A volunteer Doctor in Lesvos writes his reflections below with the hope that he can one day share it with his grandchildren.
There were plenty of special moments that I can remember after my visit to Lesvos in Greece but if I narrow it down to the one that was most significant for me, than it will have to be the one that unfolded itself on the morning of the 8th of October 2015.
I recall that it was a very cold morning, even for those of us who were well wrapped up and prepared to face a day of untold surprises. The sea looked menacingly rough and uninviting for those might venture to sail on her that day.
An inflatable boat had arrived on the beach towed by the efficient coast guards of Greece. The saviours had become involved after an elderly lady had fallen into the choppy waters and saved from drowning by their timely intervention. She was still clearly shocked when I saw her but equally relieved and pleased to be alive.
The lady was efficiently being treated by the medical staff who were on the scene. Her close relatives, amongst the crowd that had gathered, were easily identifiable by the relief and joy on their faces.
Amongst this confusion in the crowd, was a family that I noticed stood politely away from everyone else. Was this their effort to put their own needs after everyone else’s? It felt so to me at the time.
The family, included the parents who were probably in their early forties with four children, the eldest a daughter was probably in her teens. She spoke a little bit of English but smiled a lot and following our conversation, punctuated with sign language, convincingly reassured her family that I was ‘a friend’. My gestures had conveyed the point. There were two boys who were probably twins and the youngest, a boy who was not yet two years old. Let us call him Hakim.
Hakim’s father was in a state of shock and desperate to make sure that his papers and money that he had preserved in a plastic bag were still there and dry from the unkind waters of the sea. Hakim’s mother was shivering in the cold and unsure which of her children she was going to attend to first.
I was able to reassure Hakim’s mother with soft and consoling gestures pointing to the heavens as if she needed any reminder that we all had a Guardian who looks after us all all times. My hand signals had come to the rescue yet again.
I rushed to search for a set of warm dry clothes for Hakim from the various bags that contained loving items generously donated from people all over the world. Hakim had by now already won my heart for he was like my little grandson who I had left behind in the Midlands but in the warm comfort of his loving parents.
Accompanied with an unapologetic tinge of selfishness, I searched for the trendiest clothes that I gave Hakim’s mother and see whether I could now convert Hakim into my Superhero.
Hakim was cold and shaking for the half-eaten biscuit, with the chocolate magically transferred onto his face had done very little to warm him.
Hakim’s mother gestured that I should dress him, as I sensed the radiating confidence between a mother and her son. .
I asked Hakim’s mother if she had approved my choice of his matching clothes. She smiled for the first time as she gave me her precious boy. He leapt into my arms and held me tight. Was it his love for me or the chill of the morning breeze? I desperately wanted it to be the former! She could now go for a change of some dry clothing.
I held Hakim close and allowed him to wipe his chocolate-covered face onto my light blue tee shirt that had been the identifying apparel of our group. We exchanged some Arabian babble that brought loud giggles from his siblings but we didn’t care as we seemed to understand each other.
I sensed that Hakim was tired for he soon fell asleep on my shoulder. Was this a response to my rhythmic tapping on his back? My apprenticeship as a grandfather to two little boys back home had been put to some use.
Hakim soon got up with the sound of the towboat as it sped away but only to smile at me and remind me that he had trusted me and rested his head on my shoulder again. I believe he held me even tighter this time.
My private moment to shed a secret tear or two had come for this was the instant that for me symbolised the plight of the refugees and my role on the shores of Scala.
The rest of the family joined us after a change of clothing and a warm drink of extra sweetened tea. They seemed reassured and warm but curious as to what would happen next. I guided Hakim’s family to the shelter where they were able to eat and get some rest.
Hakim now fully awake, had decided to part company from me when his older brother extended his arms for him. I had now turned ‘second-best’. It had happened to me for my grandsons had often showed preference for ‘mamu’, their maternal uncle back home.
I didn’t mind this for I soon realised that I had received my reward and that I should continue with my work. This was certainly not the time to have a favourite.
Later that morning I was able to find a set of gloves for Hakim which he accepted willingly. He chose the red ones putting all my sartorial efforts to waste for they did not match with the blue clothes that I had so carefully selected for him but then, these were his little hands and now they were going to be his gloves.
Hakim’s parents looked and found me when it was their time to leave and sincerely thanked me. Hakim looked at me but said nothing. He had said it all before. I felt I was now saying goodbye to a very special friend, who had taught me a lot during our brief encounter but had taken nothing away in return. Wasn’t that the reason why I was supposed to be there?
Dr Nawshad Suleman