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Chapter 27 – Grecian tales of Battles, Fire, & Python fumes.

By Neil and Nikki

sunny 26 °C

Ah, its time come on a journey with me. A journey of amazing battles against insurmountable odds, of monasteries clinging to mountain tops, massive world changing explosions, an ancient religious centre or two and, of course, of Python fumes!

Are you sitting comfortably? Then let us begin…..

The Battle of Thermopylae

Come with me back to 480 BC. The Persians, led by this bloke:

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Persian Leader – Xerxes I – born 518 BC, died 465 BC.

Wanted to smash the Greeks into lots of little pieces. He amassed 150,000 troops, and started to march from what is now Turkey towards Athens.

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Map of Greece, showing Turkey and Athens. Thermopylae is 20 km’s from Lamia which is north-west of Athens.

And this Dude, leading the Greeks:

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Leonidas – King of Sparta – born 540 BC, died 480 BC

Was working on stopping him. After all, he’d done it before…..

Flashback to 490 BC

In 490 BC the Persians, this time under the rule of Xerxes’ Dad, Darius I, had had a previous go. He amassed an army at Marathon and was getting ready to march on Athens. The Greeks were in a bit of strife.

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The Persians had 26,000 troops and the Greeks had 10,000. But the Greeks were cunning blokes. And they won!

The Greeks at Marathon decided to send a messenger to Athens to let them know of the victory. They picked a bloke called Pheidippides to run the 26 miles (42 kilometres). It’s said that he ran the whole distance without stopping and burst into the assembly saying “We’ve won”, before promptly dropping dead!

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Pheidippides saying “We’ve won!” before dropping dead. Not quite sure why he was starkers…..

Back to 480 BC

The Persians were doing well until they got to Thermopylae (meaning Hot Springs). But they hit a small problem. Literally.

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The Battlefield of Thermopylae. The Persians were approaching from the West (top of this picture). The ancient coastline is where the road is now. The Greeks were defending in the foreground. (You can also see in the middle of the picture the building with the red roof. That is the Refugee Camp accommodation building, where we were volunteering)

As you can see, the old pass of Thermopylae (between the road and mountains) was very narrow and the mountains were seemingly impenetrable. Leonidas I only had 10,000 Greek troops to pit against the 150,000 Persians, but if the Persians approached the narrow pass they could be picked off with ease by the much smaller force.

Unfortunately, a Greek traitor, Ephialtes, showed the Persians a path through the hills enabling them to surround the Greek forces.

Leonidas knew he was going to lose, so withdrew 9,000 of his troops leaving only 300 Spartans, 700 Thespians (No, no, no! Not actors! People from Thespia! Although the term Thespian, meaning actor, came from Thespis, the first actor) and 400 Thebans to defend the pass.

They managed to fight off the Persians for 3 days before being wiped out.

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Me at the Thermopylae Battle Field.

All of this history also happens to be set in a beautiful location. My previous trips to Greece had only been to the Islands and I hadn’t understood how beautiful the Greek mainland is. The hills around Thermopylae are really quite stunning.

Meteora

Let’s move forward to about 1100 AD and I want you to put on the horse hair shirt and imagine you’re a monk. Or a Monkess.

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Then the rascally Turks came around and they’re weren’t exactly embracing of the Christian Monkness, being that the Monks were sort of Christian and not Muslims…... In fact, they didn’t want to sit and have a nice cup of tea with the monks, they want to, er, kill them. In not very nice ways!

But the Monks weren’t as green as they were cabbage looking. They saw Meteora and thought “Hmmmm….”

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View of Meteora, north west of Lamia. (it’s kind of close to Kardhista if you’re looking at the first map in this blog).

“If we stick a monastery on the top of one of them there hills, those rascally Turks would have a bit of a problem killing us” the monks thought. So up they climbed. There was no access to the monasteries, except by a ladder that they dropped down when times were good and pulled up when it all got a little tense

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This is us at one of the monasteries with another one in the top left-hand part of the photo.

Delphi

I reckon that every hotel should have a view like this:

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Hotel room with a view. Looking out towards the sea and Peloponnesus, over the olive plantations.

Delphi is here:

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Maybe you’ll have heard of the Delphi Oracle? Yes? Good. No? Well, let me take you back to the past, to tales of Pythons, Apollo, Zeus, Hallucinations, and Alexander the Great.

