Indra’s blog: A different Greece
We have just returned from a short holiday in Greece. I have been to Greece several times during various stages of my life; to party, to relax, to help, but mostly to enjoy. It is my favourite holiday destination, as a country, not a specific place, even though I have mainly seen the different islands. The life seems simple but honest. The weather is usually great, even though sometimes a bit too windy, but hey what’s Berwick and our countryside like…. The people are friendly and welcoming. I have to admit I am usually surprised by the amount of missing teeth I (unwillingly) seem to spot, even in the younger generations. But above all… I love their food. Simple, grilled, lovely food with lots of tasty herbs with some zaziki really makes the sun come out even more. A bit of a swim, a bit of reading, but mainly too much food.
Returning to Greece and especially to Thessaloniki as a holiday maker felt a bit double. Ready for some family time, but aware life is different for others very close by. The last time I was there it was also short, but not so sweet. My good friend Janneke and I went in October 2016 to help Health-Point Foundation carry out mobile and static dental relief work in the refugee camps and on the street. It was very humanitarian, but also very much confrontational and very, very limited in what we could provide due to available resources and the locations we were working in. From going to being used to working in my own practice where everything I might need or want in almost all situations is available to a make shift set up with very limited means often meant being creative, but also choosing an outcome that otherwise would not even be an option. That was not just hard on us, but even more on the refugees themselves. It was striking to see how these people in most cases had been hard working and intelligent people that were used to making their own decisions and now had to settle for a less than favourable outcome without a choice. To give an example, in this situation it would be extremely difficult to perform a root canal treatment with a good outcome, leaving an extraction as the only option when there is a tooth abscess. Having to tell somebody that taking out their front tooth is the only option when they are in a lot of pain is horrible. Especially when they (in the life they used to have) would have opted for the root canal treatment to keep the tooth or if that was not possible would have chosen for an implant. Some rather walked away with that pain realising they would have to wait sometimes weeks before another dentist would be back to be able to see them again, but they thought they could bare the pain in the hope it would subside. And you just know it probably won’t and they will have a very rough time ahead.
The other side of the refugee work was the privilege to get to know some of these people, hear their stories and support them by taking time to listen to their hardship. To see how some of them could emotionally overcome by trying to build themselves up and trying to make the best of a very bad situation. Being stuck in a tent for 6+ months does not come lightly if you are used to having a life just like ourselves; going to work/school every day, living in a house with your own ‘things’, having family and friends around you, choosing what you like to do and most of all where to go and with whom. Having that all taken away from you, being bombed, losing your loved ones and seeing them die… the stories are too heart breaking, but made lighter by being heard. We were offered cups of tea, homemade cakes, muffins, falafels and more as they just loved to share their food with us, giving something back, whatever they could. Generous with the little bit they had. It was overwhelming and I have not got enough words to describe the rollercoaster we felt ourselves in in these few days we were there.
But there was also the flip side of the medal. Helping people that have chosen to leave a good place because they thought it would be better on the other side. As this is not reason enough to be a refugee all ‘benefits’ being refused to them, leaving them out on the street with their kids ‘illegally’. While helping one of these children, one of them completely passed out due to dehydration and starvation. The only thing left to do was buy him some food when he (fortunately) came round again. You know you won’t be there tomorrow, you know they probably won’t have food again tomorrow. You see the regret in the eyes of the parents and you just can’t decide if you are angry at them or just feel heartbroken for the bad decisions made by them and forced upon their kids.
And here we were, knowing it was still going on, knowing they were out there. Looking at your own kids, jumping around happily, enjoying the Greek food, enjoying the family time, enjoying the Greek sun and the swimming pool. Being thankful for being born in that place in the world where you were born and given the privileges that came with that coincidence. Being able to emigrate to another country, build a life, build a business, being allowed (as a woman) to have a job that you love, to raise a family and all because of having a little booklet with your name on it, a passport, made in the right country.
Life can be unfair to some, but we work hard, we try to help where and whenever we can and we have to teach our kids the privileges born upon them, to be grateful for them and to be proud to have them and to use them in everybody’s best interest. However within all of that we should never forgot to enjoy them!