Saturday, August 19, 2017

My Facebook week at Oinofyta camp

So much has happened this week I can hardly remember. So I'm going to cheat a little by compiling my Facebook posts for this week.

August 12, 8:49 p.m.
Two scoops of ice cream for dinner!

August 13, 10:33 p.m.
Sunday. Day of rest. Several naps. Adopted by a friendly dog at dinner. He followed us to the ice cream place and waited outside for us! We walked back to car and he trotted off to find another friend.

August 15, 9:57 a.m.

Still very busy at the camp, but my learning curve is getting a bit shallower. I work with good people! Last night two of our Spanish volunteers cooked the evening meal - Cuban rice. Tomato sauce over fried bananas over rice over a fried egg. Delicious!

August 15, 12:36 p.m.

I stand against racism with 460 refugees - Afghan, Pakistani, and Iranian - and dozens of workers - Spanish, British, Swiss, Colombian, Greek, and American - here at Oinofyta camp in Greece.

August 15, 7:32 p.m.

So, we have an emergency. A fire is approaching Malakasa, the refugee camp just down the road. We have been told that somewhere between 250 and 700 people are being evacuated to our camp. Or maybe not. At any rate, we are preparing for a bunch of people. Talk about disaster relief!

August 16, 10:21 a.m.

All is quiet at camp this morning. We should soon have official notice that the evacuation from Malakasa will not happen. Our three team leads spent the night at camp. Everyone else went home and slept.

August 16, 7:44 p.m.

We were on standby again today for the Malakasa evacuation because the fire changed directions. At 7 we were notified that we can go home.

August 18, 3:23 p.m.

Very busy Friday. I could use a clone of myself and at least three other people.

August 20, 12:00 p.m.

Saturdays are supposed to be quiet at camp! So far we have two significant donations from groups arriving at the warehouse, and the water not working for any bathrooms, and electricity out in part of the camp.

August 20, 3:30 p.m.

Water and electricity are back with us, deliveries are complete, and all of our volunteers are enjoying a lunch prepared by a resident.

August 20, 7:44 p.m.

Still here at camp, waiting my turn for a ride home. Twelve people, one small car today.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Nine days now at the Oinofyta camp

We've been at the Oinofyta refugee camp for nine days now. The camp coordinator, Lisa, left on Wednesday morning for a much needed two-week break. She is with her family in Virginia. I am taking her place as camp coordinator. I am four days in with thirteen to go. My husband Art is the shopper for camp and volunteer house, and the breakfast and lunch fixer for the volunteers. And the errand runner.

I've had some moments of despair and some of delight. The despair comes when I'm overloaded with issues I don't know how to resolve. Not the big issues, like:
  • Why we can't accept new residents into the camp even though we have a few empty rooms (the answer is that this is a rule currently imposed by the Greek government; we must comply with the rule). One family has been sleeping on the ground within  the camp gates for five days now. They are pleading to be given a room. Some residents want them to stay. I say, "This is a Greek law. We must obey it. I am sad but I cannot give you permission." Or
  • Why 48 of our residents have not received permission to live in the camp (they came here before the new Greek rule was put in place), so they have no money cards (a monthly stipend available to most refugees). We have sent emails to the Greek agency in charge, but have not yet received a response. In the meantime, we feed the 48 people.
These big issues I can live with, because I know I am powerless. I am decent at letting go of that kind of thing.

It's the little issues - some of them cultural, some not:
  • A resident's phone was stolen. They will pay 20 euros to get just the SIM card back.
  • A volunteer's set of camp keys has gone missing.
  • A resident left her room for five minutes, and her entire monthly cash stipend disappeared.
  • Dirty diapers and watermelon rinds litter the camp grounds.
  • In my office, I listen to a doctor talk to me about the medical challenges at camp.
  • I can't figure out how to answer Lisa's Greek phone. Or how to recharge the radio.
The moments of delight? Examples:
  • A nine-year-old child sees me and comes up to me and wraps their arms around my waist.
  • A three-year-old child paints my mouth crookedly with her lipstick.
  • A young man decides it is worth the inconvenience to be ready for a bus at 3:30 a.m. on Monday so he can go to his asylum appointment at 9 a.m. in Athens. When I say, "You've had a bad day" - through a translator - a faint smile replaces the scowl for a moment.
  • I put chocolate out on my desk and the volunteers get a small reward for their large work.
  • Art buys small chocolate- and cream-filled donuts from the bakery on the way to camp. I split them in half and by noon they have been eaten by volunteers.
  • Amir in tent 49 fixes me lunch one day, and brings a salad the next day to my office.
  • I give a shoulder massage to a volunteer and it helps her headache.
  • Our team of 12 shares a Friday night meal at a wonderful restaurant in the village where we live.
I think I've said before that the Greece refugee issue is no longer much in the news. Some NGOs are cutting back on their resources here - or leaving the camp entirely. They may go to new camps - in Iraq, for example - where conditions are far more dire. Our Oinofyta residents are housed and fed and they have activities available to them. Some of them have jobs. But they are all here because they can't go anywhere else. All the borders to the north in Europe are closed to them. That was where they wanted to go. Now they are in Greece. They may stay here and become integrated into the culture. They may decide to go back to their homelands - Afghanistan or Pakistan or Iran. They may try to cross the border illegally. A few may successfully be reunified with family members in Europe. 

In the meantime, they are here. 

Even when I feel like what I most want to do is go home - which happens from time to time during stressful days - I know this is where I am supposed to be. Not in Brier, Washington, where the temperature is less than 101 and everyone speaks the same language as me and I have my own bathroom and laundry facilities and a cat that ignores me most of the time. Instead, here in Oinofyta, where I hear Farsi and Urdu and Greek and Spanish and I share a bathroom and a washing machine with others. I am surrounded by inspiring young volunteers and strong, tough residents, and little children, and boys who kick the ball onto the roof so they can climb onto it.

