To be honest, I am not even sure how to write about this adventure. I know I have to share about it, as it was one of the most impactful things I have ever experienced, not just on this trip but also in life but where do I even begin…
I guess it starts with the fact that for a while I didn’t think I was actually going to make it up to Molyvos to see the life jacket graveyard. From the moment I heard it existed it was something that I knew I wanted to go see but at an hour drive from Moria/Panagiouda where I was staying and a bit off the beaten path it wasn’t super convenient and I was here with a mission to serve not as a tourist.
Here is the google map pin if you ever want to check it for yourself. Even the satellite view I screen shot gives some pretty crazy perspective on just how big the graveyard is.
As I was saying though, I didn’t think I was going to make it up there as I was nearing the end of my stay and hadn’t yet made the trek. I also had told Marianne from EuroRelief that I would work right till the end of my time on Lesvos so there was no foreseeing the opportunity to go. To my surprise though when I got the schedule for the next week I had been given Monday off even though I would leave Wednesday. My first thought was this is my opportunity to run up north to Molyvos to see the Graveyard and Sykaminea Camp After a brief conflict in my heart between going and spending an extra day in Moria (the thought of leaving was already grieving me) I decided that this was a door God had opened and I needed to take it. As I write this I cant actually believe that I almost didn’t go. Two months later as I sit here and write and look through these photos my eyes well with tears at how overwhelming the whole experience was.
After deciding to go, I discovered that there were other volunteers who had the same day off and hadn’t been up there yet, so now I not only had an adventure but I also had a crew to join on it. (LIFE HACK – Adventures are better with a crew) Six of us in total myself, two of my female compadres from the Mytilene Apartment and the Mennonite contingent of the Panagiouda Crew were set to go!
I got up early Monday and headed in to Mytilene to rent a car, picked up the crew and off we went down the winding mountain roads of Lesvos to see what we could see. The car ride itself was a bit of a joy in that even though you spend 8 to 10 hours a day with these people, it is always during work so there aren’t always great chances to hear peoples story and who they really are, so this gave great opportunity to hear about and get to know some of the people had spent so much time with over the past month. Not surprising that in itself was a total privilege. Hearing stories of how God had provided for their trip in unusual ways and hearing their hearts for the people we were working with, that in itself would have made the trip worth while.
And then we pull up to this…
As foretold it was a ways off the beaten path, but not super hard to find even though the GPS map on my phone is wonky. But after ten or fifteen minutes of bouncing down a goat trail of a path we caught the faint view of orange in the distance.
I don’t really know how to describe my feelings in this moment, other than there were a lot of them. You look at the piles of life jackets understanding that each and everyone of them was worn by someone desperate to change the direction of their life and you begin to gain a realization of how fully broken our world is.
You step out of your vehicle and stare at three huge mountains of orange and black nylon and your mind is blown away when your companion informs you that these are not just piles of jackets but rather these are actually pits that have been filled to overflow.
In the depth of your mind you begin to see the faces of the men you have spent your last month serving and working alongside. Your heart sinks as you realize that each one of these faces, each one of your new friends is represented by one of these jackets.
The grief in my spirit was overwhelming and I remember choking back tears, even now as I write this my heart just aches. How do we let this happen? Thousands upon thousands of people in desperation crossing a cold dangerous sea all for a glimmer of hope that rests on the other side.
I had my camera and so under the guise of getting a good shot I left my group to try and make some sort of sense out of all that was happening in my heart. Walking through the piles upon piles of jackets. The winds were also crazy that day adding a poetic touch to the experience as a storm of emotion raged inside me.
There really isn’t much you can do to make sense of it all. I think thats the most frustrating thing for me. There is no apparent solution. Just do what you can to counteract the negative by pouring out yourself in love where you can.
Eventually we loaded up and carried on our way. Silent for the first while as each of us was impacted by the sheer volume of what we had jsut seen. But soon the silence was broken and we were back to chatting. Before heading onward to Sykaminea Camp we wanted to explore the town a bit and find ourselves some lunch.
Molyvos is a beautiful little town and because it was a local holiday we got to take in some sort of a celebration happening in the town square. If anyone can explain to me what is going on here I would appreciate it. There were also people in costumes and such. There are often people in costumes in Greece it seems and I never understand why. Haha
Molyvos also has unreal pita. Definitely a highlight.
After our lunch and tour of the town, including a super sweet little church we continued onward to our next destination, Sykaminea Camp. Sykaminea Camp is the first place a refugee goes after making the sea voyage from Turkey. At the height of the migrant crisis this place was packed with people and continual activity. When we were there it was still winter in Greece so not many boats were tempting the trek across the sea so it was pretty quiet when we arrived. Located a few hundred yards from the beach you can look out over the ocean from here and see Turkey in the distance. It seems so close but in a dingy overfilled past capacity it must feel like a million miles to cross.
From there we went down to the beach. For me this is where reality of what the refugees face really set in again. This beach is the closest point between Greece and Turkey. Something like 2.5 miles of water is all that separates the two countries and so it is here that the refugees will make the attempt to cross the sea that separates. Two and a half miles doesn’t sound like a lot and really as you look across there is a part of you that says I could make it across. At the same time with the wind howling and waves crashing, the feel of the cold mist on your skin there is something almost sinister about it at the same time, an underlying understanding that you would not willingly choose to make this trip unless there was no other option. I remember a quote I heard that said “no woman would ever put her child on a boat unless there were no there option” and as I stared across the straight, the gravity of that truth genuinely set in.
Knowing how dangerous it is to cross and hearing the stories of bodies washing ashore from those who did not make it fuelled that same surreal experience. Walking along the beach and coming across the remnant of a boat that hadn’t been cleaned up yet. I say boat but really it was just a fibreglass shell set out across the sea well over capacity. My mind wanders and wonders was this a successful trip or did this shell of a vessel abandon its precious cargo somewhere along the journey. Again my mind wanders, this time to one of the translators description of his journey across. Forced at gunpoint by smugglers onto a dingy with far too many people aboard, supplied with just enough gas to almost get you across, praying that you make it through the freezing cold waters.
Its overwhelming. I am not even sure what I can add.
It was life changing.