As I was sitting on the balcony of the volunteer flat, a message came through from a friend. We’d been chatting about our travels, I’d told him that I was volunteering in Patras. His message read: “I bet you’ve met some incredible people!” To be honest, I didn’t know how to respond.
Incredible? Incredible resilience, incredible pride, incredible bravery? Incredible disregard for their own safety, incredible hope and incredible will, incredible unintentional ignorance, incredible intentional ignorance? Incredible compassion, incredible delusion, incredible un-preparedness?
I had met some incredible people, most of whom were young lost boys, visiting the nurse with a tiny scratch, for no real reason, other than the wanting to be cared for, clinging on to someone that showed sympathy, to physically feel some form of love and care.
We spent hours in the park on an evening. They would make me practice speaking Pashto, while I helped them with their English; they tried to teach me Afghani dances while we tried to teach them The Macarena, shortly followed by the Cha Cha Slide - neither went well. We played games and laughed and argued, kept an eye out for the police and trouble, and repeatedly turned down marriage proposals. I worried as they ran off to go on "the game", and felt disappointed, but relieved, when they returned safe.
I had met some brothers: boys I cared so much for. It broke my heart having to leave them in Patras. I saw one of them again in Serbia a year later, and my heart broke again having to leave him there. I cried for three days leaving Patras. Then I cried more as I realised how lucky I was to just be able to go home, when they were stuck there, risking their lives to cross these same borders, I was desperate not to cross.
My time in Patras was awkward, intense, emotional but so much fun, so amazing and (almost) completely filled with love. I hoped, and still do, with everything I had, these boys find what they are looking for. I hope the journey has a good destination and their fight is worth it. Optimism and hope is what’s keeping them alive right now.