Winter is coming! Soon it will be the holiday season.
We, the No Border Kitchen are still very much active on Lesvos, still trying to provide, as best we can, some of that which is most important to us: human dignity.
During the holidays, families and communities all over the world, all races, religions, nationalities, will be celebrating. Though differently interpreted and differently expressed, we celebrate the shared human experience of love.
We would like to invite you all to celebrate together with us on Lesvos, as one Lesvos family, on the 24th of December, right next to the beloved campsite of our friends, on the former site of “better days for Moria”. For one day we want to bring back human dignity to each and everyone in this camp, absolutely no one excluded. We all have been on this island for more or less time, having our very own experiences, and each of us has a unique story to tell, whether we are one of those here from all around the world reaching out for a better life, one of the thousands of volunteers, lawyers, doctors, nurses, one of those working for the government as policeman or fireman, or for NGOs or completely independently, each as an inhabitant of this island, trying to contribute something to help each other in this situation.
To this day No Border Kitchen is still providing hundreds of meals daily. We are trying to accommodate each who reaches out to us, in the best way we can according to our ability on the given day. The holidays are coming, and for one day we want to be able to provide a celebratory experience, call it “Chipati-day,” for everyone stuck in this situation. But to prepare food for 6000-7000 people we will need your help.
We want to make Chipati-day great again; everyone is allowed to make everything great again, apparently, so we want to make the 24th great again for those stuck here.
We would love to have your support on that. This day shall not be about politics, religion, ideologies. It shall simply be about sharing and caring, like holidays are intended to be.
We would really love your support on that. Please feel free to donate money food, energy, infrastructure, input. We would love to have you here in person on that day. Honestly. That would be the greatest gift.
If you know anyone that might want to support our efforts. Please feel free to forward or share this.
If you want to support us financially, please use the following bank details:
Rote Hilfe OG Salzwedel
IBAN: DE93 4306 0967 4007 2383 12
Comment: NBK Lesvos Chapati
Happy Holidays, Happy Chipati-Day,
Love & peace,
Lesvos. Unfinished business.
An island forgotten by almost everyone. At night we sit at the beach looking across the ocean, toward Turkey. Again and again the same news: 33 confirmed dead this morning. 12 of them children. There are only 12 kilometers separating Greece from Turkey at this point, only 6 km at another point.
Four different types of boats are patrolling the sea border. Greek,Turkish coastguard, Frontex and Nato. To “protect” the borders as they say.
But still, people are drowning on a seemingly daily basis.
The Turkish coastline seems so close as we sit on the beach at night, watching the shimmering lights from the other side.
For us Europeans it is only a short distance, 6€ by ferry, less than an hour ride.
For those who weren’t lucky enough to be born in the “right” time and place, without European papers, the ride is 1500€, a lot of adrenaline, panic, chaos, and the constant uncertainty of reaching the other shore, the possibility of the waves of the passing ferry capsizing the boat.
One day I sit under a figtree with a friend. Amid tears he tells me, with a shivering voice, how every night the same woman visits him in his dreams. The same woman whose children he promised to take care of at the crossing.
Shortly after they set out to sea it happened. The last thing he remembers are the despairing cries of the mother, ringing out piercingly.
The small, thin arm of the four year old girl, the brother already lost to the black of the sea, which so easily entangles his small, fragile body and pulls it under.
How many more lay on the bottom of the ocean?
“Finally, we’ve made it,” is what they think when they arive. Happy to still be alive.
Then you talk to the ones who are stuck on the island for eight months and more. They are living in Moria, the infamous, overcrowded registration camp, one small tent lined up next to the other. The daily routine consists of standing in line for hours, awaiting a tiny portion of overcooked noodles, even though most of the people don’t even eat noodles.
There are fights every single day. People without any perspective, not sure what will happen during the coming months and years.
They are stuck on a forgotten island. Trauma, unbelievable misery, lost family members, histories of war, abuse, crying mothers- everyone is burdened. Each and everyone struggling with his or her own story, herded into one confined space.
