In the summer of 1989 I had a three-week romance with my first great love Joep. When we broke up we lost touch, but 27 years later we became friends on Facebook.

Along with the loving photos of his children Joep also posted all kinds of fake news about refugees and this resulted in an old-fashioned FB discussion.

It gave me the inspiration to go the border village of Idomeni in Greece where at that moment a large blockage had developed due to the closure of the border by Macedonia. 

From this camp I wrote 14 letters to Joep. It became letters in which ‘left’, ‘right’ and ‘the truth’ disappeared, and we learned how to better understand each other’s point of view.






Scroll down to read the letters.



In the summer of 1989 - I was 14 years old - I had a three-week-long romance with the first great love of my life: Joep. I was so in love that I was no longer able to eat or sleep and I was walking around school with my own handmade tattoo with ‘Joep’ on my arm.

But after 3 weeks I unexpectedly ended it. ‘It’s just because I never have a relationship that lasts longer than 3 weeks,’ I explained dramatically on the front steps of our house. Through my tears I could see the light on his bike sadly disappearing into the night.

We lost contact but 27 years later we became friends on Facebook. Time had given both of us a different life: Joep had remained living in our hometown in Brabant and I had moved to Amsterdam. And where Philip and I have no children, he and his wife have a daughter and son. In between his many football updates he filled his Facebook timeline with sites such as ‘Say no to an AZC (Asylum seekers center)’.

‘That’s going perfectly, can’t say anything about that!’ he wrote as a cynical comment to a video of people throwing rocks which the site claimed were refugees in Greece. A brief investigation by me quickly revealed that this video was from 2012 and from an entirely different part of the world. This was already the third fake film he had posted that week. ‘Joep, stop it’ I responded angrily, ‘why are you posting this?’ We then ended up in a futile discussion.

Later that evening I received a response via private message: ‘Marieke, I want my children to be safe; what will their lives be like once I’m gone and they  

are left sitting in a country that has been taken over by other nationalities?’I was left momentarily speechless. Whether we agreed with one another or not, I was now hearing the voice of  a concerned and devoted father. ‘Sorry that I sometimes am a bit harsh with you,’ I e-mailed back, ‘but now I am reading your concerns, you are writing this as a father.’


I suggested the idea to get together and to talk with the people on the other side of the story, the ones who have been forced to flee. I ended my response with ‘Let’s go together to Idomeni, in this Greek-Macedonian village are currently more than 15.000 refugees trapped on the border, including lots of parents who will recognize your concerns, because they have kids too.'

I could visualize us walking there. Joep asking questions while I took photographs. Unfortunately Joep no longer had any days off. 

That is how I came up with the idea to go to Idomeni in his place. The stories that I would see and hear there I would send back to Joep in letters. And if he would have any questions, I could then ask those for him. Of course I informed Joep about the plan. He said that he thought it was a powerful idea and was looking forward to the stories. And in contrast to the ultra-secret notes from our early days, now everyone can read them!