For me this journey began back in February of 2017, when I was down in LA with my wife, visiting my in-laws. Bill and I have known each other for a very long time, since long before either of us had our now-fully-grown children. When I pass through LA, it’s a normal part of the routine to see if Bill is around, and maybe take a bike ride or grab a coffee together. We’re both a whole lot older than we were all those years ago, and there’s always plenty to reflect on.
During our February visit, our talk turned to the refugee situation in Greece, which I’d been following pretty closely for some time. Both of us have a long-standing interest in Greek affairs. Bill’s is proprietary; his last name betrays his Greek parentage. Mine is less direct but strong, nevertheless. I lived in Greece for quite a while many years ago and embarked upon a lifelong exploration of Greek culture, music, poetry – you name it. I’d also reported from Greece during the tumultuous period when the first socialist government, PASOK, took the reins of power.
I mentioned to Bill that I had been mulling over the idea of volunteering with one of the NGOs working with refugees in Greece. It was at this point that Bill mentioned his idea for this film. He sketched out the details and I immediately saw in it another way to engage with the same people I’d been thinking about. Bill mentioned somebody named Zaphiri and said a third collaborator might seal the deal. There was some discussion of my utterly insufficient Arabic and my better-than-average knowledge of Greece and the Middle East and then I stared out at the Pacific for a moment and said absolutely, yes, I’m in.
That began two months of prep work that, compared to my normal life in Portland, already represented a frenzy of activity. Zaphiri started providing updates, articles and other documentation – often in Greek – one or two times a day. I engaged nearly all my Arabic-speaking friends in a communal attempt to dredge my Arabic out of the ditch of oblivion into which it had fallen over more than 30 years. It really did seem like things had reached a fever-pitch, but, in fact, I had no idea. For all intents and purposes, I was still in the slow lane.
The fast lane came when I landed in Greece. Almost instantly we entered a maelstrom of activity, running out the door on 3 minutes notice for an unexpected shooting opportunity, bouncing around Greece between locations, going to sleep just before dawn and getting up just after – it’s been about as different from my life in Portland as one could conceive of. A week in, it’s already been a great learning experience, and one of the things it’s taught me is just how quiet my life back home had become. There’s a lot going on in the big world we live in, and a lot that can be done about it, if we’re willing to push ourselves. That’s one of the many things I’ve always admired about Bill – he lives that life. Now, after this first exhausting week, I’m thinking that working with Bill and Zaphiri, and getting to know the refugees – most of whom have endured unbelievable hardship just to try to find some peace, some quiet and some safety – will be a way for me to pay back the debt of the many years of peace and safety I’ve been blessed with while I brought up my children in our happy home in quiet Portland when so much of the world outside isn’t like that.