By Michaela Korodimou
The dripping of the pipe has not stopped. Instead, throughout the night it has become
increasingly louder. It is interesting that amongst a sea of distractions provided by the city,
that attention decides to rest itself on such a normally insignificant sound. Gently, the boy pulls himself a few centimeters away from the falling water. Not so much that he is exposed to the wind and rain, just enough that he can try to nudge his attention onto something else.
Sleep seems like a distant friend to him. He used to remember the feeling of waking up with the sensation of being rested. These days, after so many months of sleepless nights, moving nights, frightened nights, the memory in his body of what rest could even possibly feel like has been forgotten. He glances at the time, portrayed in florescent lights above the pharmacy across from where he lies. It is 3:16 am. The endless night still has miles to go before it merges into another endless day.
As the world shuts down around us, people panic-buy endless rolls of toilet paper and the super-rich jet off to their bunkers, I watch the chaos unfolding from a position of privilege.
As a PhD student conducting fieldwork in Athens, Greece, the NGOs and community centers I volunteer with are temporarily shut; the teaching I am meant to do put on halt. I find myself wondering how I will spend the weeks of pause. My academic supervisor speaks of gathering my thoughts, taking a break and beginning to write. Friends speak eagerly of where in the world we can quarantine ourselves and what books we will finally have time to read.
The students in my classes, the children who are homeless and living on the streets of Athens, have a very different reality. Waiting to be accepted into the system to apply for asylum, waiting to be cared for, waiting for a place to stay home in.
Just before I had to enter a 14-day quarantine I sat with Ibrahim, a student from my class. He was clearly stressed. “What will you do for these next few weeks?” I asked him. For these children, life will be very difficult over the next weeks, maybe months. Informal education (the first schooling some have had in years) classes are cancelled, and the community centers where food is provided once a day will also be closed.
The places migrants are able to exist without feeling they are in the way or unwanted are no longer accessible. Ibrahim doesn’t know what he will do. Nobody knows.
We are living in times of uncertainty. Greece, it seems, is especially so. Ibrahim is one of too many children in Greece who are not yet cared for as they need to be.
“I want to be able to read my books,” he tells me. He pulls out two books from his bag. An
educational text on the benefits of using the waste from brick making for fuel, and a novel.
“I like to read novels,” he says, smiling gently, while his eyes light up as he glances with fondness at his book. I ask him more. He delves into a half hour, chapter-by-chapter, in-depth description of Jane Eyre. He is momentarily a child again, bright-eyed and excited.
“Books transport me, they take me away from this difficult life, they make me feel like I am somewhere else,” he shares. “So, will you spend your next weeks reading?” I ask him, temporarily encouraged and oddly relieved to see this passion inside of him. “No. It is too difficult to read now. I need a quiet place; I need to feel safe,” he explains. My chest clenches and I stay composed for his sake.
How haunting, that this child who has suffered so unimaginably, who loves nothing more than to read novels, is having even that rendered inaccessible. He starts to tell me again of why he loves Jane Eyre and I find myself feeling only love for him. Wanting only the very best for this brilliant, young, shiny human being who continues to endure in such incredibly strong ways.
As we walk into this uncertainty, as we panic and allow chaos to swallow us, let us be
conscious of the people who, like Ibrahim and his classmates, will be even more affected than most of us. With no places to exist safely, no certainty in where to find food, and even fewer opportunities to distract themselves from the harshness of life. All of this, whilst they are still hopefully relatively healthy and coronavirus-free.
I shudder at the thought of what they would do if they actually contracted the virus.
Let this time highlight the value of the indispensable services that volunteers, community centers, churches, individuals and NGOs provide. Let this be a chance for practicing compassion and kindness to those around us.
*Michaela Korodimou is a PhD candidate researching placemaking in displacement. With her BA in Anthropology and MSc. in Environmental Change at Oxford University,
her work in Greece with young refugees focuses on trying to understand how we can best
support current and future populations to connect to new spaces and foster feelings of
integration and home.