Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The quiet between

We're in the sky now, flying home to Seattle for the summer. The last 17 days in Tucson have been the quiet between.

The before:

  • Five months in Tucson, at our winter place, a park model (trailer) at the Voyager RV Resort where, in the winter, 3000 adults do as much or as little as they want. I call The Voyager RV Resort "camp for grandmas". There I play handbells, discuss current events and foreign affairs, exercise, assist in dramatic productions, and enjoy time with friends. We agree with people there that we have more friends at the Voyager than we do where we live the rest of the year. It is easy to be fully involved and very busy. 
  • Then, a month at Oinofyta refugee camp in Greece, doing whatever is needed, including the accounting for Do Your Part, the nonprofit I volunteer for there. Two weeks sitting in the seat of the camp manager during her speaking trip to the US. Long days, the routine and the unexpected, with 500 residents - including 192 children - and a dozen volunteers. Living in a community house. 
  • Then, ten days in Seattle being an efficient companion to my husband Art as he resolves medical issues: kidney stone surgery and a beeping pacemaker.
And the after:
  • Sliding back in to my life in Washington, mediating in small claims court, participating in the business we have an ownership interest in, helping my son take the reins of the business he owns with a friend who was in a serious accident last week, returning to my wonderful faith community and deciding what part I want to play in the social justice work being done there, meeting friends for coffee - and always, maintaining the financial records for Do Your Part, on whose board I now serve.
I have loved the quiet between:
  • Sleeping in the morning until the sun wakes me, walking the quiet streets of the resort where nearly all the winter residents have already left, reading the paper, reading books that have been waiting for me all season, watching season five of Scandal on Netflix - and, for the first time in my life, meditating every day via streaming Insight Timer on my phone.
I consider making the quiet between my revised normal. I note the newly diagnosed asthma that troubled me all winter has dissipated and no longer requires medication. I wonder whether it was aggravated by the stress of my self-selected busy-ness. The daily meditation has slowed the pace of my body and my mind.

I probably won't revise my normal very much. I'll keep doing the meditation, though. I really like it. That may be just the quiet I need in the after.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The case of the beeping pacemaker

One day last month in Greece, my husband Art started beeping from inside his body. I looked at him. He said, "It started this morning. I thought at first it was my cell phone, but I didn't have it in my pocket. I looked around and didn't see anything. Then I realized it was coming from inside of me."

"How often has it happened?"

"Oh, I don't know. Every couple of hours or so."

It's been over three years since Art had a cardiac arrest and had a pacemaker/defibrillator installed. His defibrillator shocked him twice in the first 18 months, and each time an adjustment was made to the device or his meds. He has had only a few episodes of atrial fibrillation, the last one nearly a year ago. And he has never beeped.

I'm the vigilant one for health issues. I insisted he talk to the camp doctor. Zisimos Solomos was friendly and helpful. He said, "You need to go to the ER at the G. Gennimatas Hospital in Athens. It's a public hospital but has excellent cardiology doctors. You should have your heart checked out right away."

I was the driver on this first venture into Athens. I relied on Google Maps. What should have been a 55-minute drive took over two hours. The Google Voice spoke English but got confused on the busy streets of Athens.

We parked in the large lot and walked toward the hospital. All the signs were in Greek. We looked for an ER sign and finally got directions by way of pointing and gesturing. In the lobby we approached the desk. One women of the three spoke limited English. She asked a few questions, then gave us a number and said, "Wait here," pointing to a long row of mostly-occupied chairs. And we did. For two hours. While people on gurneys were rolled by attached to their IV lines, followed by multiple family members. People shouted in worry or protest. Art said it looked like Harborview Medical Center in Seattle on a Saturday night. It was Wednesday afternoon. We had filled out no paperwork. No one knew Art's name.

Finally Art's number 14 was called. He followed someone into the ER and the door closed. I waited next to a wall outlet while I charged my phone. A man lying on a gurney next to me threw himself on the floor, shouting. People gathered. Art emerged from the ER. "They did an EKG and my heart is fine. I need to come back tomorrow morning at 8 a.m. to have the device checked."

