Three weeks ago, I was live-streaming from the port where hundreds of refugees were lined up waiting to catch the ferry to Athens. These were refugees who had made it across the sea safely from turkey. Now they would continue on their journey further into Greece. They travel along what is called the "Western Balkan Route," Through Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria and finally to Germany.
In this broadcast, a man heard me speaking English and starting talking to me. I ended up interviewing him in my broadcast. My live viewers were able to ask questions directly to him and get answers. It was a very surreal experience and live-streaming at it's finest. He introduced himself as Abdul* and told us about his family and what he'd left behind. Watch the whole conversation unfold in the video below.
He was an English teacher in Syria. His left his wife and children behind in Turkey while he journeyed ahead in hope of getting the papers to settle somewhere safer. (It costs 1000-2500 euros to get smuggled from Turkey to Greece so many families will send their strongest family member ahead.)
At the end of the interview, he looked into my eyes and said with a tinge of desperation, "Do not forget me."
Do not forget me.
He asked to take down my whatsapp number and I wrote down his name into my phone. I gave him well wishes for his travels and we parted ways. Little did I know that this short conversation would open a deeper understanding of the refugee's plight.
After this broadcast, I get an email from a good friend and supporter. She told to be careful.
You can see in the interview that Abdul asks me how old I am and if I'm married. My friend suggests that I wear a wedding ring on my ring finger so that people won't try to marry me for my Canadian citizenship. As an experienced solo female traveler, she warns me to be cautious and stay safe. I am grateful for her concern and understand it, but I feel like I just got a taste of how quick we are to default to fear. I can feel the tension, anxiety and worry in my friend's email.
This only makes me more determined to keep broadcasting. The whole point of me being IN the refugee crisis, and not just watch it on the news, is to understand the humanity in the situation.
Why do we jump to conclusions that all refugees are dangerous and taking to take advantage of us?
Two days later he sends me a Whatsapp message that says, "I am in Macedonia." Three days after our chat on the pier I get this message from him...
It hits me that the "underground railroad" for refugees is real. It is actually transporting people 2000 miles across a continent.
Then he sends me photos from a camp near Austria. The white tents look familiar, just like the ones I see at the refugee camps here in Lesvos.
Then he sends me a video where he walked about 12 km towards the macedonia borders and then hired a car for 30 euros. There must be hundreds of people in this video walking along the highway. WATCH THE VIDEO ABDUL SENT ME HERE.
When I first started volunteering at the refugee camps, it help like I was barely making a difference. Handing out cups of tea or picking up dirty wet clothing hardly seems world changing, but seeing Abdul's photos made me realize that I become part of this intricate, decentralized, far-reaching web of support for the refugees.
A week from the day I first interviewed him, he tells me he's now Geiben city in Germany. He's transferred to an American camp where he will stay for 3 months until everything is processed and he has obtained residence somewhere safe.
I am stunned that he actually made it to Germany, and so fast. I've had many people in my Periscope broadcasts criticize the refugees and say that they are all economic migrants and should not be allowed in Europe. However, I've learned that every refugee has a different story.
It is a miracles that hundreds of thousands of refugees can travel 2000 miles to safety on the generosity and good will of their fellow humans. I've captured their journey at the start of the Western Balkan Route and now I will capture the story at the end of the route.
In three days, I will go to Berlin, Germany to cover the refugee crisis from the ground there. Tensions are high in some parts of Germany where locals do not want the refugees to stay. At the same time, there are the unsung heroes who work tirelessly to support the refugees and stand up for their basic human rights.
I will find Abdul again and interview him. I have Abdul's permission to share his story here and we will hear much more about when I meet him again. I don't want to do anything that could jeopardize his application, but at the same time I am doing this because I live by the Soul Fam philosophy: There are no accidents. If we've been brought together, it's because we're supposed to help each other, serve each other and lift each other higher.
As a broadcaster and a humanitarian, I know that live-streams have the capacity to break down barriers. My intention is that by sharing his storyand I'm looking forward to capturing the refugee's stories in Germany in a few days.
Until then, stay updated via my Periscope and video replays here:
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Infinite Love & Gratitude,