Category Archives: letters from moria

Letter to the world from Ritsona (No.22)

My nails soiled with Earth

Photo by: Neda Torabi
Photo by: Neda Torabi

The sun has not risen yet. I keep one eye close, the other
open to check the clock, hoping I could sleep a bit more.
No, I must get up. I need to pray and quickly get ready,
not to miss the dolmush (small bus).

Walking from the house to the gate of the camp, I can see
some shops opening for the day and I can smell the coffee
brewing in the Kurdish mini coffee shops. As I step out of
the gate onto the road with the wall of the camp behind
me, I join a group of almost 20 people, some with bags on
their backs.

The bus arrives, a white dolmush. Normally it should
transport 12 people, but we all get in, one by one, closer
and closer to each other. With all the seats taken, a
number of us sit on the floor.

There is little light reaching us on the floor. More and
more, we have difficulty to breath, incapable to change
position or stretch our legs. We resign to tolerate it all, as
it will last only for 30 minutes.

Some of the men in the car are almost the age of my
father, some maybe younger. My poor father is sick. He
can’t even walk properly. The same is true for my mother.
Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here, on the floor of this car. I
would be sleeping like so many youths of my age. But the
story and the wave of everyone’s life are different, some
have no waves in their life and some face a tough sea.

A bad smell comes from some shoes. I would really enjoy
making a joke out of our circumstance, but the silence
around me is heavy and scary. Were I to make a joke, I
might be kicked out of the car. The whole scene reminds
me of old, black and white movies.

Finally, a young man, in his late 20s perhaps, changes the
whole situation. I could hear with gratitude his voice
coming from the corner of the car: ‘’Please, use a spray
for your feet. They smell so strongly we can feel the smell
even though you were shoes. Do something, otherwise we
will get all dizzy before starting our work’’.

He is totally right. There is an awful stench in the car. Yet
it is not shocking. Rather, it is totally predictable. The
space is tight, heavy with the breaths of so many people.
Most of them may have not had the time to wash their
face or brush their teeth. Mercifully, it is still early in the
morning and the weather is not yet awfully hot.

Finally, the door opens and we pour out. No chance to
even stretch our body. Our so-called boss is tough and
heartless. “You are not here for gymnastics, start your
work immediately, this field should be finished today.”

He yells at us, screaming out everyone’s mistakes. He is
one of the inhabitants in the camp, but he just knows
some Greeks and, thus, he has become the manager of
the workers. He must be almost 50. His name is Safi, but
now everyone calls him mister Safi Jan.

Such a strange world….

Here in the onions fields, work is divided in 2 stages. I
wish I could work in the second one, but I am new and for
people like me, no matter how old they are, they work only
in this part, harvesting the onions and picking them out of
the ground. At the end of the workday, you can’t see your
nails any more, as if a kilo of soil has gathered under
them. The second stage of the work is better because you
just put the onions in boxes and then lift the filled boxes
onto a truck.

As I gather the onions from the ground, I think of a
chessboard. Yeah, I love this game and I am a good
player. So I enjoy thinking about new techniques and
tactics while picking the onions. It makes time pass faster
and easier.

My very life is itself like a chessboard. Here, however, I
am not the player. Neither the ones who are here working
like me are players on their chessboards. We are all chess
pieces in the hands of politicians, who use our name for
their benefit. It is the same in my country. It seems I have
many rights, but I’m not aware of them. This is the reason
why I and many others like me are exploited.

Generally, I am a calm boy and I don’t interfere with
anything or anyone’s life, unless I have a responsibility to
do so. My quiet manner may well be the main reason why
my brothers, smaller or older, whip me with their words.
They are much fatter than I am and more energetic. I used
to think about everything too much and worry about all
that happens. I feel a heavy weight on my heart and a
heavy weight on my shoulders.

During the first hours of our work, with every minute that
passes, I can feel the heat increasing, reaching up to 36
degrees Celsius. The humidity is very high as well, I feel
as if I stand under a hot shower, or as if someone is
pouring water on me.

Getting close to mid-day, there is no eagerness to have
food, only water, and my clothes are wet through.

Few hours left, I tell myself. I should persevere. I need to
get those 20 euros home. We are getting close to the end
of the week and we were supposed to buy my father’s
medicines at the beginning of each week.

Now, I am counting the moments to see when it will be
14:00 so we can stop working. Exactly as I am thinking
this, Safi says, ‘’Today’s work is finished, thanks to all of
you.’’

This is the best sentence my ears could ever hear.

Going back from here to the camp, however, I feel like a
prisoner who goes from detention to work and to work
from detention. In the Spongebob animation show I saw,
the hero was in jail and working for a coal mine.

I do not even want to think about myself anymore, either
about life, or about the things that happen around me.
Who can see me? Who dares to look at me? I am just a
17 years old boy, who is burying his dreams every day,
trying to accept his realities and somehow continue to live.

