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Monday 17 May 2021

News preview True stories from Chios, we, them, the others

True stories from Chios, we, them, the others

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We continue to tell Hell on earth waiting for a Paradise that the volunteer doctors of Chios would like to give to each of the refugees. I am not in Chios but perhaps as each of us we should go at least for a while, to understand what it means to live in those conditions, to stop complaining about banality and kiss the land on which we walk. After all, what is life ?? A wheel of fortune, we are lucky, "they" no, we are alive without fighting against death every day, "they" no. We still wonder what to do, and in the meantime "they" "the others" are in the fields, in prisons, on a rubber dinghy, in burning cities ... Alfredo Nazzaro told me about another day of his in Vial and I believe that his words are a gift for all of us, because we can live through him the desperation, dignity, strength, life of "others" in spite of everything, even despite our indifference.

“Don't worry doctor!”. Like every day, you slipped into "your" container equipping "your" workstation with the usual makeshift supports, because in the Chios field even a small table becomes a luxury to be competed with among colleagues. You have also placed the ultrasound on cartons of special waste, in order to find a support that would support it and allow you to work, but this search takes time and slows you down. It also slows you down almost never having a translator available and that damn 4G network that most of the time crashes and then goodbye to Google Translator too. And pieces of heaven come down. Also this afternoon, to get to your station you had to break through that wall of desperate people who do not move away from you and seek physical contact with you, because each of them has a problem and you are a "doctor", even if you cannot do anything for them. You can't help but think that they have the colors of a Goya painting and the wild violence of a Caravaggio, those human beings.

The gate has closed behind you like a modern Charon and you are ready, resigned, to deliver yourself to the daily horror. Because in that field horror is always around the corner and you know it can suddenly materialize. Without any warning sign. There is a woman waiting for you, this afternoon, she had already been to you. It is pregnant. The fetus has a severe spinal malformation that you confirmed a few days earlier. A tragedy within a tragedy, in those conditions. She is young, she is beautiful, she has deep black eyes and a sweet smile, like all of them. She came back because she has a question, that question that you wouldn't want to be asked. Not there, not in that field. She tells you that she "studied", she inquired and asks you what the results will be. You tell her that she will have to evaluate herself at birth but that she will probably have serious walking problems. The rest seems excluded. Maybe he won't walk. She looks at you, lowers her eyes and then puts them back on you. It was not that, the question. He points his eyes at you, sharp as a razor blade, and asks you: can it be cured? You instinctively say no. Because a little is true and a little, much more than a little, you want to protect her from her fate and from that field. You tell her, no, there are no therapies.

Photo from refugee camp_1
Photo from refugee camp_1

His gaze does not drop, the smile reappears and asks if you are sure. You know that she knows. "Studied". Now you are the one who looks down, because you are forced to answer that perhaps there would be possibilities but not in that field, not in those conditions. Maybe in England or the USA, where there are structures that practice fetal surgery. Maybe, but not in that field. Not for her and her baby. He nods, the smile takes on the bitter taste of someone who has been defeated by life. Before leaving she tells you that she is alone in that field. The husband will join her, if he succeeds, with another landing. You say early. Continuing to smile. You try, take the report sheet and try to send it to the hospital. Hoping they won't reject it. Asking that they transfer her to a highly specialized center. Maybe you will get there in Athens. It will not be enough but you have learned that you do what you can in that field. Today you have an unexpected novelty. A young woman materializes, says she is 19 years old who will be your interpreter for that afternoon. Like everything in Vial, even Nadia, she says her name is, she has an incredible story behind her. She is an Italian-Moroccan who lived six years in Italy, even if the knowledge of our language is limited to something that resembles "pasta, sun and pizza", then France, Belgium, Holland, Germany and finally Greece. For seven years. He speaks fluent Spanish thanks to his fiancé and four other languages: Arabic, Greek, English and French. He manages to interact in Farsi and Somali. He has improbable straw yellow hair but you realize that you will have less problems for today. You relax and grind visits and stories. All the same and yet all different.

