Tag Archives: Brindisi

One Ferry + 100 semi-trailers

 

I truly didn’t know what I was in for when I rode the bus to the ferry terminal in Brindisi, Italy.  I had a reservation and knew the time of departure and the destination. Patras, Greece.

brindisi map to patras

The ferry terminal is surrounded by a large industrial zone, and all I could see when I got off the bus were lots of semi-trailer trucks, very large semi-trailer trucks. Hundreds of them. I couldn’t see any passenger terminal. I was the only passenger on the bus and I wondered if he’d dropped me off at the wrong location.

I found a security guard and asked him “Grimaldi?” as clearly as I could.  Grimaldi is the name of the ferry company.  Late afternoon in southern Italy is hot and everyone takes a siesta.  I was lucky to find the security guard.  He pointed in one direction so I started walking.  Lots and lots of pavement and enough semi-trailer trucks to fill many football fields several times over.

Well, the reason I didn’t spot the passenger terminal when the bus driver dropped me off is because I’m short and semi-trailers are tall. I couldn’t see past them, but indeed there was a passenger terminal off in the distance.  (Why didn’t the bus driver drop me off over there?)

There were a few other passengers inside the terminal, mostly Italians I think.  And a couple of families.  We were allowed to embark at 6 pm.  I asked the clerk where to find the ferry because I hadn’t seen it in my hike across the sea of semi-trailers. He smiled, and spoke good English, and said “It’s the only boat out there, and it’s really, really big. You won’t miss it.”

Again, it’s all a matter of perspective.  If you’re a small woman, and everything around you are tall trucks, you won’t see the horizon or any large boats.

Maybe I should have just waited for the handful of other passengers and followed them. But they seemed to be more interested in sitting and talking (Italian? Greek?) so I started walking again in the direction of the water. The ferry had to be somewhere near the water.

After passing a row of semi-trailers, I spotted the water and the ferry, the very large ferry. It was gleaming white and I counted 6 or 7 floors (or decks). How could I have missed it?  It was huge.  As I got closer, the ferry got larger and larger, and noiser and noiser. I found my way onboard all by myself. The other passengers were still in the terminal I guess. I was directed to the 6th level up an elevator, and put my suitcase against the wall.  Then I went out on deck. (I never leave my backpack anywhere …. that stays with me!)

For the next 3 hours, I watched the crew direct traffic, loading the semi-trailers onboard one-by-one. It was carefully choreographed, each driver following directions from the crew, except for one who wanted to cut in and promptly got chewed out. They were very tightly packed together. It was amazing to see.

The passengers watched on deck with me but shortly after we got underway at 9:30 pm, most of the passengers disappeared.  Undoubtedly, they had reserved cabins. I peaked inside one of those cabins — pretty swanky furniture and beds.

I’m traveling on a shoestring (a single shoestring) and there are no cabins in my budget. I went to the bar and found many of the truck drivers. These guys come in all sizes, but mostly large, like their semi-trailers. Loud voices, Italian and Greek I suspect. Gruff appearance but acting like big teddy bears. And most of them were glued to the soccer game (futbol) on the television on the wall.

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I took out my book (Carlo Levi’s “Christ Stopped at Eboli”) and started reading. There were a couple of other women in the sea of men, but they looked like wives or girlfriends of the truckers and no one was speaking English. I was definitely a fish out of this water, but I enjoyed the sense of camaraderie and cheering. Their team was doing well.

About 11:00 pm I went up to the bar, waiting for my turn to buy a beer.  I asked the trucker next to me “How much?” … not sure if he would understand me. He spoke broken English, offered to buy me a beer because truck drivers get a good discount on the ferry. I thanked him and we clinked our bottles with a “salud” before retreating to our chairs.

Ferries aren’t the best place to sleep, unless perhaps you have a cabin. I dozed off in my lounge chair for about 4 hours until the loudspeaker announced at 4 am that we were arriving in Igoumenitsa, Greece. I went out on the deck and watched the activities as the ferry came into dock. Some motorcyclists and trucks disembarked, along with a few of the passengers.

I suspect one of the truckers overslept because they kept announcing his name over the loudspeaker and telling him to go to his truck immediately.  (In 4 or 5 different languages!)

We arrived in the port of Patras, Greece about 4 PM Sunday afternoon.  Very hot and bright, bright light.  I disembarked from the garage level along with the semi-trailers, a very intimidating experience.  I walked alone across a sea of pavement again until I arrived at the passenger terminal. (They really should designate a pedestrian path to the terminal at least instead of making us compete with the semi-trailers.) I wouldn’t be surprised to learn about pedestrian fatalities at these ferry ports.

Outside, sitting at the bus stop with two young men (an Italian and an Iranian), I saw a group of 4 or 5 young men run past. They were very thin, drenched in sweat, looking in every direction as they ran across the yard in front of the terminal. A few minutes later, I saw another group run across.  My companions at the bus stop confirmed for me, they were Syrian refugees hoping to find a way onto the ferry.

