A useless kindness: a woman’s high-heel shoes
Inside a crumbling warehouse, I find a pair of red high-heel woman’s shoes. And while their spikes might open a can of beans, those shoes are not made for walking, not in the nearby refugee camp. So I toss them into the garbage, along with fur-collared coats and ski suits.
I am on the beautiful Greek island of Samos, near a refugee camp crumpled up on the side of a mountain. My volunteer job is to sort and distribute donated clothes to Arab and African refugees. But instead of swimming on sandy beaches, I am surrounded by decaying cardboard boxes, with mold nourished by rat faeces and cat piss.
The camp is called “The Jungle” — a name that encourages the world to ignore the human rights of its inhabitants. Conditions are so embarrassingly bad that taking a photo can be illegal. Anyway, no two-dimensional picture can show the camp’s ugly reality — a disgustingly dirty hodge-podge of tents on steep rocky slopes above the blue Aegean Sea.
A few portable toilets serve thousands. So when we play ball with refugee kids, under startled olive trees, human excrement is everywhere. And so reckless kids beat my cautious footsteps to the ball, every time.
The camp has no electricity, no running water, and no good food. So the migrants are angry; as are the peaceful olive trees who watch their limbs disappear into the chaos of cooking fires and tent poles.
Other volunteers make life more bearable by operating washing machines and providing showers in the uncaring town below, and opening a women’s centre where my wife works.
I meet migrants fleeing the nearby violence in Syria, of course. But amazingly, some fly from South America to Moscow, take a train to Istanbul, then a rubber boat to Greece. Others fly from central Africa to Egypt, pay smugglers to drive through the civil war in Syria, then walk to Greece. One guy swam here from Turkey. Desperation.
Greece is a destination spot for desperate people escaping poverty, civil war, corrupt governments, and yes, climate change. This mass migration creates problems for Europe: politically, intolerance and racism; socially, human rights violations.
Worldwide, 70 million people were displaced in 2018; increasingly because of changing weather. This number may be 1,000 millon by 2050, making the escape of 60,000 Canadians from the Fort McMurray forest fire in Alberta a tea party by comparison.
The New York Times quoted an impoverished Honduran coffee grower as saying “the weather is crazy”. Not so, dangerous weather is a logical response to burning fossil fuels. Will this farmer’s son head north?
How will Canadians respond to millions of Central Americans fleeing unbearable heat and drought? Will we construct filthy tent camps, like the Greeks; or build idiotic cement walls, like President Trump?
The kind woman who donated those useless spiked shoes, perhaps your neighbour, is not helping any women living in this camp. Similarily, kind people who needlessly burn destructive fossil fuels, perhaps your neighbour, are not helping any person living on this planet.
A useless kindness is not going to solve the related crises of mass migrations and climate change.
Cowichan Carbon Buster