Still, this work of ours could be more dignified, better
organized, and equitably paid. We get much less than we
should rightfully get. I know that we are sold from one
boss to another, from an Afghan to a Pakistani and each
of them gets paid for what we do, because they collect us
and bring us to work, but not in an humane way.

The prospect of integration does not rest only in having
the possibility to work on onion fields, or in vineyards or
olive groves. Integration should be based on the
opportunities offered to use our training, our talents, our
skills and abilities in any given field and for us to have a
chance to live as normal citizens in the community.

 

Letters to the world from Ritsona (No.21)

To the world politicians – a letter waiting for an answer

Copy right: Alexandros Katsis
Copy right: Alexandros Katsis

My name is Parwana Amiri. I am currently living in Ritsona camp with 3000 more people, hundreds of whom are young girls, like me. I am writing to you, not because I trust or believe you, but because I must give voice to many people around me who still place their hopes in you. I discern this hope in their faces when they laugh, I touch this hope in their veins when I hold their hands, I witness this hope in the sparkle of their eyes as they meet mine. I can feel this hope while all along I can also sense the silent ocean of anger that they are trying to keep under control.

Can you understand, what I am talking about? We are here, thousands of wounded people, asked to prove our vulnerability. Yet, no one really sees us, no one really listens to us, no one really tries to understand our wound let alone heal it.

Have you ever written a letter and been waiting for an answer? It does not matter what the letter is about. You write and you expect an answer; a simple answer would do. We, too, expect an answer to our letters to you. A small change in our condition, even vague distant attention truly directed to our appeals would be enough to give us hope, hope that, despite our being different, we are still accepted, that the dream of integration will not be achieved by forcing us to become and behave in ways alien to us, but by accepting to live with us, respecting us as authentic human beings.

I live on a no man’s land determined to listen and record thousands of different life stories every day. Meanwhile, the only thing you are prepared to do is to pass ever more restrictive legislation regarding us, legislation based on the most limited knowledge of us acquired through the most superficial and short meetings with us. You write those legislations with a pen, but we feel them on our skin, in our bones, and our soul, every day and every night!

I am writing to you from a house inside the camp, looking out of my window at the wall surrounding us. Children are playing outside my window and I am certain that neither you nor anyone else would accept such conditions for their own children.

The sense of confinement is becoming oppressive. Our eyes are prevented from seeing the outside world. People pass by the camp in their cars every day and I wonder if they, too, share a similar oppressive sense of being kept in the dark about what goes on in the camp behind the walls.

I can see the wall from my window. It is 3 meters high. This image will persist in my mind for all time to come, reminding me that I have been forced to live as a prisoner, behind this wall.

We are told that the wall is for our own safety, but we have never been threatened by the people outside. Even if we were threatened, imprisoning us cannot be the answer. That what social justice dictates, not I.

I never imagined that, in Europe, people get confined and locked up because they are threatened from the outside and because imprisonment provides them with safety, a safety they will never truly have. Even the police do not come into this prison. I am not asking you to put yourself in our shoes. What I am asking is that, as you pass by alongside the camp, you stop and reflect. What are the feelings inside you when you consider that people are kept prisoners in your land, while you, as a citizen of that same land, have no clear idea as to who these people are, what their lives have been, or the reasons that made them flee their homes? What do you make of these people dumped in the margins of the capital city, people you do not visit even once per month, or talk to once per season, or see even once per year – rights that even criminals in prison can count on?

I suffer from this imprisonment. Immensely. And I struggle to go to school, to learn, to grow, always afraid of what others will think of me, of my life….

Ritsona is a reflection of the prison system that is part of the industrial complex, rooted in slavery, colonialism, and racist capitalism. The money spent on the wall is the citizen’s money.  It is the money for the development of Europe. It should not be spent to maintain old systems of oppressive domination. They should, instead, be invested in improving the quality of life of the entire European society, so that every human being can thrive.

We are demanding our rights to a decent living, to decent jobs, to decent housing, to health care, and to education.  As long as we are deprived of these rights, we will continue to challenge the fundamental structure of your society.

We are challenging the world to understand the complex ways race, class, nation, and ability are intertwined and how, only by addressing this complexity we can find the means to move beyond divisive categories, to understand the inter-relationships of ideas and processes that are presented as separate and unrelated and, together, fight for our common good.

 

From a mountain of strength and carried by a wave of force, I, Parwana Amiri

Letters to the world from Ritsona (No.17)

”My dear parents ,this money is my right”

Photgrapher : Neda Torabi
Photographer : Neda Torabi

I am a girl in need of certain necessities and to have them, I don’t want to be in bondage of pieces of papers called “money”.

When my rights get stifled by the people around me, I can fight for them, especially if I have the support of my parents. But how can I struggle when it is my very parents who repress my rights?

