May 21st, 2016

My First Day in Greece

Ahmad Yousaf, MD

Ahmad Yousaf, MD, is the 2015-16 Ambulatory Chief Resident in Internal Medicine at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.

I am participating in the SAMS (Syrian American Medical Society) medical mission in Greece.

1) Loneliness is truly the darkest consequence of this crisis. The Syrian people haven’t just been kicked out of their homes. They were stripped away from their neighborhoods, friends, and family via death, destruction, sickness, and tough decisions that they had to make about splitting up loved ones to preserve their chances of survival. We saw many patients today who had no one. No parents, spouses, siblings, or children. They didn’t have to tell me. I could see it in their eyes. The material goods they have lost are immense, but pale in comparison to what else has been taken away from them. They walk alone in this world.

EKO camp at a gas station2) A bunch of conversations I had today with co-volunteers included the word ‘resilience.’ These people are awe-inspiring in their ability to be dealt a life of dirt and then to turn around and produce a garden. They make tents feel like home, plastic tables feel like a dining hall, and a gas station feel like a community. Let me explain that last portion: The EKO refugee camp is literally located on the property of an EKO gas station (picture included, so you can try to understand the absurdity of this). Simple camping tents laid out on concrete between and around gas pumps and the station’s convenience store. 3000 people live at this gas station…. 3000! HALF are children (around 500 are younger than 2!!).

refugee assistance tents at EKO3) A reflection inspired by my co-volunteer, Ammar Idelbi: It is summer in Greece, and the weather can get uncomfortably warm during clinic hours which are at midday. The clinic, which is an artificial outdoor space between two parked vans with a tarp overhead, occasionally gets a nice gust of wind which carries a taste of coolness that all the staff members appreciate. We pause and enjoy the air passing through our hair and take a moment to soak it in. The exact same ‘breeze’ we lavish in can be a nightmare for the refugees living in the EKO camp. Even a mild wind gust lifts their untethered temporary abodes off the ground and blows all of their remaining belongings this way and that. It makes a mess. It is a microcosm of their current life realities. They live moment to moment, not knowing if the next ‘thing’ is a blessing that relieves them or a hardship that afflicts them. All they can do is hold on tight and hope they don’t get blown away. tents at EKO

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