We are here, doing what we can. Doing our part.

Garden seating area, built by volunteers

Lunch - residents and volunteers

Sunday, August 6, 2017

She sent me a box full of dolls

My friend Beth is an artist. She had accumulated a number of Bratz dolls, with their high-style fashion and their glamorous makeup. She decided to scrub their faces and create a more natural look and to dress them as normal children.

Here are some "befores"



Here are a few dolls after Beth transformed them:



Beth got the idea from this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lG-7e1vaB18

Beth posted a note on her Facebook page, asking if any of her friends would like one of these dolls. I responded right away. "I'd like to have them all. I'm sure there are children at Oinofyta refugee camp in Greece, where I volunteer, who would love to have one of these dolls." Beth said that would be great, and she mailed me a box full of dolls.

I checked around to see if anyone I knew was going to Europe who'd be willing to take them along, but everyone who responded was either already in Europe or not planning to go. So I took them to the post office and, for $61, sent them on their way.

The dolls arrived at camp at the end of Ramadan. There's a celebration at the end called Eid, and traditionally children receive gifts at that time. Camp volunteers prepared gift bags for the children, and each of the twelve dolls went into a bag.

I asked Lisa, the camp manager, if pictures could be taken of the dolls with the children who received them. I wanted to send the picture to Beth so she could see the outcome of her generosity. But I had forgotten that if a child's picture is taken, the parent must approve. And all of the parents said no. A privacy issue at least, and perhaps for safety as well.

Now I'm at the camp myself. This week I'll try to find out who got the dolls and see if I can take a picture of just the doll, in the room of the owner. It's a balance of my own curiosity with respect for the culture of camp residents.

Thank you, Beth, for your gift to the children of Oinofyta.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

A tiny change in our summer plans

August was supposed to be a month of relaxed enjoyment: napping, sitting in my Adirondack chair under the grapes in the garden, reading at least four books and four magazines, relishing the beautiful weather that is our Seattle summer.

Except I had made a promise to my friend Lisa Campbell, who heads up the Do Your Part disaster relief effort at a refugee camp in Oinofyta, Greece. My husband Art and I spent a month there in late March and early April. Art did the errand running and food shopping and meal preparation for volunteers. I worked on the accounting for DYP and, for the two weeks Lisa was in the States on a speaking tour, sat in her chair at camp.

As we were leaving at the end of our month, I said, "Lisa, Art and I will come back if you need us."

Between April and last week, we did our summer thing here in Seattle - interrupted by Art's kidney stone surgery and follow up, and Art's two cataract surgeries and follow up. Very few social plans, lots of reading and relaxing.

Then, last Friday, Lisa called. "I need you to come the first week in August, for a month."

So, we're going back to Greece. Next week. Several of the camp's long-term volunteers are leaving, and Lisa is going to visit her family in the States. Again, I will sit in her chair for two weeks. Well, actually, not much sitting. Mostly doing, with a dozen volunteers and 500 residents of the camp. And listening. Whatever comes along.

I had planned on finishing our income taxes in August. On spending three days with my son and my granddaughters. On maybe flying to Colorado to visit a friend for a few days.

It's a tiny change in plans.

I am hoping our luggage will not get lost, like last time. That Art's pacemaker will not beep, like last time. That we won't hit the curb in our rental car and pay for damages, like last time. And that we'll be able to be tourists for the last week, not like last time when we flew home early to treat a kidney stone.

Until last summer, I had never done this kind of thing. Now I have. It is still unbelievable to me that I have taken this on. But I'm sure it's something I'm supposed to do.

You just never know what will happen when you say yes.


Monday, July 17, 2017

Books and cellphones and cords. Oh, my!

The rightsizing continues at our house. I bought an AARP book called Downsizing the Family Home. I read it and then I suggested Art read it. He is doing that. He commented yesterday that the book is mainly for people working with their aging parents to part with years of accumulation before they move into a smaller place, or taking care of everything themselves after one or both parents have died.

Still, there are helpful sections in the book. I note from the placement of the bookmark that Art is about two thirds of the way through it. That's a good sign.

We went through our "book closet" last week. One box of books went to the local library, to be sold as a fundraiser. Three more boxes went to Goodwill. We now have the following sections remaining in the book closet:

  • Books I have not yet read but intend to in the next couple of years. Maybe 25.
  • Books on writing that I have read and intend to read again - think Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird and Stephen King's On Writing; AMemoir of the Craft.
  • Books on writing that I know I will read (about six; the others went to Goodwill).
  • Recovery books; we have many years of 12-step experience and we still refer to these.
  • Travel books (mostly Rick Steves), pocket language books (about eight), and half a dozen local maps (the two dozen others went to Goodwill; if we ever go back through Wyoming, Montana and Utah again, we're likely to use Google maps on our phones).
  • Two Thompson guides of the Seattle area, for Art, who loves the old familiar ways.
Also on the floor of the book closet was a box half full of photos in their frames (mostly of high school seniors and offspring getting married). The top half of the box was a jumble of cords and plugs for ten years' worth of electronics. I left the photos for the kids to go through after we're gone.

I put the cords on the dining room table. I'd emptied a plastic bin of candle stubs, so I asked Art to organize the cords. You never know when someone will come along with an ancient device and need a cord or a car charger and you can be useful with your plastic bin. Art's eyes lit up when he saw the cords. He said, "I have some old phones in the sidebar drawers." He pulled out six old flip phones, the kind he used until just last year when there was such a good deal on a refurbished iPhone 5 ($50!) that he couldn't resist. For two hours he sat at the table and matched up the old phones to cords and to car charges. These he bundled together and put in a sack to recycle. We'll be taking them to a place that collects old phones for soldiers and vets. Art was a soldier and is a vet himself, so it seemed like a good choice.

The mismatched cords are still in the plastic bin, just in case. But there aren't very many of them. My friend Gail came over earlier this week, missing a car charger for her cell phone. We had one that fit!

I emptied a shoebox-sized plastic bin and suggested that it would be a good place to store batteries. Art emptied the sidebar drawers and filled the little bin with the batteries he's collected. Probably mostly from work, when he worked. Seven years ago. He tested most of the 75 batteries. So we are ready for a prolonged power outage, and we know where the batteries are.

Yesterday Art took all the books off the lower shelf of the living room coffee table. Nine of them go to Goodwill. Six go in the book closet. He did this without asking, as though it was a ho hum job. Can you believe it?

We're moving slowly. Five boxes get filled at the  top of the entryway stairs. They go into the trunk of my car. They get delivered to wherever. We start in on five more boxes. No rush, but getting there.

It's kind of fun, actually. 

Sunday, July 9, 2017

I'm not stuck. I'm waiting.

Last week I saw a meme on Facebook that was so perfect for me that I printed it out and taped it to my computer desk:

Everything will fall into place.
You just gotta be patient
and trust the process.


I took that to heart. Here's what's happening.

1. Downsizing. I had told my husband Art, "I want us to downsize inside the house and outside, and then look for a new place to live that doesn't have stairs or a big yard." He went silent but reluctantly started getting rid of stuff. 

Then, out of the blue, I got a different thought. I said, "I want us to declutter and rightsize inside and outside of the house, but make no plans to move. That way we'll be more ready, if and when a good opportunity comes along." It's a compromise that works for both of us.

2. I do the accounting for the nonprofit agency at the refugee camp in Greece where I've volunteered. I wait for others to send me receipts, tax records, and bank statements. The 2016 taxes have been hanging over my head. I just dawned on me - much later than it should have - that there is not much more I can do until I get what I need. In a couple of days I'll be caught up with my part. Then I will be patient. Everything will fall into place. I can trust the process.

3. I am helping one of my sons through a business crisis. I'm more of a consultant than anything. He is tearing his hair out. I know what I'd do a little differently if I were him, but I'm only the consultant. He is the decision maker. I think he will come out all right. I am not losing sleep over someone else's issue. Everything will fall into place. I'm grateful for the help I can give him.

4. I have been doing family mediations for several years and they're not as fun as they had been. So recently I've not signed up to do them. But there's a training coming up next week for mediators interested in working with a Native American tribe in my county. I figure if I can mediate at a refugee camp in Greece for seven men who, except for one, speak only Farsi, I'll be fine with the Native cultural differences. I know I trust that process!

5. I am in week seven of Weight Watchers. Today I moved a couple of pairs of pants from the "it's a little too small" side of my closet to the "I can wear this" side. I am looking forward, several months down the road, to lower blood pressure, more stamina and happier feet. I am following directions. I trust the process.

Sometimes when I'm just going about my daily business, and it looks pretty similar day after day, I think I'm stuck in a rut. Often, though, I'm just waiting.

Everything will fall into place.
You just gotta be patient
and trust the process.

And here's one story about our downsizing adventure:

Twenty years ago I bought a stoneware dinner set: salad and dinner plates, cups and saucers, butter dish and sugar and creamer and salt and pepper shakers, serving plates and serving bowls. We have a big family, after all, and I like to set a nice table every now and then. The rest of the time we use Corelle.

Now we're doing the downsizing thing. I don't think we've ever used the stoneware cups and saucers. Today, going through one of the kitchen cabinets, I told Art I thought we could get rid of them. eBay has them for sale for $2.50 apiece, so they're a good Goodwill item. Art reached to the top shelf and handed me the cups one by one, and then the saucers. I was going to find a box to put them in, when Art said, "I think I may have the original box in the garage."

"You're kidding!"

He was right. We will take the cups and saucers to Goodwill in the box they came in 20 years ago!

I can hardly wait until we start working on the garage.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Living normal

Last year I took eight trips between May and November:
  1. Tucson in late May, to get a root canal and a crown in Nogales, Mexico.
  2. Road trip to Oregon in late June for a family gathering.
  3. Muskoka, Ontario, in mid July, to visit a friend.
  4. Chautauqua, New York for a week of culture and education in early August.
  5. Oinofyta, Greece, in late August, to volunteer for six days at a refugee camp.
  6. Rockland, Maine, for a six-day schooner cruise in September.
  7. Vashon Island, Washington in early October for a five-day writing retreat.
  8. Oinofyta, Greece again, for two weeks of volunteering, in late October.
That was a lot of travel! 

This year I spent a month in the spring again at the refugee camp in Oinofyta. Since then, no travel other than one trip to Tucson to close up our winter place and bring Larisa, our Designer Cat, home to Seattle.

Now it is summer and I am having a normal life. It feels oddly quiet. Not exactly dull, but different. Here's the kind of activity I'm doing:
  • Picking strawberries from our yard and freezing them.
  • Wrapping the cat in a towel so my husband Art can trim her toenails.
  • Reading magazines as they come in the mail rather than letting them stack up.
  • Being the driver and advocate for Art as he has surgery for a kidney stone, the removal of a stent, and two cataracts. 
  • Hiring a new teenage yard person now that our grandson Kyle has outgrown the job.
  • Going through cupboards and drawers and closets for Goodwill runs. Today I took a bunch of toys outgrown by my grandchildren. I have fond memories of the Fisher-Price garage. And an umbrella stroller, which Goodwill won't take because of "safety issues". I'll wait until my teenage granddaughters visit to go through the dress-up boxes.
  • Keeping track of my eating and exercise as I head into week six of Weight Watchers.
  • Walking the two-mile route in my neighborhood several times a week.
  • Signing up for a yoga class for the first time in ten years.
  • Meditating for at least 20 minutes every day using the Insight Timer app on my iPhone.
I'm spending my days in such an ordinary way! I have absolutely no inclination to travel again this year. I probably need the rest.

And now the sun is out in Seattle. And the days are long. And there are two Adirondack chairs under my grape arbor, just right for a talk with a friend.

I get to be normal for a while. I like it. 

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Downsizing: a difference of opinion

My husband Art and I have lived in our house in Washington State for 22 years. We have eight children between us. When we bought the house, three of the kids lived with us and two of them visited on Tuesday and Thursday and every other weekend. We needed the space as well as the RV we kept in the back of the house. We were both still working.

Today, the kids are grown and gone, except for one son, who's been renting a room from us for the two years he went to nursing school. He's graduated now, passed his boards, and found a job. He'll be finding his own place before too long.

We love the house, but we no longer need the space.

Or the stairs: five up to the front porch, one more to the split entry, five more to the main floor or 13 down to the laundry room, second bathroom and garage. Art slipped on the ice on the outside stairs about five years ago and broke two ribs.

Or the steep downhill driveway, created a dozen years ago when the city installed sidewalks for the safety of the kids walking to school. Workers had to raise the top of the driveway by several feet to accommodate the sidewalk and then pour asphalt to make up the difference. Soon after, Art slipped on the ice in that driveway and tore a rotator cuff.

Or the big yard, with its raised beds for vegetables and its grape arbor and its strawberries and raspberries and blueberries. We love the food but don't have the stamina to take care of it. At present our resident son is growing the vegetables, but we have had to hire a young person to do the weeding. Again, it's the stamina thing. Plus, we travel.

In the 22 years we have lived in that house, we have acquired "stuff". We have boxes of stuff and drawers of stuff and closets of stuff and a shed full of stuff. We have clothes in the sizes we wear now and in the sizes we wish we wore now. We have books we have read and hope to read. We have spices in the kitchen with long-expired shelf lives.

Four years ago we began to spend our winters in Tucson. We rented, then bought, a park model (trailer) in a 55+ RV resort. Four steps up. We live on one level. In 620 square feet. Contentedly.
We don't have much stuff in Tucson. We have acquired only what we need. It is gloriously simple.

Our plan for the next few years is to spend five months a year in Tucson, and the rest of the time here in Washington State. With some travel time from each location. Art and I agree on this plan.

Here's where we differ: I want to downsize and find a smaller place here in Washington. Maybe a condo to buy or rent, or a single-level home with a small yard and low maintenance. Art wants to stay where we are.

I am the talker of the two of us, and Art is the no talker. He knows exactly what I think and how I feel about downsizing. I wasn't so sure about his thoughts or feelings on the subject. Last week I said, "Are you reluctant to move because (1) this house is full of memories or (2) this house is full of stuff we will have to get rid of or (3) moving will be an acknowledgment that we are getting old?" And he said, "Probably some of all three." So now I know!

I've been suggesting for years that he go through some of his stuff. Recently I've been describing the process as "lightening our load". Art usually hears this as me trying to control him. As recently as last week, I'm embarrassed to admit, I said, "You know, if you die first you will be leaving all your stuff for me and the kids to take care of." I may even have said he was being selfish. I hope I didn't, but I might have. Art has never responded positively to my suggestions.

I've been pretty discouraged lately about whether we'll ever downsize. About how many falls one of us may take on the stairs or the driveway. About who will be the first to break a hip.

Then yesterday, I came home and found two large plastic bags on the floor of our bedroom. They were full, with twist ties. Art was in our closet, working. Going through his clothes. Taking out the ones that no longer fit. Downsizing! "I found a dozen pairs of brand new socks," he told me, "from when I worked and when we spent the winters here. I don't need them any more. I'm going to see if any of the boys can use them." I said I thought that was a magnificent idea. I restrained myself from doing a happy dance.

Then I went into the closet myself. I pulled out my 35-year-old plastic sewing box, from when I used to sew. I gave my sewing machine to a friend nearly 20 years ago. I have two pocket sewing kits now. I texted my neighbor and asked her if she'd like the box. If not, it's going to Goodwill this week.

I'm tempted to go look at apartments. But I don't want to rush either of us. We can simplify first, lighten our load. Then we can find another place for our months in Washington State.

Or maybe somewhere else. Who knows?

Monday, June 19, 2017

What the Bag Lady learned during jury duty

I showed up for jury duty on Monday at 8:15 a.m.. I walked out of the courthouse on Wednesday at 2:10 p.m. I'm done with jury duty after three days. We found the defendant guilty of possession of heroin with intent to deliver.

Here's what I learned, about the jury experience and about myself:

1. Forty percent of people who receive a summons to jury duty don't respond. The law says they can get a bench warrant, but it's not cost effective. It wouldn't even occur to me to try to get out of jury duty. I'd heard people say it was a pain, but I was always curious about what the experience would be like.

2. The gathering and dispersing of juries in Snohomish County Superior Court is very well organized. The waiting is necessary - whether in the jury reporting room or as an individual jury - but we were informed that would be the case. I appreciate the thought and planning that went into the existing procedure.

3. As a juror, I felt valued. It was pretty cool, as the door to the courtroom opened to the jury room where we were waiting in line to enter, to hear, "All rise for the jury." It's respect being paid not to the actual people in the jury, but to the concept of a person's right to a jury of his peers, and the presence of those peers.

4. It was almost always quiet in the jury room. We had one chatty man who initiated conversations about woodcarving and world travel, but mostly we read or surfed with our phones or looked out the window. I took my laptop one day to do some work during our waiting times, but I was the only one who did.