One tale from about 500 BC is that Zeus, the head honcho of the Greek Gods, wanted to know where the centre of the earth was and let loose two eagles from the extremities of the world and they crossed over at Delphi, marking the centre or ‘navel’ of the earth.

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An earlier tale, from Greek mythology is that Apollo slayed a Python (or Dragon) there.

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He threw the body into a cleft in the rocks from which fumes of the rotting Python (or dragon) continued to emit. The legend goes that, many centuries later, a goatherd noticed that his herd started playing with “great agility” when they got near the cleft in the rocks. So he put his head into the cleft and, on inhaling the fumes, went into a “strange trance”. Hmmm …. sounds like a little too many mountain mushrooms to me!

However, the trance inducing fumes became viewed as a portal which enabled commune with the gods and tradition of the Delphic Oracle (or Pythia, an “older woman of blameless life” always selected from the local village) became famed in the ancient world for her prophecies and was widely consulted on important decisions, including by Alexander the Great.

The site of Delphi is incredibly well preserved, including the amphitheatre, stadium and various temples. It really was amazingly beautiful.

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Looking up at the Temple of Apollo

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The running track for the Parthenon Games

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View over the amphitheatre towards the temple

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The Greek Islands – Paros, Santorini, and Mykonos:

Oh, to a lost youth! It’s 30 years since I first went to the Greek Islands and 27 years since my last visit. The last time I went the currency was the Drachma. I got there once by travelling from a country called West Germany, through some place called Yugoslavia, down to Piraeus (the port of Athens) and then to the Islands.

After our time volunteering with refugees in the Thermopylae refugee camp, we needed time to reflect, write, think. Oh, and Nikki had a mild case of the Plague (or was it bronchitis?) and needed time for the antibiotics, puffers, and mind lung expanding drugs to take effect.

It was time to return to the Greek Islands……

Paros

It was 30 years since I’d been to Paros and you know what? I’d changed. And so had Paros! It was posher!

Nikki had found a beautiful place up on the hillside overlooking the harbour:

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Paros was just as beautiful.

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And so we relaxed, wrote, thought, and Nikki took lots of drugs.

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On a historical side, Paros has rocks. Let me be more precise, it has marble. And not just any old marble, special marble that is incredibly pure and translucent. In ancient times it was famed though out the Grecian world and shipped far and wide. And as you know, those Greeks loved a bit of marble….

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A Statue carved from Parian marble

It helped make Paros an important mining hub from about 500 BC to about the 3rd century AD. After that, well, it went back to being a sleepy old tourist island.

Santorini

Depending on whether you’re talking to my mate Gregor or me, you’ll get different answers as to why we slept on the concrete quay when we arrived by ferry in 1988 (ish. It’s all a bit hazy….).

According to me, the ferry arrived late and the last bus up to the village had gone.

According to Gregor, I insisted we had one more beer in the bar at the port and the last bus left.

Then again, I don’t remember the goat on the train either….

In any case, this time, life was much more civilised. Our friend Mel, who I’d met a decade before when me and my two sons, and Mel and her youngest daughter were travelling through a civil war in Kenya, was in Europe and we’d arranged to meet up.

Our arrival was just as spectacular, if a little crowded…

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Our arrival on the ferry into Santorini. It’s a little popular.

We met up with Mel and her daughter.

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“And the meaning of life is ……Gin, with a little tonic…!”

And ate, drank, and were merry.

However, whilst Paros has got a bit posher since the late 80’s, Santorini has just gone nuts. I mentioned in an earlier blog how Prague in the Czech Republic is drowning in tourists. What became clear when we got to Santorini is that there are certain destinations that are on the “if you have 10 days in Europe, you must go here list”. Santorini is one of these places. In addition, Santorini has also got onto the “top 10 honeymoon destinations” list. The results are that it’s very busy (even late in the season) and it’s gone very upmarket. The reason is clear. It is still iconically beautiful.

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Room with a view of Nikki’s toes, and some other stuff…

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To understand why it iconically beautiful, well, are you ready for your volcanology class?

