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. 

6 comments:

Terra Hangen said...

That sounds like a great experience and I can see why you return.

Janette said...

Amazing- no other words hit it.

DJan said...

It had to be both a very hard trip but also very rewarding in so many ways. I am not surprised at how stressful it was, but I sure am glad you are home and ready to experience the wonderful Pacific Northwest summer. Or are you still in Tucson? Either way, it's not a refugee camp! :-)

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

I love your "what I learned" posts. I need to think about what I am learning these days....

Dee said...

Dear Linda, this second posting of yours that I've read is as fascinating as the first. I remember several years ago when you posted about taking classes in mediation and how you would use that skill among families here in the United States. And now you have been to Greece and used it to help those in great need in a refugee camp. How meaningful that must be.

Being there had to be rewarding but so stressful also. So I'm thinking that you are glad to be home again. I'm wondering if you will return to the camp again this year or next.

The learning part of this posting prompts me to really think about what I'm learning as I journey this year through health issues. Thank you for your honesty. I hope it prompts the same in me. Peace.

joared said...

Fascinating reading of your personal insights and assessments of your experience.