Search This Blog

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Jungle refugee camp in Calais

Note: This blog entry is 90% done, please pardon the spelling and grammar errors. However, a finished rough draft article for Cracked.com inspired by this blog entry can be found here. It's has more information, more detail and is a lot longer.
https://docs.google.com/document/d/1AuzGqy6B7mFlwHe2uvLNPTPl5R7fJMnrXri3pH_zafA/edit?usp=sharing



Diary

The Jungle

TL;DR (Too long? Didn't read it? Here's a summary):
9000 refugees and growing trying to get to the UK on a tiny plot of land in Calais, France, a short ferry/tunnel ride to the UK, infested with rats, toxic from pesticides and asbestos, with shit and piss overflowing from porta-potties, tightly controlled by the French national police who routinely tear gas, steal food, and destroy refugee tents.
Fuck the police, fuck the French government.

Aerial view of The Jungle center, from The Guardian


Also check more info at Calaispedia


YouTube intro about our charity organization


General info:

"The Jungle" is the nickname for an unofficial refugee camp in Calais, France. Everyone from policemen and government officials to volunteers and refugees use this name, which I've seen spray-painted in graffiti style on some refugee tents as self-identification. The name is so commonly used that it's even on google maps:



Seriously, check out the reviews yourself! (Screenshots taken while in Paris, so The Jungle is 237 km away from Paris)

It has at the latest count (mid-August '16) over nine thousand refugees, mostly men but also some women and children. The numbers are constantly growing, and new refugees arrive everyday.

Security and safety: due to the kind of work we do at the refugee camp I have few pictures and our warehouse address is not in my public journal as there's a risk of fascists who want to burn down our warehouse, or cases where refugees are found online in photos and sent unwillingly to another country. For example, a child refugee who's parents in their home country saw their picture online and requested that the child be returned. It's a complicated problem, do you return the kid to their parents who may be hostile (because why else would the child escape?) or keep the child illegally in a safe place?

I spent one month, July 10th to August 10th volunteering with my friend Florence for a British charity organization called Help Refugees. Hours were roughly 9am to 6pm, six days a week. More if you want, like volunteering teaching English or French at one of the two volunteer run schools in The Jungle in the evenings.

Most volunteer jobs with Help Refugees aren't even in The Jungle but at our big warehouse a few miles away, so many volunteers don't get a chance to see The Jungle with their job. So if you want to volunteer but are scared of being traumatized by how derelict The Jungle is, fear not, as you can find a volunteer job where you don't have to go into the refugee camp itself.

Overall I enjoyed the whole experience. It was hard, time consuming work but I felt like my effort was very worthwhile. I might even go back eventually to volunteer more.

For our first few days Florence and I distributed clothing and basic hygiene supplies to the refugee camp in Dunkirk, a half hour drive east of Calais. It's an official refugee camp, as opposed to the unofficial Jungle camp, and is much cleaner, more organized, and not as patrolled by police. The Dunkirk camp had less than a thousand refugees when I was there, mostly Kurds but also a few Vietnamese families. This job was honestly very easy and boring, and I felt like my skills could be better used in a different job.

After a few days I then taught English for two days in a volunteer run school in The Jungle with my Greek friend Christina who I couchsurfed with when I was in Greece in Spring 2015. She had just finished a semester study abroad in France and came to visit The Jungle for a few days.

After that I spent the rest of my time volunteering with Florence on the "Welcome Team" as part of Help Refugees. The Welcome Team is based at "The Welcome Caravan" in the center of The Jungle. Our job was to distribute and help set up tents, sleeping bags and basic items for (typically) new refugees. Mostly, we were building tents all day.

I've done a lot of camping, having once slept outside for three months straight (message me for that story), so I know a great deal about how to set up a tent. It's not that simple, mind you. Knowing which direction to hammer the peg in or which knot to tie isn't common knowledge.

If you want to learn more about The Jungle and about volunteering to support refugees please follow the Help Refugees website or Facebook page here, where you can also find links to donate.
http://www.helprefugees.org.uk/
https://www.facebook.com/HelpRefugeesUK/

There are several other organizations and independent volunteers doing their own projects like Care 4 Calais, Doctors Without Borders, and probably more I'm not familiar with.

Help Refugees is centered at a giant warehouse in Calais, the location itself is owned by a sympathetic landowner. Surrounding our warehouse are tons of other warehouses, industrial buildings, supermarkets, and gas stations. Our warehouse keeps all the donated goods for refugees including food, clothing, basic hygiene, cooking supplies, and basic living items. Help Refugees volunteers mostly collect, sort, and distribute these donations although some other jobs exists like teaching English or French in The Jungle, or cooking/serving food for volunteers/refugees.

Volunteers for Help Refugees commonly refer to the warehouse we work at as "the warehouse", as I will do in this blog write up.

If you volunteer for at least a month you are eligible for a waiting list for living on site for free in a donated or used caravan/camper like this (British/American English).

Each caravan has creative names like Cake Town, Pink Elephant, or Mafi Mushkala, which means "no problem" in Arabic (or at least the Sudanese dialectic, since that was most common), and is frequently heard in The Jungle as a way of saying "it's ok."

Caravans are typically old and donated, falling apart, broken, leaking, and some mice or rats find their way in. One volunteer paid for his own wifi and electricity in his caravan although I'm not sure how.

Otherwise volunteers must provide their own housing like at a nearby hostel, hotels, a campsite, or some volunteers live at The Jungle itself such as in one of the two volunteer run schools in The Jungle, in their own tent/shack in The Jungle, or even wild camping in the trees nearby.

Walking from the warehouse to The Jungle would take anywhere from a half hour to full hour depending on how the police feel that day, since some entrances to The Jungle may be closed off while others are open. This is mostly due to good cop, bad cop tactics, not any real reason. However I only did the walk a couple times and mostly got driven back and forth with other volunteers, which takes just 5-10 minutes and also depends on which cop is on duty.

Food for Help Refugees is expired food from local supermarkets decorating a table and shelves available in the warehouse roughly 8am to 8pm. France recently added a law that no good food can get thrown away although I'm not sure about specifics about this law, because dumpster diving still works in some supermarket dumpsters. Since much of this expired-but-still-good-to-eat-food is plastic wrapped carbohydrates, my diet became mostly carbs. And with my sweet tooth it was hard to avoid the cookies and French pastries. If you want to donate food please give protein and veggies! Only one day of my whole month there did I see bagged salad, whereupon I promptly grabbed an entire bag for my own and snacked on it for the next twenty-four hours even bringing it to a pub with me.

Often we would hitchhike or find rides into the Calais city center on days off or evenings for drinks or better food at local restaurants.

