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.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Seventh sail in Maine - meeting new family and friends

Tomorrow around noon we will disembark from our six-day sail on the schooner Heritage. It has been typical in a bunch of ways: our familiar cabin, number 1, with the skylight that keeps me from feeling closed in in our tiny cabin; breakfasts and dinners in the horseshoe galley, lunch on the deck (soup from leftovers of the previous day, fresh-made bread and fixings for best-in-the-world peanut butter sandwiches; a hand-held shower in one of the heads (this year I finally remembered to put the toilet paper behind the wooden door rather than soaking the paper); long afternoons napping on deck or in our cabin; chatting with passengers I’ve known for years and those I met just this week; glorious sunsets. And the feast on Lobster Island - always a different actual physical place, but with the same name, where lobsters steam in a huge metal pot beneath a bed of seaweed. As Captain Doug says, “We’re in the business of making memories.” He is so right. Check out the Heritage webpage.






Two out-of-the-ordinary happenings: right now we’re anchored in the Stonington harbor rather than sailing, because the cook has an infected finger and is waiting for a 12:30 doctor’s appointment in town. It’s sunny here, and passengers are in their usual places: in deck chairs, chatting or reading or snoozing. And two days ago, on Wednesday, in the rain, an elbow in the water system wore out, and we were without water pressure for a couple of hours. All part of the adventure.

We have sailed several times before with friends Bruce and Sally from California and Theo and Melanie from England. And two of the passengers - and their husbands - are here because of me.

Anne and I share genealogy as a hobby. Three years ago we found each other online. My great great grandmother Edmonia Jane Ellett McNeal and Anne’s great grandmother Willie Ann Ellett Bates were sisters. That makes Anne and me third cousins once removed.  Once Anne and I began to correspond, she started reading my blog. She came upon one of my posts about our trip on the Heritage. She and her husband Roger decided to sail last year for the first time - the same week as Art and I were in Eastern Europe, so we didn’t meet them until this week.

Pamela found my blog last year during one of her internet forays. She liked what I had to say and went back FIVE YEARS and read all my posts from the very first one! I was unbelievably flattered. Pam read about our travel adventures and, as she told me, “Reading about your trips on the Heritage, I was willing to try it myself." She and her husband Dale also sailed last year for the first time.

I’ve asked Anne and Pem to say a little something today:

Anne: My first introduction to Linda was when my daughter reported to me “Some lady is wanting to know if she was related to a Willie Ann Ellett Bates. She told me that she told the lady, “You need to talk to my mother. She’s the one that knows all the family tree.” So I did. I heard from one Linda Myers. I had been looking for - and had never found - the sister Edmonia of Willie Ann Ellett. All of us on the east coast in the family heard she had married and gone west. We didn’t know who she married or where she went. Suddenly, Linda appears as the missing link, with all Edmonia's side of the family that’s been missing for generations on the east coast. Linda told me about her blog and I began to follow her. She started blogging about the adventures she had had on the schooner Heritage. It greatly interested me because the other side of my family were schooner captions for several generations in Chesapeake Bay, I thought it would be fun to go on a schooner to further explore the lifestyle of my ancestors. I was in hopes of meeting Linda too. When we finally got on the boat last year there was no Linda. I was asked, “How did you hear about coming on the schooner Heritage? And I said, “From Linda Granholm Myers’ blog. Another passenger perked up and said, “Linda Myers’ blog? That was how I heard about it.” And that was how I met Pamela.





Pamela: I found out about Linda Myers’ blog when someone from another site posted a link. I started reading and found that I could not stop! She made the schooner trip come alive for me, and I had my husband read it, and and we decided to go on the schooner Heritage last year. We met Anne and Roger then,and this year were able to finally meet Linda and Art. 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. I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience.




Ah, yes. Old friends and new. Such a trip!




Sunday, September 11, 2016

In Maine. "Nothing" to report.

We are at our friends Beth and Brian's house. They live in Searsport, Maine. We are reading quietly. Their three dogs are sleeping at the moment. The washer is getting our clothes ready for our schooner trip which begins tonight when we board.



We sleep in a loft with skylights just above our heads. We awoke at 4 a.m. to close-by thunder and brilliant shards of lightning. It was beautiful. The sky is now clearing just in time for our six days on the schooner Heritage, among the islands of Penobscot Bay.

This will be our seventh cruise on the Heritage, which sails out of Rockland, Maine with a maximum of 30 passengers and eight crew. Of all the places we've been, this is Art's favorite. Thus the return every other year or so.

"Nothing" is what I can report. No working except what I feel like doing. No internet service except occasionally when we're anchored for the night near a town. No getting in the car to run errands or meet a friend. 

"Nothing" has been a while for me. This is my sixth trip since late May. This is my "do nothing" trip.

