23 September 2015

Greek Hotel Owner On Refugees: 'These Could Have Been My Children' & Syrian Rockers, Fleeing War, Find Safety And New Fans In Beirut 22SEP&19AUG15

HERE is a great story about how everyday people in Greece are responding to the refugee crisis sweeping through Europe. I like to believe most Greeks, most Europeans, are like this lady and her family. Do yourself a favor and listen to this story and the one about the Syrian rocker refugees +Khebez Dawle  from +NPR , just click the links.....
NPR's Kelly McEvers talks with Aphrodite Vati Mariola in Molyvos, Lesbos Island, Greece, about the daily arrival of boats on the beaches just below her family's hotel.
The first stop for many of those refugees on their way to Europe is the Greek islands. Imagine a hotel on one of those islands. It has its own private beach. There are palm trees, a little taverna where tourists can have lunch. And then suddenly, out of nowhere, imagine a small inflatable boat carrying a family of 15 people washing up on the shore.
APHRODITE VATI MARIOLA: We were not expecting this. We were not prepared for this. It was very shocking. When you see a boat come out for the first time, believe me - it's one thing to talk about it or read about it in the news, and it's another thing to see it.
MCEVERS: That's Aphrodite Vati Mariola. Her family owns the Aphrodite Hotel just outside the town of Molyvos. It's a place known for its stone houses and hilltop castle. She's talking about a day in April when refugees started showing up at the hotel trying to make their way to northern Europe. I asked Aphrodite Vati Mariola about that first boat that landed on their beach and her family's response.
MARIOLA: My father was down there so one of the mothers handed him, literally, her child, which was very difficult for my dad. It was very emotional for him as well. So we tried to find clothes. We gave our own clothes. And I went and I got clothes for my own children and I gave them to the people. And suddenly I looked around and I saw all these little children wearing my own children's clothes, and that really hit home because it made me feel like these could've been my children. It was not a nice thing to think about at that moment.
MCEVERS: And where was this family from?
MARIOLA: This family was from Syria, but the people who are arriving now, they're not all from Syria, I have to say.
MCEVERS: Right. Since that first day - how many boats like that have you seen since that day?
MARIOLA: More than 50 at least, I have to say. I've - probably even more than that. In the beginning, it was one boat, maybe, per week, and then slowly, we have increased to up to four boats and sometimes six boats per day. Like, today, now that we're talking, we have already had four boats arrive on our beach.
MARIOLA: Yeah, today.
MCEVERS: You've seen so many. You've seen so many faces, so many families.
MCEVERS: What are the ones that have really stuck with you?
MARIOLA: One boy yesterday, he had with him the Bible written in Arabic. It was from a friend of his and he said he was taking care of it. He just kept crying, bursting into tears. And we kept saying, are you OK? And he said no, no, no - I'm OK, I'm just thanking God that I'm alive.
And these are the things that really affect us. There was one child, they handed her to me. This one was 20 days old, and it felt the skin on my neck, and so it started doing the movement to breast-feed.
MARIOLA: It had been crying, and suddenly when it felt warm skin next to its face, it stopped crying. And then we also had a really fun boat arrive one day. It was a rock band from Syria.
MCEVERS: (Laughter) What?
MARIOLA: Their name was Khebez Dawle - I'm sorry if I'm not saying it correctly. But it was a group of 15, 20 young men who...
MCEVERS: Yeah, we actually did a - we did a story about these guys.
MARIOLA: No way. They arrived on our beach. (Laughter).
And as they were arriving, they were actually videotaping us, and so we were like, who are these people? And they jumped out, and they were so happy.
MCEVERS: Oh, my gosh.
MARIOLA: One guy came up to me and said, you know, we're a special boat. And I said, why? And he said, because we're all musicians.
And, you know, I was being a little cynical so I said, OK, well, if you're musicians, the next time when you're in Europe, I would like to get your first CD. And he's like, oh, we just came out with our first CD. And they whipped out, like, 20 CDs from one of their bags, which shows how important this was to them - their music and their identity. And I said, please, when you arrive in Europe, we really want to receive an email that you're OK. And they said, when we're OK, one day we will return and play a gig for you on this beach. I said, that will be amazing.
MCEVERS: Wow. Your family has built a business - built a life, really, catering to tourists, presumably people who are comfortable and well off. And now you find yourselves working with and helping a whole different type of people. I mean, do you feel like your mission in life has changed now?
MARIOLA: (Laughter). Well, this is something that has been thrust upon us so we had no choice in the matter.
MARIOLA: It's changed our daily routine 100 percent. It's changed our concept of what society is, what a community is, what humanity is. We are facing many difficulties on many different levels, and it's from the most basic problem such as how to help the basic needs of these people the moment they come out. It's facing our own internal, let's say, turmoil - how we feel about the situation. Because in the one sense, we want to help. In the other sense, it's a feeling also of invasion because this is our home, and so suddenly we have hundreds and hundreds of people here, and we don't know who they are. I feel it would be very naive to say that aren't some shady figures passing on through into Europe.
