Wednesday, January 11, 2017

First Day in Lesvos

Finally, I have arrived in Lesvos. After getting up at 4:30 and taking the bus the airline provided for us to get to the airport, I made it onto my 7:00 flight into Mitillini airport on the island and we landed smoothly and easily. I don't remember much from this trip because I was half asleep the entire time (I fell asleep on the bus, in the terminal, and on the plane) but as we were coming down in the plane I was stunned how incredibly beautiful this area is. Lesvos is a fairly large island in the Eastern Aegean only a few miles off the coast of Turkey. 
Lesvos is in the top-right part of this picture, much closer to Turkey than it is to the Greek Mainland
Mitillini, where I landed, is on the Southeastern part of the island, so anywhere you look there are beautiful views of the mountains on the Turkish coast and the straits between the island and the mainland. The weather was fairly warm (in the high 40s) and the sea was extremely calm. Once you have a sense of the geography and climate of the region, it is pretty clear why this has become such a popular place for refugees to cross. Lesvos is not only extremely close to Turkey, but the bay is very protected. It is surrounded by the peninsula to the North, the mountain range in Turkey in the East, and the island in the West, so the breeze is pretty light unless it is coming out of the South. Furthermore, there are geopolitical reasons for crossing into Europe at this point based on the long history of disagreement between Turkey and Greece. I'm not going to get deep into this history right now, but conflict between the modern Greek and Turkish states goes back to Greek independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1832 (aided by the British and other Western powers) and their relationship has been characterized by intermittent periods of fighting ever since. While they presently maintain diplomatic relations, they are not cooperating closely on this issue, so once a raft of migrants crosses into Greek waters, they will not be returned to Turkey and they will land on European shores and once they receive papers, are able to take a ferry to the Greek mainland and continue into Europe from there.

It was pretty clear by the time that I landed that the initial chaos of the stream of refugees has settled and there is a large amount of international cooperation (NATO warships, several NGOs, Greek Coast Guard) that is dealing with the landings and processing of the refugees. I was picked up at the airport by an ERCI volunteer who was a Spanish man that appeared to be in his 50s. The eldest member of the 8 people that are currently working with ERCI, he spent his life in the Spanish Navy and after retiring last year, decided to come help in Lesvos. He has been on the team for 3 months and plans to spend 3 more before returning to Spain, which is the longest stay of anyone in ERCI – except for the Greek boss, Nassos. (The average stay is about 3 weeks, my 1 week stay is very short but unfortunately my thesis will not write itself). We also picked up two German volunteers who arrived by ferry, picked up some groceries for the week and headed to the house for the volunteers.

Tonight I will be watch with a partner from 8PM - 2AM using binoculars and thermal binoculars to see if anyone is trying to make the crossing. Since the wind has picked up from this morning and is expected to be around 29kts and heavy rain, we don't expect anyone to be coming tonight. More updates to come!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Weather Curse Continues!

Day 3... still have not made it to Lesvos because my flight this morning had to turn around due to high winds, heavy rains, and low clouds on the island. We were moved to the 7:30 PM flight, and after a sponge bath in a handicap restroom, a change of clothes, and some positive self-talk, I was ready to head to downtown Athens and see the sights! (I promise I am actually trying to help people and am not just on a eurotrip... but I might as well make the best of a bad situation).

I then took the metro into Athens and spent the day there (which cost 18 euros there and back and I bought the ticket but it was so easy to sneak on and off that train it is insane and I am pretty sure nobody pays for it. It was actually really easy to sneak onto the train in Zurich too but I paid for that one also so basically I am a huge sucker). I first walked through the botanical gardens that are right in the center of the city which was super cool. I also saw the temple of Zeus and Hadrian's arch and I got close to the Parthenon but it was closed because of the snow the day before. It is pretty cool that I got a bunch of pictures of the ruins in snow because it rarely happens there. It was nice and sunny all afternoon though and I went to the cafe in the Acropolis Museum and had some tea and read my book. So all in all, it was a very relaxing afternoon.

As close as I could get to the Parthenon

Still a great view though!