The Jungle also has some refugee owned and operated restaurants and shops. Some Pakistanis for example have a restaurant, named "Three Idiots" after a famous Bollywood film, with delicious naan better than most naan I've had elsewhere. While working in The Jungle we could sometimes go there for lunch, or at least just get eight naan for three euros to eat with our own rice and beans. Jungle Restaurants are, like the refugees, occupying land, so they obviously aren't paying any rent to any landowner like any restaurant in Calais or Paris would. Police are angry at this and that these restaurants don't meet French government health code standards, so they tried to evict the restaurants for "stealing from poor people," as I overheard a finely dressed Frenchman surrounded by police say.

During the several day period during which restaurants were temporarily shut down waiting the court's decision, many refugees went hungry as they had to resort to waiting in extremely long lines at other food distribution points (described below). So shutting the restaurants down and making food scarcer and refugees hungrier was for some reason not a health code violation.

I can already predict critiques that by our aid organization giving refugees food we are impeding a 'free market' from developing in The Jungle. But no, please don't let history forget that it was the police, not the aid organizations, that are hurting the Jungle restaurant market economy.

Fortunately the eviction failed in an August 10th court case and refugees got to keep their restaurants. However the battle will wage on as police will try to find other ways to make refugees lives miserable.


If the police are angry at restaurants stealing from poor people then why don't they shut down every other restaurant in Calais because that's what capitalism does?

Oh right, racism.

Bathrooms at the warehouse are porta-potties (Brits call them porta-loos) that get cleaned out once a week, getting particularly gross and piled high towards the end of the week. Just two showers exist for all of us living at the warehouse, so I showered maybe two or three times a week. Thankfully hot water flowed but sometimes it went off. I only took a cold shower once though.

Of the volunteers there's probably over a hundred of us, 40% men, 60% women; nationalities present were probably divided into 60% Brits, then 20% French, then various other European countries with a few other Americans too, and there was even an Australian and Korean while I was there. There's so many Brits that they brought their own power strips that don't work with the mainland Europe plugs, so it's hard to find places to charge my iPhone since I only had a mainland Europe adapter.

No dogs are allowed at the warehouse although there are some stray cats around, even playful kittens too.

In the summer there's many more volunteers due to university students on summer vacation and better weather. Wintertime at the warehouse can have as little as a couple dozen volunteers, so if you want to volunteer please consider doing it in the colder months. (I did not know this before going.) If you want to volunteer message me for email contacts, I'm hesitant to give them out publicly.

Plus, the refugees struggle more in the winter with the cold rains, which turn the entire camp into a giant mud puddle. I was lucky while there, getting little rain and lots of sunshine, with several hot days making me sweat profusely.

Actually the "mud" would be wet sand, because it's mostly sand they live on as The Jungle is five to ten minutes walking to a massive beach with a huge tide range, at low tide almost a kilometer wide from the water to the grassy hills where it starts. While refugees are closed off from the beach by the police, fences, walls, and/or dense vegetation, there's a few places where they can sneak into the beach, and play soccer (football), swim in the cold water, sunbathe, and try to see England across the channel on a clear day.

In the distance however there's factories upwind that blow foul smelling air as green foam washes up on the shore. I even saw a dead baby porpoise (sea mammal related to dolphins and whales) with part of its face missing washed up onshore.
The police know refugees visit the beach, as I've been there and saw a lone policeman standing guard at the far end so the refugees "don't get too close to the new port being built," according to that policeman. Despite the 9000 refugees nearby it's not very popular since many of them have seen their peers die at beaches as boats sink trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe. Traumatizing memories keep the refugees away from the beach, police are not needed.

Speaking of haunting memories, a couple of enormous, concrete Nazi bunkers from World War II tower between the jungle and the beach amidst the grassy fields. Armed with headlamps cutting through pitch blackness, I went inside one of them with some friends and explored the underground passageways for a half hour. No Nazi zombies were found however, just beer cans, sleeping bags, and some Nazi graffiti. These bunkers can be seen from various points in The Jungle, and during the few times I went to the beach I saw refugees playing on it. Perhaps some were living inside though I'm not sure.

Jungle residents:
Refugees come various countries struggling with crises like war and other political crises. I don't know the exact statistics but, in order of most to least, I would guess most refugees came from Sudan, Afghanistan, Syria, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Iraq, Pakistan, and Libya. I've met small numbers of refugees from Cameroon, Egypt, Palestine, Tunisia, Nigeria, India, and even Romania. I can anticipate this question ahead of time: the Romanians were not Gypsies/Roma. I've also heard of Albanian residents though I didn't see any.

Aside from English being the lingua franca, Arabic is most commonly used followed by Pashto, Dari, Farsi, and so on.

Refugees come from diverse vocations too. I've met engineers, lawyers, journalists, doctors, translators, and more. Unfortunately Western nations don't recognize many of their qualifications, so just because they may be trained as a surgeon doesn't mean they could easily get a job at a hospital. And since citizenship may take up to two years to get in France it's hard to find jobs. Work visas exist for legal immigrants but unfortunately it's hard to legally immigrate. In the UK, refugees can find out if they become citizens within a few months, which is one reason they want to go there so badly, in addition to other much better services.

However refugees have enough money to spend on some food or restaurants, travel or entertainment. I befriended a Syrian refugee who routinely visited his friends in Paris and Amsterdam.

Smart phones were widely common too but reception was scarce in The Jungle except on a small hill in the center and the hill by the highway on the far west side, so refugees often congregate in these places for phone service. Volunteers also drive in a big truck decorated with world maps that provides wifi during the day while parked at the edge of the camp. Like university students hunched over their computers at a Starbucks, refugees hunch over their phones at this truck.

Jungle housing:
Different types of housing has been erected in The Jungle from months prior. In order of quality:

Hospital-white colored shipping containers housing up to twelve people, all several dozen of which are grouped together and stacked on top of each other in twos or threes within a closed in fence that you need an electronic finger print scan and a password to get in. However refugees can easily climb over or under the fence in some areas. Densely surrounding this are thousands of tents and other housing structures.

There's also a section of several dozen white shipping containers for families at the north end that's enclosed by a wall. However not all families live in this comfort. Many children have to live in worse off conditions like caravans, tents, or wooden shacks throughout the rest of The Jungle.

Like the caravans we live in at the warehouse, Jungle residents have many caravans too, some making neighborhood communities of Afghans, Kurds, or various other ethnicities.