Santorini went bang:

Prior to 1600 BC, there was this:

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Then, after 1600 BC there was this:

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Santorini went bang. No. Bang doesn’t describe it. The force of the explosion, pyrotechnics if you will, was like several hundred atomic bombs going off and was 4 to 5 times larger than Krakatoa’s 1883 eruption in Indonesia. The Minoan civilisation crumbled, including on Crete …… km’s away. It’s rumoured that the Santorini explosion may have caused the biblical plagues in Egypt and, perhaps more tenuously, that Moses didn’t cross the Red Sea but actually the Reed Sea which is a marshy area in northern Egypt that was drained and then flooded by the resulting tsunami *?Really?*.

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“Hey Stavros! How’s your house on Santorini?”, “Well Alexis, the bloody island blew up! House got blown to smithereens!”

We went to Akritiri, a town that was covered in ash during the eruption. Unlike Pompei the inhabitants clearly had warning of the impending eruption and got out, but the town was amazingly well preserved under four stories of ash.

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The square of the ancient town of Akritiri that had a bad end after the eruption. It was buried four stories deep in ash prior to this excavation to street level.

It was great to catch up with Mel and Olivia, to see Santorini again and to not sleep on the Quay!

Mykonos

Mykonos was my holiday destination for around 4 years from 1987 to 1991, and I had a jolly nice time. The most infamous year was probably the one with Gregor, Garvey, Scottish Andy, and some other reprobates whose names have disappeared from my damaged neurons. Oh, the high jinks that went on! Still, what happens in Mykonos, stays in Mykonos, but Good Lord!

Anyway, this time it was far more civilised. Nik had found a nice apartment 10 minutes walk from town and on the first night we had a nice salad with feta cheese, walnuts, beetroot, with a garnish of dill and dressed with balsamic vinegar, followed by mushroom and truffle ravioli. (Last time with Gregor, Garvey and co, we had beer with a tequila chaser….).

Mykonos also has got posher, but the basic island was the same.

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For our excursions, last time we took a bus to Paradise Beach and got on a Booze Cruise to another beach and got toasted; inside and out! But this time it was much more “Kultchured”.

We took the boat to one of the “most important, mythological and archaeological sites in Greece”. Delos! How on earth did we miss this last time?

There was an Amphitheatre:

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A House of Masks.

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And a Dolphin Mosaic:

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And a hill to climb that gave great views towards Mykonos.

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It was all very civilised:

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However, whilst I think that Greece is on our very exclusive “we want to go back there” list, I think it will be to the mainland, not the islands. (Says Neil, not Nikki….).

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We then jumped on a plane to Israel, the West Bank and Jordan for one of the most interesting parts of the trip so far…..

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Posted by capetocape2017 09:25 Archived in Greece Tagged mykonos santorini delphi paros meteora thermopylae Comments (1)

Chapter 26 - Volunteering with Refugees - Greece

By Neil and Nkki

sunny 29 °C

It was the image of this little boy, 3 year old Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi, washed up on Bodrim beach in Turkey, having drowned at sea in September 2015, that galvanised the world into action for the tsunami of refugees that were arriving in Europe from the Syrian War. He’d been trying to get from Bodrim in Turkey to the Greek Island of Kos in a tiny rubber raft.

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The body of 3 year old Alan Kurdi, washed up on a beach in Turkey after the boat he was trying to escape Syria in capsized, killing him, his infant sister and mother. Only his father survived.

The Kurdi family were trying to reach Canada, a place which for many seeking asylum has been considered the ultimate safe haven.

If a photograph can be powerful, so can music. An Australian musician, Missy Higgins, was so moved by Alan Kurdi’s death, she wrote the song ‘Oh Canada’. Both the music and imagery are searing.

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An image from the video to the song ‘Oh Canada’ by Australian artist Missy Higgins (search ‘Youtube Missy Higgins Oh Canada – Official Video’ to listen to and watch this beautiful tribute).

This only firmed the resolve of Nikki and I to volunteer in a refugee camp in Greece during our Big Trip.

The Thermopylae Refugee Camp near Lamia, Greece.

“Thermo-pylae” is Greek for “hot-spring” and the sulphurous natural springs at Thermopylae in Central Greece have existed for well over 3000 years. There is an old abandoned hotel near the hot springs and about 12 months ago the Greek government decided it would be a good location for a refugee camp.

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The Thermopylae Refugee Camp – Greece. One of the accommodation blocks.

There are about 800 refugees in the camp. About 120 are school aged children. Approximately 75% are Syrian, 15% Kurdish and 10% Palestinian.

