‘Souvenirs from Greece,’ shrapnel from land mines that destroyed dreams of a better life for many immigrants

When Guma and his friend Hamis and another man were put ashore on the Greek bank of the Evros River border with Turkey, the boatman told them not to go right as that would take them into Bulgaria, but to go left into Greece, where they would find a railway line. «It was raining and foggy. When we came upon a fence someone said, ‘That must be for the train; we’ve found it.’ There was no barbed wire, no sign indicating a minefield. So we climbed over the fence into the field.» Hamis stepped on a mine that killed him instantly. Guma fell over and couldn’t get up. His cap had come off and when he touched the back of his head, there was blood. He could neither see nor feel anything. The third member of the group cried out that he was dying, but Guma never found out what happened to him. Guma lost half of one leg in the explosion and has multiple shrapnel injuries. Radwan and Samir, childhood friends from Morocco, have a similar tale to tell. Samir lost a leg and Radwan both legs below the knee as well as the use of one of his arms. «I remember when I first heard the word ‘Greece,’ from a friend back home whom I met up with by chance in Istanbul,» said Radwan. «’Europe is different,’ he told me, but he died in the minefield.» Just 22 when he left home, Radwan had been heading for London, where he wanted to work as a computer programmer. Now at 28, he is disabled, living in Athens. «It’s like watching a film, just like any ordinary person. You don’t understand how people can die, lose their arms and legs. But that’s what happened, to me and my friends.» «Sometimes you forget,» said Guma. «Yesterday I forgot and went to put a shoe on before putting on my artificial leg. A friend who was with me laughed and said, ‘Are you joking?’» Guma is a Hutu from Burundi, where the Tutsis killed his father; the rest of his family scattered and he knew it was time to leave. The only real family he has known since then are the doctors at Didymoteicho, who organized a collection to buy him an artificial leg. His nurse, Vivi Kalpakli, took him home. Her daughter taught him Greek, her husband, surgeon Christos Kalpaklis, removed the shrapnel from his body, which he has in a bag marked «Souvenir from Greece.»