When I was 18 months old, I caught polio. I wasn’t alone. It was the worst outbreak ever experienced in the United States, with some 60,000 victims, coincidentally in the same year that Jonas Salk first tested his vaccine against the disease.
Sunrise over the Mediterranean. The island’s hills brighten as the chug of boat engines can be heard over the lapping waves. These aren’t your typical Greek fishing boats returning from a night at sea, but a flotilla of black rafts, nine total carrying some 400 refugees to land on the north coast of Lesbos island.
Since the spring, my partner, Michael Honegger, and I have helped to provide immediate and direct relief to the refugees arriving by the tens of thousands on the Greek island of Lesbos. By coincidence, Lesbos is the island we have visited twice annually for the last dozen years, and ‘our’ village – Molyvos – on the island’s north coast, has been ‘ground zero’ for the majority of arrivals.
Six months ago, when my partner and I were planning our annual trip to the Greek island of Lesbos, we already knew about the mounting refugee crisis—though it hadn’t become a crisis yet. It was still a manageable situation.
“Island! Island!” I thought the kids were shouting, running after our car, hands outstretched in the endless clouds of dust we kicked up—paved road or not. If countries selected a defining air quality, like they do birds and national anthems, in drought-prone Ethiopia, it would be declared ‘dusty’.
I think everyone wants to revisit their childhood, where they spent their early years, and where so much took place that they will always carry with them. For me that was Algiers. I had memories of it that would flash like the sun on the whitewashed walls of their origin.
I boarded the train at a way station north of Madras; and it was still called Madras then, not Chennai. I had managed to avoid buying anything resembling a Madras shirt—those myriad colors swirling in soft fabric worn so ubiquitously by the Sixties flower children.