People's Adventure - Thomas Reed

On Saturday afternoons, Alpha Center becomes the preserve of the women, for classes and get-togethers, so they can have their own time, more quiet and relaxed, without the main rooms being filled with checkers and chess players, and men deep in conversation.  So at 1:00, Samos Volunteers leads a People's Adventure, to get men who are interested out of the camp or their usual afternoon routine, off to a hike on the island or to a sports activity.  On a recent Saturday, SV decided to take a group to Gagou Beach, just north of the port.  First, SV had to rustle up the group, a project in itself, requiring a walk through the refugee camp, calling out to people and letting translators know to get the word out in their own communities.  With an hour of dedicated halloing, SV gathered several dozen prospective swimmers and headed off through the meandering streets of Vathy to the beach. 

In one of the thousand signs of resourcefulness, most of the men had come up with bathing suits, and the rest had pretty good substitutes. 

The beach itself was a long crescent, maybe a hundred yards, and we took up position at one end, partly shaded by a few pines.  Not surprisingly, as a group, the refugees were a few steps in bravery ahead of the volunteers, and were quickly in the water, splashing and swimming.  The sky was a cloudless blue, and the sun just over its zenith, but it is spring here and the temperature was in the low 60s (Fahrenheit), the water still holding its fresh, cool snap.  Still, that temperature feels much warmer here than it does elsewhere on the same latitude (New Jersey, Lisbon, Inner Mongolia). 

I had been warned that some of the men would go off from the shore even if they were not strong swimmers.  Most looked reasonably competent; but then I saw a man, very far out, who was waving his hands, not evidently in distress, but also not really swimming.  I went out to join him, and as I approached, he continued, further and further.  Finally, he paused, and I paused.  Only our heads were above water.  A thin strip of sand and rock was all we could see of the beach, the houses beyond were tiny rectangles.  South was Samos Harbor, the mole to protect ferries, and very far off, the white town edged above the shore road.  Then there was the steep ridge of green hills, rising up to the Ampelos Massif, rocky and forbidding.  Turning north we looked out on the open Aegean Sea, glittering and calm, no boats, no islands, no shore, only shards of sunlight against the water until there was a single color and the horizon.  The man raised his arms again, and said, "this is too good," shaking his open hands at the sky, and laughing. 

To have the chance of that moment, the man had struggled, and labored, and travelled far, and suffered in a way that he had not left behind.  I had come there on an immeasurably different route.  But at that moment, I think we both felt the same thing, looking up with joy out of the salty ocean at the sun burning over our heads.