MICHAEL MISH
I am flying over dusted pieces of pottery. Color pokes through as I fan a shard with my hand. That wonderful Greek blue. White and golden clay revealing itself just as a picture slowly comes to life in a developer tray. Intricate designs encircle the pottery until the artistry abruptly stops where it’s been broken. Looking more closely, many of the pieces are artfully designed or inscribed. The coral and rock engulf and stubbornly claim the pieces of pottery as their own. And it’s so matter of fact and unannounced:  these remarkably well preserved pieces of ceramic just as sharp and pointed as the day they were broken. I trace my fingers over an inscription as I marvel that some person a few thousand years ago etched something like: “to my darling, Artemis...”. And, here I am 27 meters under Homer’s wine dark sea musing over something, on an urn, that was for her eyes only. Was it her flashing eyes that won him. Was it the drape of her chiton falling off her breasts and hips? Artemis loved the way the frankincense oil smelled as she patted it around her neck. It brought her good luck and gave her a nearly silly sense of well-being. She replaced the waxen lid back on the delicate oil flask. Now it lay chipped and bruised next to the shattered remains of a huge bowl. Urns in various states of broken lie undisturbed. They were probably meant, depending on their sizes, for water, wine or spices. Here I am all these years later looking at the prunes the water has made of my fingers as they whisk silt from the remnants of a culture that thought it would never perish. We will never perish either, right? What will be our legacy when we do...perish, that is? Rusting and barnacled smart phones, circuit boards and tablets? Will the fish stitch in and out of our bits and pieces too? And, some very different kind of diver will walk his pruney fingers over the keyboard that types these very words. Suddenly, a modern running shoe with laces untied listing to one side in the sand. A furry beige slipper. A navy colored jacket with a brilliantly colored striped wrasse swimming out of a sleeve. A wool hat. These things are looking more like a few months old.  And already the fish are using them like a reef. Over by a patch of dark green sea grass. A zippered billfold. An identity card leaning between the reeds. I open the billfold. Some perverse part of me expects money to float up in front of my face. Instead, several passport photos dip and sway as they fall from the pouch and begin to litter the sea bottom. I pick one up. He stares at me. Bearded with vacant dark eyes. He looks distracted. Disconsolate. I follow my thumb over his forehead as if to smooth his brow. Was his bloated body fished out of the water by one of the search and rescue volunteers from the Samos dive club? Did he hurriedly pitch any evidence of his identity from the leaking Turkish raft into the choppy water so he could seek asylum with the Greek government? Does his day-glow orange life vest lay tattered and bleached, now, among the others at the foot of this cliff plunging perilously to the sea. Was he one of the ones that was dashed, along with his hopes for a new life, against these sharper than broken pottery rocks. Or did he scramble up the face of this unforgiving and jagged cliff face with several others like crabs at an incoming high tide. I am jolted by a thought. What right do I have to this life of privilege? Here. Diving. Paying 80 euro to do so? I study his face again. “What would you have done with the 80 euro I’ll be paying when this boat returns to the harbor.” Was it the luck of the draw of a certain hell-bent sperm and a certain blushing ovum….that he should be plunked down into what would become a hopelessly destabilized and war-torn Syria and I would be dropped like a feather into the air-conditioned comforts of Los Angeles, California? I tuck his picture into my dive vest so I can be reminded. Reminded that there are those that are lucky. There are those that are not. And, attitude schmattitude – sometimes circumstances do shape our world. And, all the positive attitude in the world will not bring back a family and a way of life eviscerated by a deafening fireball and cloud of smoke. And that, because of an 18-year-old’s itchy finger on an inappropriately named ‘joystick’ operating a stealth attack drone as he sits in a cushioned leather swivel chair in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I tuck the identity card of another man with the same hollow stare in my vest. Finely written Arabic scrawls across the card’s face. The Arabic looks like something I might have doodled while being bored out of my skull in my high school algebra class. I give the vest pocket a pat. “You’re safe now. No more video gamers for you.” Then again, he may have simply left his country, Syria, Afghanistan or Lebanon, because there is no hope at all for any kind of life. Sigrid explains to me that the promise of a one-time 890 euro granted to European Union processed refugees in Germany is a great way to start over again. It would probably take him better than a year to