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Why I bought 100 pairs of underwear in Turkey, just before the attempted coup


A generous parish and a day off from Lesbos provided an interesting, exhausting day of shopping

I had hours before the boat left, so I did some shopping on my own, entrusting my stash to my new friend, Yunus, to store under his tables. Sometimes you just have to go with your gut and trust people.

When I got back to Yunus, after shopping and lunch, he had another vendor with him who was trying to sell me more shorts, this time basketball shorts with an NBA logo. Obviously knock-offs, but decent quality and nice because they had pockets that zipped shut. I took 50 pairs, but refused the pink ones (they insisted they had seen NBA players use them) because I was sure the refugees at Kara Tepe wouldn’t take that color.

Yunus, a 25-year-old with striking blue eyes, asked if I was a Christian. I said yes. He said he was Muslim, and whipped out his iPhone to show me pictures of his recent trip to Mecca. “You did the hajj!” I said. He was very excited about it and managed to convey that it was an amazing experience (but didn’t mention the woman who was behind him in every picture!). Despite almost 100 degree heat, we shared some hot tea. But it was time to head back and now I had quite a haul. Yunus asked two helpers to carry the other bags, I lugged the big duffel, and we wound our way out of the bazaar back to the main street where there were taxis. I tipped them 20 TL each (roughly what lunch had cost me) since I had Turkish bills and didn’t think I’d be coming back. They were very grateful.

Success! Edward Mulholland
Success! Edward Mulholland

Arriving at the port, I was relieved to find my American friends who saved my back by helping me get the stuff onto the boat, and then off the boat back in Mytilini. I was ahead in line, being forced ahead by the returning herd of elbow-throwing weary shoppers, but had to double back to rescue one of them who was stopped at customs and obviously would have had all the wrong answers to questions like “Did you pack this yourself?” “Did you receive something form someone else to carry?” Not to mention explaining a hundred pairs of underwear. The Greek customs official was very helpful and told me that, in normal circumstances, I would need to pay a duty on such merchandise, but waived it since it was for the camp at Kara Tepe.

It had cost me six euros and 90 minutes. That same crossing had cost the future wearers of these shorts two grand or more and harrowing hours. It had cost others their lives.

My American friends literally went the extra mile (well, two and a half) and drove me to Kara Tepe around 8:30 pm to drop off the stuff at the container, where those sorting clothes were very happy since they knew how badly we needed shorts and underwear.

I don’t think I will ever second guess a “shipping and handling” charge ever again. My “day off” was exhausting.

During my night shift the next day, news broke of a military coup in Turkey, and the bridges across the Bosphorus had been sealed off.  I wasn’t sure if the ferries from Mytilini had been discontinued.

I thanked God that the bazaar had been the day before.

And all this to give some men underwear and some shorts, men who wouldn’t know where they came from. But God knows they came from generous hearts in Atchison, Kansas, and from the helping hands of strangers.

More to read: Previous posts in this series

“Hard Times” and the children I never met

Daily bread? “Feed them yourselves…”

Coming apart at the seams, in Lesbos

Dispatch from Lesbos: Volunteering at a place where life is not here or there


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