25 October 2016
MEDITERRANEAN: A garden in the heart of a child
by Ivars Balkits
|Photo by Lesvos Solidarity|
It’s morning in the camp. Humanity
Crew, an organization of translators, comes by to pick up a vanload of Pikpa
residents to take them to Moria detention center for the day. They are going
for interviews and to fill out paperwork related to appeals for asylum or
relocation. One woman approaches, asking if they can take her to the hospital.
She has an appointment to have stitches removed from her bandaged hand. Other
men and women have gathered under the pavilion to wait for the daily food
distribution to begin. A tween-age girl from the Congo is slouching in a
plastic chair with her hands over her eyes near to where I am watering one of
the two communal gardens. I am trying to determine where to place the hose for
the most effective irrigation.
This is Pikpa, an oasis in the
desert of Fortress Europe. It is an open camp for refugees run by our partners,
the nonprofit Lesvos Solidarity Network (formerly, Village of All Together). It
is a safe and humane camp, standing in stark contrast to the detention centers
operated by European security forces and the Greek military. On Lesvos, these
are Moria, housing (imprisoning really) about 3,000 refugees, and Kara Tepe,
with about 700 refugees. At Pikpa currently, eighty-nine residents (out of a
capacity for 100) live in wooden cabins and canvas tents under the shade of
tall pines. They have access to fresh produce and other wholesome food,
clothing, medical aid, clean lavatories, language classes, and kindergarten for
their children. Pikpa serves the most vulnerable: the disabled, sick, pregnant,
and families of shipwreck victims.
Francisco has not yet showed up
this morning. I will be taking over the responsibility of watering the two
communal gardens at Pikpa after he returns to Spain next week. The gardens
provide supplemental, very supplemental, food for the residents. I have had two
boys, about seven and eight years old, come by to serve as “helpers’ this
morning. They have kept themselves busy stripping immature cucumbers and
peppers from the plants, offering me a bite from each discovery, particularly
to determine whether the pepper is hot or sweet. The youngest one has eaten
several small green tomatoes also. I have tried to communicate that waiting for
the cucumbers to grow bigger and for the tomatoes to turn red – the color of
one of the boy’s shirts—would be better. I point to their stomachs and say
“sick,” and make a painful face.
A woman comes by later to gather
sweet peppers. There are a few left. I think it was important for the boys to
make a mess in the garden, a very small mess overall. Not only did they learn a
little related English, they had a chance to connect to the food they eat and
the Earth they live on. The one boy tried his hand digging with the mattock in
one area where I might yet have a chance to plant a certain leafy green
(mulukhiyah) favored by many of the residents.
In my capacity as a volunteer, I
may not have the time to make a garden that is sustainable. I believe, though,
that what happened with the children this morning is really the essential work.
It might be somewhat supplemental to resolving the refugee crisis in Europe,
but it is deeply supplemental. A garden must be made in the heart of a child.