Cold feet

“To get gold feet”: to get nervous and change your mind.
This classic expression is used often to describe a bride or groom who is having doubts about their commitment in marriage the night before the wedding ceremony. However, it is not the only moment a person can “get cold feet”. So, when do you get cold feet? Perhaps you have experienced this when having to present something at school or when you are about to get on a big rollercoaster? Or maybe you have had to ask someone something huge and weren’t sure how they would respond? I’m sure we have all had those moments, but what about literally getting cold feet? Can you remember the last time your feet were literally ice cold? If it’s been too long, reading the following blog will certainly remind you of what it’s like as Debora Molenaar, one of our board members, takes us to the reality of refugee life in Moria on the island of Lesbos, Greece:

December 22, 2017

The days in the camp are physically, but mostly mentally, challenging. Today, a group of 36 people arrived, half of which were children. There were a few babies and most children were between the age of 2 and 6 years old. They all got very wet on their journey from Turkey to Lesbos. As I am on the “New Arrivals” team, I went to meet them right after their arrival in Moria upon which they received their first registration at the police station. The children were crying and stood shivering in their wet clothing. The mothers were staring in the distance, holding their babies. Usually the new arrivals get clothing after the first registration some three hours later, but because these people were soaked we took immediate action. After having estimated the ages of the children, I went to our storage in search of the correct bags of clothing. I gave these to the children. Next, the adults got their bag with dry clothing. Finally, we gave everyone a blanket for extra warmth. A woman, who was a coast guard, had thermal blankets which we also handed out. Unfortunately, the mothers were in such a bad psychological state that they were unable to help their children change their clothes. Shocked as they were, the mothers folded the blankets, put them down and continued staring. With the help of a translator I explained to them that they had to remove the wet clothing, put on the dry clothing, wrap a blanket around their children and surround them with the thermal material. Even then, not much happened. Although they were in a sheltered place, waiting for their registration to come through, the children only got more wet because of the rain. So, I went back to the storage for rain coats, hoping these would be put on. These coats are a bright yellow and, when I brought these back, all the children came running to me.

Once everyone had a coat, they didn’t know what to do with it. I didn’t want the children to become even more wet so I took a coat, folded it open and dressed the children one by one. Only then I realized that these children would soon become supercooled. Their small hands were extremely cold. Their clothing was wet or humid and their shoes were soaked, and still their mothers didn’t do anything. I decided it was now up to me. I picked up a three-year old boy, asked my translator to ask him where his mother was and brought him to her. I took off his wet clothing, he stood shivering on my lap. When we took off his shoes, I saw his feet. They looked like they had been in cold water for hours which was most likely the case. They were ice cold, the toes were white and shriveled from the water. I held his feet in my hands, trying to warm them. In the meanwhile, his mother gave me a dry change of clothes and I quickly dressed him. Next, I wrapped him in a blanket, on top of that the thermal blanket and lastly the rain coat. He looked like a mummy and I put him on a bench. Now it was someone else’s turn. Her feet were cold as well and her hands were so frozen she could barely use them to put on her dry sweater. I wrapped her in a blanket as well and rubbed her feet warm. After all this, the (luckily warm!) food had arrived. Together with another girl, I distributed the meal. I didn’t have enough time to wrap all the children in a blanket so I hoped that the mothers would follow my example.

This was just one and a half hours of my 9-hour day at the camp. The other hours were used to restock the supplies; together with my translator, I went to the big tent where the new arrivals would sleep and we asked them if everyone received their blankets and clothing; we distributed the jackets, clothing and shoes (of which there is always a shortage) to the approximately 70 people who arrived yesterday; helping a pregnant girl to the doctor’s; hand out rain coats; try to cheer up people with a smile; give children a pat on the head and improve my Arabic. Today, the new word I learned is “botania” which is translated to “blanket”.

Back in my apartment, I hear the howling of the wind and rain beating against my window. I’m warm and dry, my clothes will be out of the washing machine soon and then I will climb into my warm bed. And the people who are just 4 kilometers away will be sleeping outside in a small tent or in a big tent with 40 beds for about 250 people. Their clothing mostly not washed, but if it is, then it won’t be drying soon. Their bed is not warm and their “home” is not dry. Welcome to Europe.

Debora Molenaar is currently volunteering at Moria with the organization EuroRelief (eurorelief.net). She has a Dutch blog on which she shares her experiences.