Lesbos diary part one

Moria, Kara Tepe and Rembetiko

We’ve been at Lesbos for some weeks now -in the meantime Marijn, Frank, Emma and Fieke already left the island. However, Marijn decided to come back. This is the first part of our diary:)


Thursday 5thof July – Our first time in Greece! Our journey started with Emma, Frank, Marijn and Gwendolynn

After managing to get all our luggage, instruments and ourselves in the car, we drove to Mytilini, where the students of Connect by Music were playing a concert. There we met Koko, who is our coordinator from Connect by Music. At a stage on the square beneath the sky an African band was going crazy. Not only musicians but also audience, were dancing, jumping, singing along on the stage and everywhere. With our heads still in the clouds somewhere between Holland and Greece, we joined the party. After the concert we went to Home, a restaurant that is providing food for refugees and volunteers. We saw all the musicians and staff and met some of them, like Paul, who is teaching English, and Babis, who is a guitar teacher of Connect by Music. The General Director of Migration of the EU was also present at the concert and was eating and talking with heads of the NGO’s that are situated in the camps. We had some nice Greek food, Katerina and Nikos where thanked with words and songs, played by the guitar students of Connect by Music. We were very surprised to speak to a twelve-year old boy who spoke fluently in English.



Today Koko showed us around. There are two refugee camps where Connect by Music provides lessons: Moria and Kara Tepe. First we went to Kara Tepe. On arrival we got our Connect by Music badges and everybody had to sign in and out when entering or leaving the camp as a volunteer. One of the first things that struck me was the relative cleanness and apparent structure of the camp. Beforehand I imagined it to be much dirtier and more chaotic than what I saw. There was a playground, a small garden and a little shop at the entrance. There were means for kids to attend classes or activities of some sort. Although I would really not like to live there myself, the circumstances seemed at least somewhat decent and humane to me. Walking through the camp we saw many so called Iso-boxes (container homes). Koko told us that the people who live in Kara Tepe are the more vulnerable families. The camp is relatively safe, because you are not allowed to walk in and out without permission. In the middle of the camp, there were two boxes painted with notes and colors, where the music lessons took place. Around the camp we saw some other NGO’s, also a few Dutch ones. During the rest of our stay we found out that there are a lot of Dutch volunteers that are working at Lesbos. After signing in we spoke with Adriaan, Jeroen and Koko about the situation on the Island. Then we discussed the schedule of Connect by Music and how we would participate. Adriaan, Jeroen and Koko warned us for the contrast between Moria and Kara Tepe; Kara Tepe is well organized compared to Moria. When we drove the small distance to Moria, we could already smell the camp. People were sauntering everywhere on the road and when we entered Moria, we saw a lot more people than in Kara Tepe. There are different sections in the camp for people in different situations, like vulnerable women and families. There were also Iso-boxes and many tents, some very small, and sometimes housing a dozen people with very little privacy. There were also some improvised shops selling coffee or soap, and there were multiple barber shops that could explain the relatively good haircuts of some of the people there. On the other hand it was quite smelly with thrash laying around. This place seemed much more chaotic and dirty than Kara Tepe.Here we also got to peek in the Connect by Music unit in the camp. It was a segregated section with some iso-boxes/units functioning as a classroom. We were allowed to have a look inside the guitar lesson. After a mutual introduction the class played a song for us. I was impressed by how much the students, of all ages and nationalities, seemed to enjoy making music and singing together, and also by how well they did it for people who started playing the guitar from scratch. In some way you could compare a place like this to an oasis of calm, peace and community in an environment where those things can not always be taken for granted, and in that sense it seemed to be more than just a guitar lesson.When walking out of the camp we saw a lot of small tents outside of the gate. These tents were not officially part of the camp, but Moria is overcrowded.. We understood that in Moria there is place for about 2500 people, but there are around 6.500 refugees who live there. Still every night new boats arrive. After all these impressions, we went for a dive in the sea, to digest all this new information.



We started our day with a rehearsal. Back in the Netherlands we met with Charis, a musician who plays Rembetiko. We played and spoke with him. In this mornings rehearsal, we tried to implement his feedback. We didn’t manage yet to find musicians on the Island to help us with our research, so we are still looking for people who we could speak to to make it more concrete. After finding out that the Ouzo museum in Ploumari was closed, we went to Molyvos’ castle, which apparently was also closed, so we had a swim in the sea there. After swimming and typing messages to some musicians, we went to a Greek restaurant to speak to the musicians. We met Elektra, who was willing to plan a meeting to speak with us about Rembetiko. We wanted to be back for dinner in Mytilini before dark, since the road was full of hairpin bends and Greek people don’t really tend to drive as safely as we are used to. We found a very nice restaurant with mezedes (tapas).



