I am washing wet clothes cast off by refugees who crossed the Sea of Death, the new name for the channel only 4 nautical miles wide that separates Turkey and Lesbos. A tiny pink long-sleeved shirt with a boat neck, for a girl, size 3 months. The channel was relatively safe in the spring and summer, even though people were pushed into black rubber dinghies wearing illegal life jackets that would not float. A pair of leggings with feet, grey with pink, orange, brown, white, and blue polka-dots, to be worn over diapers. North winds have made the journey treacherous.
I am not on the front lines, pulling wet children alive and dead from the sea. I think my heart would break. Tiny black stretch pants with nylon sequined bows at the knees, size 2 years. My friends were in the harbor when an overcrowded fishing boat collapsed, throwing 300 people into the sea. Two pairs of children’s underpants, one navy blue, the other turquoise. They pulled babies from the waves and tried to revive them. Small stone-washed blue jeans decorated with rhinestones, for a little girl. They were wet and cold. Their clothing was removed. They were wrapped in blankets. Red knitted leggings with black hearts and white reindeer. Some survived after spitting out the sea’s water. Blue leggings with feet, blue with white and beige stripes, for a boy. The newly donated ambulances do not carry oxygen.
Two days later a group of us meet for lunch at Kalo Limani, the Good Harbor. A tiny grey shirt with green and white stripes, suitable for a boy or a girl. As the others are coming to the table, the owner of the taverna tells two of us in Greek that bodies have washed up in the harbor around the bend from where we are sitting. A fluffy brown and white polyester blanket, suitable for wrapping around a small child or a baby. He asks us not to translate for the others. A nautical striped sweater with a seal balancing a ball on its nose on the pocket, for a child, three or four years. As we are eating, 3 small red fire trucks and a red van from a funeral parlor pass in front of us, then return. A pair of pink leggings to match the boat-necked shirt. An hour later someone remarks that the red van had a black cross painted on it and asks why. An orange sweatshirt, for age four. We tell them.
Thirty bodies are being held in the island’s hospital, because there is no place to bury them. A navy blue shirt with buttons and ruffles, for age five. Two bodies washed up on the beach in Petra with backpacks. A coral zippered jacket that says 21.32 altitude 178 speed, for a boy, age five or six. We don’t know how many bodies are still in the Sea of Death because no one knows how many people were on the boats that sank. A pair of sky blue heavy fleece pants, with the number 3 embroidered on them, for a boy, age five. The people do not stop coming. A blue turtle-neck striped shirt, white, blue, and grey, for age 3.
I do not know who wore these clothes on the crossing. I fold them neatly and sort them by size, to be given to new arrivals. Up to 7000 every day.
*Your help is needed: contact the (Molivos) Starfish Foundation at email@example.com and specify “donate” or “volunteer” in the headline. Also see Starfish-Help for Refugees in Molyvos. From the US, you can donate to the Lesvos Refugee Project, a registered 501c3.
Carol P. Christ lives in Molivos, Lesbos. She leads the life-transforming Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete (facebook and twitter). Her books include She Who Changes and and Rebirth of the Goddess and the widely-used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions. Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology with Judith Plaskow will be released in June 2016 by Fortress Press, while A Serpentine Path: Mysteries of the Goddess will be published in the spring by FAR Press. Explore Carol’s writing. Photo of Carol by Michael Bakas.