5. During a break on the second day, one of the female jurors got sick. I saw her sitting on the floor in the bathroom just beside the open door. The bailiff went to call a marshal. I don't think a sick person in a strange place should be alone, so I went to her and knelt on the floor beside her. I put my right hand on her right hand. She was cool and clammy. She said, "I haven't been sick in decades. I think I caught the stomach flu from my daughter. I feel like I'm going to throw up." I said, "I have heard that is going around." I stayed with her, my hand on hers, until the marshal arrived. I said, "Stomach flu" and went into the other bathroom to wash my hands, then returned to my seat at the jury table. The other jurors looked at me. No one said anything. If I get sick, I get sick. (I didn't, but I worried a little, knowing if I did get sick, the judge would have to declare a mistrial.)

6. Our courtroom was on the second floor. I took the steps rather than the elevator, but I noticed that I had to focus on my breathing. I was diagnosed with asthma last winter, but I don't take the prescribed medications unless I have to. I am not at all happy with having to focus on my breathing when climbing stairs.

7. I'm 68, but I think of myself as about 42. I don't color my hair any more. I have about 60 extra pounds on my body. My mind is still sharp and I am much more open minded and calm than when I really was 42. But other people who look at me probably see an overweight retired person, and it's possible that any stereotypes they might have about older people could be applied: (grandchild obsessed, slightly dim in the brain, garden putterer, knitter) - none of which I happen to be. I'm thinking that during the jury selection process I might have been viewed with interest as a "retired white female" because that demographic is one needed on a jury. But by the time the jury selection was complete, I'm guessing they saw me as an articulate, pragmatic, intelligent person who happens to be retired. I'm hoping so, anyway.

8. Looking back at #6, there's a possibility that climbing stairs would be less of an effort if I didn't have 60 extra pounds on my body. I am working on that - in the middle of week 5 of Weight Watchers. It is my intention that my blood pressure reading, my sensitive feet, and my degree of stamina be only a function of my age, rather than being partially a function of my weight. If I am able to wear more of the clothes in my closet, that will be fine too. This, of course, has nothing to with jury duty, but those stairs are a reminder of the worthiness of my Weight Watchers project.

9. As part of the jury pool and as a juror, I confirmed that I have the following opinions:
  • People of color are not the cause of the current drug problem in our society.
  • Immigrants are not the cause of the current drug problem.
  • If a defendant needs a translator, it does not mean they are guilty. Along this same line, I am glad to see that translators are hired to assist in the justice process.
  • If a defendant does not testify in their own behalf, it does not mean they are guilty.
  • If a witness has lived in the US for four years and still needs a translator, it does not mean that he has an inaccurate memory. 
  • Just because I know people who have spent time in jail because of drugs does not mean that a defendant in jail for drugs is guilty.
  • Just because a defendant has a quantity of heroin in their backpack does not mean they have an "intent to deliver". However, I can't think of any reason why a defendant with a quantity of heroin in their backpack would also have a scale, unless there was some intention other than personal use of the heroin.
  • I am not afraid to be in the minority on an opinion, but I have learned there is a fine line between "beyond a reasonable doubt" and stubbornness.
  • The hardest part of jury deliberations for me was that I couldn't question why some evidence was NOT presented. I could only consider the evidence that was. I had to remind myself of that more than once.
  • It is not necessary to talk more in order to be heard. Sometimes, talking less is more useful.
10. I may be a "retired white female," but I was selected as master juror (foreperson). Someone said, "Who wants to be foreman?" I said, "Well, I am a mediator, and I will do it if no one else wants to." I was elected unanimously. The toughest part was signing my name to the verdict: guilty of possession of heroin with intent to deliver. The evidence was beyond a reasonable doubt, but not far beyond.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Jury duty: a new adventure!

When I was in my 20s, living in El Paso with my army officer husband, I got a jury summons from California, where we were registered to vote. I called and explained and got excused.

Fifteen years ago I was summoned. I drove to Everett, Washington and sat in a big room for two days and got sent home.

Last December I got summoned, told to report to Everett in February. I explained that I live in Tucson in the winter and wouldn't be home yet. I got another summons in February and told to report in April. I explained that I'd be in Greece at that time. They gave me one more chance, told me to report this week. So I did.

On Monday morning I followed instructions from the detailed phone recording. Found a parking place three levels down, rode the elevator to the surface, took the wide walkway to the criminal justice building, and checked into the jury room. There were 120 of us, sitting in rows in near silence. Waiting. Like at the departure gate at the airport, only without carryons.

Juries were to be selected for three trials. My name was called for the third group. I was given the number 17 of 35 jurors called for Judge A's courtroom. Numbers 1 to 13 were seated in the jury box and the rest of us, in numerical order, were seated in the first two rows of the regular courtroom.

The judge asked people to raise their hands if serving as a juror would be a hardship for a trial expected to last two to three days. When the first four dismissals for hardship had left the jury box, I was asked to take my place in the jury box.

The attorneys for the prosecution and the defense had half an hour each to ask questions of the jury pool: for example, "Do any of you have any problems with an interpreter being present for the defendant?" "Do any of you believe that the drug problem is caused mostly by people of color?" "Do any of you believe the drug laws are too strict or not strict enough?"

Then each attorney was given seven opportunities to dismiss members of the jury without having to give a reason. As a juror was dismissed, their spot was filled in by someone from the first two rows of the courtroom. I felt like I was on display. I was sure one of them would say, "The prosecution/defendant thanks and dismisses Juror Number 17." But they didn't.

When jury selection was complete, there was one person remaining out of the original 35. Twelve jurors were selected and 22 were dismissed. Our jury ended up with eight men and four women. Four of us - two men and two women - were retired, and the others were still working. We all received new numbers and I was now Juror Number 4.