One night we sit on the beach, again around the campfire eating roast poatatoes. A call from a friend in Moria, though it’s already 2 o’clock in the morning: “…fights… Moria… fire” then the line is dead. We only hear fragments, but enough to know what is going down.
We jump into our van heading straight to Moria. From the back through the woods we are trying to reach the camp. To be seen by the police or Frontex is not an option. Four of us are sneaking through the olive trees, passing by groups of Afghanis who lurk with large metal sticks, and little further up the way another group, this time Pakistanis, same picture.
Suspicious of us, they ask what we are up to and where we are going. Accompanied by a friend we enter Moria through one of the fences. Thick smoke fills the air, is surrounding us.
Some of the tents are still burning, and everywhere is the smell of burning plastic. The atmosphere is tense, somewhere between belligerent, threatening, frightened, aggresive, and desperate. People with broken legs, faces streaming with blood, apathetic looks, heated discussions, a crying child whose eyes the father tries to keep shut, to spare him the spectacle.
We are carrying people out of the camp, back through the hole that we entered through. A friend has already brought the car and is waiting for us, however the majority of the people are too terrified of encountering armed hostile groups.
We can convice some of the wounded to follow us. We transport them to the big medical tent. One big family we give a ride to and organize a place for in the family camp.
The next day the streets in front of Moria are crowded with people afraid to go back into the camp to sleep, and instead they sleep outside.
“We” are the No Border Kitchen Lesvos. No Border Kitchen is a concept- an idea, really- where people, no matter their origin, sex, religion, or race, start organizing at different hot spots all over Europe to build supporting infrastructures.
Our creed: No homophobia, no sexism, no racism. Our goals: No borders, no nations.
Every group is completely self-organized, everyone has the same say. Decisions are made in meetings lasting for hours, mostly by consensus.
The projects are financed solely by private donors which is the reason why, in addition to the daily struggle, we have to fight to get around financially.
When I arrived on the island, the No Border Kitchen had just recently been evicted; the group was devastated, many had left.
There was no place to go for us. The first nights we slept in the van, all seven of us. Then we found an old military facility- a huge court, a beautiful old building, one great hall, a lot of small rooms- everything seemed to be perfect. Ideal for a social center, a place for people to meet up, a place for everyone, our greek neighbors, our friends, refugees and migrants as well as activists and tourists.
We are moving in, starting the daily task of removing debris from the rooms. Wet with sweat and black from the dirt, we gather nightly to discuss our next steps.
As the question is raised as to whether or not we should start another camp, the group is divided, and for a few days there are only three of us left fiercly determined to continue.
Lesvos is a magical island where life is shaped by constant ups and downs.
Sometimes we go through both within a few hours, and only occasionally a day passes by where nothing completely crazy or outstanding happens. Situations and decisions can change in no time.
Here politics is everyday life, and everyday life is politics. That’s what makes life so interesting here but also so god damned difficult.
Torn between principles, the discrepancy between political work and humanitarian aid.
One of the highlights was when, only a few days after the break up of the group, the possibility revealed itself to rebuild our kitchen at a new place. A state of euphoria took over us, and within only a few hard days of work the kitchen was up and running again.
Then we finally started cooking again. We are delivering 600 meals to people living in the woods and on the road to Moria.
At 45 °C in the kitchen we are standing in front of our huge burners working. Sometimes listening to loud music, while the choice of music always ends up in arguments. Our friends from Pakistan join us every day; their kitchen skills outshine all attempts of the European activists.
Even during Rhamadhan, although they are not allowed to drink and eat. For three days I try myself to fast with the exception of drinking, and fight myself through the day.
In return, that moment in the evening when it’s time to break the fast, when we are all sitting in the dim room, the bowls of food in front of us, is so much more precious.
We eat in silence. Food is a valuable commodity, talking, meanwhile, is impolite.
