Lot of inhabitants has gathered in the hotel restaurant. Children are playing. Young people and adults are on the line looking at phone while waiting food. These are the luckiest residents of the City Plaza Hotel, in downtown Athens. An off-white, seven-storey building with jutting balconies rooms up to 400 refugees, with regular meals and activities for children.
Room 408. Twenty-six-year-old Saiid Aghra tells his story. The story which many other refugees share. He escaped from Afghanistan with his twenty-year-old wife Rozia and two kids, three-year-old Zara and one-year-old Kayza. They went first in Iran then Turkey and finally in Greece.
Saiid worked for the army until things went bad, and decide to leave the country with his family. They’re one of the families from all 61,000 migrants, who are still scattered across Greece. The camps are overcrowded and around 2,500 more refugees, are still arriving each month.
Some of the refugees have been waiting seven months in Greece, to get the documents to continue the journey in Europe.
November is a Beginning (ongoing)
I’m sitting in a 32 square meter apartment in Istanbul that has no toilet or shower. The curtains reach from the ceiling to the floor and the hue-less walls are full of spots where the paint has chipped. The air is moist.
The Kasim family has gathered together for dinner. Brothers and sisters. Wives and kids.
Scrambled eggs, white bread, tomatoes, and tea are served. Men eat first while children and women wait for their turn. Cigarette smoke floats in the air. A TV in the corner of a small room, along with phone calls from relatives left still in Syria, tell a hopeless story of the war. The kids are playing; simple things make them laugh easily.
They are Syrian Kurds from the countryside around the Syrian cities of Aleppo and Homs. Their journey began when the civil war in the country escalated. As the War came too close, The Kasim Family left their home, a small olive farm near Aleppo, and headed on foot to the Turkish border, in February 2013.
They crossed the border near Aksakale with the help of smugglers who cut a hole to the border fence with wire cutters. Crossing itself was about 400 liras (about 150 USD) for the family. Accompanied by a smuggler, they crossed the border in the darkness. All they carried with them were their children and some cash. On the Turkish side of the border, Keles called his siblings at 9:00 a.m. to come pick them up by car. The last thing that Keles, remembers from the journey is the sight of a garden glistening in the sunrise.
Süleymaniye is one of the historical districts in Istanbul, Turkey. It’s patrolled by packs of street dogs, that bark at each other to protect their territories. Once, this neighbourhood was a perfect place to live. Today, it’s abandoned and in ruins. New inhabitants have settled—new inhabitants like the Kasim family. The air fills with prayer calls from minarets five times a day. Somewhere in the distance, you can hear the sounds of someone cooking and kids playing.
With limited language skills and missing official refugee documents, it’s hard, almost impossible, to apply for work. Men spend days hanging around, drinking tea, watching TV and smoking. Kids play or beg on the streets, as they speak only Kurdish, they can’t attend to a Turkish school.
Kindhearted locals bring food and clothes to refugees, helping Syrian refugees to survive. But life stands still.
Regardless of all the despair, guests with good intentions are welcomed and will be offered tea, food and cigarettes. From time to time, the air is filled with jokes and laughter.
It’s Friday, July 22nd as I’m sitting in the front seat of my friend’s dad’s camper. Tennessee Blues plays from an iPod while we’re heading to the 17th Rock Festival Naamat. When we arrive at the Tuomisto farm, the festival site located in Muurame, Central Finland, 13 km from the city of Jyväskylä. The first campers and tent communities have already set up on the lush green field and are already sipping first beers in the midday sun dripping through the clouds.
The Naamat festival takes only 1000 people. This year the tickets were sold out in 56 seconds, and, as always, all the artists were announced only after the tickets were sold. People don’t come here for the bands — they come for the atmosphere: peace, love and new friendships.
During the weekend nude people play football on the field and bath in the sauna by the lake. Obscure shows like how to paint your sexuality, Mustamaalaa Kaverisi (Defame your friend) and Perättömiä Juoruja (False Rumors) are arranged at sideshow tent. Spontanious freestyle rapping and poetry sessions break out at a campfire at six in the morning. You can hear someone having sex in a tent. I wasn't there when Jimi Hendrix played at Woodstock back in 1969—but while listening to Lazy Lester on barn stage at Naamat, I like to think that it was something very close to this.
For the past 17 years, as the small friend group festival got bigger and bigger, finally reaching the border of a farm, there haven’t been any fights. The last day wraps it all up: People gather together to listen to the last bands—eating breakfast, lying on the ground, hugging and kissing. You get the feeling of sour happiness mixed with melancholy, knowing that, in few hours, all this will end and be gone until next year.