I arrived at the courthouse on Monday at 8:20 a.m. and left at 4:30 p.m. At the end of the day the jury had been selected and one witness had been called. This was a slow, deliberate process.

Tuesday I arrived at the courthouse at 8:45. The jury probably spent half an hour listening to testimony and the rest of the time waiting in the jury room while the attorneys and the judge had conversations the jury was not supposed to hear. During one of our waits, one of the female jurors got sick. We were moved to another jury room while the one we'd been in was sanitized. Then we were released for lunch.

More of the same in the afternoon. Members of our jury were beginning to chat. Personalities were emerging. I was pretty quiet. We had been told we were not to communicate during the trial, so I blogged as we went but delay this post until the trial was over.

In the witness testimony, I heard a few discrepancies. I noticed some body language. We had been told that the defendant in a criminal matter is presumed innocent until proven guilty. I remembered that.

Wednesday we only heard from one witness. The judge read us our instructions and the two attorneys gave their closing arguments. The jury then left the courtroom to begin its deliberations. We ate lunch in the jury room, deliberated and reached a verdict in two hours.

The case: Back in March, police responded to a 9-1-1 call from a minimarket at about 1 a.m.. A man had been in the bathroom for 45 minutes, talking and yelling, and the clerk wanted him removed. The police removed the man, and while the clerk was filling out the report the man's possessions were picked up. As that happened, a metal spoon fell out of a jacket pocket. The police then searched him and his backpack and found a substance resembling heroin, syringes, plastic baggies and a scale. He was charged with possession of heroin with intent to deliver, with possession of heroin as a secondary crime.

In the jury room, the initial count was eight people for guilty, three for not guilty and one undecided. The second count was ten guilty and two not guilty. I was one of the not guilties. But I couldn't get past one of the pieces of evidence. The third count was a unanimous verdict:

Guilty of possession of heroin with intent to deliver.

We returned to the courtroom and delivered our verdict to the judge. Then we were dismissed.

Three days of jury duty and I'm done!

I'll talk more about my jury experience in my next blog post.


Friday, June 2, 2017

The blessings of the ordinary

There's a quote I see from time to time on Facebook:

"Life is amazing. And then it's awful. And then it's amazing again. And in between the amazing and the awful it's ordinary and mundane and routine. Breathe in the amazing, hold on through the awful, and relax and exhale during the ordinary. That's just living heartbreaking, soul-healing, amazing, awful, ordinary life...." L.R.Knost

There are blessings in the ordinary. Here are mine from the last two weeks.
  • The strawberries and raspberries and blueberries and grapes in our garden know when and how to grow. We get the fruits of their ordinary lives. The strawberries will be ripe in a couple of weeks.
  • The spin cycle on the washing machine stopped working yesterday. I went online and found a UTube video for troubleshooting and another one for fixing the problem. I stayed online and found the part and ordered it. The part will arrive tomorrow and the washer will get fixed. I didn't have to leave the house or replace the washer.
  • One of our sons' business went through a crisis. He called for my counsel. He asked me to go with him to meet with an accountant and a lawyer. He is moving past the crisis. He called to tell me. James is 37 and I am proud of him.
  • Another of our sons got his driver's license back after a ten-year loss. Russ is 39 and I rejoiced with him.
  • Another of our sons will be working in our area next week. He called to ask if he could stay with us for four nights. We have an extra room. Jason is 44 and I am glad he's choosing to spend his evenings with us.
  • Another of our sons has been living with us since he started nursing school two years ago. He graduated in March, passed his Boards in April and got a job in May. He loves taking care of the garden. Peter is 33 and I am glad to have him as a tenant.
  • Larisa the Designer Cat gets to be an indoor-outdoor, indoor-outdoor, indoor-outdoor cat here in Washington. She loves her cat door and I love her independence. She still sleeps on the bed, though.
  • I met my friend Vicki for coffee yesterday. In the winter I live in a park model trailer in Tucson and she lives on a boat in Mexico. We hadn't seen each other for eight months, but it seemed way less than that. You know how you pick up with some people just where you left off? Vicki and I are like that.
  • My nine-year-old neighbor, Jesse, needed to earn five dollars. He weeded under my grape arbor. He did a good job and was thrilled to have the money in his pocket.
  • Reentry into my ordinary life is hard sometimes. Today I got frustrated and sent an email to six friends. I know they all understand.
Between the amazing and the awful is the ordinary. It's a good thing.

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.

Monday, April 3, 2017

All quiet on the Sunday front

Five volunteers took the train to Athens this morning, my son James among them. So it’s a quiet day here at the volunteer house in Dilesi, a small seaside town on the Aegean Sea. Jess is doing laundry, Trish is giving the bathroom a thorough cleaning, Art is fixing dinner. I am thinking about the twelve days we’ve been here so far in Greece.

During my time here last October, I thought about how we could make life easier for the international bunch of volunteers who spend their days at the refugee camp. I realized a couple of ways we could make a difference would be to have a definite departure time from the camp each evening, and to have planned meals. At that time, volunteers often waited for an hour or more at camp for a ride back to the house, and meals were often catch as catch can. On this trip, Art’s car leaves camp at 6:30 for whoever is ready to go home, and he sets out breakfast each morning in addition to planning for lunch and dinner. The volunteers can do their work during the day, knowing their meals and transportation will be taken care of.