We volunteered for an organisation called Happy Caravan, whose primary goal is to provide English, maths and music lessons, as well as cinema and dance activities, for the children in the camp.

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The Classroom at the Thermopylae refugee camp.

Before describing our time there, I wanted to give some background around the refugee situation for those interested…..

The Refugee Situation in Europe

Take a look at the immigration of non-EU nationals between 2010 and 2013 (in green). Its sitting at about 1.3 million per year.

Now take a look at the asylum seekers (orange) and illegal border crossings (blue). Prior to 2014 they were about 400,000 per year. Then in 2014 it starts to spike up to 900,000.

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In 2015, however, the wave became a tsunami.

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Mediterranean sea arrivals to Greece and Italy from January 2015 to September 2016.

Yes. In October 2015 about 215,000 people arrived in Greece by boat. Over a million in a 12 month period, into Greece alone. And these were the lucky ones. They made it across the Mediterranean to the refugee camps. An estimated 10,000 for the period 2015 - 2017 did not survive the crossing.

(The “EU-Turkey” deal refers to an agreement that any people arriving in Greece from Turkey would be returned to Turkey).

Where were the asylum seekers coming from?

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Sea arrivals into Greece and Italy in 2015

The chart below shows that, whilst I’ve called this section ‘The Refugee Situation in Europe’, you can see that the countries with the highest number of refugees are Pakistan and Turkey, with over 1.5 million and 2.7 million respectively. It also shows that around 4 million refugees have come from Syria, and 3 million from Afghanistan.

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Chart showing where refugees are coming from and going to in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.

The Story of One Refugee – Alaa Eddin Jnaid – Founder of Happy Caravan.

In 2013, Alaa was a 29 year old bloke living in Aleppo, Syria when war engulfed his city.

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Map of Syria.

Alaa was just an average guy, living and working away in Aleppo. Then bombs started dropping on his city. One day, while he was eating his dinner, a bomb landed on his car out the front of his house destroying it completely. Then Islamic State came into Aleppo. Alaa was working for the Jesuit Refugee Service. Due to this work, his name was ‘put on a list’ by IS and he realised that if he didn’t flee, he would be murdered.

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Alaa Eddin Jnaid – Netherlands citizen – Syrian Refugee – founder of Happy Caravan.

He swam across a river to Turkey and eventually got on a boat to Greece. The boat landed on the island of Samos, on a remote rocky outcrop against a sheer rock face. With no help in sight, a dozen men, including Alaa, decided to climb the rock face to try and find assistance. During the climb 3 men fell to their deaths. However, there was no choice for the others but to go on. The people on the beach had no water or food and risked dying of exposure.

At the top they eventually found assistance and made it to a Greek refugee camp.

But What Happened Then?

So, it’s time for a bit of Asylum Seeker/ Refugee Class 101.

I said in an earlier blog that the United Nations was formed out of the crucible of the Second World War. This is also true of Human Rights.

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Eleanor Roosevelt, the leader of the international effort to develop the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, with the Spanish version of the Declaration. It was ratified by the UN on 10th December 1948.

The Declaration forms the cornerstone of Human Rights Law in the world. Important for Asylum Seekers, Article 14 (1) states:

1. Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution

I think probably Article 2 and 3 are then important to note:

Article 2:

Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status……

Article 3:

Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person.

SO, IF YOUR LIFE IS UNDER THREAT, YOU CAN SEEK ASYLUM…..

Now, onto the Refugee part:

Once again, following the Second World War and the millions of refugees that that conflict caused, the UN started working on a Convention for Refugees. This became known as the 1951 Refugee Convention and was ratified by the UN in July 1951.

Of course, the cornerstone of the convention is the definition of a Refugee. This is defined in Article 1 of the Convention and is:

“A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, and nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”

The assessment of whether an asylum seeker meets the requirements to be a 'refugee' is made by the government where asylum is sought, or by the UNHCR (if requested by that government). (More on this from an Australian perspective later on).

Once someone has been granted refugee status then the rights under the 1951 Refugee Convention come into effect. These, in simple terms, give refugees the same rights as the local population with respect to welfare, healthcare, education, housing, employment, etc.

Regarding resettlement, however, under Article 34 of the 1951 Refugee Convention, it states:

‘The Contracting States shall as far as possible facilitate the assimilation and naturalization of refugees. They shall in particular make every effort to expedite naturalization proceedings and to reduce as far as possible the charges and costs of such proceedings’.

