This is the second in the series, Walking With Dino. The first one is here.
I never knew Dino before I came here.
When I knew him back in Boston, when he was first my friend, his name was Constantine – the name of a nice Greek American boy, which he was. Here in Greece, that’s Constantindos, which is too long, so the Greeks make it simpler, Costa, or if you are young, or maybe just on the small side, Costaki, or if you want it real clean and simple, it’s Dino.
Constantine worked at Deutsche Bank and State Street and was seventy pounds bigger at least than the man I met here. The friend I knew then wore a tie and a white shirt. Constantine was a pudgy, Wall Street guy who was big because he played football forever. He was big because, like a lot of football players, he ate a bit too much and drank a bit too much, but then life tossed him one way, then another and when a buyout offer came, Constantine became a yoga teacher and ended up on Lesvos when the refugees started coming.
He was here way back in the beginning when it was just him, his friend Thanassis who is eating with us, and two more friends and they didn’t know shit. They just knew that wet, scared, hungry people were crashing boats with engines that couldn’t be shut off onto beaches on the north of the island. The refugees were then walking forty miles to Mytilini to get help. Forty miles. Sometimes in stories like this, when you are re-reading them, double-checking the typing and the facts, a number jumps out at you. Forty miles. At night, in the cold. So Dino, Thanassis, and two friends borrowed a car and drove up to the beaches before there were press here, or NGOs or before the Pope took twelve refugees back with him after a press conference.
When it was the four of them driving to the beaches in the north, it was dark, and cold and the four of them jumped in the water and turned off engines whose props were still spinning and pulled five, ten, who knows how many thousands of people off of the beaches. They did it night after night after night for months and they fed people in the day and pulled them off of beaches at night. Not one of them got paid. They didn’t have the fancy clothes that the NGOs who came later had – they didn’t stand there and take pictures like the fucking photographers who came later did –
“I mean get the fuck out of my way – I’m trying to do help these people here and you’re looking for the perfect picture for Facebook so you can raise money because you are pretending to do something, get the fuck — out — of — my — way.
On this island, on these beaches, one boat at a time, one engine at a time, the always-smiling plumped-up guy I knew became a man they call Dino. Dino went to hell and back each night. He even volunteered for the trip. He went to the beaches and into the camps where he delivered food before they had lights up at Moria and it was just a rainy, muddy mess. When he got home in the morning, he taught yoga at a yoga studio where anyone can come practice for free in a borrowed space with heat lamps that has Anarchy spray-painted above the door because it sure feels like that. The studio has a bathroom that doesn’t have lights but does have plenty of water from the leaky pipes on the floor. He also has a kid’s piggy bank by the front door – if you can, toss in a little money and that goes to Pipka – the volunteer camp that is the center of Dino’s life on the island. Dino also teaches dozens of Syrian refugee kids yoga in the courtyard of the hotel where they are all staying. When it’s too rainy or too hot, they go inside into what used to be the ballroom. The day after we ate by the harbor, Thanassis drove us up there in another borrowed car so Dino could teach his class.
When Dino shows up at the hotel that Caritas rented out for the kids, the kids crawl all over him, and he loves them all. He gathers them and then organizes kids on the stone patio outside where the pool is covered up and the refugees have made it a place to dry their laundry. Out there, he starts teaching yoga in English and some Greek and his friend Leo who walked here from Syria, walked here,
“I mean can you imagine? Leo walked here and that was after he spent six months in prison in Syria.”
So Leo, who walked here much to Dino’s amazement, translates what he says into Arabic and between them in Greek, English and Arabic, they get everyone lined up and just as they are about to do a half moon pose — even the little girl who has the most beautiful smile in the world, but only has half the hair on her head because her entire body except that part of her head that has hair was burned in a bombing attack in Syria, but even she is about to raise her hands when the kids start chanting and clapping.
“Dino, Dino, Dino.” He beams.
It gets louder. “Dino! Dino! Dino!”
“Yeah man.” He answers. He claps his hands. The kids jump on him. They rub his bald head, and tug at his coarse beard.
“Dino, Dino, Dino.” He hushes them all. They go back to their straight lines, or as straight as twenty kids in a used ballroom are going to line up when being taught yoga in three languages by two men who love each and every one of them and they put their feet together and raise their hands over their heads.
“Interlace your fingers and put your hands above your head – we have no elbows – we stretch up and up and now deep breath in and we bend to the right” and Leo translates and the kids bend to the right in half moon poses of all shapes and sizes. The little girl in her stroller tries raising her hands and she is smiling at Dino. She’s smiling at a man whose arms are taut, whose face is chiseled, whose shaved head is hard and strong. She’s looking up at a man that she knows would risk his life for her and she is right. This is a man who walks barefoot into the sea at night and balances on the rocks under the water in the waves and lifts engines that are still running and turns them off with his hands. He wouldn’t just risk his life for her – he would give it to her willingly. She knows that. Kids always know good when they see it in a person. They know great as well, and can see behind the wall of a man who looks more like a Navy Seal than a yoga teacher where there is nothing but love.
Now, she raises one arm and the burns took the skin and the fat off her arms, so she is nothing but muscle and bone. I try not to stare at the sinew that is left but she is joyous, happy and she has that smile. She gives her smile, her love, to Dino. He takes it and it gives him strength.
“Dino.” She whispers.
That’s his name now. And this is his story.