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.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Greece: Getting there, Settling in

For me, the journey begins when we pull out of the driveway. On Tuesday, August 21, the drive to Sea-tac was unexpectedly smooth. In my daypack I carried my laptop, a portable prenatal ultrasound machine purchased with money from Go Fund Me donations, my passport and travel belt, three pairs of glasses and my meds; in my carry-on, my clothes for the two-week trip; in Checked Bag #1 (free on Lufthansa), the rest of the durable medical equipment that had been donated, plus a few gifts for Do Your Part team member. In Hopefully To Be Checked Bag #2, disposable medical supplies, also donated, and a remote-controlled car for the children of the Do Your Part community center. If I couldn't persuade the ticket agent to allow both checked bags for free, my husband would take the second bag home.

I told the ticket agent I was an aid worker at a refugee camp in Greece and both my checked bags contained medical equipment and supplies (80 percent true), but that I couldn't pay $100 for the second checked bag. He said he wouldn't charge me for the second bag! I kissed my husband Art goodbye. He left for the parking lot and I for the S gates.

International Departures gate S15 felt like I was already gone. I waited in line with several hundred travelers, most of whom were probably returning to their own countries, because I heard very few people speaking English. Or French or Spanish, the only other languages I recognize.

After a nine-hour flight to Frankfurt, I got my exercise for the day in a dash from my international flight (left Seattle an hour late due to smoky skies from fires in British Columbia and Eastern Washington), onto a bus which moved WAY too slowly to Terminal A, through passport control which moved WAY too slowly even though the line was short, down a LONG corridor (went under the runway, probably), through the duty-free section in Terminal B. Boarded my second flight right after I wiped off my sweaty face with my shirt! Talk about sophisticated traveling! However, I was relieved to note that I was not winded. No smoky skies today in Germany to aggravate my asthma.

On my flight from Frankfurt to Athens, I took too many bags on board: my CPAP, my carry-on, and my daypack. I didn't know I'd broken the rule for Lufthansa flights within Europe, since I'd been in compliance for the international segment. As the flight attendant told me about the rule, I listened with respect, explained what had happened and said I'd remember next time. Then she put my carryon in an overhead bin in business class because, she said, I had listened and heard her instead of complaining. I told her about this trip and, a few minutes later, she brought me a bag full of toys the airline keeps for kids! Wiebke is now my Facebook friend.

I arrived in Athens on schedule, but because of the short time in Frankfurt between flights, my checked bags were still in Germany. I almost expected it. I left my contact information with the Lost Baggage Specialists and met up with Lisa and Samim of Do Your Part, waiting for me just outside.

We made a brief stop at the Community Center for me to meet the other volunteers and take a quick tour of the facility, as well as change the time on my laptop and connect it to the internet. 



I was taken to the team house in Dilesi. I made a supreme effort to stay awake as long as possible but it was 8:45 p.m. (10:45 a.m. in Seattle) when I lay down in my bed. I heard a loud crack. Got up to turn out the light and lay down in bed. The frame broke completely and I accompanied the mattress six inches to the tile floor. I thought, "Well, I'm not THAT heavy!" I had slept in this same bed last summer just fine. I was tired enough that it didn't matter.


Sunday, August 19, 2018

What the Bag Lady learned this week

I'm leaving for Greece in two days, so I've had a week of odds and ends. Still, I learn.