The volunteers are here for varying lengths of time, from six days to three months. They’re housed in top and bottom apartments on a residential street. Carmen left yesterday for her home in Spain; two hours later Trish arrived from Oregon. By next Thursday three of the four men will be gone - Hannes returns to Germany, Jamie to the UK, and James to Seattle. By then we’ll have a few new arrivals. Each group gathers around the dinner table in the evening, sharing a meal. Once the dishes have been cleaned up at about 9:30, Art and I go to our room and the rest of the group remains at the table, drinking beer or wine and listening to music and laughing and talking. Or they go into Dilesi or Oinofyta. I know my son James is having a great time with this international group. He works hard during the day on the garden planters and benches, and enjoys the active social life in the evening, and sleeps like a rock all night. This is his first exposure to an international population.

The refugee camp itself runs in a state of controlled chaos. Camp manager Lisa and shift supervisors Jess and Ale are on their feet ten hours a day or more seeing to the needs of the residents, planning for enhancements, meeting governmental requirements. This week the volunteers have been building a community garden with a shelter for residents to congregate in comfort outdoors. From the warehouse, residents have received weekly distributions of dry food - lentils, chickpeas, rice, tomato paste, sugar, salt and other basics. And clothing from a thrift shop environment of donations. This week there was a special distribution; every resident received a pair of Crocs. 

Back in February, when 85 children in the camp were to begin attending Greek schools, backpacks were prepared for each with winter garments for a change of clothes. But February came and went; the kids start school next Thursday instead, so the winter clothes in the backpacks have to be changed out for lighter weight spring clothing. And tomorrow, a truck will be coming to our camp to collect items we no longer need here to transport to other camps where they can be put to use. So a team is bagging up the donations from our camp and indicating the contents of the bags. There are about 47 refugee camps in Greece, all of them networked informally.

This morning Trish and I drove to the bakery and to the coffee shop. While I napped this afternoon she and Saraya walked into town. Dilesi has a population of about 2,000. It is not a tourist area, so we’re about the only Americans the locals see. I’d say about 25 percent of the people in town speak some English. We learn good morning and thank you and use a lot of body language and smiles to communicate. We eat fresh-made bread every morning. In spite of the differences here, I note the same birdsong as we have in Arizona - especially the doves. Random dogs lie in the streets, and a few are lifelong car chasers. I remind myself to keep driving straight and ignore them. They’re experts at avoiding the wheels.

The roles Art and I play here at camp are mostly supporting the younger volunteers. It’s a satisfying assignment, though we have relatively little quiet time. I’d like to see people in their 50s and beyond volunteer for Do Your Part at this camp. We don’t have the stamina of the younger people, but we have wisdom and we can be their second-level support. During the day Art does the food shopping for both the volunteers and for the camp. He lays out breakfast at the volunteer house, lunch in the volunteer space at the camp, and dinner at the house again - except for Fridays, when we have pizza at the camp before the camp-wide evening meeting, and Mondays, when we gather as a group at a local restaurant. Mostly during the day I’m in the Do Your Part trailer, watching and listening as I do the bookkeeping - an absorbing job since many of the receipts are in Greek. I have a Greek friend who will come by on Wednesday or Friday of this week to translate the more challenging receipts. Do Your Part is a 501(c)(3) corporation that has grown tenfold in the last year with its presence in the Oinofyta camp.


Camp manager Lisa is in the US for a couple of weeks and she asked me to hold the fort in her absence. But shift managers Jess and Ale do nearly all the work. They know how the camp runs and they know the residents. I think of myself as the camp grandmother and the house mom. I’m comfortable with those roles. Really, it’s about how we can be most useful here, giving our on-the-ground help.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

First day on the job at Oinofyta refugee camp

I get to hold the fort at Oinofyta refugee camp for the two weeks while Lisa, the camp manager, is on a speaking tour in the States. This is my third visit to Oinofyta - I was here for six days last August and two weeks in October.  Now, a month.

I'm pretty familiar with the camp and its operations, but the issues I've been presented with today have all needed to wait for the expertise of Jess and Alee, the shift supervisors. At present Jess is asleep, having driven Lisa to the airport for her 6 a.m. flight and then remained there to help a family that formerly lived here and are now being reunified with family members in Scandinavia. 

Here are the current issues for today awaiting resolution:
  • The volunteers' bathroom has no toilet paper. I asked for some from the warehouse. It took a couple of hours before someone was available to check. Apparently the warehouse is short of toilet paper until sometime next week. One of the other agencies here is responsible for acquiring paper products, and the order isn't expected until the middle of next week. We need to buy enough to last until then - about 200 rolls for volunteer and resident bathrooms - but I don't want to set a precedent if this has not happened before. Still, toilet paper is toilet paper.
  • A couple of doctors donated money to be used for baby wipes. The warehouse needs more. Warehouse manager Alee needs to know how much money is left to use from the donation.
  • Three people successfully reached the asylum office via Skype and they have appointments in Athens tomorrow morning at 7. The agency responsible for transporting them - until the middle of this week, when they will no longer provide the service - will pick them up in the morning, but we don't yet know what time that will be. When we find out, we need to notify those three people. If they miss their asylum interview they won't have another opportunity.
  • The volunteer teaching computer use to the camp's "digital leaders" (five men and five women) is leaving next week. Two people arrived unexpectedly today, with excellent experience and three weeks to give. I'm pretty sure it will be okay but need to wait until Jess wakes up to confirm it.
  • Tools in the wood shop are going missing. We need to find a way to secure them. Volunteer Jamie, who leaves next week, will inventory what we have in a couple of days. 
  • A woman who volunteered at the camp in November would like to spend a few days next month visiting here for a project she's working on in the UK. Again, I'm pretty sure it will be okay but need to confirm it.
  • Tomorrow morning we'll need three cars and three drivers: two to buy a week's worth of food for the camp and for the volunteer house, and one to run a necessary errand in Athens. That will leave fewer volunteers at the camp to handle the ordinary and the extraordinary.
  • The organization in charge of education of the camp's children found out that they may be starting to attend Greek schools on Friday or maybe next week. Whenever it does happen - Greek time is not precise - another organization in residence will be responsible for transporting them. The coordinator of the school is leaving for ten days to attend to business at home in the UK, but she has two competent teachers remaining.
  • Two members of a Greek political party want to be notified when the school date is definite so they can coordinate a welcome for the children. This one I need to check out with Lisa via Facebook chat when her plane lands in Chicago.
  • Several Greek acupuncturists arrived for three hours of service to camp residents and volunteers. I introduced my husband Art and he has an appointment in 20 minutes.
It's now late in the evening. Almost all of the above issues were resolved once Jess woke up in the late afternoon. I am ready for sleep after this day.


