I suppose it is a mark of my own stupidity that it has taken a while for the reality to sink in that Lesvos is an island. Of course it is. It has also been at least a temporary home for getting on for a million refugees, first from Syria and Iraq, more recently from Afghanistan, and now increasing numbers from various parts of Africa. None of them did what I did, which was to fly in; none took the ferry. Every one has arrived in Lesvos by climbing aboard a big rubber boat, 60, 70, 90 at a time, and made the six mile or so trip across from Turkey. Short enough, but terrifying enough at the same time, packed in like sardines, often in the dark, over half women and children.
So every refugee I have met here – the people in my comedy class at Mosaik, the kids in the Gekko school and the School for Peace, those from the “Safe Zone” at Moria, the people in the Olive Grove – came here that way, scrambling out onto the rocky shore of northern Lesvos. Not all of them made it of course, not so very many in percentage terms, but hundreds, thousands. Men, women, children.
Why has it taken so long for me to realise this? Partly because, I guess, on the outside at least, you wouldn’t know. They are ordinary people – friendly, funny, nice, ordinary people, not obviously suffering from the trauma they endured. But it must still be with them. It must be.
For the most part, they couldn’t swim. The smugglers sold them life jackets, it’s true. If they were lucky, these were real. Or real enough. If they were unlucky, they were sold fakes, which became water-logged, and sank. And like a particularly nasty form of Russian roulette, there was no way of knowing in advance which was which. One European manufacturer became concerned by the large number of fake jackets with their branding on them, because of the damage to their reputation. Like fake Rolexes, or fake Lacoste t-shirts. Except nobody dies because they are wearing a dodgy watch.
For some, there were no life jackets at all. They were given a pair of empty two-litre juice containers. To save their lives. In the dark. When they couldn’t swim.
But like I say, mostly you wouldn’t know; people are resilient. The cast of my play are minors. One sixteen year old has a baby, so was pregnant when she climbed aboard. Two of them have two-year olds, so they each climbed in, children themselves, a small baby in their arms. You can see for yourselves: there are plenty of videos on You Tube. But be careful, you could end up like me, with tears streaming down my face. But this isn’t about stupid old me.