I am a young girl for whom the world outside this camp is becoming my passion and financial necessities are becoming my enslavement.
More than ever before, I depend on what money can buy for me and  consider having some money as my right which is violated by others.

Don’t I have the right to get 1€ from the 75€ that is given by the
government to my parents? Don’t you understand that, when I go out with my friends with nothing in my pocket and see them buy something they like, even a simple ice-cream, I feel humiliated and my pride hurt?

The ones who are around me can understand me well as they have the same condition as I have.

Do you think it is fair to prevent me from having my right, because you do not want to give money to your sons, fearing that they will use it to buy drugs or alcohol? Don’t you realize that actually they will find this money from other sources?

My brother buys alcohol and drinks it, thus wasting his energy. Why
should I be sacrificed because you want to prevent the satisfaction of his destructive desires?

Don’t you think that as a girl I need to satisfy urgent needs which I may not be able to discuss openly with you.

My dear parents! There are times I cannot ask you for money, but I
really need it. Do you expect me to ask for money to buy menstruation pads or underwear or products for my personal hygiene?

Aren’t you aware that, here, the weapon of wolves who hunt young
deprived girls like us, is to offer them pieces of papers called “money”?

Know then that, if you ignore our needs, you will be the reason why we will take the bait and fall victims to such wolves.
You are responsible for me; responsible for my food, for my clothes and other such basic needs of mine. You are responsible for my life,
whether it would be a dark or bright life, since I am passing the most
formative and crucial days of my life.

My dear parents, I want to complain about your actions, I want to
complain because these actions of yours are depriving me of my
fundamental right. You are not raising an animal which would stay docile at home, because you simply provide it with basic necessities.

I am not interested in provoking and seducing men. So do not justify
your behaviour towards me with the excuse that having me stay at home and preventing me from having some joys in the company of my friends will keep me safe in the environment of the camp.
But I suspect that there is another reason for your behaviour. I think that you do not give me the money that, by right, is mine for my own needs, because you want to save it for the continuation of our trip to another country in Europe. You know that we will need that money to cross borders so that you will not have to stay here any longer.

I know, you wouldn’t treat me like this if you were not considering these future expenses for our moving on. And you would not be thinking of moving on towards another place in Europe, if our human rights were respected here, if the asylum processes were efficient and fair, if we could have access to health care, to education, to social services, if we were treated as normal and equal individuals.

Finally, the reason we are kept restrained in the houses, the reason our wings are tied down, is not our parents, but the camps we live in.

Letters to the world from Moria (No:15)

Is it a crime to …….?

We come from far away lands – lands of war, violence, misery. Our lives were threatened every day, every hour, every minute. So we plucked our courage and we left in search of a better, a secure and safe future — for ourselves and our children. We traveled in fear, facing all sorts of difficulties, all sorts of dangers and threats. Finally, we reached Europe.

We have been in the refugee camp of Moria, on the island of Lesvos, for months and months. It felt like a prison, it felt like hell. Nobody cared for us. And whenever some people tried to help, they met hostility and persecution from the authorities.

After many months spent in that hell, lining in queues for food, water, medical care, to use the toilets or the showers; after many months surviving in squalor, with sewage water running along our tents, garbage piling up; suffering the cold, the rains, the heat with no adequate protection against the elements; after many months of humiliation, repression, uncertainty and fear of the violence that broke among the people cramped up in that prison, we managed, on our own, to leave that hell and arrive in Athens. Did we make the wrong decision?

Here we are now: in Victoria square, in the capital of Greece! We pass our nights in the open, suffering cold during the night and heat during the day. Our children, hungry, play with naked feet. To use a toilet, we can only go to the restaurants around, but the owners are often unwilling to give us permission to use them. All our possessions are stuffed in a suitcase. We use our few clothes as pillows under our heads and we share some blankets with each other during the night. While the rest of the world is sleeping we are awake, because danger threatens us each moment here, in Victoria square. Smugglers approach us, asking for money and promising a safe passage to other European countries. How can we trust them? Dispossessed, displaced, alone, we are at the mercy of strangers.

The shade of trees is our only protection, but they do not protect us from the eyes of the passersby. Look at us! What you see is the reality of our life, not a theater drama or a dramatic film. Don’t bow your head to avoid our sight and pretend that you don’t know what is happening to us. Don’t avoid us as if we were carriers of disease, or criminals threatening your life. And don’t pretend you support us by taking our pictures and posting them in your facebook. Our children are not actors performing in the films you shoot without asking us. They have their own dreams they long to reach. Will they be allowed to?

Is it a crime to say ‘no’ to injustice?

Is it a crime to demand our basic human rights?

Is it a crime to struggle for a better life?

Is it a crime to demand the satisfaction of our basic needs?

Is it a crime to challenge what you call “democracy”?

Written by:Parwana Amiri

Photo by:Marios Lolos