BUT!!! I ain't a lawyer but note that it doesn’t say ‘will’, or ‘must’. This means that states are obliged but not compelled to resettle refugees. However, the European Union appears to have taken the 1951 Refugee Convention in the spirit in which is was written. It’s set up the European Asylum Support Office and the Dublin Regulation and the EU Emergency Relocation Mechanism. The Dublin Regulation is a European Law that determines by fingerprinting the EU Member responsible for an asylum seeker claim and is linked to the EU Emergency Relocation Mechanism which is where the number of refugees each country in the EU should resettle is allocated.

In addition to the amazing efforts of Germany in 2015, the EU Emergency Relocation Mechanism is making real progress. Not all of the countries of Europe are meeting their obligations, with some refusing to take any refugees (Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic are all subject of legal action by the EU Commission for failure to meet their obligations under the Agreement). However, the number of refugees now in Greece is around 60,000 and the resettlement into Europe is underway. But Greece, and no doubt the other countries, are struggling to provide basic services for the refugees coming to its shores, including schooling for the children (which is ad hoc at best).

Back to Alaa’s story:

After a while in refugee camps in Greece, Alaa decided that he needed to get to a third country in order for his application for asylum to be processed. He paid people to get him to the Netherlands and in around 2015 was granted asylum.

However, as soon as Alaa finally found a safe haven for himself, he found that he could not abandon the others facing the same fate in Greece and Italy. Alaa went back to Greece and volunteered his time with a number of refugee organisations, before he founded Happy Caravan, hoping to provide education to the children in refugee camps.

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Alaa on his 33rd birthday being given presents by some of the Happy Caravan family…

Alaa is a magnetic individual. At times animated. At times, retreating to fight the demons scarring his psyche. Engaging. Empowering. A true leader. Alaa has the ability to attract and motivate talented individuals and then let them “fly”. He has strengths and can attract people who can fill his weaknesses.

He set up Happy Caravan only 5 months ago with nothing; no money, no equipment, but with a zeal to help. And now, there is a classroom, a large and steady stream of volunteers, a project manager to run the program at Thermopylae, an apartment for the volunteers, and teaching equipment.

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Nik and I cooked a birthday dinner for Alaa. In the photo we have Zakrya, Alaa, Audrey, Nik, Hannah, Yvonne, Piotr, Agatha, and me.

If you are interested in a greater perspective about the true human impact and cost of war, Alaa previously completed an interview about his experiences. It can be found by searching the net for "Alaa Jnaid YouTube (Little things can make a difference)". Please be aware this interview is an incredibly honest and personal account of Alaa's experiences and is confronting. It is however, also a rare first hand account of the trauma caused by the Syrian war, a perspective often missing in today's media.

Happy Caravan:

When we arrived at Happy Caravan there were 5 other volunteers, a truly international contingent; 2 Spanish, 2 Polish and one Dutch - plus Alaa!

Piotr, the Polish bloke is an associate professor in Art and taught Art in an inclusive, inventive, and ever-changing way. One day getting the kids to make masks, the next painting a big cardboard castle.

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We were driving from Lamia to Thermopylae and Piotr saw an enormous folded cardboard box. We stopped the tiny “Ford Ka”, put the cardboard through the back, against the roof of the car, and there was, in his mind, a castle for the children to paint.

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There was gorgeous Agatha, who had taken on the mantle of Program Organiser for her 4 week stay. She sorted out the schedule and the plan for the centre, as well as coordinating all of us while we were there (no small job, I assure you!).

And our beautiful compatriots from Espana, Carla and Angela! These two amazing women taught English and Maths to the children with such fun and passion, it was inspiring.

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Angela and Carla who taught English and Maths before Nikki and me.

And finally, but far from least, the amazingly creative Lisette from the Netherlands taught Art and all sorts of creativeness to the children, who absolutely loved her and her infectious smile!

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Lisette. Art maestro!

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Nikki getting a girl hug

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There are two groups of children at the Happy Caravan school. The first group, older children aged from around 7 to 14, came to morning lessons. The second group of mainly younger children, came for a shorter afternoon session. There could be anywhere from 5 to 20 children in each class, depending on the day.