It's about time.

Monday, September 5, 2016

What the Bag Lady learned in Greece

I've been home for just a week. My body, anyway. My thoughts and my heart are still at the Oinofyta Refugee Camp in Greece. Here is what I learned.

1. We are all the same. Really. We all want the same things: food, clothing shelter, family and friends. A way to support our children.

2. Walking among 450 residents who are mostly Muslims feels perfectly safe. In fact, it feels friendly and welcoming.

3. Say you are distributing clothing to 140 families. Six of those families take more than they need and, maybe, go to a nearby city and sell the excess.
  • It is easy to get annoyed with the takers, and to pay more attention to them than to all the others who are taking only what they need, and to forget that everyone is doing the best they can. It is a mistake to forget that.
  • It is easy to say that "This person who is [fill in a nationality or a religious faith] is stealing, so all [fill in the same nationality or religious faith] are thieves." It is a mistake to think that.
4. If the men play volleyball at 7:30 p.m. and the women play volleyball at 2:00 a.m., you are glad everyone is getting some exercise. You do not suggest they play coed volleyball. The genders are separate in their culture. As they were, pretty much, in your own culture 100 years ago.

5. If a man asks you quietly for money, you say no because you can't give money to every man in the camp, but you know he is not like the panhandlers on the off ramps of your city. He truly has nothing. You offer instead to give him your time and your voice, and he thanks you for that.

6. If you find a camp resident who speaks English, that person is a precious commodity. They, after all, speak more than one language. And they can help you communicate with other camp residents, because you speak only one language. You think about maybe learning a little Farsi. Your native language is spoken around the world, so you don't have to learn another one.You are again embarrassed that you have not made the effort to become fluent in another language.

7. If you ask a group of people to form a line, and they form a swarm around you instead, it is not because they are stubborn or uncivilized. It is because they come from a different culture. They do it differently where they used to live.

8. If you see a group of residents in the camp sitting on a blanket on the ground playing cards during the day, it is not because they are lazy. It is because they have no work because they cannot be hired in this country. They want to leave for another country but they cannot. Apparently the UN does not recognize Afghanistan as a country at war, so these refugees do not have special status.

9. If you see a resident you do not assume that they were a peasant in their native country. You know they are very likely to have been an engineer or a teacher or a lawyer or an IT person. You know they probably worked for the U.S. when the U.S. had many troops in their country.

10. If you see a resident you know they did not arrive by plane and then by rented car. They arrived by foot or by train after many days of hiding or walking or being smuggled by people collecting large sums of money from them up front.

11. If you are the oldest volunteer at the camp by 15 or 20 years, and you do not have the stamina to do physical labor all day, you might be tempted to think you are not useful. But you would be wrong. Your wisdom and your listening ear and your calm presence are of extreme value.

12. If a resident calls you "Grandmother" or "Higher Sister" they are honoring you. You realize you are glad to be around people who respect elders.

13. If a 12-year-old boy stands silently beside you, and then puts his arm around your waist, and then puts his head on your shoulder, and then walks off silently, you do not know who received the greater gift, him or you.

14. If you walk until your feet are swollen inside their comfortable Keens shoes, and you're needed for another task, you tell yourself you can put your feet up when you get home late that night, and you do the next task.

15. You know the bathrooms for the residents were not installed on a floor that slopes to a drain, so the bathrooms are a smelly place even when they were cleaned by the residents the day before. You decide to take the key for the volunteers' bathroom. That bathroom is clean because it is being used by only ten people instead of by 450. And because most of the volunteers are not peeing during the day even though they are drinking lots of water. Drinking water until they are sick of it.

16. If you are working in the warehouse and there are loud noises outside, and it's a fight between two men being witnessed by 75 others, you watch. You know neither of these men would be fighting if they were still living in their own homes in their own country.

17. You are invited by a gracious Afghani couple to dinner. There are 13 of you in a 12 by 12 room. You share a wonderful meal, with smiles and laughter. You do not think about your own home, so vastly larger, with room for half a dozen refugees if they could only get visas to enter your country.

18. You look around at your fellow volunteers - from Canada and the U.S. and Germany and Spain and Italy - and you are grateful to know them and to work with them, even for just a few days.

19. If you try to write an orderly account of what you learned in Greece, you can't do it. You can only put it all down - tell your own story - and hope that your readers will figure it out.

20. You know you will go back in a couple of months, and maybe bring a friend.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

What happened to me in Greece?

I got home from Greece on Sunday morning. It is now Thursday night. I have gotten a manicure and pedicure (Monday) reiki session and a massage (Tuesday), told my story to two good friends (Wednesday), and told my story to another friend (today). Today was the first day I felt like myself, the first day I had a regular schedule, the first day my feet weren't swollen. 