Saturday, March 25, 2017

Suitcase adventure

The luggage carousel at the airport in Athens, Greece was empty on Wednesday afternoon, and my large black Travelpro suitcase had not arrived. The airlines have lost my luggage three times before in the last 20 years. We spent our first night in Paris using the toothbrushes and T-shirts provided by KLM because the one checked bag got left behind in Amsterdam. The wayward bag arrived too late that evening for us to retrieve our alarm clock, resulting in our missing our first group tour the next morning. We spent our first night on the Big Island of Hawaii in the underwear we traveled in because our checked bag was still on Oahu. And once, from some point on the east coast, we went to Seattle and our luggage went to Baltimore.

So this empty luggage carriage carousel in Athens was not new. I took my concern to the Missing Suitcases Desk (hereafter referred to as the MSD). The man at the desk said, "Are you sure it's not on the carousel?" I said yes but he sent a Suitcase Desk person to make sure. "No, it's not there." The Desk Man took my claim ticket and filled out a report. "We don't know where your bag is right now because this computer is not hooked up to a network. But in two hours we will know where it is. You should have your suitcase by tomorrow evening." Then he said, "I see you are at the Oinofyta refugee camp. We cannot deliver your bag there. We will deliver it to the Schimatari bus station and you can retrieve it there." Now we need your phone number so we can call you. I gave him the Greek number of Lisa, the manager of the camp.

The next day, Thursday, there was no call on Lisa's phone from the MSD. Lisa was anxious about that, because within the suitcase were the eight bags of MacCafe coffee she'd asked me to buy, and she only had three tablespoons left in the bottom of her last bag. The suitcase also contained three double bags of beef jerky, a box of Payday bars, 12 plastic clipboards, a box of black sharpies. a box of dry erase markers in assorted colors, four packs of lined three-by-five index cards, a dozen crochet hooks in various sizes, three felt hand puppets, three European electrical adapters, my bathrobe, and ten plastic hangers.

Friday morning Lisa said, "The Missing Suitcase Desk called. You can pick up your suitcase at the Schimatari bus station. It will be there at 9:30."

Friday turned out to be a busy day. Lisa and I didn't set off for the bus station until nearly 3. We turned left into the intersection, making our cautious way past the two cars in a just-happened fender bender. We found the bus station - a tiny building with a waiting area. I went to the window. It was closed. A sign in Greek provided indecipherable information. Lisa paced on the sidewalk, berating the airlines and the bus system.

I put on my helpless grandma face and approached an older man in a red plaid shirt. "English?" He shook his head. I pointed at the window, pantomimed lifting a suitcase and pointed at the building. The man shook his head again. I saw another local man. "English?" "A little." I raised my arms in exultation. The man smiled. I said, "What does the sign say." "It says the office closes at 3." It was 3:10. The man added, "Tomorrow is a holiday, so the office will be open on Monday morning."

Now I started to pace. "What can I do?" The man said, "You can come back at 4:30. Someone will be here to open the door."

Lisa was still venting her frustration at the airlines. "They should be delivering that suitcase to our door, TO OUR DOOR! That is terrible customer service!" She had been talking to herself, but now she was addressing the man who was trying to help me.

"Linda, we have things to do at camp. Have Art come back with you at 4:15. Be here in plenty of time because you never know with this Greek system." I thanked my helper as I turned to follow Lisa to our car.

Art and I left camp at 4. The fender bender in the intersection looked just the same except now there was a police car in the intersection as well. We parked just up the street from the bus station and waited. Sure enough, at 4:30 a bus pulled up and a man got out. He came into the waiting area and pointed a remote at the roll-up door. Nothing happened. He pointed again. Nothing happened. He shrugged his shoulders and turned to leave. I said, "My suitcase is in there." He shrugged his shoulders again, walked back to the bus, and it drove off.

I stood on the sidewalk, disbelieving. The older man in the red plaid shirt I'd seen earlier came up and gestured his sympathy. Then he called across the street. "Taxi", and the driver of the second cab at the taxi stand got out of his vehicle and walked across to us. Red Plaid Shirt spoke to Taxi Driver in Greek. Taxi Driver said, "I speak English." I told him my story as Red Plaid Shirt walked away, up the sidewalk. Taxi Driver said, "He is going to the shop up the street for another remote device and also a mechanical device to open the door if the remote device does not work."

Five minutes later, Red Plaid Shirt was back. We went into the waiting room. Red Plaid Shirt pointed the remote. The door cracked open. Pointed the remote, the door closed. Pointed the remote. The door opened a little further. Taxi Driver took the device, jimmied the door a bit, then forced it open manually. I could see my suitcase through the swinging door inside. "Mine", I said. Indeed. my suitcase has a fluorescent green tag that proclaims "Mine!" I retrieved my bag. "Many thanks," I said to Red Plaid Shirt. He smiled and held out his hand. I gave him a hug and kissed him on both cheeks instead. I said to Taxi Driver, "You are a GREAT Taxi Driver!" I took both his hands and said, "Many thanks to you."

Art put the suitcase in the trunk of our car and we returned to the camp.

Lisa was very glad to get the coffee!