make that kind of money in his country. And the incredibly generous social programs in Germany, Austria and Sweden! These are countries that help these people. Sigrid is visibly disturbed by our conversation. Showing signs of a heavily weathered face at having come to Samos, perhaps, for too many years… “36 years!” by her count – she flicks her cigaret ash – an exclamation point. “They think Austria is the promised land”, she told me in her thick Austrian dialect. “Where the streets are paved with social welfare” she announces. Her German is viscous and, at times, hard to understand. In so many words she explains that, Europeans have now thrown up their hands. What to do with all these nameless, penniless and homeless people. They have a different way of life. “And we pay for them. All of them. With our taxes,” she says with disdain as her husband nods in agreement. She flicks an ash from her cigaret. “What do they do during the day,” I ask. “Nothing,” she croaks. “They don’t have to do anything.” “Nothing?” I ask. “They can’t do anything. Most of them are not completely legal or are awaiting processing so they can’t work.” “Oh. That must be frustrating for them.” She regards me, studying my face. “And it’s the ones with money that come,” she continues. “The poor ones have to stay where they are because they can’t afford to pay the schleppers.” Her husband silently mouths the word “schleppers” as he shakes his head. Her indignation prompts her to change the subject. She flicks her cigaret to close the subject. She’s on vacation. Sigrid doesn’t want to grouse about the problems at home. I wonder just how representative her sentiments are in Austria. In Europe. Then there is Richard. A retired gardener from Holland. A hugely sweet man with a fierce gardener’s heart. “I was here last year, like I have been for the past 26 years,” he said proudly. “Many Dutch make holidays here.  But, last year, the Dutch are enjoying themselves in the sun and swimming when they notice these rafts coming from Turkey. The longer we look, the closer they get. We just watch as these over- crowded rafts pull up on our beach here in front of the hotel. They want to use the hotel outlets to charge their phones so they can call their families to let them know they are alright. They want to use the bathrooms. The Dutch people, and other tourists in Samos, have never seen anything like this before. Children crying. Old women screaming. Men yelling orders. These people with pain in their faces. Brown people with brown eyes and wet ragged clothes...on a beach with Northern Europeans. Many of the Dutch people, when they go home, use their travel insurance to ask for a portion of their money back from the travel agent because their vacation was ‘not as they expected’,” he says. “As a result, Samos has a 40% drop in tourism this year,” he says with a catch in his throat. Not wanting me to see, he looks away casting his eyes on the huge mountain sentinel perched on Turkey’s Dilek Peninsula. On a topographical map, the land mass seems to reach out to Greece as if wanting something. Instead, stops short a few kilometers away. A tiny bird flits down from the grape trellis above our heads and both our eyes follow it as it pecks at bread crumbs on the tiled rock. And there are those that see their responsibility, as human beings, to help out where they can. But, I suppose that because money has tightened for the average Northern European. Because of the sudden rash of unemployment in Western Europe. Because of the various tax increases to cover the ever- swelling influx of refugees from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries, resentment bubbles up from behind the willingness to help. Yet. How trippingly the term “human family’ slides off the tongue. We’re brothers and sisters. We’re one people. And the red carpet rolls out over the arid middle Eastern soil welcoming these disenfranchised victims of political and corporate jockeying so that all of us can be a part of this global community. We can look into each others eyes and say, “You are my brother. You are my sister. And I am here to lend you a hand.” It had to happen. No way could it not. It’s just not happening in quite the way we expected it. A young teenage Syrian girl is coaxing water out of a make-shift water station in a Greek settlement camp. The picture shows her and her baby brother standing in a sesspit amid the most squalid temporary living conditions we can imagine with the caption of the photo reading: “Who will protect us?” A Syrian man tells the reporter, “This is not the Europe I expected.” The former gem of Lesvos, Mytilene, is transformed into a purgatory for political asylum seekers while much of the western world is left scratching its head. What are we going to do with all these people in need. How will we feed, clothe and shelter these politically marginalized hundreds of thousands. How did it happen. It’s not as we expected it. But no one expected it to be this way: Neither the Europeans nor the displaced Middle Easterners. I go to a bank in Vathi to change money. Locals stare vacantly at the