My mind and heart are full as I think about what happened to me in Greece. Here's a summary of what happened each day. (I am plagiarizing from my own Facebook posts.)

Monday 8/22: See my August 22 blog post "First Day in Oinofyta, Greece".

Tuesday 8/23: Just got back from 12-hour day at the camp. Experienced the arrival of a dazed and exhausted man and the home we put together for him; set up new rooms for three families; distributed sundries and clothing to clamoring families; sorted items in the warehouse; hugged and played with kids. Drank a LOT of water, ate not too much. Will sleep well tonight!





Wednesday 8/24: What happened today in Oinofyta camp: A tent has been vacant for a month but is needed for a new family; three of us donned gloves and filled a dumpster with trash and items that can't be reused, plus a large bag of clothes that can be washed and reused. As my part in the Wednesday food distribution, worked with two residents to fill 150 bags with a family's weekly allocation of lentils; witnessed a fight between a translator/resident and a resident that resulted in a lockdown of the camp; distributed food bags to 33 families in warehouse rooms and 25 families in tents; was invited to tea by a very nice woman who is hoping to live in Canada or the US; actually had tea with one of the men in the fight (not easy to take off Chakos while sitting on a mattress); found out the female residents play volleyball at 2:00 a.m, as their culture does not allow women to be seen by men other than their husbands; took a shift as babysitter for a puppy in the air-conditioned office; listened to a wise resident talk about her idea for a change to the distribution system that would be more efficient; had a group dinner in a Greek village, mostly listening.

Not so hot today, and with a little breeze.


Thursday 8/25: Fourteen hours today volunteering at Oinofyta camp in Greece. Lots of work in the warehouse today, helping refugees find clothes they needed. Like working retail except I don't speak Farsi! 
We were invited to dinner tonight by a refugee couple, Giza and Farhad. She was a lawyer in Kabul and he worked in security with US contractors. Great Afghani meal that began at 9:30 p.m. The refugees are night people. When we left in our car a midnight, we had to negotiate around six men playing cards on a blanket laid in the middle of the street.
This place I'm in feels a different kind of normal.




Friday 8/26: Quite a 13-hour day in Oinofyta! When I walked into the volunteer office I was followed close behind by a Red Cross worker. They were here for the day to do vaccinations and they were short a table worker. I got the job. Worked with two Greek women to do the registration for 89 children. Great hubbub of talk and noise and waving arms and people leaning in so close I could hardly move. The only languages being spoken around me were Greek and Farsi but I was completely comfortable. A teammate brought me a bottle of water. A worker asked me about the US role in the Middle East and Afghanistan. She said, "Why? I cry." I said, "I cry too and I come here." A man said, "I have a problem with your government." I let them know I sympathized.



I made a commitment to Adventist Health to buy needed supplies with some of the donated money I got. I promised I'd get it all tomorrow and leave it in the volunteer office for Monday. They thanked me for that and for helping with the vaccination process.
Work in the warehouse was mayhem this afternoon. We were short one translator and two volunteers. Two of the Spanish volunteers left today, and when we were about ready to open, a nine-member family arrived at the camp and needed to be supplied and welcomed. If a family comes to get clothes from the warehouse, they all come: father, mother, and one to four children. We are still working out a process that will go smoothly.
A couple of fights broke out, quickly calmed by the camp director, and the police were called after one rock-throwing incident.
In the five days I have been here, I have never been afraid or felt unsafe.
Tomorrow is our last work day. We leave for Athens in the early evening and will stay in a hotel by the Athens airport for our 6:00 a.m. flight to Paris on Sunday. I leave Paris at 11:00 a.m. and arrive in Seattle at 11:59 a.m.

Saturday 8/27: On our last day at the camp, I gave 40 sets of donated earbuds to the just-about-to-open computer lab. Worked in the warehouse stocking shelves with clothing donations from generous strangers. Participated in the filming of a documentary about the refugees. 
Said goodbye.

Drove to Athens for our early morning flight.

Sunday 8/28: Last night I left Oinofyta refugee camp. I spent the week with 500 Afghan refugees, many of them beautiful children. I am flying home today. They are all still there in the camp. They can leave if they want, but Afghanistan is a dangerous place for them, and they will either need to make their way across the border unseen or pay thousands of dollars to a smuggler who may or may not get them to their destination. Or they can stay in the camp hoping things will change.
Some of them told me their stories. I see their faces in my mind. They are a microcosm of the world. They are educated or not, professional or tradespeople. They are just like us.
Tonight I will sleep in my own bed. They will sleep on cots, in small rooms or in tents with their families. I have my own kitchen. They will share an outside cooking area with makeshift stoves.
What can we do for these people so they can be welcomed to a new place? Really, what can we do?

