It is almost two months since my last blog, which had over 100 visits: thank you to all those who visited that page. The reason for the hiatus is that I have been busy responding to edits of my second novel. I hope that the long interval between this and my most recent blog will not deter you from coming back and that you find this blog post of interest. I’ve titled it: Outlook on Humanity.
About two months ago, on Sunday 26th April to be exact, two images in the Observer struck me with a vivid intensity. The first photograph was of Antonis Deligiorgis, an off-duty army sergeant who lives on the island of Rhodes. The image shows Antonis setting an Eritrean woman down on the beach near a café where he had stopped for a coffee after the school run. The image of Antonis stripped to the waist, his upper body strength clearly in evidence as he gently bent over the woman who he had just saved from the sea went viral. The contrast between the calm expression on the face of Antonis and the stricken look on the face of the woman encapsulated the desperation of migrants fleeing from war and terror and the human response of Antonis and those who were on hand to help rescue migrants from their wrecked boat.
Antonis was interviewed on the BBC World Services Outlook programme on 21st May. Perhaps you have never heard the programme: it is broadcast at 2.00 a.m. (I sometimes hear part of the programme after I have experienced a visit to the bathroom in the middle of the night – must be getting old – when the radio (heard via an earplug) helps me get back to sleep.) The presenter, Mathew Bannister as a rule, interviews individuals from all around the world whose stories are of usually of great interest. It was inevitable that Antonis would feature.
It turns out that Antonis rescued over 20 individuals from the shore where the migrants wrecked boat came to grief, including Wegasi Nebiat the Eritrean woman seen in the image in the Observer. (A Google search on Antonis Deligiorgis brings up the photograph if you haven’t seen it.) Antonis was not the only helper that day; fishermen and coast guards were also involved. However he was personally responsible for pulling men, women and children out the water until he was nauseous from spilt engine fuel and his feet and hands were too badly cut on the rocks to continue. One of the other Eritrean women that Antonis pulled from the sea was pregnant and gave birth to a son in (I think) a hospital on Rhodes; she named her son Antonis. She burst into tears when Antonis visited her in hospital.
When Mathew Bannister suggested to Antonis that he was brave, he replied: “There was nothing brave about fulfilling my duty as a human, as a man.” As for Wegasi: “I will never forget her face, never.”
Antonis’s actions and those of the other helpers on the shore that day on the island of Rhodes might have galvanized the European community to respond to the plight of migrants from Syria and Africa. Too many of these desperate people have perished at sea. At the time of writing, it seems that the UK – for example – have deployed a ship to pick up migrants who have set out from Libya. During the past few months, the islands of Greece and Italy and the Turkey-Syria border have taken the brunt of the huge migration of fellow citizens of our planet who are unfortunate to be suffering from war, repression and hunger. Who amongst us would not do the same thing: make every effort and take every chance to escape to Europe. I feel sure that under similar circumstances that I would try to find a way to escape the country of my birth if living there became intolerable. The response of Greece and Italy has shown the rest of Europe that basic humanity is a duty and helping migrants with food and shelter is an act of supreme kindness. These actions are in stark contrast with the fear and xenophobia propounded in some quarters during our recent General Election, fears were linked to European immigrants, let alone those from Africa.
The second image from the Observer that caught my immediate attention was that of the courageous parents, Jess and Mike, of baby Teddy Houlston gazing down at his tiny face as he was held by his mother. Teddy had a rare brain condition that meant that he might only live for a very short time. Although Teddy’s life lasted only 100 minutes, the decision of his parents to donate his organs led to others being given life by Teddy’s short existence. Teddy’s short life had so much value, to himself, to his parents and, ultimately, to other human beings.
I wonder how many of us will get a chance during our life to do something so fundamentally human and humane as Antonis did that day and Teddy and his parents did? The last time I gave blood, I sat next to a woman who had ‘given’ over 90 times; the man sitting on my other side had clocked up 75 donations. I was in complete awe of my two fellow citizens; they made my puny 20-odd donations look rather feeble.
Hats off to selfless heroes like Antonis and Teddy’s parents: their acts of humanity are admirable and are above politics, above conflict, above society’s ills and tower above anything that most of will ever achieve.
Finally, and for the first time in my life, I have found a fraudulent transaction on my credit card. So to the guy who spent over £600 on an air ticket with United Airlines at my expense: I hope you choke on your in-flight meal. I know that this wish is not an act of charity but I detest theft, so I believe that I am justified in wishing this particular passenger a horrible flight, in fact I wish upon you the worst flight of your life: you deserve it. My bank was brilliant: an immediate refund and a new credit card arrived within two days.