“Book’rah, Inshallah”

So here’s how it works here: the boats arrive any number of ways at a few predictable points along this coast. Most either land on the beach or the rocks, due to winds and currents. On the beach they file through a resort type place, and take buses to our transit camp. On the harbor they hang out at our mini-camp there until we know a bus is coming, then we walk with them through town to catch the bus to, also, our transit camp. Our transit camp is the parking lot of a nightclub, Oxy.

The Oxy Gates – VIP

So, what’s a transit camp? Sort of like a bus station, at least ideally. We have a couple of house-type tents I’m told are the famed Ikea refugee houses and a giant tent. One tent is for tickets, one is for food, one is for shelter, and buses load at the bottom. Ideally. As groups come in, they are greeted by volunteers and explained how everything works. Then they wait in line where they receive tickets, one for every adult (children must go on laps), which are pieces of card stock with a symbol on it. They can use the bus tickets in order to get food at the next tent over. Each person, including children, gets a turkey and cheese sandwich, piece of fruit, bottle of water, and the children get juice or milk if we have it. Then they wait under the big tent until their color/symbol is called and shown by hollering volunteers walking by. They then queue up, get in their bus, and then go to Mytiline, where they go to one of two camps, depending on their nationality, where they will get registered and granted passage. There are two bathrooms, there’s no running water or electricity, but that shouldn’t be a problem because everyone should be on their way. Ideally.


Yesterday, it was not ideal. We estimated 5,000 people passed through our camp, including the 1,500 people who already spent the night there. Hungry, tired, traumatized people, for whom Europe is already nothing like they expected. Men, women, children from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, a random few from Pakistan and even 5 from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. People stepping off the buses from the harbor, standing in a long line for they are not sure what, pressing, fighting, fainting, sending their women and children away from the stress. Near the head of the line, volunteers, mostly the Arabic-speaking men, try to instill enough order- sometimes by yelling or making themselves into physical barriers, so that the ticket givers can do their jobs without being overwhelmed. I’ve learned already that there is such thing as a critical mass of people swarming that, once reached, renders doing anything, including calming them down, virtually impossible. Remember, these are desperate people.

The Big Tent

And at the end of that line? Myself and another young woman from The Netherlands and France, she using blocky Arabic or Turkish or English: Where are you from? How many adults? How many children? And then giving them tickets, trying to explain- this usually gesturally- that the children will have to sit on their laps. Nearby, I am frantically trying to match 50 tickets (the amount of seats on the bus) that aren’t currently in use (else there will be repeats, throwing the system off) from several different plastic bags full of pieces of paper with symbols on them. This is something like a multi-vectoral game of Memory, where stacks of 34 yellow stars and 27 blue arrows duke it out for who will be completed in time for ticket distribution to continue, the result of frantic predecessors tossing used tickets into bags, and just too many people to keep it all straight.

Our System
And then, the terrible question from the person receiving their tickets. What time is the bus? If they have just arrived and it is morning, there is a slight possibility they will leave in the evening. Otherwise, the answer is always, “Bookrah, Inshallah,” or “Tomorrow, hopefully, by the grace of Allah.” They don’t know: the buses have no schedule, and wouldn’t run on it if they did. That we get as many buses in and out of here as we can, and are constantly harassing anyone on the island with a bus to come and help. They don’t know that there used to be no bus or transit center, mere weeks ago, that everyone, wheelchair, pregnant, everyone had to walk the 65 kilometers to Mytiline. They don’t know the hellish scenes we get reports on from the camps that await them there. That even if it would mean they’re making progress on their journey, maybe they wouldn’t be in such a hurry to leave our sunny, sea-view hillside, with 1,500 instead of 5,000, with usually enough food and a guarantee that yes, come hell or high water (or, as we’ve experienced, come camps filling up, police shutting down roads, or passport requirements shifting), they will be leaving. They know only that their passage has been further delayed. Their faces drop in dismay, and they begin to look around the cliffs, tents and roadsides for a place to call home for the night.

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