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!

Saturday, March 18, 2017


The end of our winter season is usually busy, but it's been especially so this year. I spent a lot of time as associate producer of the Voyager Theatre Company's "Evening of One-Act Plays", which played on March 9 and 10.

In the meantime, paperwork piled up: bank statements to balance, medical expenses to submit for reimbursement, homeowner renewal policy to take care of, and saying goodbye to friends.

There was also work "Getting Ready to Fly to Seattle for Three Days". We have a son graduating from nursing school on Monday night, and 14 family members gathering for a celebration dinner on Sunday night. One of our daughters will be staying with us for two days. The graduate initially want pot roast but changed his mind and decided on prime rib! That size cut of meat is a special order.

There was also "Giving a Talk about Volunteering at a Refugee Camp in Greece at an end-of-season potluck attended by about 60 people." That happened the day before yesterday.

Not to mention the "Getting Ready to Leave for Greece on Tuesday."

And the "Welcoming the Friend Keeping Company with our Designer Cat While We're Gone for Six Weeks." The friend is fun but the "Clearing Out Space and Putting All the Stuff Lying Around Into Bins" is not.

I am sitting at the Tucson airport waiting to board our plane home. It is 85 degrees. When we get back here on May 8, it will probably be 100. We'll stay for a couple of weeks, close up our park model for the summer, wrangle our cat into her travel bag and fly to Seattle, which will have long, long days and sun by then.

I don't like having "Write the Blog Post" on a to-do list, but it's the last item I'll cross off.

I plan to sleep on the three-hour plane ride. And take a long bath tonight.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The play's the thing

My Arizona winter has been different from what I expected, because of The Play.

For the last two winters, my husband Art has been in the cast of a musical at the Voyager RV Resort, where we live from November to April. "Guys and Dolls" was his first foray into the magical world of theatre. He played a gambler, and he was hooked. Last year he was cast in a lead role in "Oklahoma!" During both seasons, his theatre participation came first in our planning. I was entirely supportive; at age 72 Art had found a new passion.

I stayed out of "Guys and Dolls", busy with my own activities. For "Oklahoma!" I was responsible for ticket sales. Fourteen volunteers sold 900 tickets at a makeshift box office open three days a week from January to March.

This year's musical was to be "Anything Goes," and Art was cast last spring in a minor role. He worked on his lines and the music for three months. Then, on September 1, the director and producer sent an email saying the musical was being cancelled. "It would have been easier if we had known last spring what we know today, but we didn't."

I was the one who read the email to Art. I was so not okay with his disappointment, and, undoubtedly, with that of the other 19 cast members, that I called Deanna, the producer, and asked what had happened. After a couple of conversations, she decided to give theatre at the Voyager another shot.

In early November Deanna and I - wearing my mediator hat - had a meeting with the former "Anything Goes" cast to see what, if anything, could be done. We realized there were too many missing pieces to do the musical. Instead, the group decided to present four one-act plays, which would provide all "Anything Goes" people with a theatre opportunity for this year. It wasn't a musical, but it was an on-stage experience. We would call ourselves the Voyager Theatre Company.

So, for this year, I was the "associate producer." As producer, Deanna carried the vision and the strategy and the responsibility. She also directed two of the four one-act plays. I was responsible for supporting Deanna in whatever she needed done: liaison with the Activities Office for scheduling rooms and display flyers and access to the light and sound booth; editing various flyers and the playbill; writing the checks and maintaining the books. And for listening to whoever needed to be heard. And, for "An Evening of One-Act Plays" which happens this Thursday and Friday, I'll be backstage - making sure everyone's mics are turned on and off at the correct times, cueing the actors of the four plays, and communicating by walkie-talkie with the production booth. All of these assignments are new to me; nearly 50 years ago I performed in four musicals and a play, and directed one high school play. I am a self-proclaimed lifelong learner, but the backstage stuff later this week freaks me out a little. I will have to be okay with whatever mistakes I make.

Art, meanwhile, plays a method actor called "Romeo," in full Shakespearean garb, wig and mustache.

We don't know yet what will be happening next season. It will depend on what kind of interest there is among Voyager residents. We will know that next Monday. I know I will not be involved next year. This is Art's thing, after all.

I am looking forward to the closing curtain on Friday night, when I get my life back. I remember feeling exactly this same way 50 years ago.

But, for now, The Play's the Thing.

One Act #1: Saint Joseph

One Act #2: Riverview, Tape 23

One Act #3: One Question

One Act #4: Bad Auditions by Bad Actors

The Directors

The Crew

The Voyager Theatre Company