Friday, November 25, 2016

Javalina saga

Here in Arizona, javalinas are part of the native wildlife. Here's what they look like.

They are a collared peccary, most closely related to pigs and hippopotamuses. We think they're both cute and ugly, probably because Bud, our potbellied pig who lived nearly 19 years, was also both cute and ugly.

A month ago we got a text message from Bob, our summer care person. He said, "I think you have a javalina living under your park model. I will keep an eye on it." The reason for his suspicion was a torn place in the skirting at the back of our park model. Bob and his wife Sue boarded up the tear and used a couple of cement bricks to hold up the board.

Two weeks later, just before we arrived in Tucson for the winter, another message from Bob: "They are back. Best give me a call." He included a photograph showing the animal had broken through the barrier. Strong and determined javalina!

Art repaired the tear in the skirting and boarded it up.

The next night the javalina broke through the skirting along the side of the park model.

This skirting was boarded up and the javalina broke through another spot in the back. By this time it felt like a chess game between the javalina and us. We felt a grudging admiration for its tenacity.

We called a wildlife animal expert to discuss next steps. Mark came out, crawled under the park model, and confirmed he'd found the nest but that the javalina was not in residence at the moment. He laid down red pepper just outside the park model. The next morning, javalina tracks leading to the park model confirmed the animal had returned but had not been deterred, as there were no departing tracks.

Mark came out again. He taped strips of plastic to the opening in the side of our place; we'd be able to tell whether the javalina came through them, and whether they were coming or going.

The answer was "both coming and going", as we discovered. Each morning the lowest strip of plastic was torn away. Sometimes the strip was torn inward and sometimes outward.

Mark came out yet again. He installed strobe lights beneath the park model. He'd had success getting raccoons out of attics with this approach, though he'd never tried it with javalinas. Apparently the javalina didn't mind the flickering lights!

By now we were seriously considering the possibility the animal would have to be trapped and relocated. I contacted the park manager and presented our case as one of safety for older residents. He agreed to pay for the relocation. I called Arizona Fish and Game to get approval for the relocation; javalinas are a protected species in Arizona and Mark told us we'd need to get permission from them. We did. The Fish and Game guy suggested Mark send away for mountain lion urine, but Mark convinced the guy that we'd been dealing with the issue for long enough.

Mark asked us to put out some food so we could see what the animal was eating this time of year, so he could bait a humane trap with something that would be attractive. We  bought a small pumpkin, a carrot, an apple and a potato - and added half an avocado from the fridge.

That night? None of the strips were torn away, and none of the food was eaten.

The next night? Same thing.

The next morning we left for Thanksgiving week, and we're still away. I'm hoping the javalina has decided to take up residence elsewhere.

Thoughts on this experience:

  • I believe the javalina has just as much of a right to shelter as any other creature. Just not underneath where we live.
  • I have a friend who's a shaman. Last week she and several others took a shamanic journey to meet up with the javalina. Apparently the animals - she believes there are three, not just the one - felt displaced and were strongly attracted to something under our park model that needed to be "rooted out". The journeyers asked the creatures to find another place to live. I'm pretty open minded; it's possible we have seen the last of the animal as the result of the journeyers.
  • The "rooted out" piece brought to mind the oversized palo verde tree in our back yard that has become a nuisance and needs to be cut down. Could it be growing roots under the park model that might do damage?
  • It helps to be patient!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Abdul tells me his story

Abdul and his wife and daughter live in Room 24 at Oinofyta refugee camp. They were our hosts for dinner last week.

I met Abdul when I volunteered at the camp in August. I remembered him because he was one of the tallest men, and because he carried his daughter almost everywhere he went, and because he has a beautiful smile.

I have heard the stories of some of the residents of Oinofyta, but not his. I was curious. Abdul is a tailor by trade, so I figured he hadn't left Afghanistan because he'd worked for the U.S. government and was now in danger. Last Monday I asked him if he would tell me his story. In August, Abdul didn't speak any English, but by early November he spoke enough for basic communication. He told me he would come the next day and bring a translator.

Abdul showed up on Tuesday afternoon but I had another commitment. I asked if Wednesday would be okay. He said he would be in Athens with his wife for a prenatal doctor's appointment, but that he would be back by 5 p.m.

He was. And he brought Ali, another resident and a translator, with him.

The three of us met in the computer lab. Abdul and Ali sat on one side of the table and I sat on the other. Abdul's first words, through Ali, were, "If I tell you my story, can you help me?" I had talked and laughed with Abdul before, but across the table his eyes were grave and his face more serious than I had ever seen it.

I took a deep breath and chose my words carefully. "I cannot help you with money, and right now I cannot help bring you to the United States." I told him that right now there is a lot of fear of Muslims in the US because of 9/11 and subsequent terrorists attacks around the world. "I know it is not right to be afraid of an entire group of people because of the actions of a few, but that is how it is."

