As of this writing my first week at Korakas lighthouse draws to a close. The day before I arrived, six Afghans landed on the rocks east of Korakas in the boat pictured here. No-one has landed on the North shore since.
I don’t have a count of exactly how many boats have landed here this year, but the shores keep their own ledger. Wrecks are difficult to remove up the long and uneven dirt road. They lay in great heaps around every possible landing point and some impossible ones, tallying the landings with marks of rubber, fiberglass and wood. Until now there hasn’t been the time to spare for the rubbish problem, except to cut up the dinghies to get them out of the way of the next landing.
We have the time to start thinking about this because since those six in the fishing boat there hasn’t been another landing on the North shore.
So everyone takes a deep breath. We know there are still a million people in Turkey who want desperately to come here. We know that this surge of border guard activity will not last forever. We also know that the NGOs don’t have unlimited budgets. Many NGOs, including important ones that operate rescue boats, are talking about leaving. Budgets run dry. Problems elsewhere cry for help. Already, warehouses empty to send their donated goods to Idomeni or elsewhere.
Every day another local asks “Are you staying or are you going?”
At first I thought they were annoyed at all the foreigners running around with our off-road trucks and high-visibility vests. This impression was false. They were dealing with refugee boats by the score before any aid organizations came. They remember it too well. They do not want to go back to the time when the fishermen were also rescue boats, a job they weren’t well suited to. They never hesitated to give what little they had, to help where they were able, but they’re very glad to not have to. The expressions of gratitude come quietly, often without speaking. Just a smile and a thumbs up while they shake their heads. The head-shake comes because their faith in the idea this calm will last isn’t enough to float a life-vest. They all want us to stay.
I want to stay. Anyone would want to stay. Once we have cleaned these beaches they will be among the most beautiful places I have ever been. Maybe the most beautiful. The culture is rich, the air clean, the food delicious, the vistas incredible, the ocean clear as glass.
So while we wait for more boats, we clean the beaches. We tidy up along the roads. It’s important work. Everyone should come to this wonderful place. Everyone should see this beautiful sea and be welcomed.
But these shores don’t welcome everyone. If you cross the border without a passport as half a million have done, especially if you’re on the the run from oppression and terrorism at home, then they put you in the prison camp Moria. NATO or coastguard ships turn your raft back, if they can.
So now no boats cross these calm waters. They seek other, more dangerous, less patrolled seas. And those of us waiting here hold our breath. NATO and the blockading coastguard ships hold their breath. A million souls still in Turkey hold their breath.
Someone will have to breathe again soon.