Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Bag Lady reflects on "Not Greece"

It is 37 degrees this morning here in Tucson. I set the alarm for 7:20 because my handbell choir is playing at today's nondenominational service at the RV resort where we live in the winter. We begin our setup at 8:00 and have a quick rehearsal. By 8:45 I'm home for breakfast, ready to return for the service in an hour.

I am grateful to be able to spend the winter in a sunny place. Chilly mornings are not too common here, and I bought a fleece vest through LLBean last week, so I get to enjoy the bracing air and not shiver.

And, this morning, I am reflecting.
  • In the last 18 months I went to Greece four times to volunteer at the Oinofyta refugee camp: for six days, then two weeks, then a month, then five weeks. My mind is full of memories and I have been enriched beyond imagining by those journeys. The camp was closed on November 3 by the Greek government, and Do Your Part, the American nonprofit I'm affiliated with, still has a presence in Greece as it supervises Oinofyta Wares, the business begun by the refugees in the camp and then moved to a nearby town. The business will provide jobs for nearly a dozen families as they begin their integration into Greek life. Do Your Part is also developing a community center in that same Greek town, so that former Oinofyta residents can gather and learn. I serve on the Do Your Part board, so I am still busy at home, but my work is mostly done alone, at my computer, as I maintain the accounting for the agency and assure our compliance with various governmental agencies. Not as interesting, but necessary.
August 2016

August 2016 - photo by Jenean Campos
August 2017
  • Now I am not planning another trip to Greece. When people ask me when I am going back, I say, "I have no idea, but probably never." And it is this "Not Greece" thing that occupies my mind sometimes. It is a sad thing. For a year and a half it was Greece all the time, whether I was there or at home. It was relationships and friendships established and nurtured. It was personal challenges and growth. I spoke at several events - at my church and at our winter home. Ordinarily a decent conversationalist, I was pretty much a one-topic talker. These days I can talk about handbells, or the play I'm rehearsing, or the volunteer work I'm doing in Tucson to help people at risk of deportation - or whatever the other person brings up.
  • In 2001 I trained for the Breast Cancer Three-Day event - months of preparation for three days of 20-mile walks. I was focused on wicking shirts and underwear and socks, custom orthotics for my New Balance walking shoes, and my training schedule. For four months. The only people who were remotely interested in talking to me were other Three-Dayers. No one else in my world "got it". I wrote 92 personal letters to raise the $1,800 required for participation in the walk. The weekend of the walk there was a heat wave in Seattle, and I ended up in the hospital with heat exhaustion - alongwith 200 other walkers. I walked only two of the three days. But I remember that whole experience as a marker in my life. 
  • It's the same with Greece. And now, Not Greece. I am in regular contact with others who have volunteered, at Oinofyta and other sites in Greece. They are from the US and Canada, the UK and Spain and Portugal and Switzerland. Some of them are still there, some have come home for a few months, or for the last time. We talk online about how it feels to be home in body but still in Greece otherwise, and how isolating and lonely it sometimes feels. How hard it is to get back to "normal life", and how we wonder if we will ever feel normal in that normal life - or content with it.

Lunch spot

Volunteer haircuts

  • And I remain in contact with a number of refugees, as they await family reunification elsewhere in Europe ("It should happen by January...but maybe not.") or begin jobs or school in Greece while they wait for their asylum interview. A few of them call me their American mother.

  • I pay attention to what's happening with the refugees in Europe - a few good things, but mostly not good. And I now work with people in a similar situation on the border of my own country. I am meeting people who have that same commitment, and that helps me feel like I'm part of something bigger than me. 
  • And, at home, I settle into my "normal" life and my too-busy calendar. 
It's Not Greece.

I just read this blog post to my husband Art, who accompanied me on my two monthlong trips. When I finished, I said, "Do you relate to this?" 

He said, "Oh, yeah."


Linda Reeder said...

Linda, you do much good wherever you are, but I'm hearing in your "voice" that it is the individual people you have let into your heart that you are missing so greatly. I'm sure they miss you too, their "American mother".

Meryl Baer said...

You are an inspiration to all, and I understand why the people you work with love you and the refugees you helped consider you a part of their family. You have gone above and beyond. Bless you.

Arkansas Patti said...

Hard to imagine that your are not going to Greece again but it makes perfect sense that you are putting energy into the problems we have right here on our own borders. You go girl.

Janette said...

You are doing what we were told to do. Use your gifts where you are planted for the time being. There is SO much you can do in the Tucson area- Native issues, migrant issues, land issues, transient issues. They would all be delighted to have you on board. Otherwise, rest and renewal are well deserved. You two did some very intense work! Thank you for your service.

Olga Hebert said...

You are one who lives out her passions where ever they may take you. I admire you so much! And I especially admire that you are attuned to and willing to follow your spirit in big ways (your involvement that took you to Greece so many times) or perhaps in smaller, but no less important ways.

DJan said...

I understand that feeling of defining one's life in a series of events that changes its trajectory. I must not have known you back in 2001 when you embarked on the three-day challenge. I'm so glad you did that, and Greece, and all the other things you do that make life better for so many others. :-)

Starting Over, Accepting Changes - Maybe said...

The world is a better place because of people like you.

Madeline Kasian said...

In Tucson, you are not far from Mexico where many small villages also need help.I know there are many church and lay groups who go on missions and bring food,clothing, and medical assistance. I wonder if being a missionary in some small way is your calling, and you're missing it!! Not religious, but just a "helper".. when we have such luxury here in the states it is hard to reconcile that with what you have seen in your travels...

Roberta Warshaw said...

Here in Tucson there is a group called "The Samaritans". They go out into the desert with a local artist named Alvaro Enciso. He builds crosses and they place them wherever someone died crossing the Sonoran desert. In the last 10 years over 3000 people have perished. Just another idea for you,

Linda Myers said...

Thanks! I went to one of their meetings in December.

Friko said...

I absolutely take my hat off to you. You and others like you give me hope that perhaps mankind still values other things besides money and power.