In addition, (guessing the dimensions here) there's 3x3 meter wooden shacks covered in blue tarps erected by Help Refugees, huge white 3x6 m United Nations tents, big 3x6 m blue tents from I don't know where, and most common: those kind of tents collecting dust in your closet that you only used for that one weekend at the music festival, or from when your family went camping when you were eight-years-old (please donate it!). Most of my volunteer hours was spent building several of these a day for groups of refugees, and getting overly sweet tea, cookies, fried dough and other treats in appreciation from refugees.

These kind of tents used as weekend-trip camps by privileged white people in their local park are, believe it or not, heavily used in The Jungle. Your nostalgic experience hiking in the Appalachians with your two best friends is the crowded home of eight refugees. These kind of tents are not meant to be permanent homes as they have a lifespan of just three to five weeks, fading due to ultraviolet light, ripping open as refugees trip over the ropes in the middle of the night, and zippers degrading into uselessness. Thus, a refugee could change into twelve different tents in a year at The Jungle.

Why do we use them? Because often the police won't let us bring in building materials. Why? According to the CRS (French national police controlling The Jungle), wooden structures don't have building permits. So because of the police, refugees get to sleep in ripped and broken tents instead, as if it's supposedly better housing.
*cough* institutional racism

Unfortunately, many of these weekend-fun tents are flammable, and thousands of these in a dense area are a severe fire hazard. If police try to raze (not "raise," my English-as-a-foreign-language friends, but "raze") parts of The Jungle as they often do every few months or so they'll use anything from bulldozers to fires to clear the space, which has become an could easily become an uncontrollable fire. Or refugees cooking fried dough (so delicious omg) might have an accident with their gas and stoves, which could lead to fires.

I recall that after a major earthquake in northern Pakistan several years ago many of these weekend-tents were donated for housing but unfortunately got burnt down because when survivors tried cooking in them they caught fire.

On a superficial level one could blame the survivors for being ignorant about cooking in a flammable tent. But this thinking ignores that such weekend tents really are mostly used by girl and boy scouts and suburban Western families spending a few days in a state park, fishing, catching fire flies and 'building character.' Few people in the world really know how to use them. Hell, even several of my coworkers didn't even know how to properly build such tents.

Perhaps the Pakistani survivors of the earthquake only had such tents for similar reasons we did. Stupid policies enforced by the authorities. If stupidity exists I'd rather there not be any power structures for stupid to take over.

Tents are also not just used for sleeping spaces but for living or community space, kitchens, or storage. Why "waste" a good tent like that? It's not wasteful, actually. Think of your own home. Don't you have different rooms for different uses? The refugees want this too.

And since building materials are often not allowed in by the police, refugees have created elaborate structures out of tent material. Like you know those collapsible black poles that provide support and stability for tents and are kind of fun putting together? Refugees have made garden walls, fences, and gates out of these adorning the space around tents. Additionally, blankets and sleeping bags are sewn together with tent string and perched high up on upright logs to create massive shade areas to block out the hot sun. In the peak of July the solar radiation penetrating the thin tent fabric can create unbearably hot conditions inside of tents during the day.

Because of the tiny borders of The Jungle controlled by the police, space is extremely limited. Finding homes for new refugees was always a hassle, and disputes often came up about which sandy area is a walkway, kitchen, community space, or actually space to put up a tent. Arguments would often happen but usually settled over tea. But sometimes fighting can happen if refugees are placed in the wrong community. This could be both within and between ethnicities.

On the bright side, an old double decker bus in The Jungle is converted into a women's and children's center with Help Refugees volunteers helping out refugees in need.

There's informal football and cricket dirt fields too. In the evenings by the highway tons of Afghans can he seen laughing and smiling while they play cricket. Once a week British volunteers play the Afghans in cricket, always losing against their former colony.

In addition, there are some refugee run barbershops in The Jungle. Despite the hardships, refugees take up community roles to help each other survive.

Jungle food:
Refugees get food in several different ways, one already described above as refugee run restaurants.Since refugees can go freely in and out out the Jungle, they can go into shops to buy whatever goods they want in bulk. Many refugees were not poor and could afford this easily.

Jungle toilets, sanitation and land: Shit and piss
Showers, wait in line is long. Many refugees bathe with a bottle of water.
Rats
Asbestos and pesticides
Private farms

Jungle border:
Bansky Bridge

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/dec/11/banksy-uses-steve-jobs-artwork-to-highlight-refugee-crisis

Now defaced or, rather, added to

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/12115241/Banksy-mural-of-Steve-Jobs-defaced-in-Calais.html

The Jungle itself is tightly controlled by the CRS, a French militarized police force. I don't know the French police/military system very well but I do know they're pretty high up there in authority. They do riot and protest control, so you can ask yourself why they're guarding a refugee camp. Here's their Wikipedia page:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compagnies_R%C3%A9publicaines_de_S%C3%A9curit%C3%A9

In my experience, they are assholes. Fuck the police, fuck the CRS.

They slash open tents build beyond the tiny perimeters of the Jungle.

Refugees and come and go freely in and out of the refugee camp, they are free to roam in and around town. If they're free to leave, why are they living in this wretched Hell? It's because they really, really want to go to the UK. Why are they so dedicated?

However the government has plans to build an eight meter high wall surrounding The Jungle. How the wall will effect the ability to come in and out of The Jungle, I don't know. Whether or not its construction will happen is unknown, even many right wing residents of Calais don't want a wall, they would rather the camp and its residents be removed entirely.



***


Timeline (a lot is missing because I had long hours and shit wifi):

July 10th
Left Antwerp, Belgium hitchhiking to Calais, France. Took five different rides. Arrived at the warehouse for Help Refugees hitchhiking in a Porche with some British people who supported our cause. Florence and I thanked him and he drove off, and nearby volunteers for Help Refugees saw us get out so we asked them if it was the right place. They laughed when they discovered we hitchhiked in a Porche, since such cars don't come around there too often.

Workers seem really friendly and cool so far, like a big family.
Met Marco, a volunteer from Salisbury, Maryland who went to Salisbury College, a two hour drive from my home town.

Our caravan's name is Jungala (after one week we switched to another caravan named Pink Elephant). We have a candle to light inside left there by a former volunteer.

Police play good cop bad cop. Sometimes we can't bring in shovels, or big tents, or whatever they feel like that day. It's random. Most of the time no building materials like large pieces of wood though. 


Mon July 11
Go to Dunkirk refugee camp to distribute toiletries and pants
An official refugee camp (ours is not), smaller, mostly Kurdish refugees there

Tue July 12
Dunkirk camp again. Met a geologist from Kurdistan who worked in oil fields there. There's some Vietnamese families there too.

Finally visited "the jungle", but only went to the "Jungle Books" school.
***Describe School***

I taught English by reading two kids books to refugees, one was Snoopy :)
Had to leave early because of threats of tear gas, couldn't all fit in car, so me and two others had to wait outside the camp.
While waiting Christina my CS host from Volos, Greece drives up with two friends!


