every day, and on a few occasions, twice, so it became cozy. A few shop owners knew me by name, because I went several times to buy things with the GoFundMe contributions. And, daily, I would run into people I knew in the street. It is a small city so has that advantage over other larger cities I’ve stayed in for longer in the past years.

And there were the Greek NRC staff I worked with on a daily basis, many of whom were from Chios who welcomed me so much. It was a pleasure to work with them and I looked forward to seeing them every day (post on that another day).

Put all this together, with the intensity of the work itself, and it’s not a surprise that I was sad to leave today, like I’ve been for few places in recent memory. As far as homes go for me, it was as close as I’ve had in a while and I hope to return in the near future. It will be interesting how that feels, to come back as a tourist or a visiting friend rather than to volunteer, especially if the refugee crisis continues.

1,000+ refugees arrived in the last 24 hours. The 125 pairs of shoes I bought with GoFundMe contributions the day before yesterday were gone in a matter of hours. Yeah, I miss it already.

So, what is next for me? For the short-term, meaning the next 5 days, it’s very clear. After that, I have very little idea.

The next 5 days I will be in Athens, where I landed this afternoon. I have some friends here and I’ve never really spent any time in the city, so it’s time to be a tourist for a little bit. I also have quite a few friends here (Fletcher dinner of 6 tonight!), so it will be great to catch up with them. I do have several more blog entries I want to post about the volunteering experience (what I learned, working with NRC, etc.), so I will work on that as well. All that will keep me busy for my remaining time in Greece.

The question is what happens after these next days? And that I’m not sure about and this causes a little anxiety. I’ve mentioned before, but I’m thinking of changing my flight to stay longer in Athens and maybe work part-time as a volunteer in one of the camps here and part-time on getting other aspects of my life (i.e. job search) up and going again. I would do this for a few more weeks, but then would have to get back to the US for other responsibilities I need to take care of in early to mid February. But to where? For what longer-term purpose? How to earn money? Nothing consulting-wise has come up so this means some temp work of some sort.

There are some questions that need to be answered and I’m looking forward (well, only partially) to having some time and space to do that here in Athens. Volunteering was a little escape from my own reality (and into some other people’s very real reality), but it’s time to refocus again and enter the fray that is seeking out the next act that is my life. I would say “challenge” instead of “act”, but I already know what that is going to be: to not get down about the circumstances nor the job search. Most of you know me. I will be okay, but it doesn’t make it not hard.

The next few entries will be about finishing up my experience of volunteering on Chios. If I volunteer in Athens, I will definitely write about that, as no one in Chios knows what happens to refugees who end up in Athens. It will be another learning experience. I may try my hand at travel blogging about Athens. I’m not so sure about that, but I least I will add some photos at some point. “Travel” will be a part of this website in the future, but you will have to wait to see what I mean by that when I get around to revamping the site.

To finish out today’s post: Çesme, Turkey

I went to Çesme, Turkey yesterday for the day. There is a ferry that leaves almost daily from Chios and takes 45 minutes to cross the strait to Çesme. Yes, many, many people wonder why there can’t just be a ferry that brings the refugees across instead of them risking their lives in those unsuitable dinghies and fake life jackets. This would have prevented the now ~7,000 deaths of people who have died in the crossing (3 more children yesterday). My best guess is that would cause an even greater flood of people to come and that is not what the EU wants.

While normally, as a U.S. citizen, you have to get a visa in advance to go to Turkey (really easy to do online now!), you don’t have to get a visa when you just go for the day. You fill out a little slip of paper with your information on it, they stamp it when you arrive and then they take it back when you leave. From Chios, you can make it all the way to the city of Izmir and back in the day, which many people do (Greeks, mostly). I chose to stay in Çesme though.

If you check out my Facebook page, if you can, you will see a warning a few days ago that came from volunteers in Turkey to stay away from the beaches/coastal areas around Çesme. This was both for the safety of those they were warning as well as the refugees themselves. The Turkish mafia/smugglers are very protective of the areas where they launch the boats from to Greece and by poking around or trying to help the refugees in these areas, everyone is put in danger. So, I decided to stay in Çesme itself.

This is what Çesme looks like:

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Surprised? It’s a very wealthy community and summer escape for the well to do of Izmir. I believe some people think of how Turkey is mentioned in the refugee crisis and perceive of something very different. Granted, the refugees do not leave from Çesme proper, but the 20+ km of beaches up and down the coast from Çesme. There are refugees camps in the area (although rumor is that they were broken up a few days ago), but not in the city itself. To be honest, I didn’t see a single thing in Çesme that would hint that 20,000+ refugees are crossing from the area surrounding there to Chios every month. Not even a refugee. This makes me scared for the refugees and what is happening wherever they are hunkered before crossing the strait.

It was not an exciting place. It would be much better in summer time. I spent a lot of time drinking Turkish coffee and reading after seeing all the sites there were to see. The most exciting part of my day was getting questioned by a gregarious Turkish police officer. And the ferry ride back to Chios.

The ride to Çesme was uneventful, but returning made me see how crazy it is that they cross with the boats they do. The ferry I took was ~30 meters long and quite a sturdy vessel. We were tossed around like a rubber ducky. Pitching, heaving, getting air. There would be times when you could see nothing but sky out one window on one side and nothing but water on the other. The Turkish side of the strait was definitely more violent than the Greek. This gave me a better understanding of why the refugees choose to cross when they do and what they are encountering on the way. If you don’t know how to swim and you’re in one of those flimsy boats, over-packed with people, with a sometimes inexperienced boat driver… That has to be a terrifying crossing. Mind you, some crossed in that weather last night.

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Josh

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2 Comments

  • Thank you Josh Home is where the heart is, and you lost your heart in Chios. A propos earning your keep, have you considered offering your blog to main-stream media? I’m sure some English speaking papers/ magazines would consider it. We in UK have not received anything like these accounts. It might make a difference. But I wish you luck in whatever you choose to do. If you’re ever in UK look us up. Another place to lay your head. Sue

  • Hi Josh,

    Funny to read your story about Chios, an island I know quite well. My youngest sister Anna fell in love with the island over 20 years ago and decided to built her live on the island. From her I hear the stories of the refugees arriving daily.

    Niels

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