My Unfair Life
by Anita Yoder
I approached a tall metal gate with my sister, who showed her ID to a guard. Dust swirled around us.
“Can my sister come in with me?” she asked him. “Just for 10 minutes?”
“Just for 2 minutes?” I tried to make it easier for him to say yes.
“No. No ID, no entry.”
It was the day before Christmas, and I was at the entrance to Camp Moria, on the Greek island Lesvos. Refugees milled around us, wrapped in coats, talking on cell phones.
My sister, working on the island with her husband, had done the required paper work and could go in and out of the camp when she showed her ID on the lanyard she wore. I waited at the gate while she went in to talk with Butterfly, the Iranian lady she wanted to invite to cook a meal for us.
I stood outside the gate, my eyes taking in everything they could. I squinted as wind swirled the dust around me. A tall chain link fence with razor wire towered above me. I couldn’t be angry at the guard for refusing to let me enter because this place held hundreds of vulnerable people who needed protection, and even though the razor wire looked dehumanizing, it gave a semblance of safety for the ones inside.
I waited and watched. Bright sun. Clouds of dust. Cold air. Umpteen nationalities and ages. Then an African man stepped up to me and asked what I was doing and where I was from.
“I’m from America. I’m waiting on my sister. She works here.”
“Oh! You have come a long way! Why are you here?”
“I came for ten days to be with my sister for Christmas.”
In that moment, I felt an immense weight of injustice fall onto my shoulders. This man had probably risked his life to come here on a flimsy boat, and I got to jet in and out like any other pleasure-seeking, happy-go-lucky tourist. There was no justice in that moment. The man had every right to scowl at me and resent my privilege.
“Oh! You did a good thing. You must love your sister very much!”
“Yes, I do love her very much.”
I blinked in the sunlight as the man kept smiling, nodding his head and repeating his words. “You did a very good thing.”
His grace and joy crushes me. I don’t know why he was so happy for me. I don’t know why I got to travel in ease and go back to a steady job that regularly and automatically deposits my pay into my bank account.
There is no justice in this scene.
Several days later, I stood at the same chain-link gate again with my sister, and she asked the guard if I could come in for ten minutes.
“Only for ten minutes.”
So we walked fast.
She took me to the info tent, the hub of activity that EuroRelief organizes. In the portable cabin behind that, sealed off with chain link, I saw stacks of hats, coats, and gloves. I noticed white boards and diagrams and numbers that kept track of spaces and families. It looked like organized mayhem that does its best to give the barest basics to the neediest. I’m so proud of the men and women who pour their souls into this overwhelming, dusty, endless work.
We walked up the hill. Tinny Turkish music blared from a radio. Pieces of clothing stuck into the chain link to dry in the cold sunshine. A few sullen faces glared at each other and us. Are they angry? Let’s get out of here. Down the hill, fast. Past the latrine. Past the fenced-in family compound where a friend stood to guard the door so no unauthorized person would come in. He must have been freezing and bored, but he grinned and waved at us.
Tents lined the gravel path, four or five deep. They were a mass of billowing, flimsy canvas, roped to any available stable surface.
Then the scene that seared itself onto my brain and replays itself endlessly: two hands reach out of a little tent, fumbling to pull in the thin layer of blankets that poke out onto the gravel. Fumble. Pull. Shake. Yank. Get the blankets in and the zipper closed. A pair of sandals lies outside the zipper because someone doesn’t want dirt in their tent. Someone sleeps on a very thin layer of blankets. The padding can’t possibly be warm enough or protect from the gravel underneath.
Ten minutes is up.
All good stories have a conclusion but this one doesn’t. These scenes are still with me, a year later. Are they part of the texture of my life of ethnic food, colorful people, and stimulating conversations? Are they inciting incidents that will usher me to another chapter of service and care?
I don’t know.
I only know that it’s right for me to be thankful. Every night when I lie on my thick mattress and under my feather duvet, I don’t have enough words to say how grateful I am. And when sit in front of a fresh, colorful meal. And when I buzz down the interstate in my car.
I also know it’s right to use my resources to nurture His kingdom all over the globe.
But I don’t know what that will look like.
Cover photo: an artist from Mytelini: https://www.facebook.com/riadh04