We left the volunteer house in Dilesi the next morning at 6:30 for what, again, should have been a 55-minute drive. Google Maps took us on a different route, and we got seriously lost. We arrived at the hospital at 8:40. "English?" I said, multiple times. People pointed down a hall or up a flight of stairs or "end of the hall on the left". We found a doctor who spoke English and told him the story. "That doctor is installing a pacemaker right now. He can see you in about an hour. Sit here and wait."

We waited for an hour and 45 minutes. A man with a stethoscope said, "Are you the man with the pacemaker beeping?" Art and I followed him into a small room where he checked out Art and his pacemaker. After five minutes he called another man into the room. They had a discussion in Greek while Art lay on the table. The man with the stethoscope said, "We made a few adjustments. The beeping should stop now. Come back Tuesday."

There were no further beeps. We went back Tuesday, took a number and waited for an hour. Art was cleared. No paperwork, no insurance inquiries, no bill. No one ever asked his name.

The next day Art said, "You know, I think the pacemaker might have gotten screwed up when I got shocked by the stove last week."

"How did you get shocked?"

"Touched a pan on the stove with bare feet. They have 220 here."

I had no idea what that meant. 220? So what? I Googled "pacemaker beeping" and learned that sometimes an electrical shock will be interpreted by the device as a problem. I guessed that might have happened. But beeping?

A month later, Art started beeping again. This time we were home in Seattle for ten days before returning to Tucson to close up our winter home and retrieve our cat. We called our local pacemaker nurse and she said we should come in right away. We did. She analyzed the data and said, "You had an eight-hour episode of atrial fibrillation earlier this week."

"What happens," she continued, "is that your pacemaker has been programmed to detect irregularities. If it finds one, it tries to send a message to your remote device, which relays the message to us. It tries for three days. If it can't send the message, it starts to beep every four hours on the hour so you will pay attention."

Ah! Art's remote device is on the wall of our bedroom in Tucson. Not in Dilesi, Greece. And not in Seattle, until we bring it home.

Art hadn't had an a-fib episode in ten months, though. So what had happened?

"Well," he said, "I packed all my meds in my checked bag. In three bottles. When I unpacked my bag in Greece, only two bottles were there. Maybe TSA took one of them out, I don't know. So I had to ration my meds for a month."

That would be the meds for his blood pressure, for his high cholesterol, for his low potassium, for the top part of his heart, and for the bottom part of his heart!

What could I say? How about, "Next time, text the doctor in Seattle and ask him to prescribe meds for you from a pharmacy in Greece." Or "Next time, tell me this when it happens so I can do the texting." Or, "Next time, pack your meds in your carry-on like every other traveler I know."

Probably wouldn't have done any good, though. Art is pretty sure I'm oversensitive about medical issues.

This week we're in Tucson with the remote device. If there's a problem, the device will relay it to our pacemaker nurse, and she will call.

From now on when we travel, I will make sure that Art packs his meds and his remote device in his carry-on. It will save a lot of time and aggravation. And I won't have to drive in a busy, unfamiliar city.

And Art will not beep.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

What the Bag Lady learned in Greece this time

This was the third time I'd volunteered at the Oinofyta refugee camp. Some things were the same, of course: the daily routines of the men and women; the shouts and laughter of children playing; the procession of students across the field to their school; the clusters of men in conversation. And some faces I recognized from last October when I spent two weeks at the camp.

There were differences, too. The sewing room was active with residents making cloth tote bags from the canvas of tents that were taken down when the building was expanded to a second floor. The workers earn an hourly wage based on the sale of the bags on https://www.oinofytawares.com/. Classes were beginning in the computer lab. And there were new faces.

This time I was here for a month, and I had been asked by Lisa Campbell, Executive Director of Do Your Part (https://doyourpart.org/) and the Oinofyta camp manager, to relieve her in that role for two weeks while she spoke at multiple fundraising venues in the US. This time I brought my husband Art - he'd be shopping for food and running errands and preparing meals for the dozen or so Do Your Part volunteers. And, for 15 days of the month, my son James Granholm would be one of those volunteers.

Here's what I learned at the volunteer house in Dilesi, where each person pays 10 euros a day for room and board.
  • Sharing a two-bedroom, one-bath apartment with five other people - most of them under 30 - is not as easy as it was when I was in college. Housekeeping standards, random refrigerator items left by already-departed volunteers, full-up ashtrays on the deck, unknown individuals' wet clothes left all day in the washing machine and damp ones left all night in the dryer, rising water in the bathroom until I insisted on a plumber, a puppy (Art is allergic to dogs), poor to nonexistent internet access, a shortage of adapters to European electricity, and trash sacks full up with empty soda and beer cans in the morning.  
  • I was okay with the noise. Art and I have a blended family of eight kids, and you learn to tune some things out.
  • The energy of people under 30 is refreshing - especially when you're sitting around a table with young men and women from Spain, UK, Germany, Canada and the US. Or blowing bubbles in the kitchen.
  • I snore more loudly than I thought. I drove two roommates out of our room before I yielded and had my CPAP shipped from Tucson to Athens.
  • I am not too adept with a hand-held shower.

And at the Oinofyta camp, the exact same kind of things I experienced in the workplace:
  • It's sometimes hard for experienced young people to accept the leadership of a temporary manager - even low-key leadership.
  • It is really nice to have your own key to the volunteer bathroom.
  • It is great to have one volunteer who feeds you lunch every day.
  • It is super important that the primary players in the running of the camp be accessible - either face to face, or by radio or cellphone. Otherwise, there's a lot of waiting around until the primary player is available. Bottlenecks are frustrating.
  • If people feel confined - as you might if you were one of 500+ people living in cubicles in a single building - anger can build up. Sometimes it's directed at other residents and sometimes at the people trying to help.
  • If the solution to problems - for example, the ability to apply for asylum or migrate to another country - is really quite high up in an agency or government - the people trying to help quite often get blamed anyway.

And about my family:
  • My husband Art came with me this time because he was curious. He was assigned a job and he performed it every day, even when he was in pain from bursitis in his hip and from a kidney stone. He did the weekly shopping for the camp staples.The fridge was clean, the cupboards were stocked, and we never ran out of toilet paper. He made his signature macaroni salad twice - one version for the vegetarians and one for the the rest of us.
  • When I was under stress one day, I said, "I need you to support me and listen to me. I need to be able to lean on you and trust your judgment." And he did. Art supported me and listened to me and was there for me. For that whole month he totally had my back.
  • My son James worked for two weeks building a gazebo for residents so that when the hot summer comes they'll have a place to gather. He listened to me also, called me out when I was overstressing, and put a friendship bracelet on my wrist purchased in Athens one Sunday. I still haven't taken it off.  James has friends now in the UK, Germany and Spain from his time at the camp - and a three-year-old Afghan buddy - and realizes that, really, we are all the same.




I also learned these things about myself:
  • I can handle the unexpected pretty well: a beeping pacemaker in my husband's chest, a piece of missing luggage; a CPAP machine waylaid in Customs; a 24-hour flight delay.
  • I am very patient, but I can lose my temper. That happened twice at camp - the first time in many years. I yelled at my 37-year-old son because I'd lost my entire set of keys to the camp. I suspected him of borrowing them and not returning them. He protested vigorously and told me I was out of line. Then he found them in his back pocket.
  • When people are mad at me, and tell me I am a liar or a person who creates conflict and hostility, I take what they say personally even though I know I am not a liar or a conflict creator. I carry the stress of it for days. At my age I think I should be able to brush it off. Something to strive for.
  • The sight of blood does not bother me.
  • I am a mediator, and I can do some of it even when the other person doesn't speak the same language as me. Body language goes a long way, and eye contact, and smiles and nods. One day I was in a gathering. One person spoke Greek and English. Another spoke English and Farsi. A third spoke Farsi and Greek. The rest of us spoke only one language. We figured it out.
I'm very glad I spent the month at Oinofyta. And I'm very glad and grateful to be home. 