I sometimes arrive at the squad just at that time, back late from long nights working on e-mails and homepages, when at four o’clock in the morning it’s time for breakfast chapatis.
The brotherliness between the people here is a completely new experience. “Sorry” and “Thank You” are absolutely taboo. The people share and give what they have. From them we can learn a lot. Maybe they are not export world champions, but they have a stronger community. The values they hold up high are solidarity and fraternity.
Our first food delivery brings along an unbelievably elevated mood. Barely two weeks after the burners started burning again, we happen to be three hours late after particulary lavish cooking.
As we turn around the corner into the street leading to Moria, we can already see them. One line, despite the steady rain, more than a hundred meters long. As we come around the corner, they start cheering, some of them running alongside the car.
They are organizing themselves in one straight line. No feared food-fights break out that we had expected.
Nonetheless we decide to stop delivering food to Moria shortly after. It was not an easy decision to make. But we didn’t want to keep on supporting this system. A conflict between humanitarian aid and political principles, again. These two components were always the hardened fronts, always a dispute; the thin red line we had to walk along every day.
Our highest maxim – everyone is equal; there is no difference between us and them- became our greatest dilemma. Who is allowed to stay overnight at the occupied building? (We didn’t want to build a camp at that time.) Is anyone allowed to stay overnight? What happens if the police come? What will we do with the people that are already in a vulnerable state?
When we get information from doubtful sources that a military eviction is about to happen, again, the main question is who is allowed to stay and who, for their own safety should leave for the night. We always fear for our friends, knowing that refugees and migrants are treated much worse than we Europeans, the naked truth.
But because of those facts we treat them differently, which gets us back to the dilemma mentioned before, that everyone should be treated equally.
Decision were made and overthrown or simply forgotten. Sometimes you could observe a strange group dynamic, which carried everyone along, be shaken up in the very next moment. The opinions of individuals and the group sometimes change instantaneously, completely turning around, causing everything to change so fast on Lesvos that nothing is ever as expected.
I myself changed my mind a lot, and to this day I am still sometimes ashamed about that.
In some moments, one could feel the motivation like positivity-laden air, which we each inhaled, only to have it blown away by a gust of wind just minutes later. With a single stroke, the crackles in the air were gone and everyone just collapsed. Then everyone had to pull themselves together and continue onward.
We tried to get local support. Made a signature collection with hundreds of signatures that we delivered to Alpha bank, everyone supported us. But still the “negative” has such greater backbone, or maybe greater is simply the silent crowd, which out of fear of consequences bows to the powerful and mighty. To persuade someone to fear and into defensive behaviour is so much easier than to preach hope and humanity. that seems to be more human than humanity.
Our group grew from ten to thirty, frequently new people joined, most of them staying for two to three weeks, people from everywhere, punks, teachers, young students, pensioners, unemployed, a highly diverse group. Very interesting people.
After we stopped delivering food to Moria we started working again on building a social center.
For weeks we cleaned, built, shovelled building rubble. We collected clothing donations.
Like an anthill, it was super busy all the time.
It got more and more buzzing and full of energy. At the same time we tried to buy the property legally from the Alpha bank. Endless writings, meetings, talks with lawyers. Again and again the police visited us. Meanwhile it got really hard to slip out through the main gate to the road.
A lot we did here was partially legal. But every time every endeavour we tried, we tried full of vigor and motivation and came from good intention. In every sense in solidarity with all those who have the wish for a more socially just, more honest, and more equal society, willing to share something of themselves.
Four days. After all the preparations we were able to stay open for four days before we got evicted in a destructive wave that took down many, many social projects all over Greece.
Four days wher
e hundreds of people came to stay the day out of the heat, to play games, to relax, to charge phones, to eat and to drink. In the women’s area there was laughter and gossip, the first time in months the mothers were able to have a moment for themselves.
And the kids. I will never forget the sparkle in the eyes of the children. Children who are living behind barbed wire in Moria, fleeing from torn apart warzones. And now they are sitting, chatting, painting, crafting, climbing over slides and swings in the children’s play area, stumbling laughing through the great hall.
