Have you ever wondered what you would do if you lost everything? Would you lose your identity? Your purpose? What are the things that you stress over now that you would not even consider if your life was struck by an uncontrollable situation? Walking the streets of Samos over the last week, I have been asking myself this same question every day. This blog was inspired and is dedicated to the refugees of Samos and the Samionians who don't have to read about the effects of refugees in their country, they are living them every day.
My journey to Samos really started in March 2019. As always, I was doing my research for a potential summer escape from my city life to find my inner Greek Goddess on a Greek island that would offer me both the sun-kissed tan that I long for and the sunsets that would inspire love, happiness and numerous moments of great inspiration for my next book. Between the images on Google and the reviews from the wonderful website Trip Advisor, I managed to select a hotel that was literally 100 steps away from my hotel room. As the weeks neared to my upcoming trip to Samos, my Greek teacher shared the news about Samos island and how it was overwhelmed with refugees. She suggested that I change my location in Samos as it was less than 5 kilometres from the camp and it would not be an ideal summer escape. I am embarrassed to say that my first thought after I heard about the situation in Samos was 'will I be safe'? A few days later, I was having a conversation with one of my role model colleagues and she said, 'Maria, why don't you look at this trip as your destiny and an opportunity?' As always, Jo was right, this was an opportunity, however it was only one that I finally understood when I let myself finally explore the island.
Fast forward to last night, on my evening stroll along the port watching tourists and Samonians enjoying a wonderful summer evening, a little girl caught my eye. She was probably around 4 or 5 years old. She stood next to me with the biggest, warmest smile I have ever seen. Alone, confident and 3 feet of pure gentle, honest sweetness, she was my wake-up call. As tourists, summer on the islands is a time when we come to enjoy the pleasures of the island. We eat, drink, sunbathe, dance and repeat until the end of our holiday. I don't believe we consider the needs of the people on the island because we are living our best life and so we should right? After all, we work so hard and this is our summer holiday. As I continued my walk along the street and later back to my hotel, I took more notice of everyone. Whatever your beliefs about the back-story of a refugee, we can agree that they have left their homes, their families and their cultural comforts behind. Making the choice to leave, the only thing that they could take with them were the clothes on their back and the memories of a life that will never be the same. Ever. Without even being able to communicate in a language that they are well-versed in, a refugee must restart their lives in a foreign land and this time with the heavy label of 'refugee' attached to them. Judgment, pity and for many the possibility of becoming invisible. Perhaps it's the summer air, or the warmth and honesty of that little girl's smile, my heart feels warmer and my thoughts are filled with gratitude for the little things that I complain about and take for granted when if my world were to be shaken because of an uncontrollable circumstance, I would remember only the moments that brought me love and joy...my family.
In talking to these wonderful people, both the Samionians and the refugees, I have asked two questions; 'where have they come from and where they want to go'. Many times, language is a barrier but I have also found other ways to show kindness. I see them. They see me. They deserve to be seen. My greatest learning so far, has been the self-awareness that I am one of the privileged ones. Not because I have monetary things, of course the 'things' we own tend to give off a sense of 'richness', but I am not talking about those things. I am one of the privileged ones because I was blessed with being born and raised in a country that gave me safety where the biggest fear we had was accepting candy from a stranger.
So, back to my questions; what would you do if you lost everything? Would you lose your identity? Your purpose? What are the things that you stress over now that you would not even consider if your life was struck by an uncontrollable situation? We use things to find happiness and yet, the bookstores have thousands of books promising the great secret to happiness. We look outside of us for the one thing that money can never buy. The refugees have lost everything but the one thing that they have not lost is probably the reason that they risked it all...the smile in the eyes of their children. As I watch the young children swimming, walking with their parents or even walking alone, they remind me that as young as they are, they have started a journey that many of us will never have to experience just because we are one of the privileged ones. These young refugees have found the bright side of a dark situation.
As I was walking back, I couldn't help but remember Jo's words, 'find the opportunity'. Thank you Jo, thank you Samos, I found it and I hope to bring a little magic from this beautiful island back with me to my city life. I am already excited about how this experience can be an opportunity for many others to visit Samos and help the Samionians both residents and those that came as refugees. I plan to clear out my city clutter upon my return to my privileged life and do something everyday that brings more kindness to our world and that contributes to our world whether it be to volunteer or something greater. Samos has inspired me. Upon arrival to Samos, I had a bag filled with clothes and a mind filled with 'what ifs'. I know that when I leave this beautiful island, I will leave with a bag filled with clothes, a mind filled with memories and a heart filled with warmth and gratitude for all the little things that I take for granted and for the people that I could not imagine living without.
So dear readers, what have you learned this week? What are you doing with your life? How are you making a difference? Are you one of the privileged ones and if so, are you living consciously and using everyday as an opportunity to share your privilege?