digital counter as they wait for their number to be called by a teller. A Greek guy with one side of his shirt tucked into his pants, announces his himself with a cough as he enters through the banks security doors. Two very tall African men are asking people something after they finish with the teller. The people listen, trying to understand, then briskly leave the bank. The men suddenly appear seated on either side of me. Would I mind taking their 180 American dollars to change it to Euros? “My passport, expired. They do not take my passport for change money,” says the smaller one that seems to be the spokesperson. His English is clipped but very good. “No problem,” I say cheerfully as he carefully counts the bills into my hand. “Where are you from?” “Somalia,” the slightly shorter one with the round face says. His eyes dart to his friend. “He speak French; I speak English and French. He is from another district.” We shift to French. “Political problems?” I ask. “Political problems,” he confirms. I decide not to press. I shuffle their money in with my American and Australian dollars and make the exchange. I give them their money and the taller one wants to see the accounting of the exchange on a piece of paper filled with Greek scrawls. He is pulling at the paper as I hold it firmly in my hand not wanting him to see how much I exchanged for myself. They think I’m trying to cheat them. And as it is, I unknowingly short them 5 euro. They are getting nervous and angry. The tall one pulls harder as I hold fast to the ledger. Sweat begins beading on his forehead. When I realize my mistake, I give them the 5 euro. We are suddenly friends again. Guarded half-smiles return to their faces. They slip out of the bank and are joined by 4 or 5 others. They look up and down the harbor. They re-count their money and look around them. Looking for what to do next. Where to go next. They look lost and nervous. I wonder how many people between Somalia and Vathi have tried cheating them on their long road to asylum. A customer from the bank eyes me and wags a finger. I am warned later that day that this is a dangerous thing to do: to change money for refugees. And, I think ‘Dangerous? What can possibly be dangerous about helping people...and in the most small and innocent of ways?’ Besides, they are my brothers and they are in need. And, I’m not going to say, “No. Sorry. I can’t help you out today. Maybe some other time.” And since when is an expired passport not a valid document to do a currency exchange anyway. And why is identification needed to change money?! I momentarily fume under my skin thinking of how bureaucratic and managed every corner of our lives has become. It’s money for crying out loud. If it’s counterfeit, tellers have ways of scanning bills or cross checking serial numbers to determine legitimacy or not. They’re changing 180 dollars not 1,800,000 dollars. I am told the settlement camp is kept on the outskirts of town. Near the fire station. Tourists must not be exposed to the refugee problem.   Back on the boat, I grab the dive vest and reach for the picture and the identity card to make sure they didn’t float out of the pocket. Ah. Proof. Proof that I found someone’s picture under the water. The hot dry Greek summer air dries the photo like a blow-dryer. The photo moves about in my hand as it adjusts to the world above the sea. The emulsion at the corners curls slightly. I wonder if the man in the photo has got a darling Artemis somewhere. And children. And did he ever give them an urn with an inscription on it? A LITTLE LIKE A REFUGEE “I was 25. It was 1984. It took me and my wife a year to get the paper that said that we were no longer Czech citizens,” he says looking down at the water as it courses around him. The water has that shimmery look when spring water converges on salt water. “That’s why the refugee crisis today has me thinking again. No one can know what it’s like to be without a country. Without a home. Without anything. We were put in a refugee camp south of Vienna.” Yan is slightly uncomfortable in his body. We are sitting in this natural hot spring that is nestled right off the sea’s shore surrounded by huge sharp rocks. People float in and out of this hot water hole, bobbing in the water like whales hoping to cook the arthritis right out of their joints. We ignore the other hot water seekers as I fold my body up like a paper clip to fit into a jagged nook where the water scalds as it comes out. He has a need to talk. I have a need to listen. People had come here since the year 100 BC to cure whatever ailed them with the water’s saline radium & radonium. Ancient Greek radiation therapy. Yan wants a cure for for something else. Something of an emotional arthritis. “We thought getting away from Communism. Getting out of Czechoslovakia would be the end of our problems. She would be able to do her art and I could do my photography in a house on the prairie,” he said with a fleeting spark in his eye. He stares at me waiting for more words to come. “But that was just the beginning of our problems. When we finally got out of the Czech