Proudly they present their new shoes from our free clothing store. On many of their drawings you can see depicted are the coloful garlands, made from spray cans and now hanging from the ceiling.
A social center- one could say- that’s not important for survival. But what it really meant the few days it was open you could only understand if you had been there. It was a shelter for everyone, especially those gentle souls, that during their few years of life on earth, went through so much more than most of us will ever experience.
Life on Lesvos is reduced to the essential. A very good experience. No running water, no electricity, all the things we consider normal back at home. Beds, showers, there was more important stuff to deal with.
We were sleeping on blankets in the building, later under the open sky at the beaches. When we finally found water again we had a small party, one of those major turning points. And yet life was much more valuable, so much richer, so much more worth living.
For a long time I considered staying for another year and until today I regret it daily that I left the island.
We are so much fixated on material stuff and are willing to give up so much from our personalities. Security over freedom, wealth over humanity.
Three days later we had a very long and exhausting meeting with our lawyer and the manager from Alpha bank. Discussions for hours, even though it was clear they wanted us out of there in any way. On Tuesday morning there were 20 policemen in the center. We were surrounded. Phone calls with our lawyer, again it took hours. A Greek couple, good friends of ours, came to support us. We were able to stay until nightfall and luckily this time nobody got arrested. In the night we again opened up the gate. One more day of social center guaranteed.
Then they come again and seal the gate. With banners we sit on the roof, a silent protest. Ready for anything, teargas, brutal force, but nothing really happens. It was so heartbreaking to give up on all that, what made so many people happy.
In the following weeks we moved to the beach right in front of the once occupied building, which we still enter and where still there are people living from Moria, where we still prepare coffee and tea for the campground on the beach where we open up our hair salon, accessible now through a hole in the wall.
The protest camp on the beach turns into a vivid social center. The focus changes. Suddenly the everyday life doesn’t consist of cleaning, building and cooking, now we are sitting for hours together with people of any origin. We practice English or just talk. A room develops where people feel comfortable and start to gain trust again, a place where they can simply share their story.
It so important to simply talk to someone and share your stories, all the pain, the shame, the grief the mourning, and not to swallow all those feelings that eat you up from the inside.
A young man that I only knew for a few days one day comes up to me and asks if he can use our laptop for a second. For a few days we have one of our own, a donation from Hamburg. I bring him the computer and I am about to run for the thousand things I still have to do that day, when he asks me with very shy eyes if I have a minute to sit down with him.
From a USB stick he opens up a folder. Videos of a stunningly beautiful woman, candles burning and heart-shaped balloons. Then the Afghani sitting next to me appears on screen, he kisses her very gently on the cheek. After that a lot of images follow.
I can hear him sobbing next to me as he clicks through the folders. Like this we sit for a while .
Tears are rolling down his face; she is still in Afghanistan. Because of religious matters the two of them are not allowed to marry. Love is his reason to come to Europe. Love the reason; the small hope of marrying the girl of his dreams in Europe, big enough to go through all the struggle.
Another friend tells me how he got tortured for for six years in an Iranian prison. Again and again to the point of unconsciousness. Deep scars disfigure him from head to toe. Everyone simply wants to be free. As free as we all are, without ever having had to fight for it. Isn’t that their right too?
But here are also those many other moments, many nights where we sit on the beach making music. Almost every night. Befriended musicians offer to make little concerts. There are drinks and snacks, mats and blankets. Until very late that night we are sitting around the musicians, dancing, singing, clapping. There is laughter, we are drinking, amazing atmosphere, everything around us seems forgotten. This time it’s us, all of us who experienced that night iving in a bubble, and we let go for a while.
It’s a wild party. With the Roma kids we dance around the fire that we started at the beach. It is like a dream. Late into the night laughter spreads through the night.
Many nights we spend playing guitar, singing at the water.
Another night we dance until sunrise at a college party in the pouring rain, swinging across the dancefloor, the atmosphere is let go and free.
