Monday, April 30, 2018

Arrival in Greece

RyanAir was delayed.  For some unaccountable reason we sat on the tarmac at Paphos airport for 40 minutes before taking off, which made us late landing, which meant I missed the airport bus and had to take a taxi -- but I got to the rendezvous point and met the rest of the walkers before our Macedonian coach came to whisk us off to our hotel for the night. My back complained at the long sitting, but has given no overt twinges.

I still don't have names matched to faces, for the most part.  Our Fearless Leader Eleni and Doc Heather are the Skyline crew members whose jobs are to shepherd us from point to point and keep us safe and healthy -- young but experienced, they briefed us last night at dinner about things like border sensitivity, the route that we will take, care of feet, dehydration, and hygiene. Paul, Bea, and Rana, are founder and trustees of the charity that we are supporting -- Refugee Support Europe -- which was actually born here, in Alexandria (about an hour's drive from Thessaloniki), when the army opened a camp to take the pressure off Idomeni in May 2016.  My room mate is Christa from New York.  Others, I will introduce as and when...

Hotel Manthos, where we are staying, has been a rock, a lifeline, and a home away from home for countless volunteers over the last few years. Anna, the proprietor, is one of those Greeks who has really stepped up -- like the islanders and the fishermen and the countless other nameless people who showed their humanity by opening their hearts to the desperate people who flooded into their already struggling country. As well as supporting volunteers, she opened respite rooms for free to women who had given birth -- by Caesarean -- in the local hospital, and had to leave at the end of the day.  Some stayed for over a month.  She spoke to me in fluent, if careful, English, and broke into a huge smile when I told her I speak Greek. "But where did you learn?" she asked. "I live in Cyprus," I said. "Twenty-five years!" "Why then, you are Greek!" was her answer... I winced, on behalf of every Cypriot who stands up for their Cypriot-ness in the face of Greek or Turkish nationalism, but there was no point in saying anything, and I was helpless in the tide of her warm hospitality.

It is now just after 6 a.m. I have been awake for over an hour, and my alarm has just rung. Breakfast is at 7, and we will be off at eight on the first leg of our trip -- a visit to the Petrol Station camp, and a walk to Idomeni. Because of sensitivity around the border, we are not crossing into Macedonia there, but rather hiking away from the camp itself and transferring by bus to the border. I am sure Skyline doesn't want any of us getting beaten, shot, or teargassed as the Macedonian border police and army were happy to do with the thousands that tried to pass two short years ago.

Anyway, onwards! Must get this show on the road... More, and of course pictures, to come....

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