MARIOLA: If you come to our reception, I can give you a whole bunch of torn up identity cards, passports. People from different countries are tearing up their passports, literally. And to me, that means they're trying to assume a new identity. I think a lot of people are trying to assume, you know, the identity of a Syrian in order to be able to get into Europe easier. And this is scary to us because we don't know - are there any hidden agendas here, or is it just because you're looking for a better life? In my case, all I can say is that when a boat arrives, we just can't not go and help. And we're just dealing with it. We're putting out fires. We're not providing a solution, though, to this problem.
MCEVERS: Aphrodite Vati Mariola, thank you very much for talking to us.
MARIOLA: Thank you for everything.
MCEVERS: That was Aphrodite Vati Mariola, speaking her family's hotel on the island of Lesbos, Greece. And if you want to hear more about the Syrian rock band Khebez Dawle, go to our website,
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Members of the Syrian band Khebez Dawle include (from left to right) Hekmat Qassar on guitar and keyboards, lead guitarist Bashar Darwish, bassist Muhammad Bazz and lead singer Anas Maghrebi. Half the band members are now in Turkey, and are strongly considering seeking asylum in Europe.
Members of the Syrian band Khebez Dawle (I added  the link to their you tube page) include (from left to right) Hekmat Qassar on guitar and keyboards, lead guitarist Bashar Darwish, bassist Muhammad Bazz and lead singer Anas Maghrebi. Half the band members are now in Turkey, and are strongly considering seeking asylum in Europe.
Courtesy of the artist
At the launch party of his band's first album in a crowded Beirut café, singer Anas Maghrebi steps up to the microphone in front of a crowd of hip guys and women in vintage glasses, sipping icy drinks in the sultry evening.
The songs swell; the audience cheers and sings along. Maghrebi is 26 years old, tall and thin with a beard and cap, soaking up the adulation. He's not, perhaps, a typical Syrian refugee, but his journey to realize a dream of making a rock record has been fraught with hardship.
His story begins at Damascus University, where he was a student in 2010. The small-town boy listened to Pink Floyd with his friends and formed a progressive rock band that rehearsed in a basement. But police were suspicious, so they never played a gig.
"They want to know what you're trying to say in this gig," says Maghrebi. "You're gathering people and you're telling them stuff, so what kind of stuff are you telling them? 'We need to know. We're the government.' "
Then, 2011 brought the wave of uprisings known as the Arab Spring.
"When it started, it was more clear," says Maghrebi. Before patchworks of gunmen took over Syria, he says there was just the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, and the popular demonstrations against it.
The band sided with the demonstrators. The drummer, Rabia al-Ghazzi, in particular, threw himself into the protests.
"He was an activist, like, really active," says Maghrebi. Ghazzi personally organized and livestreamed demonstrations.
But one night in May 2012, he was followed and killed in Damascus. He was found in his sister's car with a bullet in his neck.
His bandmates blame pro-government militias for their friend's killing. Meanwhile, their lead guitarist, Bashar Darwish, had been drafted into the army.
"It was kind of the dream vanishing," Maghrebi says.
No Place For Music
Maghrebi wanted to stay in Syria and make music for Syrians. But civil war overwhelmed his country.
"There was no place for music as much as for weapons and for war," he says.
So, like hundreds of thousands of Syrians, Maghrebi fled across the border to Lebanon. Darwish, his guitarist, eventually deserted the army and joined him, and they formed a new band.
It's called Khebez Dawle, or State Bread, an oblique reference to the subsidized bread in Syria — and a metaphor for the foundation of a better society. Their songs, all in Arabic, tell the story of Syria. The first were written as the euphoric demonstrations began; the last, as violence descended.
"They were inspired by the turn of events," Maghrebi says. "So you see the changes that are happening."
The hopeful title track exhorts people to "Get up, build a country." One from later in the album says, "You killed me, then you blamed me because I spoke." Another speaks to the endurance of Syrians, despite the ruin of their country: "In spite of all the deaths," the band sings, "you are still alive."
A Dream Coming True
Life is easier in Beirut. Arab cultural organizations gave the band grants to record its album. Lebanese artists — including prolific musician and producer Zeid Hamdan, half of an electronic band called Soapkills — welcomed an influx of Syrian musicians.
"The Syrian musicians have a much better technique," says Hamdan. Many of them have studied classical Arabic music. Khebez Dawle's Maghrebi is trained in traditional Islamic singing, a difficult discipline with dozens of scales.
Hamdan invited some Syrian musicians to play with him, and he let Khebez Dawle use his recording studio for months. Finally, the band played its first-ever concert in Beirut in May 2014.
"It was a really critical moment," says Maghrebi. "When you see your dream coming true — at the very first moments, you don't believe it."
It restored some of his faith in people and reminded him that there are those who "want peace or want music, want something beautiful."
Right now, Khebez Dawle is popular, its self-titled album just released. But the band members are still refugees, stuck illegally in a tiny country. So Maghrebi will join two of his bandmates in Turkey this week. They are strongly considering seeking asylum in Europe and building a new life — despite the dangers such migrants often face.
The album launch this month marked Khebez Dawle's last concert in Lebanon, but they leave their songs behind. After the last chords die away, one fan, a Syrian refugee named Hani Telfah, says he loves the album's lyrics.
"It talks about the street," he says, "not about the romantic world. They talk about how difficult it is to live in this situation as refugees."