Monday, August 22, 2016

First day in Oinofyta, Greece - blog post for August 22

I'm sitting in the living room of our Airbnb place in Chalkida, Greece. The air conditioning is having some effect after half an hour of intense labor. My travel companions have driven to the Athens airport to pick up a piece of late-arriving luggage. It is nice and quiet here.

Our day was long, beginning in Athens with an 8:30 meetup and pickup of our rental car and a 90-minute drive to Chalkida, very pretty. We met our host, Frank, who showed us how everything worked and then led us to what he thought was "our" refugee camp. Turned out he took us to Ritsona, the Syrian refugee camp that's gotten a lot of publicity in the American press. When the staff there told us we were in the wrong camp, we wandered around for another half hour until we found it.

The Oinofyta camp is on military property - as I found out the other Greek camps are. It houses about 700 refugees, mostly Afghani with a few Iranians. An old warehouse has been subdivided into one-family rooms, and that is supplemented by tents. The residents are provided with meals and water and toilet and shower facilities. There's a warehouse full of donations from around the world. Today we worked from 1:00  to 5:00 distributing clothes, shoes, and blankets. There are about ten volunteers this week: five from Spain, one from the UK, one from Hong Kong and the three of us. The volunteers have been there varying amounts of time; we were brought up to speed by the immersion method. We are fed lunch and dinner. 

It was hot today; weather in the 90s, but we were indoors most of the time rather than in direct sun. The heat was easier to tolerate than I had expected.

The residents were mostly middle- or upper-middle class when they left Afghanistan.

The camp received a "donation " of 2,000 blankets today; in return, the NGO (DoYourPart.org) will pay to have electricity installed in its containerized office. Tomorrow, the residents will be asked to dig a ditch to lay wire to the computer center; in return, they'll have access to the online Skype application to turn in the paperwork for their asylum request. Afghanis are not considered war refugees, so they are not eligible for residence in the EU. They either need to be accepted into Greece, or sent home. Numerous residents of the camp decide to pay smugglers to get them across the borders of other southern European countries. The success rate is low, but the refugees are desperate.

I'm in learning mode, as usual. We were busy today, and I am tired but not exhausted. It surprised me that one good night's sleep last night in Athens appears to have caught me up. I don't have any sense of jet lag today.



Sunday, August 14, 2016

Getting antsy to leave for Greece

Next Saturday I fly from Seattle to Paris, where I am meeting up with Jenean, an old friend, and her niece Savannah. We will fly to Athens together. After a night of sleep, we will report to Oinofyta, where there's a refugee camp we'll be volunteering at for a week.

I've learned to prepare slowly for travel rather than waiting until the last minute. So I'm just about done except for the packing, which I'll do Saturday morning before my flight.

Here's what I've gathered this week:

  • Excellent counsel from my friend Stacey, who spent three months volunteering earlier this year. She gave me advice on what to take, what to wear, etc. She said this will be a memorable and rewarding experience. For someone who's never done this, Stacey's words were encouraging.
  • A cash donation from a woman I met at the bank. She overheard me talking to the teller about my upcoming trip and approached me. She was Muslim, dressed in black from head to toe. And she handed me $100. "For the children," she said. "For food or clothing or whatever they need."
  • A donation of 50 pairs of reading glasses and three dozen sets of earbuds from my friend Lillian - recommended by Stacey as needed by the refugees in the camp she worked at.
  • Two inexpensive cotton T-shirts and a comfy pair of capris, for cheap, at Old Navy.
  • One pair of very comfortable capris and a lightweight long-sleeved blouse, for not so cheap, at REI. If it gets buggy, I may need to cover up.
  • Electrolyte tablets from REI, to add to water. I expect the temps will be in the 90s, and humid.
  • A hat, and four bandanas, containing crystals which, when exposed to water, form a cooling gel. I tried out the hat yesterday on a two-mile walk in my neighborhood, and it worked.
  • Promises of cash from several friends, to take with me for purchases for the people we will be serving.
I got my hair cut three weeks ago. On Tuesday I am having it cut again. It will be humid, and I have curly hair, so the shorter the better.

I've had my phone unlocked and will buy a Greek SIM card so I can keep in contact with the people there. I'm also taking my laptop so I can email and blog.

I will be packing light. Jenean and Savvy and I have rented an apartment through Airbnb and will have laundry facilities. Our lives will be much easier than those of the people at the camp.

I won't have much time to catch up on sleep and time zones. My current plan is to stay up very late on Friday night - like 4 a.m. Then sleep for three or four hours. Then pack and go to the airport. About halfway through the flight I'll take melatonin. If I can sleep for four hours on the plane, I should be fine during the layover and ready to sleep again when we get to Athens.

That's just the current plan, though. Anything could happen between now and Friday night.

I wish it were Friday already! I feel blessed to be able to do this.