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Left Behind – Molyvos, Greece

Trying to be useful, some days I go to the beach to do some cleaning on the Molyvos coast.  Amongst all the plastic trash and the natural rubbish of the coast; the carcasses of sea urchins and driftwood, there is a child’s mitten, an empty backpack, and a photograph, surf-battered and scratched, of a young woman whose face has been nearly erased, which is likely more than metaphor.


A mother, a child, a sister or wife?  A precious remembrance of a previous life, mistakenly left by a refugee who recently arrived on these shores?


Photograph on the beach


The number of refugees arriving by boat has decreased dramatically since last year — now, it may be one boat a day due to the EU-Turkey deal.  And different than last year, many more refugees are from African countries escaping war and famine.  They are taken immediately to Moria detention facility on the island where they wait endlessly, months and months, for processing.  Ultimately, many are returned to Turkey.


Holding that photograph breaks my heart.  I just wish I could find the owner, but there is no way.


Remnant of refugee boat


Today, I hear the helicopters. Word travels quickly through town.  During the night a refugee boat sank in the 6-mile stretch that is constantly under surveillance by the Turkish coast guard, the Greeks and a smattering of volunteers on shore. Which makes you wonder about an excuse or an explanation.  All afternoon they search for bodies and 16 have been found so far.  Two survivors.  I’m sick to my stomach thinking of the tragedy that occurred outside while I slept.


That night, Stelios and I go for a walk.  Looking out over the sea, where searchlights scan the black water, we say a prayer. There is just nothing to say.  It’s the definition of tragic.  Last year, such sick events were common.  But this year, it’s unusual, and a jarring reminder.


Remember to be thankful.


Child's mitten on the beach


These events have the secondary effect of terrifying locals who are desperate for tourism to return.  In fact, tourists have nothing to fear, because the likelihood of seeing refugees on Lesvos this year is about the same as being struck by lightning.  There are few boats, usually intercepted in the water, and those few people that make it to the shore are quickly taken beyond tourist areas.


Such a tragedy puts everything in perspective real quick.  My problems are few.  I’m allowed to exist somewhere, I have a bed, a warm place to be, a full belly, and the ability to exercise my will.  I know where my family and friends are and I know that they’re safe.  What else matters?


But, I do wonder.  Why am I the lucky one? 



  1. This was certainly not what I expected! Your writing is beautiful. The one thing I love about travelling is how much you learn about the human condition. Your experience on the beaches is sad, but also eye opening. How many people must have been hurrying – leaving behind treasured items? I love this post – very thoughtful.

    • Thank you Charlie for reading and your kind comment.

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