Republic, we thought we’d arrive in Austria and be free. America -- so close. We’d be free. Our home on the prairie – so close,” he says. He shifts his weight in the water. Super-heated water of about an inch diameter heaves up from between the rocks often scalding the unsuspecting person with an, “ughh”. “Being in Austria,” he said, “we were herded like animals in the refugee camp. We never imagined this. At least we had papers. The ones that didn’t were even less than human. They were nothing. They were treated like dogs. We would wait in line for food. Everyone. All together. In front of us was a doctor. In back of us a criminal. We were all the same. The camp was a leveler. Then later we were moved to run-down boarding houses even further south from Vienna.” The cold water rushes in with a pulse as it disperses the hot water coming up from the source. We are pushed back and forth as the waves, though sometimes not so gently, rock us against the sharp rocks with radioactive green and purple slime on them. I look up and notice a swallow making its way impossibly into a narrow cut in the huge rocky hollow above us. A single wing shutters as the bird shimmies into its tight quarters. Just the two of us remain in the water. Others have retreated to an afternoon nap. The heat from noon to 4 seems to suggest a siesta. Silent, we both settle into the water noticing how vaulted the cave ceiling is. “OK. Yes. We went to the states with 50 dollars. And finally, finally, we got a house. It wasn’t a house on the prairie, it was an apartment near Sacramento. She is still there doing her art. I needed to come back to Prague. Family reasons. Now, I live in Prague” he said. He isn’t expanding on the separation and I choose not to ask. “That’s why I am in Greece. I want to help refugees. I have a house I inherited in Czechoslovakia enough for 2 maybe 3 families. I want to give it to refugees. To good people with real needs. They can have chickens and grow vegetables,” he says. I think to myself, this is the house on the prairie. Not for him. Not for his wife. But, for people he doesn’t even know from a country he’s never been to that have shared a common pain. A common human crisis. A crisis of borders. “But, the governments...they have these rules. So, I can’t just pick some refugees in Turkey and say, ‘here, you want a house?’ But, I feel bad for these people. Sure. I’m a Czech citizen and a US citizen but I’ll always see borders,” he says clearing his throat. “I have a thing about borders. My life has become marked by borders and guards standing at borders. But, even though I am American now. Even though I am still Czechoslovakian, I will always be a refugee.” Whether from the heat of the water, or a sunburn just starting to announce itself, his face is becoming a light shade of pink. The words, “I will always be a refugee” linger and haunt me as I disappear from the conversation. “You’re only supposed to be in this water for 20 minutes. I think we’re here, probably, an hour already,” I say just to let him know. “How long were you here before I came?” I ask. “Maybe an hour,” he says. “Shit. I hope you don’t start glowing,” I say trying to lighten the conversation. The image of someone always being a refugee, no matter where on earth he is. No matter what country he claims as his. That seems like the most choking separation of all. Unwanted. Unclaimed. A number where there, formally, was a name. Floating in outer space, where there once was ballast. No sense of belonging, anywhere. A hole in the soul.
blog
I am working on a book and will be posting various installments of the book and my travels here
I am flying over dusted pieces of pottery. Color pokes through as I fan a shard with my hand. That wonderful Greek blue. White and golden clay revealing itself just as a picture slowly comes to life in a developer tray. Intricate designs encircle the pottery until the artistry abruptly stops where it’s been broken. Looking more closely, many of the pieces are artfully designed or inscribed. The coral and rock engulf and stubbornly claim the pieces of pottery as their own. And it’s so matter of fact and unannounced:  these remarkably well preserved pieces of ceramic just as sharp and pointed as the day they were broken. I trace my fingers over an inscription as I marvel that some person a few thousand years ago etched something like: “to my darling, Artemis...”. And, here I am 27 meters under Homer’s wine dark sea musing over something, on an urn, that was for her eyes only. Was it her flashing eyes that won him. Was it the drape of her chiton falling off her breasts and hips? Artemis loved the way the frankincense oil smelled as she patted it around her neck. It brought her good luck and gave her a nearly silly sense of well- being. She replaced the waxen lid back on the delicate oil flask. Urns in various states of broken lie undisturbed. They were probably meant, depending on their sizes, for water, wine or fragrant oils. Here I am all these years later looking at the prunes the water has made of my fingers as they whisk silt from the remnants of a culture that thought it would never perish. We will never perish either, right? What will be our legacy when we do...perish, that is? Rusting and barnacled smart phones, circuit boards and tablets? Will the fish stitch in and out of our bits and pieces too? And, some very different kind of diver will walk his pruney fingers over the keyboard that types these very words. Suddenly, a modern running shoe with laces untied listing to one side in the sand. A furry beige slipper. A navy colored jacket with a brilliantly colored striped wrasse swimming out of a sleeve. A wool hat. These things are looking more like a few months old.  