Once upon a time, a very long time ago when I was energetic and fearless, I took my three children, aged 12, 14 and 15 to Europe. Being a penny-pincher, I joined the German American Friendship Club and got four plane tickets to Germany for $200 apiece.
We landed in Frankfurt and took a train to what was then Yugoslavia. We explored there a bit, then took another train to Athens, Greece. Dutifully, we visited the Parthenon, Syntagma Square and the national museum. Athens was blazing hot, so we took a streetcar ride that ended us up in the port of Piraeus where all the boats to the Greek islands were moored.
Though we knew nothing about it, we bought a ticket for a boat going to the island of Lesbos. There were no cabins available so we slept on deck. When we woke, a chicken was tangled in my daughter’s long hair, but we untangled her and disembarked. The tourist police directed us to a seashore town where a room and bath for the four of us cost $10 a night.
The next day I rented a small car and we went up and down hills, and stared at the villagers who were staring at us. It was a very quiet place. The kids remember most the fly-ridden hunks of meat that hung outside the butcher shop. They swam in the ocean and watched men emerge from the waves carrying an octopus they’d caught for dinner.
I’d almost forgotten about Lesbos until I recently read about a refugee camp established there to house migrants fleeing Afghanistan and other war-riddled areas.
Desperate people aimed for Greece as the nearest part of Europe, but planned to move on to more northern countries. Unfortunately for them, Europe had absorbed as many migrants as they thought they could handle and borders were firmly closed.
That left thousands stranded in the overcrowded camp of Mori on Lesbos. A camp built for 3,000 people now housed 12,000.
This last week there was a terrible fire in that camp, leaving the hapless refugees homeless once again.
Germany has accepted a number of unaccompanied minors, but no solution has been proposed for the majority of the camp residents. The people on the island of Lesbos were initially welcoming to the refugees, but as the camp swelled to 20,000 inmates, residents became hostile.
When l last heard, nobody had stepped up to help the desperate and homeless population of the camp, the largest in Europe.
My heart hurts for all involved as I picture the peaceful town of Mytilene and the friendly inhabitants my children and I encountered. In the 1970s, I and most of the world were not picturing a future that would send an army of migrants by land and sea, desperately searching for a safer and more prosperous life than the one they had.
We in California are now hearing of many who have lost their homes and livelihoods due to the terrible fires burning in our state. If you are safe in your own home, I hope you will keep people who have lost that security in your hearts and minds today.