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A surprise farewell for Lisette

We were lucky enough to have two Arabic speaking volunteers from within the camp assisting us, Zakrya, a 46 year old from Aleppo, and Khaled, a student from Syria. Zakrya had a successful air conditioning business, 2 houses, a wife and four kids before the war. His business and houses were destroyed during the conflict and he and his family fled to Greece. Zakrya’s wife and children have already been granted asylum and are waiting for him in Hamburg, but due to ongoing bureaucracy he has been waiting in Greece over a year to join them.

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Zakrya having fun in art class...

Khaled is a Petrochemical student who had had to flee Syria due to the conflict and is waiting for resettlement.

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Khaled sporting the glasses that Nik kindly made for him….

The classes for the first group started at 11am and went until 1.30pm, and from 2pm to 4pm for the second group. From 4.30pm each evening all the children would come to the school for English movies or cartoons, and of course popcorn! Or occasionally music…

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Zakrya and I teaching that Old MacDonald had some weird animals on his farm…

One day Nik and another one the volunteers, Audrey, took four of the older teenage girls to the beach. Too old for school, too young for independence, these young women spend their days confined to their family rooms, never experiencing anything so normal as a day shopping or coffee with their girlfriends. Nik and Audrey tried to give them a taste of this. Afterwards Nik said “What makes me so sad is that these girls could be anything - scientists, doctors, lawyers - but each day in this limbo they fall behind their peers - making it harder for them to achieve their dreams”. Writing that I can’t help but think about my own kids, the education they’re getting, how they are fulfilling their potential and how I’d feel if their lives were suddenly torn apart and put on hold.

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Nik and Audrey with the teenage refugee girls they took to the beach. Each day in the refugee camp makes it harder for them to reach their potential.

And then I think about the waste that is each day that these people are in limbo.

With all of that said, we found the children to be wonderfully warm and accepting. There were of course issues and tensions at times, especially between the Syrians and Kurdish children, but overall they seemed to be coping better than we had hoped, at least in the school environment. They genuinely wanted to attend school and learn.

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Sitting down and thinking now, a week after we left the camp, I reckon that Greece is doing a really good job with the refugee crisis. Yes, it could be better, but I think in light of their own troubles, they are making a commendable effort.

Alaa is a truly inspirational individual. Similarly to Berenice, the manager of the Manos Amigas charity in Colombia, he has that selflessness that leaves me full of admiration.

I really, really hope that Greece lifts it’s game to provide education for these kids soon.

I really hope that Europe, at a minimum, meets its self-imposed refugee quotas soon.

I really hope that the Syrian conflict stops soon.

Which brings me to war and conflict.

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The Syrian War, and War and Conflict in general.

I’m sure I’m not alone in having only a poor knowledge of the war in Syria.

The clearest explanation I’ve seen is in from the Wikipedia pages on the Syrian Civil War. It includes this diagram of the protagonists in the war and their relationships:

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A diagram showing the protagonists in the Syrian Civil War. You don’t need to be able to read the names in the circles to appreciate that it’s a horrible, convoluted, interconnected mess.

The map below shows, at present, who’s in control of which parts of the country:

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Map of the current (Sept 2017) situation in Syria. Red = Syrian Government, Green = Syrian Opposition, Yellow = Rojava (SDF), Grey = Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, White = Tahrir al-Sham (formally known as the al-Nusra Front).

Sources also refers to the Syrian Civil War as the ‘Iran – Saudi Arabia Proxy War’.

Based on the above, it’s clear that peace in Syria will be a long time coming. But it will come. I was convinced in the 1970’s, 1980’s and early 1990’s that peace in Northern Island was not possible. The animosity ran too deep. There had been too much death. Too many murders. And yet, in 1998 the Good Friday accords were signed and there has now been peace for over two decades.

We were in Colombia when the protagonists in the Colombian War signed the peace deal that, interestingly, President Santos of Colombia had based on the Good Friday Accords. The Colombian War had been going on for 60 years.

Which brings me to writing about War and Conflict in General. Since the Second World War the United Nations has mediated 172 peace agreements. And yet between 1956 and 2016 there have been 43 genocides resulting in the death, the murder, of 50 million people. There have been dozens – no hundreds – of wars and conflicts. And, having just volunteered in a refugee camp in Greece, we read about 400,000 Rohingya refugees fleeing from Myanmar into Bangladesh. You’d think that, as a human race, the world would be better than this. There are many simmering tensions in many countries in the world. What is it that suddenly, or seemingly suddenly, makes a tension boil over into full blown conflict? One thing is for certain, things have to fall to shit in a massive way before people will flee. Plus, given a choice, many people would prefer to go “back home” if the situation became “normal” again.