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Lora  & Iranian young man & Italian young man sitting on bus with curtains in Patras, Greece

Within 15 minutes of landing in Greece, I’d met my first refugees.

 

 

 

 

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A drop in the ocean

 

I’m sitting in a small loft in the old city of Brindisi, in the boot heel of southern Italy. Brindisi is a very old port city. The famous Appian Way from Rome ends here. The ferry will take me to Patra, Greece on Saturday. I’m going to Greece to learn about the plight of the refugees arriving there.

I don’t speak the language (any language except English) and I don’t know where I will end up. Trying to put myself in their place, which is impossible of course, I can sense the feeling of fear, isolation, and desperation just below the surface. If I had no home to return to, no U.S. passport to give me some measure of legitimacy, and no resources (credit card), I would panic. I don’t think I could be as brave as most of these refugees.

Thousands of refugees are dying in the Mediterranean Sea trying to make it to shore in Greece or Italy. Why? Why must men, women and children run such risks in this 21st Century instead of getting on a plane and flying somewhere safe? [I’m looking for the answer; haven’t found it yet.]

In April 2016, Pope Francis visited the Moria refugee camp on Lesvos Island. He returned to the Vatican with 12 Syrian refugees from 3 families, all Muslims. He acknowledged it was only a drop in the ocean, but “the ocean will never be the same again,” he said.

I met a newly-wed couple from Germany last week on their honeymoon in Rome. We talked about many things, including the large numbers of refugees coming to Germany. They believe Angela Merkel’s intention’s are good, but she hasn’t followed up with good planning or organizing to fully integrate the new arrivals into life in Germany. They told me about refugees setting fire to their camps out of anger and frustration. Germany has accepted more than a million Syrian refugees, a staggering number compared to the rest of the EU and certainly the US.  [Migration to Europe explained in 7 charts.]

The United States has accepted only 3,127 Syrian refugees in the past 5 years. Although President Obama promised to accept an additional 10,000 Syrian refugees this year, only 1,300 have made it through the tight screening process in the first half of 2016.

On September 20, 2016, Obama will host a Leaders’ Summit on the Global Refugee Crisis and urge “significant new global commitments to: 1) increase funding to humanitarian appeals and international organizations, 2) admit more refugees through resettlement or other legal pathways, and 3) increase refugees’ self-reliance and inclusion through opportunities for education and legal work.”  I’m curious how he can call for such action when it appears the U.S. is not stepping up to the plate. [I want to research more about the U.S. actions on the Syrian refugee crisis, particularly since the U.S. is responsible for so much of the devastation forcing Syrians to leave their country.]

As with climate change, it appears that the frontline in responding to the refugee crisis is at the local level, and cities are taking the lead.  The March 18 EU agreement with Turkey is abominable and is evidence (at least to me) that answers will not be found at the state-level (whether in the European Union or the U.S. federal government).

At its core, the agreement aims to address the overwhelming flow of smuggled migrants and asylum seekers traveling across the Aegean from Turkey to the Greek islands by allowing Greece to return to Turkey “all new irregular migrants” arriving after March 20. In exchange, EU Member States will increase resettlement of Syrian refugees residing in Turkey, accelerate visa liberalization for Turkish nationals, and boost existing financial support for Turkey’s refugee population.

There is hope.  Even before arriving in Greece, I have learned of two examples which might be the bellweather for successfully responding to the refugee crisis. [I will know much more after I visit Greece.] Both examples come from the individual, not government.

Somer Sood

Somer Sood – Operation Refugee Child

Operation Refugee Child was started in 2015 by a small group of mothers in Orange County, California, USA. Since then, they have achieved the following:

  • Created an organization run entirely by a team of five volunteers.
  • Developed a network of local contacts throughout Europe and the Middle East.
  • Received in-kind donations from corporate partners including Nike, Patagonia, ClifBar, CubeBot, Happy Baby and LuminAID among others.
  • Raised over $250,000 for purchase and delivery of supplies to refugees.
  • Distributed 5,080 lbs of aid supplies in 2016 including:
    • 2,480 backpacks
    • 800 thermal underwear and wool sock sets
    • 311 winter coats
    • 192 LuminAID solar pillow lights

I’m hoping to meet up with them in Athens at the end of the month, visit the camps with them, help them distribute backpacks to the children, and learn.

Pooya

Pooya volunteering with Emergency Response Centre International on Lesvos Island

The second example is a friend of a friend from California who is currently volunteering on Lesvos Island.  Pooya is a rescue team leader with Emergency Response Centre International (ERCI).  Check out his gofundme fundraising site here.  I hope to meet him on Lesvos Island and learn.

My friends ask me why?  “Why are you going to Greece?”

The short answer is the same answer I gave when they asked me “Why are you going to Gaza?”

I want to see with my own eyes, hear with my own ears, feel with my heart, and learn about the refugee crisis on the ground. What I learn may only be a drop in the ocean, but the ocean will never be the same again.

 

 

 

 

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