Saturday, October 29, 2016

A day in my life at an Afghan refugee camp in Greece

Yesterday was Friday. Usually not our busiest day. However, one of our long-term volunteers left unexpectedly for home in the morning for a family emergency. And one of our short-term volunteers was sick, at home in the volunteer house in Dilesi. While she was taking it easy, she was tasked with other volunteers’ laundry. A gift, since we have a washing machine but no dryer, and we’re gone from the washing machine until late in the evening. However, the washing machine is temperamental so the laundry didn't get done.

I’d say I was a “runner” yesterday. Here’s what I did:

  • Swept the team trailer.
  • Straightened and reorganised the team trailer, getting guidance from Lisa, the camp manager, with every step.
  • Fed and watered Jackie, the camp dog.
  • Dumped all the trash - one load with the help of two boys, who carried the box with glee on their heads and didn’t drop it until we were right in front of the dumpsters.
  • Ran a computer charger and a floor mat to the computer lab and an unneeded watering can to the warehouse.
  • Surrounded by six Afghan men (personal space is nonexistent, so I felt like I was in what I imagine a mosh pit to be like), signed them up for photos to be included in their lottery application. They have to have a high school diploma to qualify, and they all insisted they did, though I knew for absolute certain a couple of them were not telling me the truth. Oh, well, the next-step person will call them out. Nine million people around the world are competing for 50,000 opportunities to emigrate to the US. Every family in our camp is applying. They have half a percent chance of getting an interview, but it is worth standing in line for up to two hours.
  • Hid in the volunteer restroom for 20 minutes so no residents would see me with my red notebook and want to add their names to the list, even though they’ve had two days to do it and the photographers are leaving this afternoon.
  • Washed the volunteers’ dishes at the cold water sink used by the residents. Standing side by side with an older resident (actually, she’s probably close to my age but looks much older and is missing a few teeth), I used cold water and no sink stopper to wash our dishes. I was closely watched by the older resident and a couple of young girls, who pointed out soapsuds on a bowl I had neglected to rinse off. 
  • Listened to Lisa recruit one of the photo crew members to work as a replacement long-term volunteer.
  • Put on my mediator hat and talked to the photo crew member to help her clarify her values and thoughts about accepting the volunteer opportunity. The young woman has decided to stay.
  • Welcomed a young couple just arriving at the camp. They looked very tired.
  • Listened to my friend and fellow volunteer Jann tell me how she has trained three computer-savvy residents to enter the data for lottery applications. She was able to take a ten-minute break for lunch while they continued work on the applications. She is really good at empowering teams, in the US and in Greece. I am so glad Jann wanted to come with me this time.
  • Listened to Lisa mourn her inability to get online to send critical emails because the computer lab is using most of the wifi bandwidth.
  • Listened to a resident tell Lisa about a nearby family where the husband and wife fight every day, and heard her tell the resident she would take care of it.
  • Had a conversation with a resident to clear up confusion between her and the team handling lottery applications.
  • Worked on the accounting books for 45 minutes out of ten hours.
  • Went to dinner in Room 24. When we are invited, we always go. We want to honor the Afghan tradition of hospitality. They have so little, but they want to share with us, who have so much.

  • Returned to the volunteer house to sleep in a real bed, with hot running water and quiet all night long.


DJan said...

It sounds really rigorous, Linda. I'm not sure I have the stamina to deal with days like that every day for two long weeks. But I am so glad that you and Jann have done this. You paint a vivid word picture of life in the camp.

Deb Shucka said...

What a life you're leading! Big changes are being made in small steps. Thank you for sharing your stories. Hoping the rest of the world will get to read them soon.

Rosaria Williams said...

I'm glad you pointed out at the end that you went to your place which had hot water. ..
Just that one luxury ...

Sally Wessely said...

It does sound rigorous, just as DJan said. I was impressed with your ability to take a no nonsense approach when you needed to when dealing with all the various aspects of so many people in one place. I admire you for doing what you are doing so much. The food you were offered looked quite good and satisfying. I'm glad Jann is there with you. Sending you my very best and thanking you for doing this.

Arkansas Patti said...

You and those who volunteer with you are amazing people. You are making a difference while the rest of us just wish for things to get better. Kudos.

Linda Reeder said...

I am catching up and just read your previous post. Day to day progress might seem slight, but just in the weeks between visits there has been so much improvement!
Thank you for volunteering for this important work, and thank you for sharing it with us.

Chris Loehmer Kincaid said...

You are doing a wonderful job and every little thing you do is a big thing in the eyes of these refuges. Bless you.

Nancy said...

Wow, you are doing something so incredibly meaningful. I look forward to following your blog and learning first-hand about the plight of so many people. Sometimes we just need to be grateful for clean, warm, running water. Thanks for the reminder.

retirementreflections said...

This is very powerful to read, Linda. I am inspired by your very meaningful work, and as Sally has already mentioned, your no-nonsense approach.