Greece – The Gravity of a Graveyard

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…

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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.

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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.

 

Istanbul – Ramblings from the Journey

Ramblings about Istanbul!

I am not the best travel blogger it would seem. I am loving the adventures that I am on but finding time to share stories along the way is proving to be difficult. Any bloggers with tips out there please share! haha.

Here is a bit though on my adventures through Istanbul, five days in this super cool city was not enough. I will definitely have to come back someday.

The Blue Mosque

On the completion of my Greek adventure, the more personal travel portion of my excursion began. First stop being Istanbul, you hear Istanbul in the news a lot lately often in an unfavourable light thanks to the attempted coup and some bombings that have occurred in the city in past year. So to start I will say this, never at any point did I feel even remotely unsafe. It was a beautiful city with beautiful people an absolute delight to experience from beginning to end. Thanks so much to Danny and Alycia for having me you guys are the greatest.

I arrived late in the evening on the 1st and to my surprise, friends from Regina, Nathan and Amanda were expected shortly after me. Unfortunately, the shortly portion of that statement was negated by heavy fogs on the city which delayed their flight by a few hours. Hours which I did get to put to good use catching up with Danny who was gracious enough to come and meet us all at the airport. It was awesome catching up and was great to get a first hand account of some of the craziness that we hear about in the news. Not to mention the unique perspective he holds from being a Christian in a dominantly Muslim country. Truly an enlightening evening. Though very veeeeery long wait, by the time got home it was 4:30 am needless to say I crashed hard when we arrived.

Waking late the next morning we just kind of hung out till the afternoon when Danny introduced me to Istanbul transit and we adventured downtown to the Kadikoy area. Ok, I say adventured, but for Danny this is just everyday life. Regardless, we crammed on to a crowded bus and started our hour long journey to meet Danny’s Turkish tutor in a sweet little coffeeshop in Kadikoy. Kadikoy is kind of the trendy waterfront area, theres a lot happening around here lots of people coming and going. It reminded me of Times Square in a lot of ways. (I found that a lot of Istanbul has parallels to New York, at least in my mind and experience) Anyways, we met up with Mahmet the tutor, an awesome Turkish guy who loves sports and laughs a lot, seemed like a real genuine dude. They dialogued back and forth, mostly in Turkish while I enjoyed a deeeeeelicious coffee. (The Turks do java well) After, we met up with and I actually got to meet my roommate from the previous night, Cole. (Neither of us had actually been awake at the same time in the house yet) Good guy, on his own random adventure. Anyways, we hoped the bus back to Danny’s for dinner and shut er down for an early night.

Kadikoy

The next day was tourist time, Danny was busy so Cole, Myself, Nathan and Amanda, and Mose (one of my friends from EuroRelief who ended up on a long stop over) all took to the streets on our own. To start Cole and I had to meet up with Nathan and Amanda while we were waiting something crazy occurred…

There we are sitting in front of Starbucks when right beside us pops out from behind a van my friend Sean from Saskatchewan! How on earth do you meet someone randomly in a city of 15 million people. I knew he was there and all but we had yet to connect any kind of meeting, just boom there he was haha, so WILD!

Anyways, Sean goes onward to his meeting, Amanda and Nathan show up and we grab some doner from a little shop (SOOOO GOOD) also happen across a film shoot of some sort. After our stomachs are filled we head out on the ferry across to the European side of the city in search of adventures!

First stop, the Blue Mosque, (that’s the building in the first picture up top) we meet Mose in the courtyard out front, and proceed to the queue inside, make friends with the random American girl ahead of us, proceed inside and are absolutely taken aback by this marvellous work. I’ll just let the pictures speak for themselves.

From there we would make our way cross the street to the Aya Sofia. Another stunning building the Aya Sofia was built by Constantine as a church but was later turned into a mosque when Islam became the dominant religion and all of the mosaics were covered over. It has since been turned into a museum and the plaster covering the mosaics are being removed to reveal the beautifully preserved mosaics.

