I dream of the cold.

I dream of little cold hands and feet.

I dream of none of this being enough.

It’s cold outside. So, while in Niš we buy gloves. In Preševo, we distribute. We are never able to bring enough. There are endless crowds of people and almost everyone needs something. We remind ourselves to prioritize our supplies. While it may be cold out now, it could get colder. We’ve begun performing triage on the different degrees of suffering amongst human beings. Claiming that women and children should take priority over the men.

We have a “rule” that when distributing food to those waiting in line for entrance to the camp, we first distribute to the children, pregnant women and the elderly. Bananas (the luxury of food) should only go to these groups. One night, I took a box of bananas to the line. I chanted “children, children, only for children”. A man, about my age, looks at me and says “it’s always for the children”. He’s right. We almost always have supplies for the children, whether it be bananas, cakes, gloves, jackets or shoes. But, what about these men who haven’t eaten for hours and are carrying the children? They will have to find the strength to hold them while standing in line for what could be up to ten hours. Why do they deserve a banana any less? Perhaps, they deserve it more. But many of us maintain this mentality that the man is strong and thus he should be able to withstand both his hunger and the cold.

I am struggling to perform triage any longer, with the lines we once drew beginning to blur. I have begun passing out bananas to the men.


Crowd control. I don’t like the term, it seems so animalistic. Volunteers and police officers work together to try and control the crowds. We organize people into three lines. The camp is not visible from where we are lining them up and all they can see is the hundreds to thousands of people before them. We try to insure them that they will leave for Croatia in a matter of hours. We stand beside them, waiting to lead the lines forward. While we wait, a police officer shares his bag of chips with some children.

Every night at 6pm the doctor’s office closes and does not open again for three more hours. I stand outside the office doors with two parents and their two children. They’re concerned for their four year old daughter. She is trembling from the cold, but she will be okay. There is no way I can get her to the front of the line, almost every child is cold and there are too many more desperate cases. But, I don’t want to walk away. I pick up the little girl and take the family into the empty medical tent. We sit down on the floor together. I unzip my jacket and pull the little girl close to me. She relaxes as soon as she fells the warmth from my body, and she falls asleep. We stay this way for about thirty minutes. Then I put the family back into line.

There are moments from each night that continue to play over and over again in my mind. The little girl that fell asleep in my arms. Walking with a Syrian woman and talking about how cold it was, how sick everyone was and then being offered a tissue by her as we said our goodbyes. I remember every child I have held in my arms, in order to take the weight off their parents for just a moment and provide a little bit of warmth.

As I perform triage and speak with these very good people, I find my perspectives are changing. Each time I return from Presevo, I find that it becomes a little bit harder to return to a normal routine.


4 thoughts on “Triage

  1. Pingback: Social media a destabilisation tool in the Middle East and Syrian conflict | Marcus Ampe's Space

  2. Mary Lil West

    Jessica, I so identify. I was on a relief team in Lesvos, Greece in November…at a camp just above the beach where refugees by the thousands were arriving in inflatible dinghies. During our last shift two boats capsized. 22 didn’t make it. 8 children including 4 babies. Gut-wrenching yet so worth it. I’d go back in a minute.
    Today was a “cold” 56 degrees with pouring rain here in So Cal. I head to the store bundled in rain gear from head to toe. Come out in tears. Life is so easy here. It was 22 degrees in Lesvos this week. I wonder how these beautiful people are doing. Praying for God’s mercy and people like you who will help them. Thank you so much for what you are doing. I know it really matters.
    A fellow Clemson grad


    1. Jessica Collins

      Mary, it is great to here stories of fellow Clemson alumni going to help. Thank you for all of your efforts as well. I am continually amazed by all of the volunteers that have made their way to the Balkans to assist.


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