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.

11 comments:

Celia said...

Wonderful. I had never heard of "Do Your Part" before reading your blog.

Allison said...

What is that small black animal on your left foot in the picture of you working on the accounting?
I would have a difficult time not having internet - it might be good for me, though.

DJan said...

It seems impossible that you'll be heading back home so soon. And I wondered also if that is a pig next to your foot? I know you have an affinity for those cute guys. :-)

Arkansas Patti said...

Are you bringing the pig home with you?? He sure is cute and seems attached to you.
Not sure I could do with out the Internet. There are so many things that when I want to know, I want to know NOW.

dkzody said...

Is that a doggy under your feet, or a pig? Hard to tell. Whatever, it seems to like you a lot.

Roberta Warshaw said...

You amaze and inspire me.

Linda Reeder said...

When you come home and live differently, you will no doubt once again have to readjust, and then you will probably be counting your blessings while also finding you left part of your heart with those less fortunate. You are a good person.

Chris Loehmer Kincaid said...

This reminds me so much of my travels to Kenya, where I might have internet access for only a few hours a day. On my last trip, I didn't bother getting phone access as we were only gone a week and I wasn't going to be any place by myself. All the things we take for granted back in the States. But just like you, I count the days until I go back again and can live that simple kind of life.

Linda Myers said...

The animal at my feet in the photo is a puppy, who came into the community center for three days until his owner was located. Apparently I was a safe place to snooze.

Deb said...

Thank you for your compassion and your willingness to leave hearth and home behind to serve people most of the world has forgotten. I am always amazed and inspired by your example. <3

Unknown said...

Wonderfully told. Thanks Linda, for the time you share and then for sharing the experience with us.