Thursday, September 20, 2018

Happy birthday to me

A couple of years ago I thought about getting a tattoo. I was serving at a refugee camp full of Afghans, and I thought a good way to honor them and the experience would be to get a kite tattoo. I looked around a little online, but I didn't find exactly the right thing. And I wasn't sure where I wanted the tattoo. Actually, I wanted it on my foot, but I'd been told that's a painful place. I asked my hairdresser in Tucson and friends here in Washington where I should get my tattoo. They all had their favorite artists. I pondered, but didn't take action.

Then, in July, my sister Alyx decided to get her first tattoo. She has chickens at her place, and she wanted to incorporate her love for them in a tattoo. She set up an appointment at Slave to the Needle, a reputable place in Seattle. I decided to go with her to see what it was like.

It was interesting! The tattoo artist, Lance, took Alyx's initial design and put it on his iPad. He made a few small modifications. When she approved, he made a stencil of the design. During her session, he applied the stencil to her upper arm. Then he traced the stencil with the ink needles.

Here's Alyx's tattoo:


A few days later, Alyx sent me a sample of a tattoo that was a world map. She said when she saw it, she said, "This is Linda's heart." I've taken 65 trips since I quit work eight years ago, so she was pretty right. We looked at a few designs together, and I made an appointment with Lance for September 11.

I'd hoped Alyx could come with me for my session, but she had to work. So I asked my friend and former business partner, Lillian, if she would come, and she said yes.

As before, Lance sat with me to apply the finishing touches to the design I'd chosen. Instead of an airplane, I wanted a heart in the sky, since I travel for love.

Here are the pictures Lillian took of my session:




It's been nine days since I got my tattoo. People ask if I am going to get any more, and I say no. They ask if I'm going to do anything more to this one. I think I might have the heart/plane colored red, but that's it.

Today I am 70 years old. I am glad I got the tattoo as a birthday gift to myself. 

Also for my birthday, I sent a check for a friend so she could travel from Greece to Italy. She will be the support for another friend who is giving a TEDx talk in Italy on October 6. I'm grateful for both of the friends and for the fact that I can afford to buy the ticket.

My day was just perfect. I got about 60 birthday wishes from Facebook friends. I met my friend/niece Colleen at Starbucks in Kenmore for a three-hour catchup conversation. Then I met my friend Vicki at Starbucks in Mountlake Terrace for another long talk. I don't often go to Starbucks except to meet up with friends. Then I had a great phone conversation with my friend Joan in Arizona. When I got home at 5 p.m. my husband Art was fixing dinner. And after dinner, for the first time in absolutely ages, I had a bowl of vanilla Haagen-Dazs ice cream with chocolate fudge syrup on top.

Colleen asked me what my goal in life is now. I said, "To use the gifts that have been given to me as well as I can, for as long as I am able."

It's odd. I've been almost dreading this birthday for six months. It's a pretty big number. But when I woke up this morning, my first thought was, "I have arrived."

How cool is that?

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

About Greece: What the Bag Lady learned this time

I've been home for six days. I try to allow myself a little time to reflect before I write the final post in a travel experience. Here's what I learned:

1. I don't pay attention to where I'm going if someone else is driving. I have been to the village of Dilesi five times in the last two years, for a total of about ten weeks. But on the day I drove to the team house from the community center, I got lost. There are no street signs, and I could not find the right turn to the street leading to our house. I turned around and came back the other way. I still couldn't find it. I had to drive about five miles up the road, toward the camp at Oinofyta, and turn the car around, to find a street that looked familiar.

See, when I'm just the passenger I don't pay attention to landmarks. Now I know the street going to the team house is right after the butcher shop, and the street coming from the team house is right before the butcher shop. It was really kind of scary to be so lost. I wondered if I was losing it.

2. I love an excuse to eat fresh bread and feta cheese. When I travel I don't maintain my Weight Watchers discipline. It's a nice break. I think the perfect lunch in Greece is bread and cheese and fresh fruit. Really fresh fruit, bought from the produce stand across the street from the bakery and the coffee place. Like grapes and peaches. So good!


3. I am not a seafood fan, but I have learned to love fried calamari. Especially when I'm eating it at a little table ten feet from the Aegean Sea. And I have identified my perfect Greek salad: fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, oil, olives, and feta. No peppers, no onions. I think I had a Greek salad more than half a dozen times in my two weeks there - usually with a skewer or two of chicken.

4. In my neighborhood at home, dogs are required to be leashed when they're on the street. Not so in Dilesi. Dogs run singly or in packs, and some of them chase cars or people. One of the Do Your Part volunteers, Sara, went for a run one morning. She was approached and harassed by three dogs, one of which bit her. She found out later that people do run for exercise, but they're mostly tourists, because the residents know better. I also heard that if you're going to run, you should carry rocks and throw them toward the dogs. Quite a wild way to get exercise, I'd say.

5. On this trip my work was much easier. Do Your Part is in a community center five miles from the camp, and residents come in our van to the community center. Whether they're coming for food distribution, or clothes for babies, or to see the medical team, or just for some respite time, there are rarely more than 20 people visiting.

When we worked inside the Oinofyta camp last year, it was among several hundred residents. Outside the container we used as an office there were often people waiting to see the camp manager. Maybe they needed to make a copy of their ID card, or maybe they wanted a cooking pot as large as their neighbor since they had more people in their family than their neighbor did. If we had administrative things to attend to - like the accounting, in my case - we had very little uninterrupted time.

6. The camp residents this time were mostly Kurds from Syria. The language was a challenge because they speak Kurdish and we had only a couple of people who could translate for us. Last year, nearly everyone was Afghan, and there were a number of residents who could translate from Farsi. Sometimes body language just isn't enough. There were a few times I had to shake my head and shrug my shoulders; I didn't have any idea what was being said to me.

