Guest Post: They Say

A sign that reads "Youth Ritsona" and a small wooden awning with a colorful wooden fence

This is a guest post by Meg O’Neill.

Meg O’Neill generally spends her time adventuring, laughing too loud, and exhibiting mediocre athleticism in a variety of sports. She did her JV year in San Jose, California, where she worked as a legal advocate in the psychiatric unit of a county jail.

Since then, Meg has worked at a public interest law firm representing California state prisoners, managed a youth space in a refugee camp in Greece, and currently helps direct a harm reduction homeless shelter in San Francisco. In her spare time, she boxes, travels, and eats copious amounts of popcorn.

The following poem was written while Meg was working in Ritsona refugee camp in central Greece. Located in a remote town an hour north of Athens, Ritsona is a camp of about 900 people, mostly Syrian and Iraqi refugees. To read more about the youth space in Ritsona, click here. To see and read some of the youth’s artwork, click here.

The poem “They Say” is a testament to the pain that people living as refugees in Greece experience daily, as well as the remarkable strength they exhibit in the face of all this pain.

They Say

they say
this is no life and –
it isn’t, eyes clouded, mouths tight, brows pulled down like blinds;
or even worse, eyes wide with expectation
wanting something no one can give.
they say
this is no life and –
it isn’t, small children tearing at each other viciously,
each rock thrown sending them
further from home.
they say
this is no life and –
it isn’t, the former linguistics professor, voice flat,
saying he doesn’t want to read anymore.
they say
this is no life but –
it is, I saw a beautiful man alone in the trees,
head high, skin gleaming, dancing alone.
they say
this is no life but –
it is, I see the same plump father every day
running doggedly on the squeaky, half-rate elliptical,
singing loudly between breaths.
they say
this is no life and –
it can be, sometimes,
eyes flash with life
an unlikely guffaw
cuts through the despair  
reminding us for a second
it is.

A view of a grassy valley with small mountains in the background
Photo by Meg O’Neill

Featured Image by Meg O’Neill

About Cam Coulter

Cam Coulter is a writer and accessibility nerd, among other things. After their year in JVC, Cam spent two years as a live-in assistant at L'Arche Heartland and one year in China through the Maryknoll China Teachers Program. They currently work as a digital accessibility consultant, and they think incessantly about ethical technology, speculative fiction, and intentional community. Cam also blogs on their personal website, where you can find more information about them: