Growing in Greece / Newsletter.2 / Moria: like sardines in a camp.
The garden is alive, taking root. As the plants grow, they meet other travellers. Some come here to talk, calling those near and far in languages familiar and new. Others come here to recline, to relax during the hottest hours of the day amidst the cool shade. One passes by—not to sit—instead plucking fistfuls of mint, thyme and purslane with an expert hand; small harvests that reappear in cups of tea the same evening or on small plates, stoves and dinner tables the very same night. The evenings—it is during the hours nearing sunset that the garden knows its popularity most, when the air is refreshed, festive with groups of people filling up all possible forms of seating, coexisting with florets of pink Oleander and peach-petalled Bougainvillea. Light filters through the jute roofs in tones of ochre, blown in all directions by the strong gusts of the Meltemi—the wind that brings with it scents of earth, herbs and flowers.
The garden is blossoming and the friendships grow richer with each day, it is a catalyst for stimulation, an invitation to learn about another’s universe. The garden is a reflection of its structural form—the woven benches, for example, are a weaving-together of Macrame skills from Iraqi Kurdistan, Afghanistan, Congo, Cameroon, Syria, Zimbabwe and India. The frames for the woven benches are made using a technique taught to us by Faras, Afghani carpenter and craftsman. His plans are adaptable to the materials present and the requirements of the space. One only needs planks, a pot of wood-glue, a drill and level and a decent amount of screws. Everyday, someone new has worked with us for the construction of the garden. As they learn the techniques of bench-making and box-building, they share stories. And, as always, Faras finds a few minutes each day to come by with a hand ready to pull the leg of a new seat, correct the angle of a joint and offer his verdict: “good” or “no good”.
Thanks to a multitude of sails in different sizes and materials, the garden is fresh and shaded. The triangular white cotton sail—reminiscent of the Genois and Trinquette on our sailboat, Foxy—is hoisted with a system of pulleys, halyards and cleats onto wooden masts. Our sail-makers, Hanaan, a Syrian woman and Babbur, the resident tailor, know exactly where and how to reinforce the sails so that they aren’t tormented by the wind.
The plants chosen have adapted well to the windy and dry air of Lesvos. The earth we planted them in is clayey and fertile; rich in compost, insects and minerals. It needs barely any water—by sealing in the soil’s moisture with thick layers of dried leaves and grass, we assist the garden in preserving its humidity and organic richness.
Life on board.
Amongst our collaborators, Dimitra Charamandasis a Greek-Swiss painter engaging with the materiality of nature through paintings that also speak of the forced return to the land provoked by the Greek financial crisis, and the consequent identity of the Greek landscape. Working with enthusiasm and energy, she spent her time here documenting the borders that ecology can form; the shade that our shelters give; the wind that plays in the sails. We take forth our collaboration through a collective exhibition later this year in her atelier in Athens. Troels Hansen Danish filmmaker is with us now. Passionate about the infinite possibilities of sound and image, he is working on a series of mini-documentaries around the themes of beauty, love, fury and the garden. They will form a part of our upcoming publication series. His films involve people from the garden, community-centre and camps, and whilst working, he is also sharing practical knowledge about documentary-filmmaking.
We’ve had a few wonderful meals on the boat, most recently inviting our friends over to cook a meal together and have a swim, especially since the center is closed on the weekend and most people would rather not spend their Saturdays stuck in Moria. Foxy transforms into a true party-boat, with the sounds of Davido providing a rhythm for frying the Beignets-Haricots that we cook together—a Cameroonian recipe that will become part of a recipe book we’re also working on. At present, we are focusing on our publications—most recently, a collaborative photography project is under way, with cameras distributed and intentions thought through. To follow up, we’re also looking at a photo-studio outside Moria. More soon on that.
For the displaced communities on the island fighting against the boredom, the administration, the lethargy caused by an uncertain and unstable future, the food empty of nutrition, the fights and the sweltering heat is a constant effort. We know that our privileged situations do not allow us to fully understand what it means to leave your country, family and friends and arrive to an overcrowded detention camp. Nevertheless, we hope that our presence and work—the daily actions of solidarity—provides a space where people can remember their passions, dreams, desires and hopes that Moria often makes one forget.
Until next time,
Jimmy and Zuri
Growing in Greece / Newsletter.1 / Feta, Moria and aromatic plants everywhere
We’ve been in Mytilini a month now—slowly discovering the subtleties and difficulties of the island of Lesvos. We’ve encountered different NGOs and discovered spaces to set up our future gardens; we’re also very happy to have met Ben Francis, an Australian gardener who has established a beautiful kitchen garden and put his permaculture knowledge on disposal for the refugee-communities here. It’s amazing to see Afghanis, Iraqis and Syrians (among others!) enjoying their first Rucola crop of the year, amidst rows of tomatoes and aubergines.
The quality of life in each camp on the island is very different—Kara Tepe, with 1600 inhabitants, a happy campground with a sea-view; a few kilometres away, Moria, with 6000 people crowded in an old military-base, barbed-wire and all, initially made to host 2000 people. There is a detention center within its boundaries and shipping-containers are stacked one onto the other for accommodation. The plumbing and drainage system cannot handle 6000 people, and sewage often flows untreated onto the streets surrounding the boundary-walls. One frequently finds an inhabitant of Moria leaning against these walls, sad or in a state of shock, being attended to by a sympathetic, confused volunteer in an MSF or EURORELIEF vest. Theft and intercommunal violence led to many people leaving the camp—or trying to—last week. It was a sad spectacle to see the streets to Mytlini filled with refugees carrying their tiny bundles, hoping to be admitted into another camp.
Through our observations and talking to our friends living in Moria, we feel the need to create spaces of happiness and peace where people can disengage from the harsh atmosphere of the camp. Initiating a project—either in the camp or in the sprawling settlement outside it—is a complicated process and we’re talking to the NGO in charge of infrastructure and development. However, we’re also aware that the scope for change is intentionally limited, and that the state of Moria is a political choice, and not simply a consequence of the Greek financial crisis.
Our first garden is currently under construction at OHF (One Happy Family), a community-centre thirty minutes by foot from Moria. The center provides language courses and a library; a cafe and lunch; a hairdresser and tailor; outdoor gym and internet space. Our site is 45m2—currently barren and cemented in parts, but we’re slowly transforming this into a mediterranean
garden! A shaded space with aromatic plants, Oleander, Bougainvillea and cactus. A space accessible and pleasant to all, where one can enjoy the fragrances of the garden in solitude or in a group; where one is inspired and can dream, forgetting the effluents of Moria, the thefts, the crowded tents and the uncertain future. Our garden-modules are designed with these intentions, and we work in the same spirit—our construction began under the careful eye of Faras, an Afghani carpenter who has shared his many wood-working secrets with us! Ali—also Afghani—helped us paint and treat the wood, spending the day with a big can of linseed oil and many, many planks; Dana, a Kurdish taekwondo expert helps us with carrying modules into the garden and arranging them on the site; Judith, from Cameroon, shares her knowledge of braiding with us to design the rope benches. At each step, everyone is welcome to work with us, share their skills and involve themselves!
And on the boat—Giulia and Antoine from Microcamp Radio were our first guests and collaborators! They ran a series of live radio broadcasting sessions at different places on the island. Antoine then left to Lebanon to continue his sessions in the Palestinian refugee camps, whilst Amelie joined us for two weeks to continue the radio workshops here in Mytilini. Their work is part of our A-1 publication series on Lesvos.
We’ve also had a few wonderful dinners—and most recently, invited Ali, Mujahid and Shoaib for an evening of Urdu-speaking, curry-eating and a lot of laughing about India and Pakistan cricket-matches. It was their second time on a boat, the first being their passage from Turkey to Greece across the sea on rubber-dinghies and we’re happy to give people an opportunity to create different memories of sailing, and the sea.
Our work here is to work against the hardships and despair that refugees face here, after arriving from places of violence and conflict. Of course, we cannot hope to make everyone’s life better all at once; nevertheless, our presence here reminds us that we can all have an impact on a political situations which are not in harmony with our ethics and beliefs. Individual initiatives can work, as part of a network of solidarity and empathy—a hand stretched out towards someone facing a series of hardships. Francois, from Congo Kinshasa, waiting outside OHF in the morning, was a taxi driver back home; a place he left a month ago. He suffers from chronic facial paralysis, and arriving here has aggravated his troubles further. He had come to OHF for the first time, and with a sad smile, concludes our conversation with the following though: “How hard it is, the life of a man”. We hope that for him, things could feel a bit better in one of our gardens.
Thank you again for helping us to reach here.
Thank you for your thoughts and solidarity.