Funny story about getting in though…

As we arrive to the Aya Sofia we are met by a LONG line up, obviously looking disheartened a sketchyish looking an calls out to us “You pay cash?” “yes yes we pay cash” “Come, Come, $200 lira, come come” he hurries us toward the front of the line, everyones SCAM radar is going off hard, mine included as he basically pushes us forward while demanding 200 lira, scanning the ticket office as we rush past I notice that it is in fact 40 lira a ticket, 40 x 5 = 200 ok at least the amount is right, my mind justifies. “200 lira you pay me total, pay each other after” he rushes our decision. Not wanting to get scammed but not wanting to wait an hour in a queue I jam 200 lira in his hand grab the tickets and move quickly towards the gate trying in vain to keep my eyes on this random dude who was either our time saviour or just scammed me out of 200 lira. We get to the gate and the tickets… the tickets work! Awesome! Queue avoided, hour saved, thanks so much random sketchy dude.

Inside, well I’ll let the pictures speak again, this place was just… WOW!

Isn’t that amazing! But we aren’t done yet. Onward to the Spice Market! This place was crazy! Shop upon shop of nuts, oils, and candies, but not just any candy… Turkish Delight. Which each shop owner claims his to be the best and shoves it in your face to try. Lol. I actually don’t understand how they actually make any money as within 10 minutes of being there I had probably “tested” a dozen pieces of the various flavours of Delight and had a fully satiated any craving I held for sweets.
After touring the market a bit, gaining an education on Turkish Delight we met Danny and was time to close our evening with one final adventure — DINNER. Dinner tonight would be at a chain type restaurant that specialized in and I think only sold a dish called Iskander. Basically beef on bread, covered in tomato sauce, served doused in butter with a side of yogurt. Heart stoppingly delicious!

The next morning, Danny, his kids, Cole and I would do some local exploring. Climbing (ok we took a cab) to the top of the hill near Danny and Alycia’s home. The views from up here were spectacular! The photos don’t do it justice. This is such a beautiful city! We had a very Turkish at the restaurant that was up on the hill and made our way home. The afternoon was spent celebrating Danny’s tutor and friend Mahmet as it was his birthday. A bunch of us just hung out and laughed for a few hours, was great for me too as my friend Sean is also one of Mahmet’s students so we got to connect for a bit. We also took Mahmet for Chinese food, a huge step for this man devoutly Turkish culinary tastes. But he did great, even tried some sushi. (Couldn’t get him to try the eel though, maybe next time) Anyways thats all just to show you don’t have to adventure half way across the world to put a little adventure into your life 😉
And that my friends is my Turkish highlight reel.

Till next time

D

this one has actually been picked away by visitors as there is gold in the mosaics
there is a mirror above the door that reflects the previous image, I forget the significance of this though

Istanbul – The Next Adventure

To the next adventure and my life’s journey

Originally posted – March 03, 2017

So I started this post just as I took off from Greece. I have now arrived in Istanbul, Turkey spent a looooong night in the airport waiting for delayed friends and a groggy day in the city experiencing it from the point of view of Canadians living there to learn language and culture. Today I’ll be playing the tourist so watch good ole Instagram for my pics (#davelife). It’s already proven to be a beautiful city with incredible people, I can not wait to dive deeper.

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I can without reservation now state that this trip was the correct decision. My time on Lesvos was some of the most heart wrenching, exhausting, awesomeness that I have ever experienced. The opportunity to work along side the team at EuroRelief is one that I will cherish indefinitely. My only regret is that I wish that I had planned to stay longer. I started this journey a month ago relatively unsure that I was making a correct decision but excited for the adventure.  On the outside I maintained confidence and verbally rationalized my decision with ease, on the inside I was far less secure.

I also expected to develop vision for the career path that I am supposed to take. So far however I only have more questions. I keep waiting for a road sign to show up in front of me or the right door to swing open; instead I just have another piece of a bigger puzzle to ponder, and a little voice inside saying “Stay the path”. So as I continue to ponder my future please keep me in your thoughts and prayers (they are always appreciated). I know that the veil will lift eventually, it always does. haha

D