However, on my 7:30 PM flight, we had the same issues. We got all the way to Lesvos, tried to land, and then had to turn around. It definitely was scarier this time because in the first flight it was a total whiteout with the clouds so you never knew if you were close to the ground or not, but this second time, we were definitely close to the ground with no sign of an airport. It definitely rattled me. This was also a low point of the trip so far and resulted in a very dramatic email to my Mom, but now Aegean Airlines is putting me up in a hotel for the night and I finally got to take a proper shower and sleep in my bed and while I am writing this in my bathrobe I am feeling ready to take on the flight again tomorrow! (Also I did write them a strongly worded email about how shitty the service has been and hopefully I can foray this into some free miles or something in the future – more details to come)

Monday, January 9, 2017

Snow in Athens

First it rained while I was in L.A., now it is snowing in Athens for the first time in ten years (according to the woman sitting next to me on the plane). I officially am a weather curse. It is 1:38 and I am sitting on the floor of the check-in lobby of the Athens International Airport, waiting for my flight that leaves at 7AM. I don't know what the hell I was thinking when I booked these flights, since I flew a red-eye to Zurich last night and then another late-night flight to Athens tonight but I guess this is what happens when I am allowed to make my own travel registrations unsupervised. All I can say is thank the lord I am traveling by myself because I would feel really bad if I dragged someone along with me. I'm going to try to get some sleep in the terminal so when I arrive on the island around 8 I will actually be awake enough to be helpful/present and not just a zombie. With this cold weather there may not be a lot of people trying to make the crossing right now, or people are still coming despite the weather and they will need lots of hel. As the theme of the blog has been so far, I have no clue what I am getting myself into. But, at this point I have come so far that I am showing up no matter what!

Since I got into Zurich in the early afternoon and my flight to Athens didn't leave until around 9, I took the train downtown and spent the afternoon exploring the city. First of all, this place is a fairy tale land. It looks like an old German town that sits in a valley on the edge of a lake, but it is filled with incredible modern amenities including these really quiet and really fast streetcars that carry people all over the city (Or the airport, which is honestly the cleanest and most beautiful airport I have ever been in). I got out of the train station right on the edge of the river that flows to the lake, and right after finding a Starbucks with wifi to let my Mom know I landed, I wandered down along the river to a big church called Grossmünster. Again, it had very medieval, dark, Germanic vibes to it, but for four Swiss Francs I took the stairs up to the top of the bell tower and got a great view of the city and the lake. I even went over to the art museum and checked out Rodin's "Gates of Hell" before heading back to the train station. All in all, it was a really cool day but Zurich is a tough city to spend a lot of time in because everything is really expensive (think $7 Starbucks coffees). Glad I got to spend some time there though and would love to stay there someday to see what it's like in the summer or around Christmastime!

View of Zurich from a footbridge over the river

Statue of Charlemagne in the crypt of
Grossmünster – legend has it that he founded
the first church in Zurich
^^^The original version of the
"Single Ladies" dance

View from the top of Grossmünster

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Heading Out

I'm sitting in Terminal E of Logan. It's crowded and my flight is delayed, but this gives me time to write this post and think a little bit about what I want this blog to be. (Holy crap this is post #1 and I already feel like a girl from a TeenNick) Anyways, I want this to be a space where I can share the experiences of traveling, experiencing new cultures, and working with people from around the world. I cannot promise anything about the content since I don't exactly know what I will be doing once I get off the plane in Lesvos, but whether my experience is harrowing or calm, fascinating or boring, unbelievable or predictable, I will be sharing my thoughts here for anyone who is interesting in following along!

As I wait for my flight, I am looking forward to getting off the ground, but I have to admit that I am a little bit nervous. I have that feeling in my stomach that you get when you're going up a roller coaster and you realize that you didn't have to get on the roller coaster and buckle yourself into the seatbelt, but now you're stuck with that choice and you're headed wherever this car will take you. I'm not saying that I regret my decision, but I am recognizing the gravity of it in the sense that I could have spent the week at home writing my thesis and hanging out. That means that anything that happens to me in the next seven days is my choice, for better or worse (hopefully better).

This also leads me to a lot of questions: I made the choice to travel to Greece, but why? Nobody is making me go and most people in my life are nervous about this trip rather than forcing me to do this. So why do I want to? Do I feel like I can make a difference big enough to warrant a trip halfway around the world? Or is the trip around the world part of it? Do I think this will change my outlook on my life now or my plans for the future? Do I feel like I have a duty to help these people? Am I just doing this for attention and admiration? For most of these questions, I have no answers. What I am trusting is a sense of intuition that inspired me to reach out to this organization, find funding and make this trip happen. A natural excitement inside of me is driving the big risk that I am taking and I hope that it will open my eyes and hopefully open doors to more inspiring work that I can do in the future. The more I think about this, the more I realize how lucky I am to be passionate about an issue and have the capability to make a difference in a meaningful way. While this trip is only six days, I am hopeful that it can be a experience that I will remember for the rest of my life.

I am approaching this trip with an open mind. It can only bring me closer to understanding who I am, what I want, and how to move forward with the next phase of my life.