Wed July 13
Dunkirk distribution again

Thurs July 14
Weren't needed at Dunkirk so we found something else: unloading incoming vans w Dillon
Bastille-fireworks beach with me Florence, Marco and his girlfriend Sunny. Christina met us on the beach too.
After fireworks we wandered into town and tried hitchhiking back home to the warehouse, but it was after midnight so we walked most of the way until Valentino, one of the volunteer team leaders picked us up.

Fri July 15
Since I stayed up late the night prior I had trouble waking up. Florence suggested I take the day off so I did. Christina and I got a ride to the refugee camp w one Portuguese and two Italian volunteers but our ride had to get some soil for their garden project, so after trying at two different stores, getting lost, and driving the wrong direction towards Paris, we eventually got the the camp. Christina and I volunteered teaching English at the Ecole school in the camp. One of only two schools the other being "Jungle Books." We taught English together, both of us teaching one Sudanese guy who is still learning basic English.

While there we met a Syrian refugee who spoke very good English, so we got to talking with him.
He told us how he didn't like how Help Refugees is hierarchically structured from the top administration to the team leaders and then the rest of the volunteers.

Sat July 16
Ecole 

Sun July 17
First day of welcome caravan 

Mon July 18

Tue July 19


Overheard:
"The last time the police were evicting people some police were crying because of how traumatic it was." 

Wednesday July 20th

Thursday July 21st

Friday July 22nd

Saturday July 23rd

Sunday July 24th

Monday July 25th

Tuesday July 26th

Wednesday July 27th

Thursday July 28th
Police walking by were surrounding a man with a suit. And by them were refugees. Man with suit angrily tells them that he shut down the restaurants because "you are stealing from poor people", in this case "you" is the restaurant owners. What an absurd statement. If that's true then he should shut down every capitalist business in Calais too for stealing from poor people. Florence and I tried to follow the police but I got distracted by Swiss chocolate Valentino gave me.

Friday July 29th
Very tired and hard to get up out of bed.
Police were being assholes and prevented us from bringing in tents. We tried south entrance, eventually got tents in. While waiting I relaxed on Moussa's bed/couch. A giant mattress on top of a portable plastic bed-frame. Felt much more recharged and ready to go after. While waiting we all hung out and chatted.
Set up a big green tent for Sudanis and/or Eritreans with Florence. Took forever to find a spot. Found a dirty tent with puddles and cans in it. Cleaned it and moved it, then an Afghan got mad we moved his kitchen, so we left to find another spot. After two hours of searching we finally found one.
Had lunch of pasta; more carbs, damnit. Valentino gave me more Swiss chocolate and made me happy. Rested a while on bed/couch. Police and some guy in a suit and another with a camera were going around to the restaurants to make sure they were closed, blocking the path for people in their way, preventing us from using the bathroom when they were by our local porta-potties.
Built a big green tent on top of the tall mound across from the Welcome Caravan for Sudanis from Darfur. It was my first time on top of "the mound", the tallest point in the jungle. You can see all around from the highway surrounded by barbed wire to the church and jungle books to the fields we can't build tents to the fenced in refugee compounds to the ww2 bunkers, and the grassy sand dunes in the distance blocking the view to the sea. It was beautiful and sad to see all the jungle from above. I want to spend more time on top. Once built one of the people from Darfur who will live there started talking to me. I mentioned how I loved the view, and that you could almost see the beach. I asked him if he's been to the beach and he said no, he doesn't like beaches. I asked why and he told me he saw a few hundred refugees drown when their boat sank off the coast near a beach.
Olivia (British volunteer) and I went to build a big green tent for Afghans. After a small friendly argument with neighbors they cleared bushes so we could set up the tent. Halfway through they served us and everyone tea and cookies. I couldn't refuse their hospitality because that'd be rude so I had to accept. (Later that night I couldn't sleep because of the caffeine but at least it gave me time to write this down in my diary.)
Florence, Laura, and I stayed behind at the end f the day to explore the ww2 bunkers with headlamps so we could go underground in the cold darkness. We invited Mitchell (American from outside Chicago who's volunteering independently at jungle books) but he was busy. We were scared, I personally was scared of accidentally getting trapped inside or meeting some lunatic who was gonna stab us, so I armed myself with rocks in my pockets to throw. Luckily that never happened. We also never found any under ground tunnels connecting the bunkers Mitchell told us about. But we did find lots of graffiti, beer bottles, and occasional sleeping bags from other amateur ww2 bunker explorers. There was a big network of tunnels and stairs under the bunker but it wasn't that extensive and we explored all of it in maybe a half hour or 45 minutes. We went outside again and walked to the other bunker in the distance but unfortunately the entrances to the underground parts were closed off. Who opened up the first bunker's underground entrances? Maybe the refugees got bored and kept smashing it with rocks until it opened?
We kept walking in the grasses behind the beach trying to find another way to the refugee camp. Eventually we found a lone policeman guarding the beach. Haha. Of all the positions the policemen could get that one must be the most relaxing. Hardly anyone was there and he got to spend it at a beautiful beach. Laura asked in French if we could pass but he said no because of the construction of the new harbor in the distance. We turned around and took another path back to the refugee camp, a new one for us that took us to the fence on the far northwest side. We walked along the fence while watching Afghans play cricket. We sat and watched a while and I chatted briefly with other Afghans in the "bleachers" a short hill leading up to the highway.
As it got dark we walked all the way back to the warehouse, tried dumpster diving along the way and found nothing, and went to bed. The warehouse volunteers had an open mic night that night but we skipped it because ww2 bunkers are cooler and we were tired from walking back. We went to sleep with the sound of the wind and open mic night.


Saturday July 30th
Noticed my right eye felt like it had something in it. I felt pain and pressure when squinting, closing my eye, or opening it very wide. Florence looked at it and saw nothing.

Sunday July 31st
Took a day off because my eye got worse. Lots of eye boogers in it too. In the morning Sarah (Portugal) and Allan (Scotland) said it was conjunctivitis, and that all I needed was to go to a pharmacy to get eye drops. Unfortunately everything's closed on Sunday. I could go to a hospital instead but someone told me the hospital is far away. So instead I figured I should just rest all day and go first thing to the pharmacy Monday morning, so I could get back to work right away.

