Hello, Goodbye - By Sindhuja Sankaran

I had this grand plan to write my experiences here chronologically, but it would be an understatement if I said things were not overwhelming. It has already been two weeks since I said 'Hello' and it was already time to say 'Goodbye'. I’m beginning to sense the tone of my blog; I try to communicate to you that those who live in Moria are people who do not deserve to be dehumanised and I try to reiterate that point with my narratives (albeit long ones). Today, I sit at my dining table back in Krakow, Poland (I got back on Saturday) and I would like to tell you about my last day in Lesvos in excruciating details! 

Funky Monkey
My day started with the school shift and since it was a Friday we got to teach the kids! I started with the advanced Farsi kids wherein we learnt body parts and created a body passport by indicating hair/eyes colour. We had to bring in another volunteer because between me and the kids we only had brown or black eyes/hair. When she came and we asked the kids to indicate the hair colour they were so excited to know the answer which of course was ‘Yellow’ 😉. Soon after we played the game twister  and I was there to show the kids a prototype of a typical non-fit adult. It was even more amusing when I was holding my back in pain and the kids imitated me. We then taught the Beginners Arabic kids numbers and animals. Their excitement was never masked (ironically, since we had to make masks in the end) and we later made masks of animals and the kids coloured and decorated it and us teachers joined the fun and did the same…check out my funky monkey. 

While we were waiting to hand over the keys to the next group, I was talking to a fellow music enthusiast from Afghanistan who plays the guitar and he finally convinced me to play something and I quickly played Black Bird - Beatles before my diffidence hit me. We were then discussing Indian music and how much he loved the music of an Indian composer – A.R Rahman. He then went on to express his admiration for one of the singers – Benny Dayal. I of course casually mentioned that I knew him and that we shared a common group of friends. He also seemed to recognise one of my other friends, Shakti, who also sings with Rahman, and admitted to liking her songs too. His face was priceless. His jaw literally dropped open and he was so thrilled! I quickly showed him a few photos of some group photos in Chennai from when we were at my friend’s wedding.

Quoting him, he said ‘’You just gave me a shock of 400 volts’’ because I knew these guys. I was so happy for him. It is absolutely beautiful how music connects people from everywhere. This man (who insisted on playing some Indian songs for me on the guitar) and I spoke for quite some time about the music of a musician I grew up with and singers I hung out with and he lives in Moria! I was so thankful that I was able to give him this, some joy, some semblance of normalcy through music and I promised him that I would let both Benny and Shakti know about him…which I did. 

We had an hour to head back to rest before I had to leave for English class again. One of the teachers asked us to print out a list of food or words related to food. Emanuele and I started working on a list and my incessant need to make categories resulted in the following categories (see below).

Soon we left along with another volunteer to Moria (who I must add is so much fun to spend time with). The beginner’s English classes went as planned and while classes were going on we had to keep the kids occupied who gathered outside the community centre. Colouring was the preferred activity. We generally provide them with crayons/colour pencils and images to colour. It’s not as easy as one would think; imagine a small desk with 10 children competing to use one set of colours and limited colouring paper. Fighting for limited common resources, haven’t we heard of that before. Invariably there are some kids who understand the concept of sharing while some others fight for the limited space and resources to colour. Coming from such environments back home, it is not of much surprise this behaviour gets transmitted to this surrounding which isn’t any better with regards to resource availability. Unfortunately, that day a few kids were a little harder to handle than usual when they ran away with a whole bunch of crayons. The nick name for those who cheat or steal is ''Ali Baba''. So, all other kids pointed to the Ali Babas who took the crayons. I took a call and said, ''No one gets to colour, until the ‘Ali Babas’ return the crayons’’. Of course, I was lost in translation as no one understood and then I asked one of the Arabic translators for help with this Ali Baba situation and he explained that to the kids. Strangely, the minute the notion of ‘everyone faces the consequences of one person's unacceptable behaviour’ was communicated, the kids returned with crayons. We told them that it was good they brought it back to include some positive reinforcement. Things did get a little out of hand so we had to finish the colouring session. Emanuele was stationed outside for most of the time to handle the kids and he did an exceptional job!  He took each ‘painting masterpiece’ of theirs and stuck it on the community centre door temporarily. The kids loved it! He was relentlessly patient with them, even when he and I said in unison ''We’re never having kids’’.  

The kids left and it was time for advanced English classes. However only 1 person showed up; a minor from Afghanistan with excellent English skills. I told him that there was nothing specifically I could teach and that we could just chat and have a conversation in English…which we did. While that was happening, one of the guys I met during my medical shifts from Pakistan came to see me. We had long chats in Urdu/Hindi and he was so happy that I didn’t show any bias towards Pakistanis since I was from India. That was bitter sweet because that goes to show what majority of folks think and this implicit hatred the two countries should have towards each other. He asked how many of us were working, I said three and he came back an hour later with 3 cups of Chai, some fine Paratha

 and potato/cauliflower curry. Oh my God! It had been 2 weeks since I ate Indian food and this was amazing! It was unbelievably kind of him to offer this and he said that I was like his sister and it was part of his culture to host. He has been in Moria for more than a year. It pains me to see how he is still going on living in a place like this for a year and each day he hopes for some change. He asked me to visit him when I come back to Moria and I said that I sincerely hope he is not here anymore when I come back. He smiled and said ‘Inshallah’. 

Finally, one of the best moments of the day was that everyone I wanted to say bye to came by the community centre to say bye to me. I was touched. They knew I was leaving on Friday and they made an effort to come and say bye! It was beautiful. We laughed, we teased, avoided the emotional departure until two  guys had to leave and one of them had tears in his eyes and mimicked a sad face. It took all the strength I had not to cry too! It was undoubtedly overwhelming. Spending a meagre two weeks elicited such strong emotions. For those who know me, you know what a champion I am at suppressing my emotions, but this experience has made me an uncontrollable water faucet! 

We continued talking until three people pulled an unbelievably nasty prank on me TWICE! Ok, admittedly, I do have a tendency to leave my phone all over the place unattended, and one of the translators wanted to ‘teach me lesson’ not to do that over here and he hid my phone the first time. Emanuele and the other volunteer did a great job covering up. The second time I did panic a bit as I was searching all over the place and all of them also joined in the panic. The other volunteer consistently asked for the time and somehow, I always knew it without having to look for my phone, 15 minutes of panic! One of the other translators was not part of this horrible prank, thankfully, and slowly Emanuele in one of cheekiest tones ever takes my phone of out his pocket and asks ‘’looking for this?’’. Well they had a good laugh, albeit at my expense, but I’m happy to have served as the clown for the evening, better laughter than tears right!

We came back home, I got ready, packed, attended my last PSS meeting, went out for dinner for an hour and had some amazing Greek food, said bye to a whole bunch of amazing and inspiring people in the most awkward way possible. 

When things get emotional, I get awkward. It’s an automatic response. For some weird reason, I was alternating from one side of the table to the other while saying bye as supposed to just going in line…I didn’t even realise I was doing that until someone pointed out! Anyway, that was the end to my journey in Mytiline. It was indisputably one of the most fulfilling experiences I’ve had. As cheesy as it might sound now, but I feel there is something missing in my ‘routine’. I could have easily spent a month more. I feel my work there is incomplete and I’m going to try as much as I can to continue towards this cause anyway possible, even if it just involves saying ‘Hi. How are you?’ to some of the amazing people I’ve met at Moria. 

- By Sindhuja Sankaran


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