1. If you ask people to help you with a project, they will come through.
  • Eleven friends and family donated $750 to buy catheters for a disabled girl at a refugee camp in Athens. I am taking 90 of those catheters with me and holding the remaining money for her future needs. Thank you Marilyn and Ginger from my church, Shelley and Ellen and Dee and Pete and Phyllis from our winter home, Linda and Karen from our summer home, Bonnie and Elaine who are travelers we have hosted, my cousin Joe and his Kathie.
  • I have a refugee friend who asked me to bring a radio-controlled car so he could play with the kids at the Oinofyta camp. It was outside my budget so I asked Buy Nothing Brier, a Facebook community where I live, if anyone had one they could give me. Jennifer lives across the street from the library and she left one for me on a shelf in her carport. I have never met Jennifer.
2. People will offer help even if you don't ask
  • My friend Craig offered to set up a Go Fund Me page to buy a prenatal ultrasound machine for the Hellenic Midwives, who come to the community center near the Oinofyta camp every other week. The ultrasound has arrived at my house. Through Craig's fundraiser, 30 donors paid for the machine and provided an additional $1,000, which will be used to buy supplemental food for pregnant and nursing women at the camp. 
Thank you Craig and Eric and Marilyn and Vicky and Barb and Pam and Ginny from my church, Mer and Jim and Bob from our winter home, Vicki from our summer home, sister-in-law Mary and daughter Melissa, Ed who got us to go to Africa, Chelsey who volunteered with me last year, Meryl and Gene and Kathy and Linda from my blog, five people I don't know, and seven people named Anonymous!
  • My friend Lillian introduced me to her friend Jean, who's a doctor. On Thursday Jean and Lillian and I went to Seattle Surgical Supply, and Jean spent two hours choosing durable medical equipment being donated by her friend Jared, who works at the place.
  • My blogging friend Nancy, who lives in Minnesota, sent me a blood pressure monitor and stethoscope she no longer uses. I didn't even ask! And my snowbird friend JoAnne sent me diabetic supplies, with a check tucked into the box. 
  • Four other friends mailed me checks! Thank you to Sophie and Rick and Denise and my friend Barbara whom I last saw over 45 years ago when we were both young Army wives living on Fort Bliss in El Paso.
When I fly to Greece on Tuesday, I will take all of you with a grateful heart. You are amazing.

3. If you go with your sister Alyx to get her first tattoo, it gives you enough familiarity and courage to make an appointment for your own, next month. It will probably look something like this:


I would like to put it on my foot, but I'm told that would hurt. So it will go on my shoulder.

4. If you clean out your refrigerator and remove the crisper, it is sometimes hard to see how to put it back together again.  

5. If you don't mind being the oldest person in the store, you can buy five oversized, comfy shirts at Old Navy for $63. 

6. If you have two comforters that have been in a bin in the guest room closet for eight years, you can take a picture of them and post them on Buy Nothing Brier and two people will think they are just right for their own homes and pick them up from your front porch.

7. You're glad to hear from your grown son even when he calls to tell you his work truck needs a new transmission. 

8. You really can wash your Merino shoes in the kitchen sink.

9. The pencil marks left by little girls on the guest room duvet come out when you wash it.

10. I can pack in my head without even taking out a suitcase.  Good to know!  

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Amazing generosity - part 2

My friend Lisa Campbell, the project manager for Do Your Part in Greece, posted this today:

"We have exciting news to share!!!!

Last Wednesday, we were able to start a new service for the pregnant women of the Oinofyta Camp! We have partnered with the Hellenic Midwives Association to come to the Community Center to provide prenatal care for the many pregnant women. This is huge since there still isn't a permanent daily medical presence in the camp. We were able to create a separate space for private exams.
Their first visit was a huge success! We are looking forward to their bi-monthly visits."

I wrote in my last blog post that the Hellenic midwives are in dire need of a portable ultrasound machine for their work with the women. And that my friend Craig had said he thought money could be raised for such a cause.

Craig has set up a Go Fund Me page for that purpose. If you're interested in helping out, you can do that at https://www.gofundme.com/portable-digital-ultrasound-scanner.

Here's what the machine looks like:



My plan is to take this machine with me to Greece on August 21, along with six boxes of catheters for the disabled girl. I will order those catheters tomorrow from a Canadian supplier.

You know I'm not usually a seeker of funds, but this project is close to my heart and I want to share it. Thanks to any of you for your generosity.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Amazing generosity as I prepare for Greece

I'm leaving for Greece on August 21 and returning on September 6. This will be my fifth trip to volunteer for Do Your Part. But I expect it to be quite different.

Last summer the Oinofyta camp was open, a community for about 400 refugees, most of them from Afghanistan with a few from Pakistan and Iran. The camp had a school, a computer lab, an exercise room, a women's space, a kitchen, even a soccer field. Do Your Part distributed food and sundries and multiple volunteer agencies provided other kinds of support.