Today there are many Afghans. It is simpler with them, just as it is simpler with the Shiites. They have no problem being visited by a man and you can even get vaginal ultrasound. It is an afternoon in which routine prevails but in Vial it is a mistake to let your guard down. Horror can suddenly materialize. Behind each of those smiles. The younger colleague enters and asks if you can visit a woman. He asks you to speak to you in private and tells you to visit her alone, without an interpreter. You don't mind. You learned that in Vial, dynamics in the field are triggered which can make relations between translators and refugees difficult. You agree. Ask Nadia to come out. It is a "quiet" afternoon today at the camp, but horror is lurking. Always. You don't know but something is materializing in front of you that at the Ramparts of Orion you go for a picnic outside the door. It has the appearance of a Somali woman, very tall, beautiful as only Somalis can be. In another life, in another place other than this cursed field, she would have been a model.

Like Iman, Hawa Ahmed, Halima Aden. He smiles. She wears their traditional dress, electric blue with splashes of rainbow color. Speak fluent English and this relaxes you. You ask her to wait a moment. “Don't worry doctor” and smiles. "Take your time doctor". He sits down, waits patiently. Everyone is patient in that field. They have time and, above all, they don't have a future. You took your time. You ask her the reason for the visit. He touches his side, complains of that viral back pain, as 50% of them sleep on the ground or on wooden pallets. The ones we use to transport bulky materials. They use them to get off the ground and not get wet when it rains. He adds that he has losses. A vaginitis. You start explaining to her what you explain to everyone, and you tell her that you are going to do an ultrasound. He smiles. He asks if he can show you where he has pain. It leans towards you and the world rushes over you. He whispers, "I've been raped, five months ago" wondering if you that "raped" understand what that means. Breathing stops like time in that room.

The muscles contract to avoid showing what you feel. Quickly put your thoughts in order and say yes, you know: "raped" means raped. You thought it ended here and that would have been enough. Instead it was only the beginning. She tells you that she was raped five months ago in Somaliland by seven men. They were jihadists from Al Shabaab, one of the most cruel factions. This time you bite your lip, almost until it bleeds as she tells you that while they raped her they stabbed her 15 times. To keep her from screaming, she says. Eventually they abandoned her in a lake of blood, lifeless. You can't even swallow, the mouth is dry, like the eyes that no longer have tears. You support her up to the bed, she undresses and shows you the wounds. Deep. They stabbed but also dug. There is loss of matter. He has a previous cesarean wound. They stabbed her on that too. Maybe they were trying to open it. Count the 15 stab wounds. On the lower abdomen, on the buttocks, on the pubis, on the root of the thighs. Some scars are deep, retracted. Pain comes from there. Cover it gently. You ask her who she's in Vial with. It tells you that she is alone.

He is 24 years old, in Somaliland he left four young children of whom he no longer knows anything. He had to leave them, run away, because he risked stoning as an adulteress, after the violence suffered. Pain crashes you. You have no more words or thoughts. Go call the camp coordinator. That woman can't be there. In those conditions of promiscuity he would have no escape. Aside from the need for surgical advice to try to correct those scars. You wait quietly. Then the crying, what was left to cry. She wipes the few tears left with a flap of her dress. She covers her eyes and tears run down her cheeks, sparkling under the light. You would like to embrace it and take it with you. Far from that field, far from its past. You only have the strength to hand her a packet of paper tissues and tell her what time she is there, safe. You tell her but you know it's not true and you hate yourself, for your impotence. She goes away with the coordinator, swallowed up by the darkness of the night of Chios and of that field which annihilates the bodies and minds. You know you won't see her anymore. Take care of yourself. Now it's you who cries. It won't be the only time. Only those who have never gone down to hell can think that this desperate humanity can be abandoned to its own destiny.

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