Friday, April 28, 2017

The Bag Lady remembers a trip full of hiccups

My husband Art and I volunteered for a month at Oinofyta refugee camp in Greece. We've been home for three days now, and we're remembering. Not just the people of the camp and what we did, but the hiccups. Of all the trips we've taken, this one had the most:
  • I checked my large suitcase which contained supplies for camp. It got lost in Amsterdam, arrived in Greece two days later, and was sent by bus from Athens to the Schimitari station, which is open for limited hours. Naturally, I arrived while it was closed. We've had lost luggage three times before, but the airline always delivered it to our door. 
  • Between the time Art checked his bag in Seattle and picked it up in Athens, a third of his medications went missing. He had to ration everything for a month - meds for blood pressure, cholesterol and atrial fibrillation. Fortunately, he didn't tell me about it until we got home, or I would have spent time getting the meds replaced.
  • When we pulled into the camp at Oinofyta, Art didn't see the tall curb near the office trailer so he hit it. The bumper of our rental car was damaged. When we returned the vehicle a month later, we were charged 600 euros (about $650) for a deductible before our insurance picked up the last 400 euros. 
  • Art has an implanted pacemaker/defibrillator as the result of a cardiac arrest three years ago. Three days after our arrival the defibrillator started beeping.  Exactly every four hours. At the recommendation of the camp doctor, we drove to the emergency room of one of Athens' public hospitals to have him checked out. The ER waiting room was chaotic, with patients and their families milling around, gurneys coming and going, and no English whatever being spoken. Art took a number and waited two hours to see the doc. An EKG revealed no problem with his heart. He was instructed to come back the next morning and go to the Cardiology department to have his device checked. He did. Device was checked and then adjusted. He was instructed to come back five days later for a follow up. He did. No beeps, no problems. The biggest challenge was driving our tiny car in Athens. Google Maps has trouble in Athens.
  • I left my CPAP at home but decided to have it shipped since, after five nights, my snoring was keeping my roommates awake. Decided to pay $250 for four-day expedited Fedex shipping. The package got to Athens in four days, but got detained in Customs because of its declared value. I told the truth. I had to send them a copy of my passport and then pay 215 euros to their local bank account. The package was released from Customs to a local courier, which took another three days to find me. Total cost for the CPAP was $500 to ship! When I got home I wrangled with Fedex for a couple of hours, and they finally gave me a $120 credit for the delayed delivery.
  • Art developed a pain in his hip and could feel a kidney stone coming on. He gets one about every eight years so he knows all about it. We'd planned on spending a week in Crete after our month-long volunteer stint at Oinofyta, but we decided to cancel our plans - and our plane reservations for May 6 - and come back early so Art's medical issues could be handled by his American doctors.  We changed our flights to April 24, incurring a $300 per person change fee for the Athens to JFK leg on KLM. I'd made separate reservations on Delta for the JFK to Seattle segment because of a pricing advantage, but their website wouldn't let me change the flight without calling. Delta's Athens office was closed for the day, so I called the US line which had an 80-minute wait time! Decided to just cancel the flight and rebook. 
  • We boarded our flight as scheduled on April 24 and sat there for two hours while mechanics checked out a problem indicated by a light on the cockpit instrument panel. The captain then told us the part needed was not available anywhere in Western Europe, so the flight was being cancelled until the next day. Delta put the entire planeload of people up at a nice hotel across the street from the airport and fed us lunch, dinner and breakfast, then scheduled an extra flight the next day - on the same plane! - to take us home. No problem for us, the retired couple, but very inconvenient for people still working. The airline also reimbursed everyone for the cost of their flight.
An unusual number of hiccups, for sure. And yet, that is part of the adventure of travel. What goes really well is sometimes not as memorable as what doesn't!

I'm grateful to be home. Art's hip issue turned out to be bursitis, which he is treating with ibuprofen and exercises. And the kidney stone is moving along and will be checked out next Tuesday by a urologist. 

There's no cure for jet lag, though, except time. And THAT is a pain!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Let's say you're a refugee at the Oinofyta camp

If you're a refugee here, you are probably one of the 88 percent who are Afghan (the remainder are Pakistani, Iranian or Iraqi). You may have been middle class when you left Afghanistan. You left not for a better life in Europe, but to save your life. Maybe you were a woman teaching girls. Maybe you worked for the U.S. Maybe your wife witnessed a killing and reported it. Maybe you questioned the tenets of Islam. You walked from your homeland. Maybe you came an overland route or maybe you got here via Turkey by a boat that didn't sink into the sea. Most likely you arrived on one of the Greek islands.