The camp was closed by the government in November. The volunteer agencies were given four days to vacate. The residents were bused to apartments in Athens or to other camps.

In March, Oinofyta reopened. This time it was to house vulnerable refugees from the Greek islands. Now, four months later, the residents are mostly Kurds who have fled from the Syrian city of Afrin. There are few services at the camp now, and the volunteer organizations who worked so hard in 2016 and 2017 have not returned.

Do Your Part runs a community center about five miles away in the village of Dilesi. There is a tailor shop there that makes unique bags to sell, and a space for women to come for respite, and for kids to get a little education. Every Tuesday MobileDoc volunteers spend the day providing medical care for refugees. Every other week legal volunteers come to assist with asylum applications. A Do Your Part vehicle transports the people from the camp at Oinofyta to the community center at Dilesi. Last week the Hellenic Midwives Association came for the day to provide prenatal care. The volunteers are working outside the camp now, doing what can be done for the Kurds who were forced out of Afrin.

The volunteer network in Greece is active. Because I'm traveling soon to Athens - with an extra suitcase, as usual - I was asked to help find some catheters for a little girl. Here's my Facebook post:
In a refugee camp southeast of Athens there is a 9-year-old severely disabled Kurdish girl who needs five catheters per day for urine, to prevent fluid building up in her brain. A five-day supply costs 60 euros (About 70 dollars) and the kind she needs is particularly hard to come by. [The little girl has scoliosis, hydrocephaly and is a paraplegic.]
I am going back to Greece on August 21. I have been asked to find out if anyone would be willing to donate some size CH-8, pre-lubricated catheters for this little girl. I will take them with me.
This is what the catheter looks like.
Please message me if you can help.
In response to my Facebook post, I was astonished to collect money from nine friends and a cousin totaling $650.

I found a supplier in Canada who would sell me a box for $25 American, and then contacted Leslie, another volunteer, who lives in Boston, She has been coordinating the catheter project. Leslie has a friend who travels often between Athens and Istanbul, and the catheters are much, much cheaper there. So the $650 may go from me to Leslie's friend via Paypal, and Berit, the little girl, will have the catheters she needs for the next several months.

Amazing.

One of my friends, Lillian, contacted a doctor she knows. The doctor, Jean, wanted to talk to me. She has medical supplies and a contact in Seattle for more. I asked Lisa Campbell, Do Your Part's Executive Director and the project manager in Greece, what items would be on a wish list for the medical people currently volunteering at the community center. Lisa said:
  • Durable equipment: blood pressure cuffs, stethoscopes, otoscopes, pulse oximeters
  • Prenatal vitamins - have to be halal for Muslim women
  • Solar anything, especially phone chargers
  • The Hellenic Midwives Association is in need of a portable ultrasound machine
I will be meeting up with Jean next week to see what she and the Seattle contact can provide. I am keeping a mental eye on the size of my extra suitcase. Jean also suggested I contact Philips, which has a facility near where I live, to see if they'd be willing to donate a portable ultrasound machine.

Then I posted this Facebook message:

Another request for my upcoming trip to Greece. There is a volunteer group of Greek midwives working with Do Your Part at the community center. They need a portable ultrasound machine. Does anyone know anyone who works at Philips who might have a name I could contact to request a donation?

Most unexpectedly, this morning I heard from a member of my spiritual congregation, who asked me how much the ultrasound machine would cost. I found one on eBay and told him the price. Then he wrote - and this is probably one of the great honors of my life - "Linda - imagine we could easily raise that amount based on the strength of your reputation and commitment to these people."

That may happen, or it may not, but I will remember my friend's words for the rest of my life.

So, my extra suitcase will hold medical supplies this time. And two bags of McD coffee for my friend Lisa. And whatever other surprises may come along.

I had been a bit nervous about this next trip because the circumstances in Greece are different from when I was there last, and because this time I am going alone. But the hearts I am taking along with me in the form of their gifts have pretty much dissolved my unease.

We are all in this together! Thank you, thank you, thank you.