Thursday, September 1, 2016

What happened to me in Greece?

I got home from Greece on Sunday morning. It is now Thursday night. I have gotten a manicure and pedicure (Monday) reiki session and a massage (Tuesday), told my story to two good friends (Wednesday), and told my story to another friend (today). Today was the first day I felt like myself, the first day I had a regular schedule, the first day my feet weren't swollen. 

My mind and heart are full as I think about what happened to me in Greece. Here's a summary of what happened each day. (I am plagiarizing from my own Facebook posts.)

Monday 8/22: See my August 22 blog post "First Day in Oinofyta, Greece".

Tuesday 8/23: Just got back from 12-hour day at the camp. Experienced the arrival of a dazed and exhausted man and the home we put together for him; set up new rooms for three families; distributed sundries and clothing to clamoring families; sorted items in the warehouse; hugged and played with kids. Drank a LOT of water, ate not too much. Will sleep well tonight!

Wednesday 8/24: What happened today in Oinofyta camp: A tent has been vacant for a month but is needed for a new family; three of us donned gloves and filled a dumpster with trash and items that can't be reused, plus a large bag of clothes that can be washed and reused. As my part in the Wednesday food distribution, worked with two residents to fill 150 bags with a family's weekly allocation of lentils; witnessed a fight between a translator/resident and a resident that resulted in a lockdown of the camp; distributed food bags to 33 families in warehouse rooms and 25 families in tents; was invited to tea by a very nice woman who is hoping to live in Canada or the US; actually had tea with one of the men in the fight (not easy to take off Chakos while sitting on a mattress); found out the female residents play volleyball at 2:00 a.m, as their culture does not allow women to be seen by men other than their husbands; took a shift as babysitter for a puppy in the air-conditioned office; listened to a wise resident talk about her idea for a change to the distribution system that would be more efficient; had a group dinner in a Greek village, mostly listening.

Not so hot today, and with a little breeze.

Thursday 8/25: Fourteen hours today volunteering at Oinofyta camp in Greece. Lots of work in the warehouse today, helping refugees find clothes they needed. Like working retail except I don't speak Farsi! 
We were invited to dinner tonight by a refugee couple, Giza and Farhad. She was a lawyer in Kabul and he worked in security with US contractors. Great Afghani meal that began at 9:30 p.m. The refugees are night people. When we left in our car a midnight, we had to negotiate around six men playing cards on a blanket laid in the middle of the street.
This place I'm in feels a different kind of normal.

Friday 8/26: Quite a 13-hour day in Oinofyta! When I walked into the volunteer office I was followed close behind by a Red Cross worker. They were here for the day to do vaccinations and they were short a table worker. I got the job. Worked with two Greek women to do the registration for 89 children. Great hubbub of talk and noise and waving arms and people leaning in so close I could hardly move. The only languages being spoken around me were Greek and Farsi but I was completely comfortable. A teammate brought me a bottle of water. A worker asked me about the US role in the Middle East and Afghanistan. She said, "Why? I cry." I said, "I cry too and I come here." A man said, "I have a problem with your government." I let them know I sympathized.

I made a commitment to Adventist Health to buy needed supplies with some of the donated money I got. I promised I'd get it all tomorrow and leave it in the volunteer office for Monday. They thanked me for that and for helping with the vaccination process.
Work in the warehouse was mayhem this afternoon. We were short one translator and two volunteers. Two of the Spanish volunteers left today, and when we were about ready to open, a nine-member family arrived at the camp and needed to be supplied and welcomed. If a family comes to get clothes from the warehouse, they all come: father, mother, and one to four children. We are still working out a process that will go smoothly.
A couple of fights broke out, quickly calmed by the camp director, and the police were called after one rock-throwing incident.
In the five days I have been here, I have never been afraid or felt unsafe.
Tomorrow is our last work day. We leave for Athens in the early evening and will stay in a hotel by the Athens airport for our 6:00 a.m. flight to Paris on Sunday. I leave Paris at 11:00 a.m. and arrive in Seattle at 11:59 a.m.

Saturday 8/27: On our last day at the camp, I gave 40 sets of donated earbuds to the just-about-to-open computer lab. Worked in the warehouse stocking shelves with clothing donations from generous strangers. Participated in the filming of a documentary about the refugees. 
Said goodbye.

Drove to Athens for our early morning flight.

Sunday 8/28: Last night I left Oinofyta refugee camp. I spent the week with 500 Afghan refugees, many of them beautiful children. I am flying home today. They are all still there in the camp. They can leave if they want, but Afghanistan is a dangerous place for them, and they will either need to make their way across the border unseen or pay thousands of dollars to a smuggler who may or may not get them to their destination. Or they can stay in the camp hoping things will change.
Some of them told me their stories. I see their faces in my mind. They are a microcosm of the world. They are educated or not, professional or tradespeople. They are just like us.
Tonight I will sleep in my own bed. They will sleep on cots, in small rooms or in tents with their families. I have my own kitchen. They will share an outside cooking area with makeshift stoves.
What can we do for these people so they can be welcomed to a new place? Really, what can we do?


Linda Reeder said...

I was fortunate to follow your progress through your Facebook posts. I look forward to your "Lessons learned".

Unknown said...

Thank you for your work and for sharing out here Linda. I hope we can stay with you in our Van in early October and tell you about my work with refugees in New Haven.

Unknown said...

Thank you for your work and for sharing out here Linda. I hope we can stay with you in our Van in early October and tell you about my work with refugees in New Haven.

Dreamer said...

It makes you stop and think about what some people are going through in their "new normal" lives. We hear about them and think, how terrible, but it is so easy to go back to our easy lives.

Thank you for the work that you did and for sharing your experiences with us.

DJan said...

What an incredible experience you had. I was so glad to be able to know all about it as it happened. I also followed on Facebook as you posted. This is a life-changing kind of event in your travels across the world. Thank you so much for sharing it. I don't think it's quite over yet.

Sandi said...

What a life changing experience, Linda! With such long, full days, I can see the need for several days to process after your return. Being immersed in the lives of these people will not be soon, or easily, forgotten. How wonderful that you heard, and responded, to the call for help!

Jennifer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jennifer said...

Me too!

Arkansas Patti said...

Thank you for caring but thank you most for doing. You are the best of us all. I am so glad you are back and safe. I was worried even though you weren't.

Deb Shucka said...

Such an amazing experience you had, and that we get to have through your writing.

Tom said...

Some great stuff here. A real eye-opener.

Sasha + Saku said...

What an incredible trip. I suspect if those who are so anti-immigration were to live your experience, they might just change their minds.

Thank you for helping those who cannot, at this moment, help themselves. I'm certain if they have the opportunity they will pay it forward.