# 3 - Lesvos Part 1 - Into The Cold Blue

[Turkey from Lesvos and The Sea That Separates]

We intended to stay on Lesvos only 4 days. But we fell in love.

I woke with a start as the bus stopped. The tiny twisting roads of Lesvos had lulled me to sleep - regretfully because the views of cobalt water and deep green vegetation were some of the most breathtaking I had ever seen. Karim and I stumbled off in a sleepy, heat-induced stupor, and the bus crawled off through the narrow streets. It would take about 10 minutes before I was awake enough to realize that I had left Martinito, my guitar, along with my computer on the bus.

We had arrived in Skala Sykamnias, a quaint fishing village on the northern shore of the Greek island of Lesvos. The crystal-clear water and warm townspeople have drawn tourists in flocks for many years, and we had come during high season expecting to integrate with the crowds. But we found the few restaurants were all basically empty. This is because Lesvos has been a familiar name in the news for the last couple of years. It happens to be the shortest distance between Turkey and Greece, making it a strategic landing place for refugees seeking asylum in Europe for the last 25 years. In the last 5 years or so the arrivals have spiked in number as various conflicts have come to a head in parts of the Middle East and Northern Africa. Thousands of refugees now pour onto the shores of the tiny island of Lesvos, causing a great deal of strain on the people who live there.

Enter Lighthouse Relief: a Swedish non-profit organization devoted to providing aid to refugees who land on Lesvos and mainland Greece. We came to interview the coordinators and volunteers at Lighthouse about their experiences in the midst of the crisis, working with refugees, and current life on Lesvos.

The Lighthouse camp set up in Skala Sykamnias serves as a temporary welcoming refuge for those who arrive by boat. They greet the asylum seekers at the shoreline to offer a warm welcome, a change of clothes, food, water and tea, shelter for the night and medical attention, as needed. Many arrive in the cover of night, and the volunteers are always on-call, waiting for a radio signal to respond immediately to new arrivals.

The day that we arrived, we threw ourselves into deep water. Literally. Mónica Mon, the current coordinator, asked us if we would like to be "victims" in a training simulation that afternoon for Proactiva - a group of badass Spanish lifeguards who patrol the sea to respond to refugee boat wrecks. We played the role of refugees who had fallen off of the boat. They drove us far out into the middle of the sea into deep, open water and told us to jump out, far away from one another. I splashed into the frigid water as clouds covered the sun, and they sped away.

Drifting there for even 20 minutes at a time, getting swept around by currents and racked by waves, a sense of desperation sneaks in. The water is bone-chilling and the sea has a way of inspiring a lonely surrender. It was hard to imagine holding a baby above my head and kicking to stay afloat in the turbulent water (while waiting for somebody to see my crashed boat through binoculars on land and radio Proactiva) and praying that we will be saved among the 60 others who were smuggled with us, barely visible by the light of a thin moon. This is the reality that many face on their way to uncertain freedom, crossing from Turkey to Lesvos.

In that situation, most probably, my life jacket would be a fake. In Turkey, heartless vendors stuff life jackets with cheap packing material that causes its wearer to sink instead of float. In fact, the vast majority of life jackets that Lighthouse cleans off of the rocky beaches are these deadly fakes. And what causes the boat to sink in the first place? Smugglers who pack 75 people on a dingy fit for 20. Some refugees pay upwards of 4,000 Euro per person for the promise of a safe crossing in a boat made for their family. When they arrive on the day of departure, they find that the smuggler they were working with promised the same deal to countless others. In times of desperation, there is no room to argue.

The Turkish coastguard carries a long stick with a jagged point on the end and threatens to pop the cheap inflatable boats if the people don't turn around. Many boats are slit and little to no aid is provided to the passengers, some pregnant women and children, who must swim back to Turkey with faulty life-jackets.

And so, it is important to be there to receive these wayfarers with love, no questions asked. A smile, a snack and a "Salam" goes a long way. That is what Lighthouse provides, and that dedication to human beings is a thread that bonds the diverse