Sometimes even here life is pretty normal.
But the social center does not remain the same. Under the hot summer sun, exposed to storms and rain we camp out on the beach, sleep outside and every night somebody is up to keep watch.
Not to get too tired to withstand all the pressure might have been the hardest part.
But from this beach we were again evicted. It was a cat and mouse game with the authorities. When we had the chance to talk to the policemen you could see that some of them also had kind of a hard time throwing us out of that building. A building that has been empty for years, a ruin that for a tiny magical moment started living again.
We find a new beach, fighting through the everyday struggle of life. Some weeks ago I left the island. Actually you never leave this island, never. Because there is never an end to work that needs to be done. And there on the beach they are still there and continue doing what they are doing best. Giving all they got. Some people leave, others come.
That’s the life on Lesvos.
Magical, exhausting, always changing, inspiring, depressing, incredible, thrilling.
Goodbyes were part of the every day life. Every Sunday friends tried to get into containers. Sometimes they were sitting for more than 16 hours between car tires and metal sticks in containers and trucks trying not to make any noise, in the heat, without water, without being able to move a single centimeter.
Then they sometimes came back at four in the morning to the occupied building. Obviously, having been beaten up by police, they’d been found, again.
There was a time when a wave of panic reached out from Idomeni to the people on Lesvos. When Idomeni got evicted many people got put into detention centers. Without any contact to the rest of the world they are living here, neither family nor friends or volunteers are allowed to visit.
30 people in one room, police surveillance 24/7, cameras and smartphones taken by the police. One night more than 60 people from Mytilini disappear overnight, many good friends amongst them. Later we heard that they are in detention centers. Some of them have been stuck in those centers for more than a year now.
There is a lot going down behind closed doors, behind all that the signature of european asylum policies.
It’s not the vicious Greek, the great majority of the Greek are wonderful people, a lot of them struggling from the declining tourism caused by the refugee crisis and the economic crisis, but still I experience great hospitality and warmth.
If you walk through the streets of Lesvos at night you can feel the pulse of life, chic tourists passing by, loud music, beer and wine. Life takes place on the streets.
The time one Lesvos was definitely an important life lesson. You learn a lot, a lot about other people, other ways of living, thoughts, and perspectives. When you reach out of your comfort zone to open yourself to new perspectives. When you open yourself to that you suddenly realize what a small part you play relative to the complexity of life.
But first and foremost you learn to push the boundaries and you learn a lot about yourself.
At some point a terrifying apathy came over me considering the whole situation but also regarding myself.
Sleeping on the beaches or inside, stolen phones, generators, evictions, discussions with lawyers, locals or the mangers from Alpha bank- at some point I was emotionally drained, nothing moved inside of me anymore.
Maybe this is exactly the trick the powerful use to take away the power from every opposing movement. Simply letting time do the work.
What is left after all this time are friendships. Deep friendships, that partially worked without even being able to communicate in a common language, but originating from a common soul.
These friendships will be all that is left.
Maybe this is the way to get things done, like it’s described in Buddhism. The lesson about the “ i “ like a stone that hits the water’s surface, first causing small waves, growing bigger and bigger.
These friendships which build this unbreakable band, no matter where we start building walls or fences. No matter how we militarize our borders and try to protect them, these friendships are going to be stronger.
That is what gives hope and power to continue, and one day this will be the power that will be able to break down the barriers. One day maybe these friendships will build such a strong network that a social movement becomes unstoppable.
You want to join us in the Christmastime? Feel free to contact us by phone or social media. All people are welcome!
If you cannot come yourself, you can support us in many other ways!
If you want to support us financially.
Rote Hilfe OG Salzwedel
IBAN: DE93 4306 0967 4007 2383 12
Comment: NBK Lesvos Christmas
Solidarity to all our friends out there and stop the fortress europe!
The No Boder Kitchen Crew
Infotel.: 0030 699 501 0187
No human is illegal!