In two days my husband Art and I will leave Oinofyta, the refugee camp where we have been volunteering for the last 31 days. We'll take a ferry to the Greek island of Tinos, where we'll relax and recuperate for a week before flying home to Seattle.
So it's time to say goodbye. Again.
In Dilesi, the village on the Aegean where we live, I'll say goodbye and thanks to "the Pakistani guy" who runs the minimarket and patiently installs every data chip I need for my phone without asking for my passport every time. He knows I'm part of Lisa's team. I may stop at Katarina's restaurant and say thanks to her and her family who have welcomed us several times a week for an excellent Greek meal. I'll stop by the coffee place where they knew my drink (cappucino fredo with a sprinkle of chocolate) after three days.
At camp, we've been invited for lunch again by Amir, who lives in tent 49. He's from Iran and speaks very little English, but he's fed me three times in the last month. We sit on a blanket on the floor of his tent as he brings us bowls of food with high fives. He shows me pictures of his wife and son on his phone. He tells me his story. He was a trainer in the Iranian army, but he's not a Muslim, so he had to leave.
I'll have a chat with Elias, a welder in Afghanistan and also here in Greece. I met him first when he came to see if his glasses were ready. An optometric group was here at camp just before we arrived last month. Over a hundred pairs of glasses were ordered for residents, and Elias' were late. He came after work every day for a week to ask if they had arrived. When they did come, he thanked me with face lit up when I handed them to him - as though I'd made them for him personally. Yesterday he brought a finished piece of artwork to show me: a peacock made from rolled paper. A truly unique, beautiful creation.
I'll exchange a handshake with Esmatulla, an older man who returned from Serbia recently with his family. When he sees me he says, "I am fine, how are you?" and then he laughs, knowing he's deliberately delivering a backward greeting.
I'll kiss several women (left cheek, right cheek, left cheek) as I give them a hug and say, "Salam". I have had conversations with them, and we all remember.
At least half a dozen residents will knock on the door of our office trailer for one reason or another - a noisy neighbor, maybe, or a pair of shoes they really need from the warehouse even if it's not their day to shop, or a request for an extra room because, after all, they have a large family, or to ask whether mail has come for them from their sister in Switzerland. I may need to ask them to find a translator or I may be able to figure it out on my own using gestures and a smile. They may not know we are leaving, but that will be all right. I will carry their faces along with me anyway.
I'll probably hug or shake hands with the volunteers who are staying on, thanking them for the great gift of their time and talents.
I'll visit Oinofyta Wares one more time and maybe buy another of their custom bags, the kind with a long shoulder strap. I'll say goodbye to Sam, our long-term volunteer who runs the enterprise, and tell her to go home by 8 p.m. every night before she wears herself out - even though I know she'll ignore me.
I'll find Lisa. She'll be in the office, or in the computer lab, or in the shade space smoking a cigarette with her phone in her hand. I'll tell her we're leaving and she'll make an ironic comment of some kind and she may get a little teary eyed. I will tell her how grateful I am for this piece of my life and she will thank me for what I am doing, and we will probably not hug, but we will both know how it is to work together and to know each other. And tomorrow I'll greet her on Facebook in the morning and the evening, as I have done for months, and she'll tell me she doesn't have time to chat, or maybe she'll vent a little about the aggravations that come along with the job she's doing. And, once again, I will say, "Art and I will come back if you need us." And she will say, "That's good to know."
And then we'll drive across the dirt and gravel grounds as children stand gleefully in our path or reach their hands through the car window. We'll wave at the half dozen men standing at the gate, only this time we won't say, "See you tomorrow."
Because it's goodbye again.
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