Today we had another rehearsal together to prepare our concert. Also we tried to find a specific restaurant where a rembetiko player was supposed to work, but we couldn’t find it and decided to have a swim and postpone this appointment.

When we went back we found out there was an ouzo festival where they also played some rembetiko music and we stayed there this evening. Surprisingly they played one song we also have in our repertoire, called Rambi.


Today was our first day to observe some music lessons in the camps. When entering the guitar class, there were some faces I had seen before on Thursday and Friday, but also many new faces. The idea was initially to just observe the lesson, but in practice things went a little different. The first class was a larger mixed age group of around 15 people, and afterwards a group of kids came in to get their lesson. Overall I really enjoyed working in the lesson with the kids. Me and Gwenn could join Asif, a refugee himself, in teaching and we split the group in two. I ended up working with three kids who I would guess were around 10 years old and already had some level. They were a bit hyperactive, but also very enthusiastic and eager to play whatever. It seemed like for them playing the guitar together was like playing a game together. It was a true pleasure to see them enjoy themselves like they did.


We went to see Kostas, a percussion teacher of CBM who works with younger students (about 4-12).

After that we went to Kara Tepe to see Despina, the piano/keyboard teacher. The class had 5 students of different levels. They played some songs for us, and we also played a greek song for them. Our guitar player, Frank, left to observe and teach in the guitar lesson of Annita. In the lesson of Annita there was a group of about 10 people, mainly adolescents but also older and younger people were welcome. In the beginning I was just watching Annita teach and trying to learn them how to read notes and play a song called ‘romance’. Again there was some difference in level between the students, but I don’t think it bothered anyone. I was very surprised by the group dynamics which I find difficult to describe. The group could again be quite hyperactive and sometimes a bit unfocussed, but on the other hand I found them to be respectful and in some way eager to learn.

In Moria the 5 of us, including Koko, gave another lesson in the safe zone: a special protected place for vulnerable teenagers. Most of the students were actively participating in the lesson and very enthusiastic about music. We had a lot of fun together playing, dancing and singing!


we saw a bit of the guitar lesson. Asif, a teacher …, gave the lesson. The students Were all motivated and eager to learn music.



When we arrived in Moria there was some trouble entering the camp, because they had some problems in the night. We noticed that in a refugee camp the situation can be different every second of the day. The guitar lesson did understandably not continue as usual. Instead some people used the time and place to talk about how they felt about the situation.

Again we went to see the percussion lesson of Kostas, but this time Marijn, Gwen and Emma gave the lesson. While Frank stayed in the guitar lesson of Annita, we went to Tapuat, a day care centre for mothers and their children . There were different classrooms in the building, just like a primary school. A bus brings the mothers with their children up and down from Moriassons.We stayed in the lesson for very young children (2-4years old) where they played with xylophones. Also we played some songs for them. In another lesson we played a mini-concert for some older children. They clapped and danced and had a lot of fun. The guitar lesson in Kara Tepe had again a pleasant atmosphere. I joined Annita to continue the lesson of yesterday. There was only one problem, and that was the electricity. It failed about five times in the two hours of the lesson, resulting in the lack of air-conditioning. Having grown up in the cold and cloudy Netherlands I had some trouble withstanding the Greek summer-sun. At one point Annita got an important phone call and had to take care of some things, leaving me to teach the class. I was a little nervous at first, because I didn’t expect it and didn’t prepare a lesson, but in the end I was lucky to have understanding and eager students. We did some note reading, and singing using the do – re – mi system. This was also a learning experience for me as I have never really applied this system myself. We sang and played the song of yesterday and I was surprised by the quick progress of the students.

We picked up Frank in Kara Tepe and went for a swim to refresh ourselves.

We had very nice greek diner in Home and went to the airport to pick up our 6thmember Fieke! We were very happy with the arrival of Fieke, but for me this joy quickly faded with the elimination of Belgium in the world cup.

1 Comment

  1. Wat leuk om over jullie ervaringen te lezen! Is de schuingedrukte tekst door Frank geschreven? En de andere tekst?
    Ik ben benieuwd naar de rest van jullie ervaringen.


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