The porous [boundary

Border: noun

  • the part or edge of a surface or area that forms its outer boundary
  • the line that separates one country, state, province, etc., from another; frontier line: You cannot cross the border without a visa
  • the district or region that lies along the boundary line of another

Touch: verb

  • to put your hand, fingers, etc., on someone or something
  • to be in contact with (something)
  • to change or move (something)

It’s raining. Lighting breaks the night. The people in tents are getting wet. Amalia just got back from Xios. Soaked people kept coming up from the beaches, she said; she and others helped strip the bodies of wet pants, shirts. The people didn’t care what parts of their bodies were being touched as she helped them into dry clothing, undressed and dressed them, made tea. Alicia tells me to bring a sheet or blanket to cover the concrete where we’ll go for a few hours to entertain the kids. One girl keeps holding my hand when I get up to get something from the car. A woman watches me as we cross the street. The children are gathered on the blanket drawing and painting, like birds around thrown seeds.

“These are the people who didn’t drown,” Alicia says, the people who continue to let go of the known for the all-too-physical unknown, in tents, using towels and blankets for make-shift spaces to sleep. This physicality starts to obsess me; there are borders of geography, fenced and walled check-points, and the borders, too, of physical need, of hunger, getting a period, being sick, needing to pee, giving birth, – I lay on my sheets after a visit to the port, my sheets never felt more comfortable, and cry – I pick up packets of sanitary napkins to give to a volunteer group at E1. Another day I open the shopping bag with the colored makers and chalk and offer a Kurdish woman a packet of them. She shakes  her head but thanks me. Two Syrian women, one in pale lavender and another in brown, seem so strangely ethereal, their hands clean, their hijabs made of what might have been silk. They could have been going out, or leaving someone’s house after a visit but they are walking across the port’s concrete from their tents. Their unruffled faces are a mystery to me – what will they look like in a month? Another woman is sweeping up trash beside the ground covered in some blankets. I use our broom, hers is straw; we gather the trash. They had come over from one of the islands on one of the boats. I’m appalled to learn everyone pays regular passenger fees. The Greek state is absent here too. Amidst the humanitarian efforts, are activities of a dark tourism. The sorting, feeding, and sustaining is being done by volunteer groups, some very efficient and organized people.

Rebecca Solnit‪ asked this question in a March 5 FB post: … Once the socialist cultural critic Raymond Williams said that, “To be truly radical is to make hope possible, rather than despair convincing”. Where do you stand on this?

These responses resonated:

Ruth Wallen‪: … It is fear of feeling that leads to paralysis, getting stuck in despair. Most importantly we need to cultivate our ability to feel fully, to act from sadness which is inevitable if we open our hearts, but also from the gratitude and possibility that comes simultaneously if we feel our own aliveness.

Annie Shattuck‪: Despair is almost always reactionary – (Sasha Lilley’s great work on Catastrophism reminds us just how this is so). I think people misunderstand hope. We attach to it, as if hope means a certain outcome. Hope does not promise anything. It asks us to be present with what is, and to imagine and then to practice what could be.

Yassin, who might have been 16, helped us clean up. He was in good spirits and spoke some English. Alicia gets the kids to share markers and chalk and reuse some of the pipe cleaners she’s brought which they are so happily blowing their bubbles through. Alicia has made a concoction out of suds. This second time I go to the port there are less Syrians, more Kurds, the men get involved too, drawing and writing, especially flags and names. One woman paints the colors of the Kurdish flag on a pastry she’s shaped out of play dough.

A young man comes over to say it’s kind of us to make the children happy but that this isn’t solving the problem, the toilets are a mess and the borders closing, that “Europe is treating us badly”; he has come alone from Turkey, his brother is in Jordan. He is hoping to make it to Germany, studied engineering, and is 32. A Lexus jeep pulls up and an elderly couple come out; the woman has a bag of croissants she hands out to the children, only one or two of them take the croissants and she wants to know why they won’t take them. “Because it’s not really food,” I tell her. Alicia saw Yassin some days later at another help point; he was in less hopeful spirits, and began to cry. On the metro going home a family of Syrians are on their way to the Larissa station where they were told they could get a bus to the Macedonian border. The man translates the Arabic into English on his phone for me so I understand what he is asking. They are a large group, two elderly men, a younger man, the man’s wife, and their two children; they are carrying carefully folded blankets tied together and backpacks. If it wasn’t for the blankets and the question of directions, they looked as if they could have been on their way to any city in Europe for a vacation.

Annie Shattuck is right “Hope does not promise anything. It asks us to be present with what is… to practice what could be,” this family, like so many traveling to a now-closed border are carrying their hopes to a place where

  • the line that separates one country, state, province, etc., from another; frontier line [will tell them…] You cannot cross the border without a visa

we can only hope they will manage to touch people

  • to change or move (something)

 

 

 

 

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About akalfopoulou

Author of two poetry collections, and most recently, a book of essays, Ruin, Essays in Exilic Living.
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