I continued. "What I can do is tell your story. On my Facebook page. In my blog. In conversations with people I know and people I have just met. In interviews, if they are requested. Often people think of Muslim refugees and immigrants as a mass of blurred faces, a large and anonymous group. Not people they know, with faces that remain in their minds. I can make you real. And sometimes, in the United States, if enough people get together and express their opinions and their convictions, the government will change its mind. That is what I can do for you."

There was a moment of silence. Then Abdul said, "I will tell you my story."

Abdul is 29 now, and his wife is 16. "My wife's mother died of cancer when she was two. And her father was kidnapped when returning from Pakistan to Afghanistan, and we do not know whether he is alive.

"My wife had a brother who was in the army for the government. It was a dangerous job but jobs are hard to find. One day he was coming home from work and my wife was watching him. All of a sudden a man appeared and shot my wife's brother. The bullet went in one side of his torso and came out the other, and he died. My wife was an eyewitness so the man was caught. There was a trial and he was put in jail. But he bribed someone and he was released from jail."

Then Abdul said, "So the man was looking for my wife. We borrowed money from family and friends and left Afghanistan."

When I asked Abdul to tell me his story, I expected he would tell me about the journey from Afghanistan to Greece. All I know about that, from a previous brief conversation, was that part of the journey was in a large kayak where everyone was standing and he was holding his daughter in his arms. What Abdul wanted to tell me was why he left.

Abdul told me that his wife, now seven months pregnant, needs some blood tests as part of her prenatal care. "I have no money to pay for it."

Then Ali added, "When my son was born three months ago, my wife was in the hospital for five nights. I slept on the streets." He continued. "In Afghanistan, I had a nice house and two cars. Now I have nothing. I am not the same man."

I said, "Ali, you are the same man now as you were then. The only difference is that now you have no money and few possessions." I added, "And the only difference between me and you is that you were born in Afghanistan and I was born in the United States."

I cannot give money to the residents. As I told one once, "I can give you my time, and my listening ears, and my voice, but I cannot give you money." There are many generous donors and I imagine there may already be a fund for prenatal care. But I didn't know of one, so I couldn't tell Abdul about it.

Then Abdul asked me this question: "If I get to the United States, will there be refugee camps there?"

I told him no, that in many communities in the US there are organizations that help refugees get settled. I talked to a coordinator of one of them, in Seattle. He said, "We have resources to help once the refugees arrive." I said, "How do they get there?" He said, "I have no idea."

I have no idea either. I just know that Abdul is just one man in an Afghan refugee camp. He has a story, and he has a dream. And Ali is another man, and he has a similar dream. To be able to move from the refugee camp, with its tiny rooms, to a permanent home where a man and his family can be safe, with a good life.

Two days ago I got an email from a journalist writing for a local online newspaper in my county. She wanted to interview me about my volunteer work in Greece. I said yes, I would meet with her, but I didn't want the interview to be about me. I wanted it to be about a resident of Oinofyta. That afternoon, over coffee at Starbucks, I told Oinofyta's story. And Abdul's story, and Ali's.

I will keep telling the story. My hope is that, several years from now, Oinofyta and all the other refugee camps in Greece will be closed down because all the refugees will have moved on to permanent places and safe lives.

So Abdul and Ali and I have the same dream. We are all in this together.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

A day in my life at an Afghan refugee camp in Greece

Yesterday was Friday. Usually not our busiest day. However, one of our long-term volunteers left unexpectedly for home in the morning for a family emergency. And one of our short-term volunteers was sick, at home in the volunteer house in Dilesi. While she was taking it easy, she was tasked with other volunteers’ laundry. A gift, since we have a washing machine but no dryer, and we’re gone from the washing machine until late in the evening. However, the washing machine is temperamental so the laundry didn't get done.

I’d say I was a “runner” yesterday. Here’s what I did:

  • Swept the team trailer.
  • Straightened and reorganised the team trailer, getting guidance from Lisa, the camp manager, with every step.
  • Fed and watered Jackie, the camp dog.
  • Dumped all the trash - one load with the help of two boys, who carried the box with glee on their heads and didn’t drop it until we were right in front of the dumpsters.
  • Ran a computer charger and a floor mat to the computer lab and an unneeded watering can to the warehouse.
  • Surrounded by six Afghan men (personal space is nonexistent, so I felt like I was in what I imagine a mosh pit to be like), signed them up for photos to be included in their lottery application. They have to have a high school diploma to qualify, and they all insisted they did, though I knew for absolute certain a couple of them were not telling me the truth. Oh, well, the next-step person will call them out. Nine million people around the world are competing for 50,000 opportunities to emigrate to the US. Every family in our camp is applying. They have half a percent chance of getting an interview, but it is worth standing in line for up to two hours.
  • Hid in the volunteer restroom for 20 minutes so no residents would see me with my red notebook and want to add their names to the list, even though they’ve had two days to do it and the photographers are leaving this afternoon.
  • Washed the volunteers’ dishes at the cold water sink used by the residents. Standing side by side with an older resident (actually, she’s probably close to my age but looks much older and is missing a few teeth), I used cold water and no sink stopper to wash our dishes. I was closely watched by the older resident and a couple of young girls, who pointed out soapsuds on a bowl I had neglected to rinse off. 
  • Listened to Lisa recruit one of the photo crew members to work as a replacement long-term volunteer.
  • Put on my mediator hat and talked to the photo crew member to help her clarify her values and thoughts about accepting the volunteer opportunity. The young woman has decided to stay.
  • Welcomed a young couple just arriving at the camp. They looked very tired.
  • Listened to my friend and fellow volunteer Jann tell me how she has trained three computer-savvy residents to enter the data for lottery applications. She was able to take a ten-minute break for lunch while they continued work on the applications. She is really good at empowering teams, in the US and in Greece. I am so glad Jann wanted to come with me this time.
  • Listened to Lisa mourn her inability to get online to send critical emails because the computer lab is using most of the wifi bandwidth.
  • Listened to a resident tell Lisa about a nearby family where the husband and wife fight every day, and heard her tell the resident she would take care of it.
  • Had a conversation with a resident to clear up confusion between her and the team handling lottery applications.
  • Worked on the accounting books for 45 minutes out of ten hours.
  • Went to dinner in Room 24. When we are invited, we always go. We want to honor the Afghan tradition of hospitality. They have so little, but they want to share with us, who have so much.

  • Returned to the volunteer house to sleep in a real bed, with hot running water and quiet all night long.

Monday, October 24, 2016

The first five days at "my" refugee camp in Oinofyta, Greece

I left Oinofyta refugee camp on August 27 after volunteering for six days. I returned on October 19 for another two weeks.

It has been less than eight weeks since my first visit ended. Some things are the same: children chasing each other and kicking a soccer ball and riding bicycles and roller skating and playing with Jackie, the camp dog. Women hanging laundry and cooking and gathering. Men gathered in clusters and playing volleyball in the evening.

But some things are quite different.

There is a sewing room now. Donations of sewing machines and fabrics and notions mean women can make fleece linings for their babies’ sleeping boxes, and clothes for their children and themselves. I notice that both men and women Afghans sew, and that they use no patterns when cutting fabric. They’re freeform and they look good. I brought fabric and notions donated by my friend Lillian in an extra suitcase and they are already being used.

There is a beauty/barber shop now with simple furnishings, two chairs, mirrors and the equipment and sundries needed. One of the volunteers is going around the camp with a translator to identify the barbers and stylists and manicurists. These people can volunteer for hours they’ll work. They will not be paid, but they’ll receive certificates so that, when they settle in a final place, they’ll have proof that they kept their skills up while in the camp. One of the camp residents will carry the key to open up and close the shop.

There is a simple kitchen now, so women can prepare meals inside rather than on cement outdoors. There are sinks for washing food and dishes.

Washing machines have arrived and are being prepared for use.

There is a small library, with books in Farsi and in English, for children and for adults. I brought a Richard Scarry picture book and a copy of Goodnight Moon. I hope I’ll have a chance to sit with a child and read one of those books before I leave.

I hear more English being spoken. The children are picking up the language quickly and they practice their new skills with the volunteers. English classes are offered and more of the women speak at least a few words.

The men who play volleyball had a competition with those of another Afghan camp nearby. They played at Malakasa on Monday and the home game was on Friday night. Numerous residents and volunteers attended to root for the home team. We lost both games, but some fine volleyball was played.

Yesterday it poured down rain and everyone got wet. The building roof isn’t completed yet so many rooms leaked. Water dripped into tents. Even the volunteer office.

Lisa Campbell is the camp manager. Here's her Facebook post from Saturday, two days ago:

Today it is raining - no, pouring. The families living in tents are working feverishly to direct the rain away from their tents. The temperature is 51 F and bone chilling. These families need to move inside and even though I have had an architect draw up plans, no large government organization has funding available so they have asked Do Your Part to do it. Does anyone have a spare €120,000 laying around they would like to donate? Sigh................  or, on Facebook, search Oinofyta.

Do Your Part is a small nonprofit. Every dollar donated goes directly to where it’s needed. No middleperson. No administrative fees. My friends Vicki and Monte sent a check last week. The money was deposited in the bank in Virginia and, the next day, it was taken out via ATM in Oinofyta, Greece. Part of the money was used to buy medication for children suffering with chicken pox at the camp. Just as I’m working “on the ground” as a volunteer, any donations go the same way. I love the directness of this giving.