Monday August 1st
Woke up early, at 8am to get to the pharmacy early. Eye got even worse, took a while to fully open my eye in the morning. Pharmacy opened at 9, got there right when they opened with Florence as my translator. Unfortunately the pharmacist said it wasn't conjunctivitis like we thought but a stye instead, and she couldn't give us anything for it, so we had to go to the hospital instead, which was actually nearby this whole time, so I could've gone to the hospital on my day off on Sunday. Got to the hospital, filled out forms, Florence left to go back to warehouse while I stayed.
It turned out it was actually an infected eyelash, and the doctor at the hospital gave me antibiotics for it. After a week of antibiotics that I was better.

Eye meds, Started August 1st
Monday night, Ended August 8th
Monday morning

Oh and the whole cost including the doctor visit and antibiotics was five euros.


Tue Aug 9
In the evening we had a meeting where we learned evictions for at least the restaurants in the jungle owned and operated by refugees will be happening very soon. We don't know the details of how though. Plus the restaurant owners have a court case today in Lille. Inshallah it goes well.
Update: it went well! The restaurants can stay open!

Wed Aug 10
Early morning our alarm clock went of for hitchhiking to England, but luckily since Florence had her backpack on another volunteer, John McKintosh, who was driving to the UK offered us a ride. The only problem was he had only two extra seats and one was supposed to be for Jake, another volunteer. Luckily we convinced Jake to give up his ride so we could both take it, thank you Jake!
We entered the ferry after the border crossing gave us a hard time asking for our jobs and how we're leaving England.
The ferry was awesome, a fancy boat with updated technology, a supermarket on board, bars, restaurants, and of course scenic views of the English Channel with the White Cliffs of Dover staring at us as seagulls flew alongside us eating crumbs children would throw out to them.
Once in England we had plenty of time to kill so we wandered into Canterbury because I knew of Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales written five hundred years ago -- even though I hadn't read it. We saw a big church and old abbey, couldn't stay that long though.
John dropped us off in Maidstone and we took a nap under a tree in the shade until it was time to meet up with our Couchsurfing host.


***

Months after I left I have kept informed thanks to friends I made and the Help Refugees facebook page. I'll update this from time to time.

Today, October 11th 2016, CRS smashed the door of the Jungle Books store room


Thursday, February 4, 2016

Chickens and foxes

On a 5:50 hour bus ride from Toulouse to Barcelona on January 7th I wrote this story with a friend:



Once upon a time, there was a fox. This fox was a special fox because he hated eating rabbit and chicken, and preferred eating vegetables. Unfortunately due to the dietary requirements of fox biological systems, the fox couldn't get enough protein and so it died. Its family wasn't sad but happy when they knew it was dead, actually it was kind of a shame for them, to celebrate its death, they stole three chicks from a farm and made a big dinner with them. But then the farmer discovered the chicken stealers and went to war with the fox family, and The Great Fox War of '16 ensued, killings hundreds of thousands and displacing millions. At the end of the war, only chickens survived and decide to build a huge dictatorial empire. Years passed, then decades, and the decades turned to centuries, and eventually a small group of rebel chickens were fighting against the dictatorship to form a anarcho-communist society. As this group of rebels became bigger and bigger the chick King Cocorrico IX asked for help from the rare foxes who survived the great war to eat all the rebels and thus the first treaty between chicks and foxes was signed. Among the foxes though was a mutant fox who could survive without eating meat and was also a super genius who biologically engineered a virus that could change his fellow fox peers to also make them vegetarians, so he tried to get all the foxes to instead support the rebel chickens by not eating them. By a very persuasive speech the mutant fox became the chief of all the surviving foxes and the group decided to not eat the rebels and to fight against the empire, but as the other foxes were not vegetarian, foxes ate all the chicken who were not from the rebel group; the chief understood at this moment that other foxes accepted to fight with the rebels because they wanted to have more food, and after the dictatorship was eaten he decided to use his virus. At last, a peaceful society emerged and the vegetarian foxes lived happily with the rebel chickens in an anarcho-communist society, and they grew lots of pretty flowers all over the land and cultivated food based on ecologically friendly principles. But one day, a chicken fell in love with a fox and when they made love for the first time the chicken got contaminated by the virus and became a carnivore mutant chicken who cannot live without eating foxes, so she ate her lover. Scared for the future of their society, the council of chickens and foxes had an emergency meeting to decide how to contain the virus. But it's a really difficult point because if foxes don't have the virus in their veins they will eat chickens and if chickens get contaminated by the virus they will eat foxes, so they decided to do an enormous prevention campaign and make a law that foxes and chickens are not allowed to have sex, but as each time something is forbidden people want to break the law and the number of contaminated chicks rise up, so the council decided to have propaganda in media and school to say that sex between two races is horrible and penalized the interracial sex as a crime against the peace.

After a while, the propaganda set in and it became part of their culture. Chickens and foxes were segregated and those that fell in love were lynched. Meanwhile, a chicken scientist developed a way to artificially make fox meat grown in a laboratory without being part of the fox itself, so fox meat could be factory produced in bite-size pieces edible for consumption without harming any foxes.  The chicken part of the council applauded loudly and were very happy but the foxes did not agree at all because they thought that if chickens started to eat fox meat even though it did not come from real foxes they'd be in danger anyway. In fact, the process of making fox meat is very long and demands a lot of energy to produce. If it's produced in big quantities the production process and the distribution would pollute the environment, which is against the principle of eco friendly production in the constitution. There was a big argument in the council about the decriminalization of interracial sex and the distribution of fox meat.

In the meantime, the scientist got back to work to try to figure out this problem on his own through more engineering of viruses. He created a vaccine that could be given to chickens at birth to prevent them from contracting the virus. That way, even if chickens had sex with foxes the virus wouldn't infect them and they wouldn't turn into carnivores. So he came back to the council to submit his solution and the council was amazed. But the scientist wanted to get paid for what he has done for the country and proposed to give the council the formula for the vaccine on one condition. The council told him that they'll accept anything. He told them, "I want to be the owner of Grassy Land," which is the region of the territory that produces the most food and where a lot of people were living.

Since this society was still an anarcho-communist society, the idea of land owners was strictly against their values. If the scientist was given land their society would thus become capitalist again, which would create inherent inequalities and eventually lead to class war, racism, and ecological catastrophe too. The debate continued. 

The council decided to not accept the request of the scientist and asked him if he had another proposition. The scientist was furious and told them that he needed time to think. A week after, he returned to the council and asked for a bigger laboratory and anything he needs for his future research. If the council accepts, he'll give the formula to them.

The council agreed and gave the scientist the demands he asked for. Chickens all over were given the vaccine, so that they could freely love the foxes. Soon after, the segregation between chickens and foxes was deconstructed along with the propaganda in the media and schools. Everyone rejoiced that their society became integrated once again while retaining their vegetarian and eco-friendly ways.