And already the fish are using them like a reef. Over by a patch of dark green sea grass. A zippered billfold. An identity card leaning between the reeds. I open the billfold. Some perverse part of me expects money to float up in front of my face. Instead, several passport photos dip and sway as they fall from the pouch and begin to litter the sea bottom. I pick one up. He stares at me. Bearded with vacant dark eyes. He looks distracted. Disconsolate. I follow my thumb over his forehead as if to smooth his brow. Was his bloated body fished out of the water by one of the search and rescue volunteers from the Samos dive club? Did he hurriedly pitch any evidence of his identity from the leaking Turkish raft into the choppy water so he could seek asylum with the Greek government? Does his day-glow orange life vest lay tattered and bleached, now, among the others at the foot of this cliff plunging perilously to the sea. Was he one of the ones that was dashed against these sharper than broken pottery rocks. Or did he scramble up the face of this unforgiving and jagged cliff face with several others like crabs at an incoming high tide. I am jolted by a thought. What right do I have to this life of privilege? Here. Diving. Paying 80 euro to do so? I study his face again. “What would you have done with the 80 euro I’ll be paying when this boat returns to the harbor.” Was it the luck of the draw of a certain hell-bent sperm and a certain blushing ovum….that he should be plunked down into what would become a hopelessly destabilized and war-torn Syria and I would be dropped like a feather into the air-conditioned comforts of Los Angeles, California? I tuck his picture into my dive vest so I can be reminded. Reminded that there are those that are lucky. There are those that are not. And, attitude schmattitude – sometimes circumstances do shape our world. And, all the positive attitude in the world will not bring back a family and a way of life eviscerated by a deafening fireball and cloud of smoke. And that, because of an 18- year-old’s itchy finger on an inappropriately named ‘joystick’ operating a stealth attack drone as he sits in a cushioned leather swivel chair in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I tuck the identity card of another man with the same hollow stare in my vest. Finely written Arabic scrawls across the card’s face. The Arabic looks like something I might have doodled while being bored out of my skull in my high school algebra class. I give the vest pocket a pat. “You’re safe now. No more video gamers for you.” Then again, he may have simply left his country, Syria, Afghanistan or Lebanon, because there is no hope at all for any kind of life. Sigrid explains to me that the promise of a one-time 890 euro granted to European Union processed refugees in Germany is a great way to start over again. It would probably take him better than a year to make that kind of money in his country. And the incredibly generous social programs in Germany, Austria and Sweden! These are countries that help these people. Sigrid is visibly disturbed by our conversation. Showing signs of having come to Samos, perhaps, for too many years… “36 years!” by her count – her skin is weathered by the sun. “They think Austria is the promised land”, she told me in her thick Austrian dialect. Where the streets are paved with social welfare. Her German is viscous and, at times, hard to understand. In so many words she explains that, Europeans have now thrown up their hands. What to do with all these nameless, penniless and homeless people. They have a different way of life. “And we pay for them. All of them. With our taxes,” she says with disdain as her husband nods in agreement. “What do they do during the day,” I ask. “Nothing,” she croaks. “They don’t have to do anything.” “Nothing?” I ask. “They can’t do anything. Most of them are not completely legal or are awaiting processing so they can’t work.” “Oh.” “And it’s the ones with money that come,” she continues. “The poor ones have to stay where they are because they can’t afford to pay the schleppers.” Her indignation prompts her to change the subject. She’s on vacation. She doesn’t want to grouse about the problems at home. I wonder just how representative her sentiments are in Austria. In Europe. Then there is Richard. A retired gardener from Holland. A hugely sweet man with a fierce gardener’s heart. “I was here last year, like I have been for the past 26 years,” he said proudly. “Many Dutch make holidays here.  