Holding Pattern

Hello world.  I am back with you.  I haven’t written in a while because… quite frankly I haven’t known what to say.  I’ve had to leave Greece due to my Schengen visa expiring, and I’m not happy about it.  I’m trying to sort through all the feelings and thoughts I’ve been having, but it’s a long process.  I suspect I may make a very difficult post soon about all the things you think about when you work with refugees, but today is not that day.

Here are the bare bones of my last few weeks.

The EU and Turkey passed a deal that they would deport refugees back to Turkey, which was designated a safe third country.  A few days later the US State Department issued a travel warning for Turkey and recalled military families from several provinces, highlighting how this designation is complete and utter bullshit.  Nevertheless, the deal went down and Moria became a detention center.  This is a fancy term for prison.

Better Days for Moria went into collective shock.  All our refugees were gone, and we had to figure out what to do.  We decided on a rest-and-wait strategy, and suspended services for a week and a half while we cleaned, rested, and stuck around to see what would happen.  We also had a wedding, which was a much-needed bright spot in an otherwise bleak week.

I tried and failed to extend my Schengen visa, in a process that included a police officer who was uninterested in doing his job, three attempts to go to Athens, thwarted each time by things beyond my control, and an ATM eating my card.  At this point I decided the universe didn’t want me to stay, so I stuck around for a few more days attending meetings, went to the wedding, and packed up to go to Thessaloniki.  From there a friend picked me up and took me to Idomeni.

Two months ago Anna left for Idomeni, and she’s been working there ever since, coordinating the medical team.  As the weeks progressed, lots of Moria volunteers traveled up to the camp there as well, until there were several great projects being run almost entirely by teams from BDFM.  One of my Night Shifts was there, splitting their time between making hummus wraps and making hot meals.  I stayed for three nights with Camilla, Rémy, and Adam, three fantastic human beings who have been volunteering for months.  It was wonderful to see everyone again, and underlined the community that grows around this kind of work.

On the day I arrived Anna told me she was going to Bulgaria.  “Can I come?” I asked.  She said okay, and just like that we had plans to take a bus to Bulgaria.  Having made that decision I felt the entire framework of my well-functioning emotional state tremble.  I didn’t want to leave, but at the same time I could feel the bone-deep exhaustion that three months of work and stress will give you.  I made hummus wraps for two days and took it easy, doing food distribution in the hot sun and playing with kids while managing the line.

In the end it was easy to leave.  I just walked out the door with all my things, got on a bus


Bus station in Thessaloniki

with Anna and Sim, got on another bus with just Anna after saying goodbye to Sim, and headed to Bulgaria.  I had no knowledge of the country, not a single word of Bulgarian, and no expectations.  I did have a sense of fitting circularity – I arrived on Lesvos with Anna three months ago by ferry, now we were leaving together by bus.

We arrived in Sofia in the midst of a massive thunderstorm.  The lightning was almost directly overhead, forking down at irregular intervals all the way to the ground.  The rain fell in a steady, plodding way, with big drops that soaked us through quickly, even though we had booked a hostel close to the bus station just to avoid this sort of thing.  We did make it to the hostel though, and managed to negotiate our way through paying even though neither of our hosts spoke a word of English.

It’s been two days now and we’re settling in.  We’ve switched hostels to a nicer and more central one, and we’re learning the city a bit.  I’ve tried one of the local specialties – a cold soup that’s basically thin tzatziki.  It’s delicious, I could eat it all day.  We’ve found the book market and two open-air fruit and vegetable markets.  I’ve visited a cathedral and we saw a mime on a bike.  I met a street musician auditioning for Bulgaria’s Got Talent (I hope he gets in, he’s a fantastic musician and he’s already made it to the semifinals) and Anna got a haircut from some ladies who never smiled and didn’t speak any English.  It looks very nice.  We’ve also bought henna, so we will both shortly become redheads again.

I’v also booked a flight to Thailand to get there in time to join my friend Elise for Songkran.  I’ll leave on the 12th.  Now I have to remember how to be a tourist, which is a more difficult task than it at first appears.  Wish me luck world, and I promise I will get better with posting again.  Ciao!



One thought on “Holding Pattern

  1. Hi Sonia,
    I’ve been reading your blog from time to time, what an experience! I salute you for your work there. Reading about your being in Bulgaria reminded me of my time there, especially your experience with the ladies at the salon who never smiled. In March 1986, at the end of my 5-month college overseas trip to Hungary, I traveled to Sofia to check it out, before continuing on to sunnier Greece. I felt like a pretty seasoned East Bloc traveler by then having successfully spent time in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania and the Soviet Union, and being nearly fluent in French, Hungarian, and general non-verbal communication. I arrived, went to the tourist office and obtained a comfortable enough home stay with an elderly, if somewhat standoffish couple that spoke a little French. They did want to know if I, being American, had something called “SIDA”. “SIDA, WTF is SIDA?”, I thought. It took me a minute but somehow I figured out that SIDA was the French acronym for AIDS. “No, no SIDA”, I said, to their evident relief. Feeling less than welcome I went out and looked for something to eat. Stores at that time had very limited stock, and it still being winter there was no fresh produce available. I tried to eat in a restaurant but the waiters would come by, realize I couldn’t speak Bulgarian or Russian, and then ignore me. Between the Cyrillic alphabet and the Bulgarian language, I couldn’t identify any items on the menu, and the waiters weren’t even cooperative enough for me to order by randomly pointing at things on the menu. None of the other diners would offer to help or respond to my conversational attempts in my various languages. I finally left in frustration. This was repeated in the next restaurant I tried. Finally, I found a pizza place with slices on the counter, and I could just point to what I wanted. After 2 days of pizza for lunch and dinner (on top of a produce-deprived winter in Hungary), I’d had enough of Sofia and took the next train for Greece. Food and English-speakers heaven!
    Cousin Joel


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