I was consumed with my irritation, left eyebrow arched skyward, when we pulled off the main road onto a winding dirt path. As the car lurched forward over the uneven, rocky ground I brooded about what I could’ve lost had some one stolen my pack – which had been left behind by my friends; camera, wallet, car keys, passport. I argued silently with myself, trying to reason whether my frustration was warranted – I was slowly settling on the side that it wasn’t.
After an untold number of minutes the car came to a gentle halt and I directed my attention outside the grimy, dust covered windshield. All of my irritation dissolved in that moment, I was shocked to internal silence. I had read about it, heard my friends tell of their own visits, even saw pictures of it – but nothing in the world could prepare me for the reality of it.
The Life Jacket Graveyard.
An eerie silence descended upon us and I watched motionlessly as my three companions exited the vehicle. I hesitated, feeling as if I was standing on the edge of a precipice – did I really want to do this? Did I really want to abandon the insulated safety of the car, my own protected, privileged existence and enter into the grim reality of the refugees? I still had time, I could still turn away – still be complacent and complicit.
My hesitation lasted but a moment, the span of a sharp intake of breath, before I removed my seat belt and placed my feet on the flinty soil, walking tenderly as if the ground would open up beneath me and swallow me whole.
Thousands upon thousands of life jackets lie before me, piled high enough to reach the horizon, a mountain of red, blue and neon orange. Later I would learn that the whole thing took up 10 acres of land out of that mountainside – and that’s after various NGO’s had collected some for various projects. The ominous silence clung to me – my shoulders, my eyelashes – like early morning dew on the grass as I stepped away from the group and climbed the steep hill in front of me; a jagged path through the dense piles.
I was somewhere near the top when I stopped and turned to look around me. I began recognizing some of the shapes in the flotsam, not only were there life jackets but also tattered clothing, ragged flags no longer discernible, boat motor caps, popped and deflated rubber rafts and…there.. within reach a toddler’s ragged, water logged shoe.
The reality, the sheer tonnage of it, slammed down upon me, forcing me down, down toward the Earth’s magnetic center so that I crouched, there in that mountain of misery, the wide sky bearing down upon me.
I grasped one of the life jackets that lie in front of me, the dull orange a mere shadow of its former day-glo glory. Someone had cut it open, the seams now a gaping mouth with a lolling black tongue. That black tongue was the thin, black sheeting used to insulate pipes.
“This won’t float,” I whispered to myself.
No, this was a sponge which would fill with briny seawater and drag people to their death. Before I could stop myself – tired of a life time of trying to do just that – my face crumpled and I cried. What else could I do?
It is always brown skin that must pay the price, that is forced to endure the horrors of humanity and I wonder when the pendulum will begin its descent. When will it swing back down, slicing through the rest of us, flaying our pink flesh to revel the sins of oppression, finally re-balancing the fulcrum?
“God is dead. God remains dead and we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderer of murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned and bled to death under our knives: who will wipe the blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us?”
In that moment, surrounded by all that wreckage and misery, I wondered if that meant we killed God because we have slaughtered each other?
As we drive away I look over at my friend, visually tracing his silhouette against the backdrop of the dying, Greek sun; the ridges of his knuckles on the steering wheel, the bow of his arm that rested on the window ledge, the contours of his face. In that moment I was beginning to understand – understand why they came, why they stay, why they will continue to stay and work here. I was filled with a profound appreciation and respect for them.
To you – Darek, Rûnbîr, JJ, Rob, Jo, Maria, David, Tomáš, and all the rest who come, stay and work because you have a bigger vision of humanity and the world – to you, I say thank you.