July 2018, Lesvos, Greece: I was helping teach English at One Happy Family, a community center offering classes, activities, and a reprieve from the waiting game of daily life in the refugee camps. On my way out of the center and on to my next meeting, I ran into the familiar face of a young man who coordinates daily pottery classes, one of the many artistic endeavors hosted there.
“I have a few errands to run in the city, but I’ll be back tomorrow. I love what you’re doing with the pottery, it’s really cool. Maybe you could tell me more about it then?”
“Of course, I would like to. You should stay here longer. I understand if you feel lonely. I feel lonely on the weekends here when the center is closed. “
“I do feel lonely at times here. I guess everyone does.”
I decided then to spend every moment of my final day in Lesvos at the community center. The next day, I saw the man again, who I came to know as Abdulfeta. He agreed to talk about his experience in Moria as we sat in the community garden overlooking the Aegean Sea.
≈ Story by Hannah Pruzinsky
“If you believe, you can achieve.”
…he lists off, among a handful of other positive mantras he repeats to himself each morning in Moria, one of the few times of day one can find him inside of the camp.
‘I’m studying psychology and positive thinking. I build positive thinking by reading positive sayings every morning,’
Abdulfeta explains to me, scrolling through a bank of photos with uplifting mantras on his phone; he pauses on one that reads “Imagination Over Everything”.
‘For my life, for my philosophy, when you think positive things, you get positive things.
I don’t need to call on negativity. I really believe it.
I was a teacher for two years in Ethiopia for Taekwondo. I think I have around 200 photos of just me and the kids I have worked with in those two years. I love them. I have a long time dream to build schools, because it was difficult for me [in Ethiopia], but for the next generation it will be even more difficult.
I came [to Lesvos, Greece] because I needed to save my life because of the situation. I’ve lived in Ethiopia for 15 years, [having been born in Eritrea], but I have no documents. Also, there are some wars.’
He had told me that resettlement to Turkey first began for him in 2017.
‘It was difficult to live in Turkey because of my skin color. I lived there for 3 months, and I was in jail for 2 months [of that time]. There was no questioning or anything. Then they took an interview and said I had to go in 16 days [from Turkey] or else I would be caught again and put into jail.
And now, I have been in Lesvos now over 8 months. I am alone.
The asylum process is difficult for us [persons of concern*]. They told me I am a vulnerable** case because I had a psychological problem when I arrived, and because of this they changed the date of my interview. All of this was because of my stress. They did not provide me any support; they just gave me a vulnerable paper when I arrived, and that was it. The first appointment [with the European Asylum Support Office] was after 4 months and took only 45 minutes. And I haven’t had one since.
I don’t have time to think or feel about these things. I think it is better for me to do things or play something because then I don’t think and have bad feelings. I don’t have time to feel bad. I don’t think about asylum.
I forget everything.
I have had a lot of people hear my story. I get better when people listen. It’s part of the psychology. When I tell my story, I feel better. It gets better.’
I asked him, what is giving him joy these days.
‘Kids, sports, activities, swimming. To meet people and talk. To help people.
When I got to Moria, I went to the new arrivals area in the police station and explained for myself that if you need something, I can help you. No problem. I have been doing this for 6 months by myself. This morning, I was helping people in Mytilini just to help. There is nothing for me, it is just to help people.'
When I help people, I sleep well.’
≈ July 2018 ≈ Lesvos, Greece
* UNHCR’s terminology for the displaced people who come to Greece as refugees
** Persons of concern are labeled as either vulnerable or non-vulnerable. Vulnerable persons have been subjected to traumatic events either in transit or in their home countries, including but not limited to torture, sexual violence, war crimes, etc.
Hannah Pruzinsky lives in Brooklyn, New York and currently works as a Physician Assistant in Emergency Medicine. She is passionate about mental health awareness.
Highlight One happy Family
The One Happy Family Community (OHF) Center is a place which is built and run together with people from refugee camps on the Greek island of Lesvos.