Last year you could get registered and your papers processed in a relatively short time, and you could move through Greece, staying at camps until you found a smuggler who might be able to get you to the border of a country like Macedonia, and onward to more desirable countries in Europe. Recently, though, the delay has increased. At camps like Moria on Lesvos, living conditions are poor. You may have decided to go to mainland Greece before you got your papers. That means you are now illegal in Greece.

If you are at Oinofyta, you and your family live in a small room inside what used to be a chemical factory. For months you had only a shower curtain to protect your privacy; now you have a door with a key. If you lose the key, you pay five euros to the camp manager. If you have five euros.

You share bathrooms and showers with 500 other people. The bathrooms are very dirty and, even though they were built only last year, they are in need of repair.  If you are a woman, you share a cooking space and a cleaning-up space with 80 other women. You and your husband have no personal space for privacy.

Several nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) provide help with social and psychological and educational and recreational needs. One of them, Do Your Part, provides distributions for clothing and food in addition to progressive camp management. None of the NGOs can help you with the most important thing: finding a way to move out of Greece to other Western countries. The NGOs will explain the current process for getting asylum in Greece, and will try to help you with it, but if you don't have legal papers or if you can't get through to Greek Asylum Services on Skype to arrange for an asylum interview, you can't move forward. Progress in Greece always happens slowly, and sometimes it does not happen, and often the rules change. This seems to be the nature of the Greek culture.

Last night you found out that, as of next month, Mercy Corps, which distributes money from the European Union via money cards, will not be available to you if you do not have current papers. Also next month, the Greek government will no longer provide catering of simple meals. The rules have changed again. You know you will have less money and be responsible for more of your own care.

You have trouble sleeping at night. You remember your life before you had to leave your country. Even now you could go back there, but it is not safe. You want to find a safe place to live and raise your children. This camp is not that place.

I am an American woman. I have been working at Oinofyta for a month on my third trip here. Tomorrow I am going home. If you're a refugee at this camp, you are not going anywhere any time soon.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Can we call the plumber? A lesson in Greece

The Oinofyta volunteer house, in Dilesi, Greece, is about six miles from the camp. It’s two stacked apartments, fairly basic. Each has two bedrooms and one bathroom and a small kitchen. Lisa, the camp manager, lives upstairs in one bedroom; the other upstairs bedroom has two Ikea beds, and the living room has a set of Ikea bunk beds. We live downstairs in one of the bedrooms; the second bedroom has two beds and a set of bunk beds. 

The keyword here is one bathroom.

When we arrived on March 22, there was a plumbing problem in the sink upstairs and in the bathroom downstairs. Upstairs, the sink was clogged and drained slowly. Downstairs, when the washing machine drained into the sink, water came up into the sink and also up through the drain in the floor. Six people sharing one bathroom made the situation worse. When someone took a shower, by the time they got out, they were standing in two inches of dirty water. And if you were using the toilet you sometimes had to lift your feet to keep them dry.

This is not an unusual situation; plumbing pipes are apparently not designed for use except by one or two people. “Greek plumbing,” a friend told me.

After a few days I asked if we could call a plumber. A plumber was called for the upstairs apartment. While he was there, we had an okay for him to fix the downstairs problem as well. But the plumber did not speak English, and the person opening the upstairs door for the plumber did not speak Greek, so the plumber left after fixing the upstairs problem.

After another few days I asked if we could call the plumber for the downstairs. I was told that the problem was hair in the shower drain and could be fixed by running hot water down that drain for ten minutes or so. I tried that one day and burned my arm when the flexible shower line escaped from my grasp and sprayed hot water all over me.

Two days later, on a Saturday, I asked again. I was told only one person had the plumber’s number and I should ask them to call, which I did. No plumber came on Saturday. On Sunday I asked when the plumber would be coming. The person said, “I didn’t call because I knew they wouldn’t come on Sunday.” I asked for the plumber to be called anyway. The person made the call and said, “The plumber will come out later today.”

The plumber did not come out on Sunday.

Monday the plumber came. In 15 minutes he unclogged the floor drain which had caused the problem. I paid him 70 euros for the work he’d done on both apartments. 



It’s been nearly a week now, and the six of us sharing the bathroom have had no further problem with the drains in the bathroom.