In my view the United Nations, which encourages the “talking is better than shooting” ethos is a positive start. But it isn’t enough. Nik has said that I should look to the history of humankind which shows a natural tendency toward war and conflict, but I think that, whilst that may be true, we as a species should be, and can be, better.

I am sure that we are, we must be, we can be, we will be, better as a human race……..

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Australia, Asylum Seekers, and Refugees.

Australia. The Lucky Country. The Rich Country.

I’ll try to put this down as factually as I can and you can be the judge of what you think.
The 1951 Refugee Convention states that it is common that an Asylum Seeker may not follow the normal paths to enter a country and that “Contracting States”, ie states that have signed the 1951 Refugee Convention (which Australia has), should give due consideration to this when considering the treatment of an Asylum Seeker. The Australian Government, and the Australian Opposition have given due consideration to this and both agree that Australia is, and should continue to be, the only country in the world with indefinite mandatory detention of asylum seekers.

You’ll have read earlier in this blog that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (of which Australia is a founding signatory), states that “Everyone has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution”. The Australian Government, and the Australia Opposition, both have a policy that, if anyone arrives by boat, and actually gets to Australia, they will under no circumstances be granted asylum. In addition, not only will they be put into indefinite mandatory detention, but it will be offshore. Aussies out there will be interested to know that the Australian Government, whilst admitting no guilt, has just settled a class action bought by the asylum seekers in off-shore detention for pain and suffering caused by their incarceration. How much did the asylum seekers win? AU$70 million + costs.

You’ll have read earlier in this blog that if an asylum seeker is granted refugee status, that brings with it considerable privileges; education, welfare rights, employment rights, etc. The Australian Government, and the Australian Opposition, both support stretching this process out for years (1 to 5 years). All the while this process is stretched out, the asylum seeker is locked in a concentration camp with no rights of any kind, including that of safe or sanitary living condtions.

And there are many, many more examples of where the Australian Government, and the Australian Opposition, support Australia not meeting it’s international Human Rights, Asylum Seeker, and Refugee obligations and commitments.

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Yeah but what about letting in terrorists? And they’re queue jumpers! And they’re not Aussies (or French, or German, or [Insert nationality here])! And they’re all on welfare and wont get a bloody job! And they’re Burqa wearing Muslims! And it’s leading to the rise in Ultra Right-Wing Parties!

I want to tackle these head on. I absolutely believe in the Voltairean principle of “I might not like what you have to say but I’ll fight to the death for your right to say it”. And if people are free to say comments like the above, I’m free to respond.

Let’s take the last point first. The rise in the Ultra Right-Wing Parties. There always have been, and I suspect always will be, people that support the far right of politics. However, I think perspective is needed. And a really good example of this is in the recent German election. After having granted asylum to over 1 million refugees between 2015 and now, (i.e. 1 refugee for every 80 German citizens), 87% of the German electorate voted either for the present Chancellor, Angela Merkel, or for other non Far Right parties. That, I reckon, is a resounding vote of confidence in the Chancellors actions.

Next. They’re not Aussies (or Germans/ French/ or [insert nationality here]). Righto. Let’s take Australia first. 1% of Australians are “real” Australians, i.e. haven’t “blown in” over the past 230 years. I.e. they’re Indigenous Australians. The rest of us are blow ins.

large_Heinz_57-1.jpg
The package for Heinz tomato ketchup that makes reference to 57 varieties. This has led to the comment some peoples cultural heritage is a bit of a “Heinz 57”, ie like Heinz Tomato Ketchup, they’re made up of 57 varieties.

Nik is a case in point. She has German, Irish, Scottish, and English blood, plus I’m sure a few more varieties. In Australia we’ve had waves of migration including the Irish in the 1880’s, the Greek’s and Italian’s post the Second World War (Melbourne had for a time the second largest Greek city in the world after Athens), the Vietnamese in the 1970’s, the Indians and Chinese now. Whilst working for AGL Energy in Melbourne about 8 years ago we had a Sri Lankan Buddhist Australian, an Italian Catholic Australian, a Malaysian Hindu of Indian origin Australian, a South African Protestant Australian, me (an English Protestant) Australian, and a “Heinz 57” Australian all working together in a team. The team was stronger than a monocultural team. The different viewpoints, the different cultural heritages, the different psyches made us stronger.