But, last year, the Dutch are enjoying themselves in the sun and swimming when they notice these rafts coming from Turkey. The longer we look, the closer they get. We just watch as these over-crowded rafts pull up on our beach here in front of the hotel. They want to use the hotel outlets to charge their phones so they can call their families to let them know they are alright. They want to use the bathrooms. The Dutch people, and other tourists in Samos, have never seen anything like this before. Many of the Dutch people, when they go home, use their travel insurance to ask for a portion of their money back from the travel agent because their vacation was ‘not as they expected’,” he says. “As a result, Samos has a 40% drop in tourism this year,” he says with a catch in his throat. Not wanting me to see, he looks away casting his eyes on the huge mountain sentinel perched on Turkey’s Dilek Peninsula. On a topographical map, the land mass seems to reach out to Greece as if wanting something. Instead, stops short a few kilometers away. A tiny bird flits down from the grape trellis above our heads and both our eyes follow it as it pecks at bread crumbs on the tiled rock. And there are those that see their responsibility, as human beings, to help out where they can. But, I suppose that because money has tightened for the average Northern European. Because of the sudden rash of unemployment in Western Europe. Because of the various tax increases to cover the influx of refugees from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries, resentment bubbles up from behind the willingness to help. Yet. How trippingly the term “human family’ slides off the tongue. We’re brothers and sisters. We’re all one. And the red carpet rolls out over the arid middle Eastern soil so that all of us can be a part of this global community. We can look into each others eyes and and say, “You are my brother. You are my sister. And I am here to lend you a hand.” It had to happen. No way could it not. It’s just not happening in quite the way we expected it. A young teenage Syrian girl is coaxing water out of a make-shift water station. The picture shows her and her baby brother standing in a sesspit amid the most squalid temporary living conditions we can imagine with the caption of the photo reading: “Who will protect us?” A Syrian man tells the reporter, “This is not the Europe I expected.” The former vacationers gem of Lesvos, Mytilene, is transformed into a purgatory of political asylum for those waiting on a life while much of the western world is left scratching its head. What are we going to do with all these people in need. How will we feed, clothe and shelter these politically marginalized hundreds of thousands. How did it happen. It’s not as we expected it to be. But no one expected it to be this way: The Europeans or the displaced Middle Easterners. I go to a bank in Vathi to change money. Locals stare vacantly at the digital counter as they wait for their number to be called by a teller. A Greek guy with one side of his shirt tucked into his pants, announces his himself with a cough as he enters through the banks security doors. Two very tall African men are asking people something after they finish with the teller. The people listen, trying to understand, then leave the bank. The men suddenly appear on either side of me. Would I mind taking their 180 American dollars to change it to Euros? “My passport, expired. They do not take my passport for change money.” “No problem,” I say cheerfully as he carefully counts the bills into my hand. “Where are you from.” “Somalia,” one of them says. His eye dart to his friend. “Political problems?” I ask. “Political problems,” he confirms. I decide not to press. I shuffle their money in with my American and Australian dollars and make the exchange. I give them their money and the taller one wants to see the accounting of the exchange on a piece of paper filled with Greek scrawls. He is pulling at the paper as I hold it firmly in my hand not wanting him to see how much I exchanged for myself. They think I’m trying to cheat them. And as it is, I unknowingly short them 5 euro. They are getting nervous and angry. The tall one pulls harder as I hold fast to the ledger. When I realize my mistake, I give them the 5 euro. We are suddenly friends again. I wonder how many people between Somalia and Vathi have tried cheating them on their long road to asylum. A customer in the bank eyes me and wags a finger. I am warned later that day that this is a dangerous thing to do: to change money for refugees. And, I think ‘how the hell can I know if their simple request is legitimate or not?’ Besides, they are my brothers and they are in need. And, I’m not going to say, “No. Sorry. I can’t help you out today. Maybe some other time.” And since when does one need a valid, no less, passport to do a currency exchange anyway. I momentarily fume under my skin thinking of how bureaucratic and managed every corner of our lives has become. It’s money for crying out loud. If it’s counterfeit, tellers have ways of scanning bills or cross checking serial numbers to determine legitimacy or not. They’re changing 180 dollars not $1,800,000.  