Friday, 26 February 2021
A delight of travelling is unexpected encounters with exotic animal life, and I love that. It is ridiculously anthropomorphic of me but sometimes when I meet a familiar favourite I feel almost as pleased as if I’d bumped into an old buddy. In late September, one such friend flew in through a high open window to join us in the store room we’d turned into our pop up clinic for refugees stranded in Greece. Delightedly I announced the visitor to my colleagues, forgetting that few people share my enthusiasm for wildlife.
The new arrival was attractively marked in grey and black with orange-red on the body and hind-wings. It was larger than a hornet so it was perhaps unsurprising that my colleagues were nervous of it, indeed Eirini was out of her seat, screaming. She flapped and flailed her arms about emitting what I assumed were Greek curses. She didn’t hear my attempts to explain that it couldn’t sting or bite. These creatures have no mouth but instead there’s a straw-like proboscis. It can be rolled for convenience but when unfurled it is around the same length as the animal’s body and it is used this to sip nectar from flowers. Our visitor looked remarkably like a minuscule hummingbird – it hovered in the same way – but it wasn’t a bird; it was a pretty, plump day-flying moth.
Eirini calmed down as the huge hawkmoth moved away from her desk to browse the medicine shelves, pausing, mid-air, hovering in front of the yellow and blue packets. Presumably it hoped that flowers were tucked in somewhere amongst the colourful antibiotic boxes. It soon seemed to realise that our clinic was a nectar desert or perhaps my attempts to herd it out of the window were effective, because it didn’t stay long.
Even this brief visit had made me smile though. I couldn’t think where amongst the semi-derelict factory buildings the nearest nectar-bearing blossoms could be or why our clinic attracted it. It popped in several times subsequently though, coming right inside our stark clinic, window-shopping amongst the most colourful pill packets, then going on its way again.
There were no patients waiting so I was able to sit down on one of the metal medicine trunks, rest my aching knees and back, and remember other times I’d encountered this lovely insect. There was a holiday in southern France. The four of us had enjoyed a day of messing about in canoes on and in the River Tarn, and that evening we found an idyllic restaurant with a balcony overlooking the square. Feeling mellow, Simon and I were enjoying some crisp white wine and the boys chose lager. A series of widow boxes planted with geraniums edged the balcony and hummingbird hawkmoths plundered nectar as we sipped our drinks, heard swifts scream overhead and watched the sky turn pink. Some summers the same moths turn up in England too. One even dropped by to cheer me late in the year during lockdown in October, visiting the buddleia in our garden and I found myself mesmerised as it darted from blossom to purple blossom: so quick and so controlled.
Nearly two months later in Thessaloniki, during another busy clinic day, Rita (our interpreter originally from Syria) and a patient unexpectedly started smiling. I looked in the direction that they were looking and saw that this time a lovely red and black butterfly had fluttered into the clinic. In was early November. Winter was coming, but when the sun shone, red admirals awakened, even as winter rains threatened. Rita explained that when a butterfly comes inside like this it means that something good will happen. The children in the refugee camp – who are the most resilient members of the community – certainly knew something good would happen. They chattered endlessly about the new homes and toys they’d have in Germany or Sweden or Belgium. We three adults were also boosted by this sign of better things to come and it seemed right to pause for just a moment to savour the beauty of this visitor. I pondered a while on the butterfly-nature of my professional life, flitting from person to person dipping into countless lives, appreciating each person’s uniqueness, hearing their stories, learning a little, allowing a voice to be heard and valued, sometimes healing a little but then moving on. Like a butterfly.
Posted: 26/02/2021 16:37:57
| with 0 comments
Filed under: Greece
, refugee camp