But then people realized that the scientist had disappeared and nobody could find him... 
The scientist actually was in a foreign country, one of the last capitalist countries in the world. He became the boss of a big fast food corporation. This fast food corporation used the same technology as the one that created fox meat he proposed to the chickens and foxes council. Also, thanks to resources he got from the council, he created a very dangerous product which kills plants. He returned to the country he used to live in and thanks to the help of the public authorities of the capitalist country, he used pigeons to spread liters and liters of the grass poison on the field. All plants died and people of the anarchist-communist country had no food. The scientist came to see the country and proposed to them to feed people all over the country thanks to fast food created without any plants.

Although the chicken and fox ancom society tried fighting back, they lost and ended up reluctantly agreeing with the scientist's demands. Since capitalism inherently leads to growth the capitalist country eventually took over the ancom society and soon the whole world too. The planet fell into dark times as global capitalism resulted in widespread pollution, inequality and racism.

There were some small rebellions that tried to resist the capitalist ruling class but all were squashed by the military. Decades passed in this way, rebels try to resist but continue to get squashed. Eventually the world was so polluted it could not sustain itself any longer and there was a grave risk of widespread extinction. Survival looked bleak.

But a glimmer of hope flickered: space exploration. Far away there was an alien planet that had plenty of resources to sustain the chicken and fox population. A fleet of space crafts were created to explore the alien planet and take everything they found of value.

When the chickens and foxes got there however they discovered an alien species thriving in peace and harmony.

The chickens and foxes debated on what to do but ultimately decided that they should invade the alien planet to save themselves from environmental collapse. They were met however with a unique kind of resistance.

The peaceful aliens were experts in biotechnology and engineered a virus that would act in self defense.

A virus was created to test which chickens and foxes were violent or not. The chicken-fox dictator didn't pass the test and sent an army to go to the alien planet. All the violent chickens and foxes staying on their home planet died from the virus including their dictator. However the army was spared since it was flying through space towards the alien planet.

Before the army arrived on the alien planet they heard news of their dictator dying. Upon realizing that they didn't haven't to obey orders anymore they changed their mind and become peaceful, and ended up passing the alien test to live with them in peace.

The chickens and foxes then abandoned their dying planet and old ways of capitalism and joined the aliens in peace and harmony.

Once together in peace, the aliens understood that people can change and regretted what they had done, so they created a memorial day to never forget what happened during this "war".

Friday, May 29, 2015

Entry 9: YOLO in Volos

YOLO in Volos

Yolo στο Βόλο 

(using yolo ironically, ok? (and now I'm saying that I'm using yolo ironically, ironically))

I returned from my disorganized island adventure on Skiathos to the city of Volos where I couchsurfed again with Christina.

Somewhere around Sunday May tenth...

Christina, her boyfriend Christophe, and I hiked around Mount Olympus. Not up. Just around. For six hours. With a group hiking tour along with dozens of old people, some around 80 years and counting, they climbed faster than me. Unfortunately knees were in immense pain despite carrying just my water; there's no way I could climb the whole mountain. Thankfully one of the older hikers loaned me his carbon fiber hiking poles after I collapsed a third of the way through desperate to rest my knees.

You see, when I left America six months ago I overpacked, bringing everything from a rechargeable ultraviolet water purifier and three water bottles/camelbaks to heavy pocket knives and plastic bowls to camping gear like rope, matches, a bivouac sack, and tarp. I've only had to use my sleeping bag once so far, on the beach of Eilat, Israel.  While I only carry around my huge 95 liter Whitney (brand) backpack from Gregory (company name) once or twice a week at most, its immense weight had been aggravating my knees more and more over the past six months. The Olympus knee disaster was the final straw, so at this point given my painful joints at just 25 years of age I figured it's best to ditch half my stuff. I mailed home almost five kilos, and might mail home more. 

Why did I have all that? Because in my mind at the time, leaving the country with just over a thousand dollars to travel for a year meant survival mode: living on the edge, the peak of supposed masculinity, foraging and hunting for survival -- none of which I had to do at all. My individualistic perspective was shattered by the collective hospitality I've experienced, helping me along from the roads to the cities. Being a white, male, American, English speaker got me this far with so little money too. Privilege is never talked about on those "How to travel the world for free" books and videos but is without a doubt a huge factor that cannot be ignored. One day I will dedicate an entire blog entry to this subject. You'll get a taste of that here but there's too much to talk about overall.

Fri 5/16
I went to the synagogue in Volos again this time bringing Christina along given her fascination with Jews and Israel. Getting free food at Shabbat dinner is a huge plus, I plan to visit synagogues wherever I go just for this, not to mention the interesting people I meet.

At 90 years old with the tattoo on his arm still visible, I met the last Holocaust survivor of Volos, who might be among eight or nine remaining Holocaust survivors of Greece. He struggles to walk and talk, drooling slurred Hebrew at me when I said "Shalom," but still makes it to Shabbat services and dinner.

With a hearty loaf of challah bread I left with an invitation to return next week.

I suddenly had a slew of couchsurfing hosts cancel on me, so in urgency that weekend I used AirBnb for the first time paying just nine euro for three nights. Since the guy was new to airbnb like me we both wanted to try it out with little money -- and blowing up condoms to the size of a person with a hair dryer (video: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=vpzJWFFlupw).

Thanks to sheer luck, people I met at parties offered to host me through the next week, like Kostas who fed me delicious Greek meals and then his friend Serhat, a Turkish speaking Kurd from Istanbul studying in Greece. I beat him at his own game of backgammon and learned a lot from him from the PKK (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurdistan_Workers%27_Party) to revolutionary Rojava (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rojava), so I must visit Kurdistan eventually.

Fri 5/22
The synagogue had invited me back this weekend, so figured it was ok to bring a different guest this time now with Serhat. Big mistake. While the police guard who is always there let us in after checking his passport and my American driver's license, he ended up calling in backup police after half an hour through our dinner. In plain clothes they escorted us out and told us they would take us briefly to the station that was close by -- utterly false. Twenty minutes later we arrived, ears still buzzing from the constant interrogation on the way there. They told us that to enter a synagogue we needed State approval (which Christina later told me was bullshit), so this means the the guard lied to us to lure us into a trap, or they made up some law for their enjoyment.

Since I didn't have my passport, I had to wait at the station while they drove Serhat back to his house to get it from inside my backpack. My boring hours with a secretary watching tv didn't hold a candle to Serhat's experience with both policemen interrogating him all the way to his house and back, a forty minute round trip. It was me who left his passport behind, why did he suffer through it? Obviously his Turkish passport and our lack of Greek language tipped them off to his terrorist ways of using me to bomb the synagogue. Or since half of policemen are in Golden Dawn, the Greek Nazi party, they felt like making up a law to uphold their racist beliefs.

