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.