My Refugee Journey – 4th March 2016

Mike handing out biscuits to the refugee children of Kara Tepe Refugee Camp
Mike handing out biscuits to the refugee children of Kara Tepe Refugee Camp

My Refugee Journey – 4th March 2016

A great day today, every day is great, so rewarding, from just little things through out each day, like making tea to giving the tea out to the refugees to kicking the football about with the kids.  But today Fred who is the boss of HSA with his wife was back from Athens today and when he’s back on the island I prefer things more, I’ve gained quite a bit of respect from a number of NGO (Non-Government Organisations) leaders, and other senior members of organisations on the island such as UNHCR, which I’m still not sure why, I’m no one special, I’ve come here like everyone else to help in a crisis that has been left to get out of control.

I’m told I’m different to most of the volunteers, I know this is true, my political views and how I feel the crisis should be managed and how it should have been managed from the start are totally the opposite to all volunteers I’ve spoken to here and when I was in the Calais Jungle.  But still I’m not sure what I’ve done to stand out and have such respect that I’m getting here.  My boss Fred and David have told me I’ve been talked about by various NGO leaders and influential people and all this has very much tonight humbled me and I feel honoured I’m being talked about in such a good manner. Tonight bumping into Andrew from UNHCR who is always commenting good things about me to me, tonight especially I felt embarrassed at the same time.  I’m just me, another volunteer who feels the crisis has lead to the most inhumane atrocity in generations and I just wish I could do more.

So today my shift as usual started at 4pm at the Kara Tepe Refugee Camp, and again I walked on over to the tea station to serve tea for the next 8hrs…  You can’t imagine how much pleasure you can get from seeing the faces of everyone as you are serving a simple cup of tea, I really love it.

Mike Volunteering at Kara Tepe Refugee Camp - Lesvos
Mike Volunteering at Kara Tepe Refugee Camp – Lesvos

As I got to the tea area, I could see there was a few things that could be improved to make things more organised, when I got there I saw that one of the new guys was working the tea point, I’ve guess I’ve structured the tea point in a rather military way of doing things…  Remember we love cues in the UK.  So once I was at the tea point I went about helping the new lad by getting all the refugees into a cue,  And getting the new lad to pour the tea whilst I started controlling the refugees and teaching the new lad a few words in Arabic to control the tea point when he’s on his own (which is very rare for one person to run the tea point on their own)…  One thing I decided to raise was that Syrian refugees and anyone for that matter who was not HSA, were not to be at the tea point helping, having run a business for a few years and having to write out risk assessments and health and safety documents I put this to the HSA management who agreed, so from then on just HSA volunteers are to serve the tea, this also helps keep things organised.  So first thing first, make the refugees form up into an orderly cue, arms out like an airhostess pointing down the middle of the plane whilst I say in a clear but friendly manner “Staff” now this is how I here the word and then type it, “Staff” Arabic for Cue…  Not spelt this way of course even when translated into English, but whilst I’ve been here Ive been trying to learn a little Arabic which has amused many of the refugees who have tried to teach me.  So I’ve been writing the word how it sounds to me, making up words as I go along.

“Sta” Hour…  “Nu Sta” Half an Hour…  “Chi” Tea and so on…

So once I had sorted the cue, my next issue was the refugee lad helping with the tea, I had to politely thank him for his help and ask him to leave.  I had my Health & Safety hat on and Risk Assessment Hat on at the same time, also thinking of the PR implications for HSA…  I’m questioning, what if this refugee lad burns himself from serving the tea? Could become a PR nightmare and even worse the lad would have permanent burns on his arm.  Risk assessment, I’m guessing at this point there is no risk assessment done for refugees helping volunteers with certain jobs around camp such as tea making and serving…  Also we are here for the refugees, they have fled war and the horrors that they have seen with that, and the least we can do is serve them a hot cup of tea and give them some warm dry clothing.  As Stavros who is in charge of the camp would say, they are our guests and guests should be looked after and not have to serve others.

So once I stepped in and became the Grinch again letting the young lad go I slowly got the tea station back to the military operation I like it being run like and now with a new volunteer who I’ve nicknamed Marky Mark as I cant pronounce his real name, he arrived today from Japan, a great lad who I had a good laugh with today, though I’m not sure if he thought much of my singing and dancing…

Yes I sing and dance all day whilst serving tea at the great amusement to the kids who think Im funny for some reason.  I put my iphone music on and sing along to Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen and Foot Loose theme tune to Candyman by Christina Agliara…  I’ve also taught the kids the Big Fish Little Fish Cardboard Box dance.  Giving the kids and the adults even a great glimpse at our culture in the UK lol.

So the day goes on, 300 cups of tea served in just 20mins at one point in the mid-afternoon.  Clearing out the tea hut I come across a large box of those ponchos you get when you go to Alton Towers etc, why are they in the tea hut???  So I decide to give them out to the kids, and they love them, they start putting them on even in a 20degree C heat in the afternoon, so they love them and I get a nice tidy tea hut again!  Then it rains! And then it turns to a massive thunder storm with what becomes Monsoon style rain! And those ponchos become the must have item to wear by the refugees; I couldn’t have planned it better if I tried!

The day turns to night and the last two hours of the shift Fred the boss comes up to the camp to finish the night shift out with me, the banta rolls and I give a few suggestions that in my opinion should happen, particularly with the tea station and not letting refugees help serve tea.  And my opinions are not just welcomed but agreed on and so my opinions are now policy.  It was a great end to a great shift at Kara Tepe Camp.

So then it was my usual head down to Damas, our local haunt in town where we eat and drink.  I find a few volunteers from another group called Better Days of Moria who I’ve come to know well and its almost like, fancy seeing you here again…  Then my regular nightly twitter chat to Sarah from Serbia who I can’t wait to see next month when I get out to Serbia and then just as I’m about to leave Andrew from UNHCR walks in with his wife and I sit with them for a while chatting and where I get a little embarrassed at his words about me, words of respect which coming from Andrew who I have huge respect for what he does for UNHCR but also his wealth of knowledge about the refugee crisis and of the Middle East, I really could sit down and listen to him talk about the subject not just for hours but days.  A great guy, so when he says comments about me with such respect I really feel honoured he thinks that highly of me.

So a great day…  It’s now 3:30am sat on my bed typing today’s blog, so I finish with a smile and time for bed.

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