After two hours in police custody we were finally let out, thankfully driven to the city pier after midnight. Unfortunately it was too late to go back to the synagogue and apologize to explain what happened, and the police warned us not to go again even though the Jewish community of Volos welcomed us in with open arms.

In a game of backgammon and a round of drinks at a cafe, we vented out our frustration and wondered if this would end up on our records. Hopefully neither of us have to face this at the border as we exit Greece.

I introduced Serhat to CouchSurfing and gave him his first reference to start his own journey. He's disillusioned with university and wants to drop out and travel like me. His English is good enough to get by but his Turkish citizenship and Kurdish background may hold him back. Hopefully one day I will host him in America, and the police will let him be.

Sat 5/23

Mon 5/25
After a month in Volos and Skiathos it was time to leave. I left Serhat's at 7 am, took the bus to Velestino, a small town just outside of Volos by 8:30 AM, and started hitchhiking to Athens right away. Initially it looked hopeful with two rides easily hitched to start my journey down the national highway, even as one warned me it was "zesty" outside, or hot. But the third ride never came after four hours of waiting -- still just a half hour's drive from Volos.

Police abruptly stopped by, scolding me why it's illegal to hitchhike on highways, so I asked them for a ride elsewhere but they replied that they weren't a taxi. My rebuttal? "If your law says this is dangerous then why don't you protect and serve your people and help me get out of here?" Unamused, they drove off. The only thing dangerous about hitchhiking is getting sunburnt while people who think it's dangerous won't pick you up.

After surveying my surroundings for a way off the pavement I walked through the brush alongside the off ramp to a small country road that paralleled the highway. I refilled my water from a nearby farmer, asked the local village of Aerino where the closest bus station was to no luck, and then took off hiking south toward the next town a two hour walk away, Mikrothives, hoping for the best.

Despite my sunscreen and water surplus, thirst and sunburn were unavoidable while hitchhiking all day. Up and down the dirt road the thunder of trucks roared off the highway, mocking my slow pace. At least I got to enjoy the scenery of rolling hills and farmland, as mountains soared in the distance between puffy clouds.

Every so often the dirt road connected to the other side of the highway through a tunnel underneath where I took refuge from the sun to relax in the shade.

Upon cresting the next hill a blue roof glistened in the distance, a sign of shelter and hope alongside the sparsely populated rural coast. As I neared, the smell of only what could be described as a Greek oasis awakes my dormant hunger: a souvlaki and gyro stand in the middle of nowhere. Is it real? "Yasas!" I called out, "Yasoo" replied the large bellied man as he served a customer, one of the many truckers who stop by. I'll have what he's having. Smiling at me with broken English, "Ketchup? Mustard?" Yes. I'll have all of it. Pouring out the coins in my wallet, he gestured that the meal was on him. You tend to learn quickly what gestures mean free food on my travel budget. I thanked him profusely, and ate in a way I haven't ate since I swam two hours daily as a teen. No thinking. Just eating.

I thanked him and trekked onward, satisfied with the extra burst of energy. Despite the few tractors that passed by not acquiescing my thumb the walk felt much shorter.

As my shadows lengthened I neared Mikrothives, where I found people for help. They could barely speak English but gave me iced coffee, chocolate, and cold water until a younger person they called for arrived to help me. It turns out there was a bus stop in that town towards Athens but it was due in the next ten minutes, and walking there would have taken too long, so another guy put me and my backpack on the back of his motorcycle. As we drove off I yelled goodbye and thank you, holding on for dear life. He dropped me off at the bus station with just a few minutes to spare.

Grateful to rest my legs I sat down next to the guy closest to my age, hoping for a good English speaker. To my good fortune we got along very well and he invited me to an unpopulated island with him and his friends for a week of smoked fish and rest under the sun. I'm not sure if I'll have time in my last two weeks of my Greek visa to go but I'll keep this on my mind.

He brought me into the taxi he got and dropped me off on the metro where I went to my next Couchsurfing host, Elena.

As of now I have two weeks left before leaving for Albania.

Notes: I have a new PayPal account, so if you want to donate to my travels use michael.brocenos@gmail.com and I will dedicate a song to you on my ukulele and share you the video.

While in Volos I've hit ten euros an hour on a good day busking with my ukulele. But if I play it a lot, everyday, my wrist starts hurting, so I try to limit myself to a few hours a day every other day.

My initial reaction to both police incidents was positive, thinking they wouldn't be so bad or would help. It was Serhat's experience that opened my eyes to what was really happening. Given my white skin I don't have a that much of a conditioned reaction of anxiety or fear when seeing the police.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Entry 8: Six months

Wed 4/22

Thurs 4/23
Left Garifallia's to head to my next CS host in Volos, a port city on my way to Skiathos, an island I'll volunteer at for a few weeks. After staying up late the previous night writing my blog and procrastinating, I got to the train station at 11am, bought a night train ticket for that night, and walked away immediately regretting that decision. After busking for a couple hours I realized I really, really wanted to try hitchhiking in Greece instead of taking the exhausting night train again so I said to myself, "Fuck it, I'm gonna return this ticket and get a refund." They could only pay me back 90% of the 18 euro ticket but that was fine for me. I bought the next ticket to Oinofyta, a suburb of Athens easier to hitchhike out of for four euro and then jumped on board.

Some nice people helped me when I had to switch trains and told me which stop to get off at, and when I did I had to walk 2km to the on ramp for the highway but hitched a ride halfway there at around 4:30pm thanks to an Albanian guy. Then it took me another half hour to find the next guy, a Romanian with the tips of his fingers cut off from his furniture making work who has a wife and kids here in Greece. He drove me out of his way to a rest stop on the national highway by 6pm where I tried hitchhiking some more. And tried. And tried. And no one came. I had to spend the night there, unpacked my sleeping pad and silk sleep cover to sleep inside the 24/7 cafe. The workers kindly gave me some seasoned bread and pastries, way too many than necessary, and tea for dinner. Greek hospitality isn't as widespread and constant as Palestinian hospitality but when it happens you are overwhelmed with food. Absolute truck loads of it that can sustain you for a week. I'm sure some of this bread will go moldy before I eat it, or perhaps I'll share it with someone else when I get to my CS host in Volos.

Despite the noise of TV European league basketball and cheering, I slept right away when my head hit my sweater turned pillow. At midnight however I awoke to a thunderous yelling, and jolted up to see what was the matter. Expecting the worse that could happen at a rest stop at this time of the night it was just a few excited fans hyper-focused on their blaring basketball game. I guess they're as enthusiastic about their sports teams as many Americans are.