7. If you hold a baby for half an hour while their mother is choosing baby clothes, your arms get tired. At least mine did. Still, it was a lovely, lovely experience.

8. The Greek friends you made last year give you a hug when they see you: the Pakistani guy, the pharmacist, the restaurant owner. Sometimes they say, "Hello. Did you bring your husband with you?" Art says that's because Greek is a patriarchal culture, but I'm pretty sure it's because he's a nice guy. And one of your Greek friends calls a friend who drives a taxi, who calls another friend who drives a taxi, to pick me up at 3:30 a.m. for an hour-long trip to the airport. And checks to make sure the taxi arrives. Maria, you rock!

9. If you take the train to Athens to visit your friend Nasar, and he tells you to "Get off at Larisa Station", and the end of the line says "Athens", and you get off. And Nasar is not there, and you don't have any internet service to find him, and you wonder if you should just get on the next train and go home. But then he shows up, and you have a great afternoon. And the meal Nasar serves you was prepared by a friend of his in his camp, and the friend used to be the chef for the President of Afghanistan. And you meet that friend and another friend, and you feel honored that Nasar has asked you to spend time with him.

Nasar and me
I was asked to go to Greece this time so I could see what Do Your Part is doing now. I saw that we are still serving the refugee population, still caring, still doing our part, with a little help from our friends.

Or a lot.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Living differently

When I travel l usually notice the differences first. Terrain, you know, or traffic, or street signs, or food. The similarities are always there, too. We are all the same under the skin, after all, with the same basic needs, no matter where in the world we live.

When I am volunteering at Do Your Part, I live in the village of Dilesi. It’s about 45 miles north of Athens on the main road to northern Greece. You take the Oinofyta offramp and, after about three miles on the frontage road, turn right for three miles or so, mostly traveling downhill, passing olive grooves and brushy hills. You can see the Aegean Sea from the top of the hill as you begin the descent. Dilesi is right at the edge of the sea. It’s got a population of about 2,000.

The Do Your Part team house is two stacked apartments, each with two bedrooms, one bathroom, a kitchen and a living area. It’s not really a residence, though. It’s more where the volunteers sleep. No internet, no TV. Of the five times I’ve been here, I’ve only stayed once in the downstairs apartment.That was in April of 2017. My husband Art and I shared the place with five or six other volunteers, most of them far younger than us. After dinner, we’d go to our room and the rest of the roommates would stay up late, talking and laughing. The rest of the times I’ve been upstairs with Lisa, the Do Your Part project manager. It’s pretty quiet upstairs, and that’s fine with me. Art and I have eight children between us - now all grown - so noise is not particularly bothersome. But sharing one small bathroom with half a dozen young people is hard.




It surprises me how much trouble I have living without the internet. I take it for granted at home, available for research or work or reading the news or taking care of finances. Here I have to wait until we’re at the community center - from 10 a.m to about 6:00 p.m. I suppose I ought to feel freed up to read or write, but I’m not there yet. Lisa pays $10 a day to use her American phone here with all its services. If I had that option I don’t think I’d be willing to pay such a high cost. I could buy a Greek phone, but I don’t want to spend the money on a smartphone and I’m klutzy with the simpler ones. So I do without a phone.

I guess it sounds like I’m whining. I probably am. These are clearly first-world problems.

There is a simplicity to living here, though. I can pick up fresh bread at the bakery in the morning, and a cappuccino right next door to the bakery, and fresh produce right across the street. I can walk to any number of restaurants or snack shops in the village. There’s a pharmacy where I can buy meds that require a prescription in the US but not here.

Because the weather is warm and dry now, I’m not bothered by arthritis aches and pains or asthma. That’s a good thing!

Days at the community center are rich and varied. Right now, for example, about eight moms (Syrian Kurds who had to leave their homes in Afrin) are knitting or painting their nails while they chat. Their small children, 15 or so in number up to about age five,  are sitting around a table working puzzles and playing with dolls and pushing a pretend baby in a stroller. All just about exactly what a similar group of women and kids would be doing where I live in Washington State. Except these community center visitors live in tents or makeshift rooms at Oinofyta camp. We will take them back soon in Do Your Part's red van. It will take two runs from the community center.

Yesterday the volunteers put together food packets for the pregnant and nursing moms: a can of tuna, a can of milk, a pack of raisins, three pieces of fresh fruit, and three eggs. We took them to the camp gate and the women came out to meet us.



Other days this week we had a volunteer group of medical people spend the afternoon at the community center tending to camp residents. There is no medical presence at the camp, so Do Your Part is providing the space for the docs to do their work. There were a few prescriptions written, so volunteers took them to the local pharmacy to be filled and then delivered them to the camp.



Last Saturday most of the volunteers spent the day cleaning a fire-ravaged house in the municipality of Rafina, where rapidly spreading brush fires killed over 80 people. Do Your Part is a disaster recovery organization so our services were offered to the mayor of Rafina and he accepted. On Saturday night three of us - Executive Director Lisa, community center supervisor Samim, and me  - attended a meal of the Fisherman's Club, where we presented five people with grants to help them rebuild their businesses. The money had been donated by another volunteer agency, but Lisa was asked to present the grants.





Most of the time I am working on the accounting for Do Your Part, sitting quietly at a table near the center of the action.



The other volunteers work their hearts out, cleaning and planning activities and lesson plans. I am lucky to be part of this international group, from Syria, Afghanistan, Israel, USA, Italy, Finland, and Iran.



I am planning to fly home on Wednesday, five days from now. Back to my other life, where I live differently.