BY: JARED HUTCHINSON
If you walk back past the last smattering of tents in the Better Days for Moria (BDFM) camp and turn towards the west, you can pretend that a global crisis was not just 100 feet behind you. The sounds, smells, and sights are mostly gone, and it hits you, “Shit, I’m on a beautiful Greek island.”
This feeling evaporates once you turn back towards the east and reality smacks you in the mouth.
It was at this moment, looking West, when a young man caught my eye, donning a stylish black on dark grey outfit and carefully cropped hair. He strolled past the patchwork of makeshift tent encampments, taking in the scene and perhaps pretending he had freedom of movement for a few minutes.
He floated across the hillside with ease - effortlessly ducking tent wires and jumping over rock outcrops. I did not check his feet, but he may have been ice-skating. It would be hard to convince me this young man had resided in a muddy refugee camp for three weeks if I had not seen him myself.
At this point, there was a game I played every time I met a refugee. I created a three-circled Venn diagram in my head and juxtaposed three different people:
The imaginary psychopath that politicians create in stump speeches, some Muslim reincarnation of Richard Rodriguez
The loathsome celebrity we revere regardless, i.e. Kobe Bryant, basketball legend, adulterer, and insufferable asshole
The well-mannered refugee in front of me, a young man your parents would rave about in an attempt to guilt you into cutting your hair and getting a real job. He's just "so well put together," they'd remind you.
And they would be right. This young man, F., expressed interest in my family, hometown (Philadelphia, like the cheese), and where I lived now. Did I like it there? What was it like?
He spoke great English and, as many non-native English speakers do, equated my name, Jared, with “Gerrard,” a legendary soccer player. F. loves Manchester United but appreciates that Leicester City may win the English Premier League this year. It’s good for the league, he thinks.
F. calmly explained his greatest desire to travel the Greek island of Mykonos, where much of his family had been living for 11 years. Surely, this is a more honourable goal than the American dream of selling your soul for the letters "MBA" on your resume, a glorified cocaine habit, and 80-hour work weeks in the Financial District.
F.'s calm demeanour seemed unflappable until he abruptly asked: “Do you know if the Greek authorities are coming? Do you know what will happen?”
It was a vulnerable moment. It's a question whose answer can make your stomach flip, so you avoid asking it at all costs (or use Tinder to ask it so no one sees your vulnerability). Sadly, F. only heard a robotic, overly-political volunteer response, “No, I’ve just heard rumours.” It was as unconscious an action for me as breathing. I wonder if scientists have researched how many Uber rides it takes before these auto-responses are hardwired into our brain circuitry.
F. nodded and went on his way, clearly disappointed by my response. He spends every morning either in his makeshift tent or on a brief stroll along the hills of the camp, mired in the thought of what others will do to him. His future could change when someone comes across subtext in a legal document that disqualifies him from entering Europe. Bureaucrats may sign a new deal that trades him for money. And, as a Pakistani, he is placed in a lower caste of refugee by the powers that be, barred from official higher-resourced refugee camps and offered little hope on being reunited with his family.
We quickly learned Greek authorities were forcing the Pakistani men to start registering at the prison next door, or the police would come raid the camp. F. volunteered to go with the first group to register at the prison next door, despite the fact that “registering” probably meant being deported back to Turkey, where the overlords are still maintaining the whole "we care about humans" facade.
As a line of men formed outside the refugee camp like a prison chain gang, their lives stuffed in only what they could carry in a backpack, F. again displayed his equanimity:
“What do you think will happen?” I asked.
“I don’t know. If they want to deport me, they can deport me. I just want to live with my family.”
“What will you do?”
“I will pray to Allah that I can get there.”
Allah, I've never spoken with him, but he's got his hands full these days.
F. continued his calm walk in a line of 30 men towards a prison to be “registered” with his head up, facing the bureaucratic black hole lurking behind the prison walls. Again, thinking about what people were about to do to him.
Somewhere in America, Kobe Bryant received a standing ovation from thousands of adoring fans.