Chios Portraits, Part One

John and Eirik got to know each other in May of 2016 on social media and discovered they had common friends and connections – and a common desire to make a book about the situation for refugees and volunteers. They decided on working together on a Chios Portraits book with John’s reflection on Eirik’s black and white images of refugees, volunteers and locals on the Greek Island of Chios.

The project has two main purposes; to enhance the awareness and understanding of the refugee situation (and the work of international and local volunteers), and to raise funds for the work of Drop in the Ocean.

The day is coming when the wind and the sun – not shiploads of oil – will power the homes of Chios.

The wind that filled the sails of Odysseus, the wind that filled the sails of these old mills, will soon spin the blades of modern offshore wind turbines.

The sun that warmed the face of Penelope while she watched for her husband to return, will soon bring its spark to the island.

As oil diminishes, so shall diminish a major cause of war… and of refugees.

With the wind, with the sun… comes peace.

A Drop keeping watch for a tiny black spot, filled with even tinier orange dots. (A black rubber raft filled with orange life jackets.)

His vest ripples in the wind off the Aegean Sea. What would Poseidon, God of the sea, think of boats overloaded with desperate passengers, buffeted by storm waves, in the darkness of night… so many centuries after he had ruled the wine-dark sea?

What would Poseidon think, were he to learn that war reached back to the time of Troy, and forward to the time of Aleppo?

For how many centuries have wars been fought?

A Drop looks at the rubber boat that recently arrived with fifty refugees. Filled with people, the boat sits low in the water.

Waves splash over the sides. The refugees, wet and cold, feel the sea water in the boat becoming deeper.

What if you’re a little kid, trapped in a crowd of strangers in a rocking boat at night? The cold water is up to your knees.

When that little kid finally reached shore, a woman wearing a yellow vest was there to help him.

A refugee mother with a newborn baby.

Imagine, giving birth to a child in a refugee camp. The child has no home.

“Where will we be in a week, in a month, in a year?

Where will my child celebrate her first birthday?”

This group of fifty refugees has just arrived at dawn on the shore of Chios. They had been out on the night sea for ten hours, in a shabby boat with an engine that quit. By the time they reached the Greek island, they were cold, scared, wet and dehydrated.

The Drops provided water and warm clothing, and quiet words of friendship. Now the refugees are boarding a bus which will take them to a camp where they will register with the Greek authorities.

These fifty people, from various countries, dressed in dry, warm clothing – somebody else’s clothing – are now in Greece. In Europe. They are safe. Their children are safe.

They know that the rest of the journey will be long. But at least the war is behind them. Their children are safe now.

Chios Portraits continues in part two and part three...


John Slade is an author and Eirik Johan Solheim is a photographer and surgeon. Both have volunteered for the Norwegian Non-Govermental Organisation A Drop in the Ocean, in Greece.