The volunteers this week were from Spain, Germany, and the US. We range in age from 18 to 68. We form a quick community, an international group engaged in a common cause.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

From standing in a field to walking down a hall

The Vashonistas met for five days last week at Lavender Hill Farm on Vashon Island, across the bay from Seattle.

We met the first time for a weekend four years ago, when we were all bloggers. Now we've expanded our time together from two nights to five, bonding further each time we gather. This year, for the second time, we formed a writing workshop, guided by Deb, who is one of us and also a facilitator for the AWA (Amherst Writers and Artists), a protocol for writing based on prompts - phrases, poetry or evocative objects.

This year we added a new activity: kayaking!

In our writing, each of us had some kind of insight during our workshop. For me, the change in my life from last year is represented by a comparison of last year's writing imagery with this year's.

Last year, I saw myself standing in a field, my gifts at my feet, waiting for whatever comes from the Universe telling me what I should do, how I should serve. Since I wrote that piece, I've become involved in working with refugees - an outcome I would never have imagined.

This year, the image in my writing is in walking down a long hall, lined with closed doors. Each door can be opened. Each represents a choice I can make - or not - for my life. And we all know what's at the end of the hall.

That's what happens in these writing workshops. We write because "The person writing with pen to paper knows more than the person sitting in the chair." What comes out during these writes is sometimes quite surprising. 

Next Tuesday I leave for Greece again. This time I'll be at Oinofyta refugee camp for two weeks rather than just six days. Part of the time I'll be setting up their accounting system. For the rest of the time, I have no idea whatever. It might depend on what door I open.

I'm curious about which door it might be.

Monday, October 3, 2016


Last Monday I got a massage and vertigo. For four days I was quiet. I canceled half of the activities on my calendar, including a volunteer session at small claims court. The vertigo wasn't too bad, but I thought it would be wise not to drive.

Inside my house in the cooling autumn weather, I went through a file cabinet and threw out half the paperwork we've accumulated over the past 20 years. I read. I slept.

I have had a very busy summer, with lots of travel. I am slowing down now.

I am thinking about my five guiding values: spirituality, health, community, curiosity and purpose. Those values still hold. My spirituality is shifting and stirring. I've been thrown out of my own orbit by my August volunteer experience at a refugee camp in Greece. I feel oddly isolated; the only people who understand what happened to me there are people who have had a similar experience. The isolation is not a bad thing.

In two days I'm going to Vashon Island -- just across the Puget Sound from Seattle -- for five days, with four other bloggers. We will be doing a lot of writing. My mind is so quiet I don't know what's in there to write about. That's not a bad thing either.

Then I return to Greece for another two weeks. I expect it will be different the second time, and that is fine.

My mind is full of quiet. Not peace or bliss or joy or enthusiasm. Quiet.

Actually, that's a good thing. 

Sunday, September 25, 2016

A bigger place called home

In last week's blog post, someone commented, "It is an amazing age that we live in, where we can meet people from the other side of the U.S. in person because of the internet." Earlier this summer, in upstate New York at Chautauqua, I told someone I was from Seattle, and they said, "You are a long way from home."

I have thought about those comments. And I've realized that these days, home is just a bigger place for me.

Our primary home is about 1900 square feet in a Seattle suburb. It's where we raised our family, where we have a garden on a third of an acre. It's the address we list in our business and financial dealings. We live in this house from May through October, with slushy dates at the beginning and the end.

Our second home is 620 square feet in a 55+ RV resort in Tucson. It's where we spend Washington's dark and rainy months, engaged in multiple fun and interesting activities like plays, water aerobics, current events and foreign policy discussions. We fly down this year on November 7.

Then we have other places that feel like home because we've been there multiple times: the schooner Heritage in Maine and Arroyo Roble resort in Sedona, Arizona and Waikoloa on the Big Island of Hawaii. Even a week once every year or two assumes a deep familiarity after a decade or so.

Or places where we visit friends regularly, like Roseburg, Oregon.

We don't feel like we're away from home when we're in any of these places.

In the last few years we've traveled outside these familiar places: to Italy, Ecuador, Eastern Europe, Greece and Africa. My experience is that the places feel "away from home" for a few days. But just for that long. Because I quickly see the similarities. No matter where people live, or how they look, or dress, or eat, or what kind of dwelling they have, they're all pretty much like us. They have the same hopes. The more I go to different places, the more they all seem like home.

I visited Oinofyta, Greece for the first time in August. I'm returning in October. In my mind I see where I'll be spending my days. It feels like home already.

So when people say to me, "You sure do travel a lot," I think to myself, "Really, it's just a bigger place called home."

I've heard it said that "home is where the heart is." I am all over that.