The residents at the Oinofyta camp have a different problem. There are about 500 people sharing the multiple bathrooms and showers. These were put in last summer. They now have multiple problems. Partly it’s the drain issue. Another is that the heavy use results in broken fixtures and pipes. For some reason the repairs have not been made. There doesn’t seem to be an easy solution for some camp problems, no matter how well intentioned volunteer agencies are.

A week from tomorrow our month-long volunteer commitment ends. My husband Art and I are planning on spending ten days traveling in Greece. We will stay at airbnbs with clean bathrooms. Then we will fly home where we have another clean bathroom and where we can call a plumber if we need one.

The four other volunteers who share our apartment will also fly home to their clean bathrooms, where plumbers can be called.

The 500 Afghans, Pakistanis, Iranians and Iraqis who live at the Oinofyta camp will not go anywhere. The borders are closed to them, unless they pay several thousand euros to smugglers for a risky trip - and few of them have the euros to do that. And they cannot return to their homelands, where their lives are in danger.

If I ruled the world I would invite one or two of these families to live in my house in the US. But my government will not allow me to do that.


For today, on Easter Sunday, I am grateful for a dry bathroom floor and a plane ticket home on May 5. And for my healthy mind and body which allows me to serve the people of Oinofyta.

Friday, April 7, 2017

The CPAP saga

I decided to leave my CPAP at home when we left last month for six weeks in Greece. I’d spent $2,000 last summer to acquire a custom-made “oral appliance” which would prevent my sleep apnea and, possibly, the snoring that accompanies it. The appliance took up much less space than the carry-on CPAP case. We had two plane changes and I didn’t want to mess with the CPAP, as I had lost a previous one two summers ago on the Metro train in Atlanta.

Two days after our arrival in Greece, my snoring drove my 37-year-old son out of the dormitory-like room he shared with my husband Art and me. He was invited to the upstairs apartment to an empty bunk bed in the living room there. We were expecting an influx of volunteers, so I decided to ship my CPAP from Tucson. My friend Ellen, keeping company with Larisa, our Designer Cat, researched the possibilities. FedEx offered the quickest option. I could select 6-9 business days for $120 or 4-5 business days for $212. I chose the quicker service.

I watched the tracking emails. The package left Tucson on Monday, March 27. By Thursday it was in Athens at Customs, where it was delayed because I’d foolishly listed its value as $600. I should have lied. A nice lady named Ifigenia Stavroulaki sent me an email that said I needed to (1) send her a copy of my passport and (2) deposit 265.40 euros (135 for duty, 25 for handling and 105.40 for a brokerage fee) in the bank account of the customs office. I drove around the town of Oinofyta for a good 40 minutes before I found the bank to give them my money. I took a picture of my receipt and my passport. Ifigenia said she would release the package for delivery, but unfortunately, it was too late for a Friday or Monday delivery. I could expect the CPAP on Tuesday.

Nope. On Tuesday I got a phone call from a Greek speaker. I heard “Fedex” and “Linda Myers”. I said, “I am Linda Myers” and the caller hung up.

No delivery on Wednesday. At the end of the day I called Ifigenia. She said the driver couldn’t find me at the address I’d given. I gave her the same address again.

No delivery on Thursday. I sent Ifigenia an email asking for her help. She gave me a number to call and my tracking number. I found someone at the camp who spoke Greek and asked them to make the call for me. Another nice lady said, “I found you on the map.The package will be delivered tomorrow.”

This morning - Friday, 11 days after shipping, my CPAP machine arrived at the camp gate at 8:55 a.m. Tonight I will use it. And Trish, our second dormitory mate, who went sleepless for six nights because of my snoring and the unavailability of an extra bed until last night, will be able to move back into the same room where she unpacked her stuff last weekend.

I suspect I’ll sleep better as well.


There have been enough hiccups on this trip so far. I could have done without this one. Still, I’m grateful for the CPAP’s arrival. I plan to write a letter to Fedex in an attempt to get at least a partial refund on the expensive, “fast” shipping. And I hear that when I go home I may be able to get a refund from customs, since I’m taking home what I had shipped over.

For that, as for many other things, I am grateful.