As for Europe. Crikey! Everyone’s invaded/ been invaded by everyone else over the centuries.

People have their right to their view, even if, in my view, it is bigoted and wrong.

They’re queue jumpers! So you’re rotting in a camp in Indonesia having lost everything in Syria. You’re hoping you’ll get resettlement but when? What would you do?

Well, I’ll tell you what Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser did in the mid 1970’s. He didn’t want people dying at sea, so he set up centres in Indonesia to process asylum claims.

Whilst I was researching this blog I learnt that, following the death of Alan Kurdi on 3rd September 2015, Australia announced that it would issue Permanent Residency (PR) visas to 12,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees. This was in addition to the existing quota of 13,750 refugees that it had committed to issuing each in 2015/16 and 2016/17, i.e. 39,500 in total. The actual number issued? Less than 23,000. Having just come from a refugee camp, I am bitterly disappointed, but not surprised by the misleading actions of the Australian Government. There is so much need and yet the Australian Government is not even doing what it committed to.

And they’re Burqa wearing Muslims! Yeah, and that’s just the blokes. Crikey! Live and let live. Living in Australia where in the 1880’s there was vehement partisan comments against a boatload of Irish Catholic Orphan Girls being allowed to settle in Australia “They’re Catholics! They’ll breed like rabbits and we’ll be overrun”. Then after the Second World War, there were the Greeks and the Italians (“We’ll be overrun! They never work! They’re not Australian!”), etc, etc. I have zero time for that silly racism.

And they’re all on welfare and wont get a bloody job! Ok. I’ll start with the anecdotal evidence first and then move onto research based evidence.

So, Mr and Mrs Gupta arrive from India. They open a corner store. How many hours is it open? All the hours that God sends. They have kids. How do Mr and Mrs Gupta feel about education? Rather strongly! What jobs are the kids likely to get? Doctors, lawyers, etc.

Now onto the factual stuff.

The research by Philippe Legrain, former economic adviser to the President of the European Commission, shows that each Euro invested in resettling refugees gives a return of 2 Euros within 5 years. Labour organisations have also shown that local wages are not detrimentally affected by resettling of refugees.

Also, I included in Chapter 23 of this blog, The Australian Goat Story that showed the benefits that two Lebanese brothers have brought to the Australian economy.

Lastly, what about letting in terrorists? For this I’m going to go straight to the research…..

A paper by Alex Nowrasteh from the Cato Institute in September 2016 showed the following statistics for the period 1975 to 2015 for America:

- The probability of an American being murdered by an American is 1 in 16,000
- The probability of an American being murdered by a foreign born terrorist is 1 in 3,900,000 (3.9 million)
- The probability of an American being murdered by a refugee is 1 in 3,640,000,000 (3.64 billion)
- The probability of an American being murdered by an illegal immigrant is 1 in 10,900,000,000 (10.9 billion).

QED. Quod erat demonstrandum. Thus it has been demonstrated. It has been demonstrated that the concern about terrorism from letting immigrants (and particularly refugees) into a country is unfounded.

That doesn’t mean that countries do not need to keep focussed on terrorism and its causes including radicalisation, ensuring integration into the communities in a country, and investigating rogue elements in a community, no matter what their cultural background.

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Wow. Exhausted? I am. But thank you for sticking with me on this one. The crisis that the world is facing due to conflict is one which we in Australia are so often removed from and are able to avoid by simply changing the channel on the TV. Both Nik and I have often felt powerless in trying to help as each, seemingly endless, disaster or conflict unrolls before us. This trip provided us with an extraordinary privilege in not only witnessing some of the reality first hand, but more importantly, showing us that there are ways that everyone can step up and help. Both of us feel more inspired about how we can contribute going forward. And are more appreciative than ever of the amazing opportunities we have been so lucky to have and of the incredible people we are so fortunate to call friends.

Posted by capetocape2017 10:13 Archived in Greece Tagged greece happy syrian caravan refugees thermopylae alaa eddin jnaid Comments (1)

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