Greeting Boats on Lesvos

I didn’t anticipate it would be so dramatic.

I thought that the moving music, fancy camera angles, and voiceovers made the arrivals of people on boats from Turkey to Greece seem much more dramatic on TV than the events themselves actually were.

However, yesterday and today, I was out on the beach of the island of Lesvos in Greece when boats full of people arrived from Turkey. And, while all of the landings and disembarkations that I saw were completed safely, the arrivals were some of the most dramatic moments I’ve witnessed.

A volunteering guiding a boat to shore

Anticipation builds on the beach as the boat approaches. Lifeguards get into position. Volunteers stand ready with emergency blankets to wrap those in need.I stood to the side to just observe as I really wasn’t sure how I could be of any assistance.

A boat is escorted to the shore by volunteer lifeguards to ensure its safe arrival

The boat, which once looked so far away, was suddenly yards from the shore.  Lifeguards entered the water to meet and steady the boat and also help get children and other vulnerable people get off.  And, then, people began pouring off.  Children were handed off to volunteers and wrapped in blankets.  Husbands gripped their wives as they stepped into the cold sea and onto dry land.  A young man by himself, jumped out, looked at me, and just stared at the boat.  He couldn’t stop smiling….he had made it.  A woman immediately fell to the ground, and a medic ran over to check on her condition.

Some smiled, some cried, and some even captured the moment on their phones as they safely made it to shore in Greece

Sensing that I might be of some sort of assistance, I approached the boat and grabbed the hand of a woman getting off. I provided hugs. I unbuckled life vests.  I said welcome. I shook hands. I celebrated the safe arrival.  And, then, as quickly as it began, the boat was empty, and the work of the volunteers began.I rushed to the women and children’s clothing tent where for the next few hours I would be surrounded by the chaos of dozens of cold and soaking wet women and children who needed dry clothes and shoes — underwear, thermals/long underwear, pants, shirts, sweaters, socks, jackets, hats, gloves, scarves, etc.  We salvaged what we could from their journey and gave dry, new/used for what they needed.  Once the last woman was dressed, I looked around the tent.  Clothes were everywhere.  Shoes without a match were scattered about.  We were exhausted, physically and mentally.  Minutes later, someone came shouting, “Another boat is coming! Get ready.”  And, then, we began again.

The coast of Lesvos

(I’m currently volunteering with Lighthouse on Lesvos Island to assist those arriving from Turkey into Greece.  To read my first post about volunteering, click here.)

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