Laughing and relieved at the situation I fell back to my spot in the dark corner of the room under a table and tried to fall asleep again but this time with great difficulty. I definitely remember dreaming in the early hours, as I dreamt of people I haven't seen since I left America. In fact, several times I was caught in that paralyzed state where I'm half-dreaming and half-awake, and I tried moving to avoid the dream's events but couldn't as I found myself paralyzed under the table. It pales in comparison to the night terrors I had as a kid so it wasn't too scary, in retrospect I find it rather interesting.

Fri 4/24
Perhaps it was because of this, the noise and fluorescent lighting that eventually my brain just gave up trying to sleep and I could only relax with my eyes closed until my growling stomach demanded breakfast at 6:30am. Thanks to plenty of bread the staff gave me the prior night I had a gooey, sweet cheesy, flaky cake as well as olive bread before hitting the road. Before 8am another Albanian picked me up and drove me all the way to a rest stop outside Lamia, 2/3rds of the way from Athens to Volos, where I thumb this into my iPhone's notes with Goody's wifi, a Greek burger fast-food chain. All of my rides so far could barely speak English so there wasn't much conversation unfortunately.

After waiting two hours with no ride I resorted to asking the nearby gas station for cardboard and a marker to make a Βόλος/Volos sign, which worked quickly to catch a car from an English speaking Greek who told me I was in a bad spot for picking up rides. He dumped me off two minutes down the road at a more convenient location where I easily hitched with an English speaking Greek couple on their way to Volos, the last ride I needed. They liked me enough to invite me for drinks and appetizers on them at their favorite cafe/bar in the city with their friend, who then drove me to my next CS host, Christina. Still tipsy from the drinks I updated this diary on my new couch.

After borrowing Christina's bike to tour around Volos, I found a memorial to the Jews who died in the holocaust, checked my map and discovered the synagogue was just a block away, so why not check it out. They gave me dinner and I stayed until services started at 9:30pm where I met an elderly man who as a child was smuggled under a boat deck to escape the Nazis from Greece to Turkey where they were welcomed because his family had Turkish citizenship but were living in Greece. His family had lived in Anatolia (Modern Turkey) since the Spanish Inquisition as the Ottoman Empire welcomed the Jews when they were kicked out of Spain, and as many Sephardic Jews did and still do he also spoke their dialect of Spanish.

I left early to find Christina and her friends at a local bar/cafe.

One of her friends is also distantly related to Apostolos Kaklamanis, my grandmother's famous Greek politician cousin, which in a way makes us very distantly related.

Christina's a really cool urban planning student, lots of similar interests like activism and leftist politics.

Sat 4/25
Busked for over four hours on the boardwalk of Volos, made a record breaking almost thirty euro. I only stopped because after playing Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah for the zillionth time a guy in his house-boat across from me called out:
"Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah! [yelling in Greek]" then upon realizing I couldn't understand, "Four hours of playing over and over again please go somewhere else!"
Fine with me but if you had a problem you should've mentioned it earlier. As I packed up and started counting and sorting my coins a younger guy from the same boat walked over and handed me a two euro coin. Thank you. "Paragallo," *your welcome*.

At this point I have three songs memorized, and four more I can play well with sheet music at my feet. The awkward fingering of Blind Melon's "No Rain" has finally gotten easier.

After an authentic Greek yogurt dinner, I joined Christina to a midnight outdoor queer dance party she helped organize at her university. Not unlike most parties I've been to, loud pop music, booze, and strobe lights flooded the thousand person venue. I met Christina's friends and other students like Kostas, another CouchSurfing host who I messaged, many of whom...

Sun 4/26
...  coincidentally found me busking on the seaside walkway the next day. I chatted long with Christina about many shared interests of political views and activism, travels and hitchhiking, and especially Israel and Palestine, which she had a particular fascination for.

Mon 4/27
I left Christina's before she awoke for a ferry ride to Skiathos, an island where I'll spend the next few weeks volunteering. The boat officials wouldn't accept the half-off student discount I bought online but thankfully let me on without paying the full price with a warning not to do it again. Views of the sea, nearby mainland and islands faded in and out with the morning haze as Hellenic mountains appeared for brief hellos only to disappear moments later. Contrasted with such surrounding scenes my two and a half hour boat ride's population within included seasonal workers reclining on the sofas, junk food snack bars, fluttering moths, several TVs playing what looked like a live action Dragonball Z, and a full parking garage in the lower decks that could fit several 18-wheelers.

Soon after arriving at Skiathos I met Stephen who took me to Joyce 'n Fun, the play lounge/day care he owns with his partner Elektra. They have one adorable and energetic five year old, Joyce. I'm volunteering with this family cooking them meals, walking their dog, and occasionally helping out at the daycare. They're very nice and chill people but very disorganized. They're house was a mess as if they've been waiting for me to come and clean it for them. They had no food stocked yet wanted me to cook for them. I didn't know one of them was vegan until hours after I got here (nothing wrong with that, I just like being prepared). I asked for a schedule and they mumbled off and couldn't give me one. They had piles of dishes as if they hadn't washed anything but for days expecting me to come soon and wash everything for them.

Pretty island though and the kids are fun, probably a dozen coming in and out throughout the day. Except for one asshole who hits the others.

Tue 4/28


Wed 4/29
Chasing kids is a question of zone defense or one-on-one defense.

Thurs 4/30

Fri 5/1
Walked their dog into a house of cats and then a chicken coop. She fucking killed a chicken.

Sat 5/2

Sun 5/3

Mon 5/4

Tue 5/5

Wed 5/6

Thurs 5/7

The past several days have been a blur. Another chicken died thanks to their dog, thousands of steps have been hiked along the island's hills, and many sunsets watched over the water.

My first experience of utter chaos turned out to simply be the island's culture. Stephan and Elektra are super chill and nice, and didn't seem to mind that I only cooked for them once, a huge pot of lentils over saturated with olive oil.


Fri 5/8
After finishing a jar of peanut butter for lunch I left Skiathos after just a week and a half with them and took a boat back to Christina's in Volos.

Sat 5/9
It's been six months since I left America. Christina, me, and another CouchSurfer went to a rooftile and brickworks museum in Volos, touring its once industrial past. While it could've been boring our lovely conversation about Nazi's in Greece made it fun. Did you know that half of every Greek policeman votes for Golden Dawn, their Nazi party?



Notes: Whenever I ask places to fill up my water bottle when I'm on the go they assume I want hot water. Why? I have no idea. And this has been the case since I left America six months ago. In fact, my first day in Europe during a layover in Belgium on my way to Israel a airport worker filled my bottle with boiling hot water only to have it fall all at his feet.