We have arrived in Greece! Just yesterday we have crossed border #9, which was also our final one. It is rather interesting to see the geographic end of our trip approaching. We have only 70 km of biking left to reach Thessaloniki, from where on we will travel by ferry. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.
Last week was filled again with people, stories and experiences. In Skopje, by chance, we luckily encountered ‘Macedonia’s Lipstick Protester‘, 35 year-old Jasmina Golubovska. She is highly engaged in political activism being the former project coordinator for the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights and current consultant for the Open Society Foundation of FYROM. She was kind enough to pass us the contacts of her good friends, Lence and Gabriela.
Lence Zdravnik focuses rather on the humanitarian aspect of the refugee crisis. Her house in Veles is only five metres away from the railroad tracks which form a ‘red thread’ for the refugee journey through Macedonia. Since the closing of the Greek-Macedonian border, the safest way to reach Serbia is to walk across the country. They have to avoid being caught by the authorities. Thus, the walking takes place mostly at night, where the darkness helps them to hide from the police. Lence hosted us for one night in her living room. Her balcony door has been open for over three years now and she as well as her husband or one of their two sons is always on watch – 24/7. As soon as one of them hears the steps on the gravel of the tracks, they rush down to their door to offer help to the travellers. Until last summer, the family’s jobs were the only source of finance for this aid. But due to countless reports about this modern Mother Theresa, as foreign media calls her, big organizations and the general public stepped in to help Lence, so that she can help the refugees. Therefore, her garage is stacked with everything from Food Packages and Medicine sponsored by the Macedonian Red Cross over to High Energy Cookies and Water paid for by the UNHCR. We also found shoes, clothes, bags and caps that were bought by locals and donated. The distribution of these items usually takes place anywhere between midnight and 5 am. During our stay there no one passed the house walking but during the four hours that Lence sat outside, she witnessed about thirty refugees hiding on a cargo train, which is the faster, but also more dangerous option.
We spent the following day in the camp in Gevgelija, just some hundred meters away from the Greek/Macedonian border. There we met Gabriela Andreevska who has worked tirelessly to support and protect refugees both inside and outside the camp. She started doing so with the distribution of foods, water and other necessary items, and is now increasingly raising awareness on behalf of the refugees through political activism. While showing us the camp she explained that while the camp is under decent conditions (containers with AC), its inhabitants are restricted from leaving it. Hearing this was a shock for the both of us! In the words of Avin, a girl from Aleppo insde the camp, she felt like being stuck in a prison for five months without having committed any crimes. Avin is the daughter of Syrian artist Sêr (abbreviated), whose art symbolizes the struggle of being a refugee inside Gevgelija. We looked at his collection and subsequently bought two drawings which we found particularly expressive. After a good two hours of exchanging opinions, stories and hopes, we left the camp heading south to the Greek border.
After half an hour on Greek soil we already ran into troubles with the Greek police. Long story short, the film crew of the ARD was escorted back to the local police station, while we were being yelled at by an angry farmer whose every so little problem seemed to be caused by refugees. It was our first encounter with someone who voiced his anger in such an open and vulgar way.
This briefly sums up our last 2-3 days (don’t mind the cycling in between, puh). And yes, the ARD film crew made it safe and sound out of the police station 🙂
Now heading to Nea Kavala where we will meet with the Intereuropean Human Aid Association (IHA).
To be continued…