Back on the boat, I grab the dive vest and reach for the picture and the identity card to make sure they didn’t float out of the pocket. Ah. Proof. Proof that I found someone’s picture under the water. The hot dry Greek summer air dries the photo like a blow-dryer. The photo moves about in my hand as it adjusts to the world above the sea. The emulsion at the corners curls slightly. I wonder if the man in the photo has got a darling Artemis somewhere. And children. And did he ever give them an urn with an inscription on it? A LITTLE LIKE A REFUGEE “I was 25. It was 1984. It took me and my wife a year to get the paper that said that we were no longer Czech citizens,” he says looking down at the water as it courses around him. The water has that shimmery look when spring water converges on salt water. “That’s why the refugee crisis today has me thinking again. No one can know what it’s like to be without a country. Without a home. Without anything. We were put in a refugee camp south of Vienna.” Yan is slightly uncomfortable in his body. We are sitting in this natural hot spring that is nestled right off the sea’s shore surrounded by huge sharp rocks. People float in and out of this hot water hole, bobbing in the water like whales hoping to cook the arthritis right out of their joints. We ignore the other hot water seekers as I fold my body up like a paper clip to fit into a jagged nook where the water scalds as it comes out. He has a need to talk. I have a need to listen. People had come here since the year 100 BC to cure whatever ailed them with the water’s saline radium & radonium. Ancient Greek radiation therapy. “We thought getting away from Communism. Getting out of Czechoslovakia would be the end of our problems. She would be able to do her art and I could do my photography in a house on the prairie,” he said with a fleeting spark in his eye. He stares at me waiting for more words to come. “But that was just the beginning of our problems when we finally got out of the Czech Republic. We thought we’d arrive in Austria and be free. America -- so close. We’d be free. Our home on the prairie – so close. Being in Austria we were herded like animals in the refugee camp. We never imagined this. At least we had papers. The ones that didn’t were even less than human. They were nothing. We would wait in line for food. Everyone. All together. In front of us was a doctor. In back of us a criminal. We were all the same. The camp was a leveler. Then later we were moved to run- down boarding houses even further south from Vienna.” The cold water rushes in with a pulse at it disperses the hot water coming up from the source. We are pushed back and forth as the waves, though sometimes not so gently, rock us against the sharp rocks with radioactive green and purple slime on them. I look up and notice a swallow making its way impossibly into a narrow cut in the huge rocky hollow above us. A single wing shutters as the bird shimmies into its tight quarters. With a long pause we both settle into the water noticing how vaulted the cave ceiling is. “OK. Yes. We went to the states with 50 dollars. And finally, finally, we got a house. It wasn’t a house on the prairie, it was an apartment near Sacramento. She is still there doing her art. I needed to come back to Prague. Family reasons. Now, I live in Prague” he said. He isn’t expanding on the separation and I choose not to ask. “That’s why I am in Greece. I want to help refugees. I have a house I inherited in Czechoslovakia enough for 2 maybe 3 families. I want to give it to refugees. To good people with real needs. They can have chickens and grow vegetables,” he says. I think to myself, this is the house on the prairie. Not for him. Not for his wife. But, for people he doesn’t even know from a country he’s never been to that have shared a common pain. A common human crisis. A crisis of borders. “But, the governments...they have these rules. So, I can’t just pick some refugees in Turkey and say, ‘here, you want a house?’ But, I feel bad for these people. Sure. I’m a Czech citizen and a US citizen but I’ll always see borders. I have a thing about borders. My life has become marked by borders and guards standing at borders. But, even though I am American now. Even though I am still Czechoslovakian, I will always be a refugee.” Whether from the heat of the water, or a sunburn just starting to announce itself, his face is become a light shade of pink. “You’re only supposed to be in this water for 20 minutes. I think we’re here, probably, an hour already,” I say just to let him know. “How long were you here before I came?” I ask. “Maybe an hour,” he says. “I hope you don’t start glowing,” I said trying to lighten the conversation. The image of someone always being a refugee. No matter where on earth he is. No matter what country he claims as his. That seems like the most choking separation of all. Unwanted. Unclaimed. A number where there, formally, was a name. No sense of belonging, anywhere. A hole in the soul.

Artemis

MICHAEL  MISH