Saturday, August 19, 2017

My Facebook week at Oinofyta camp

So much has happened this week I can hardly remember. So I'm going to cheat a little by compiling my Facebook posts for this week.

August 12, 8:49 p.m.
Two scoops of ice cream for dinner!

August 13, 10:33 p.m.
Sunday. Day of rest. Several naps. Adopted by a friendly dog at dinner. He followed us to the ice cream place and waited outside for us! We walked back to car and he trotted off to find another friend.

August 15, 9:57 a.m.

Still very busy at the camp, but my learning curve is getting a bit shallower. I work with good people! Last night two of our Spanish volunteers cooked the evening meal - Cuban rice. Tomato sauce over fried bananas over rice over a fried egg. Delicious!

August 15, 12:36 p.m.

I stand against racism with 460 refugees - Afghan, Pakistani, and Iranian - and dozens of workers - Spanish, British, Swiss, Colombian, Greek, and American - here at Oinofyta camp in Greece.

August 15, 7:32 p.m.

So, we have an emergency. A fire is approaching Malakasa, the refugee camp just down the road. We have been told that somewhere between 250 and 700 people are being evacuated to our camp. Or maybe not. At any rate, we are preparing for a bunch of people. Talk about disaster relief!

August 16, 10:21 a.m.

All is quiet at camp this morning. We should soon have official notice that the evacuation from Malakasa will not happen. Our three team leads spent the night at camp. Everyone else went home and slept.

August 16, 7:44 p.m.

We were on standby again today for the Malakasa evacuation because the fire changed directions. At 7 we were notified that we can go home.

August 18, 3:23 p.m.

Very busy Friday. I could use a clone of myself and at least three other people.

August 20, 12:00 p.m.

Saturdays are supposed to be quiet at camp! So far we have two significant donations from groups arriving at the warehouse, and the water not working for any bathrooms, and electricity out in part of the camp.

August 20, 3:30 p.m.

Water and electricity are back with us, deliveries are complete, and all of our volunteers are enjoying a lunch prepared by a resident.

August 20, 7:44 p.m.

Still here at camp, waiting my turn for a ride home. Twelve people, one small car today.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Nine days now at the Oinofyta camp

We've been at the Oinofyta refugee camp for nine days now. The camp coordinator, Lisa, left on Wednesday morning for a much needed two-week break. She is with her family in Virginia. I am taking her place as camp coordinator. I am four days in with thirteen to go. My husband Art is the shopper for camp and volunteer house, and the breakfast and lunch fixer for the volunteers. And the errand runner.

I've had some moments of despair and some of delight. The despair comes when I'm overloaded with issues I don't know how to resolve. Not the big issues, like:
  • Why we can't accept new residents into the camp even though we have a few empty rooms (the answer is that this is a rule currently imposed by the Greek government; we must comply with the rule). One family has been sleeping on the ground within  the camp gates for five days now. They are pleading to be given a room. Some residents want them to stay. I say, "This is a Greek law. We must obey it. I am sad but I cannot give you permission." Or
  • Why 48 of our residents have not received permission to live in the camp (they came here before the new Greek rule was put in place), so they have no money cards (a monthly stipend available to most refugees). We have sent emails to the Greek agency in charge, but have not yet received a response. In the meantime, we feed the 48 people.
These big issues I can live with, because I know I am powerless. I am decent at letting go of that kind of thing.

It's the little issues - some of them cultural, some not:
  • A resident's phone was stolen. They will pay 20 euros to get just the SIM card back.
  • A volunteer's set of camp keys has gone missing.
  • A resident left her room for five minutes, and her entire monthly cash stipend disappeared.
  • Dirty diapers and watermelon rinds litter the camp grounds.
  • In my office, I listen to a doctor talk to me about the medical challenges at camp.
  • I can't figure out how to answer Lisa's Greek phone. Or how to recharge the radio.
The moments of delight? Examples:
  • A nine-year-old child sees me and comes up to me and wraps their arms around my waist.
  • A three-year-old child paints my mouth crookedly with her lipstick.
  • A young man decides it is worth the inconvenience to be ready for a bus at 3:30 a.m. on Monday so he can go to his asylum appointment at 9 a.m. in Athens. When I say, "You've had a bad day" - through a translator - a faint smile replaces the scowl for a moment.
  • I put chocolate out on my desk and the volunteers get a small reward for their large work.
  • Art buys small chocolate- and cream-filled donuts from the bakery on the way to camp. I split them in half and by noon they have been eaten by volunteers.
  • Amir in tent 49 fixes me lunch one day, and brings a salad the next day to my office.
  • I give a shoulder massage to a volunteer and it helps her headache.
  • Our team of 12 shares a Friday night meal at a wonderful restaurant in the village where we live.
I think I've said before that the Greece refugee issue is no longer much in the news. Some NGOs are cutting back on their resources here - or leaving the camp entirely. They may go to new camps - in Iraq, for example - where conditions are far more dire. Our Oinofyta residents are housed and fed and they have activities available to them. Some of them have jobs. But they are all here because they can't go anywhere else. All the borders to the north in Europe are closed to them. That was where they wanted to go. Now they are in Greece. They may stay here and become integrated into the culture. They may decide to go back to their homelands - Afghanistan or Pakistan or Iran. They may try to cross the border illegally. A few may successfully be reunified with family members in Europe. 

In the meantime, they are here. 

Even when I feel like what I most want to do is go home - which happens from time to time during stressful days - I know this is where I am supposed to be. Not in Brier, Washington, where the temperature is less than 101 and everyone speaks the same language as me and I have my own bathroom and laundry facilities and a cat that ignores me most of the time. Instead, here in Oinofyta, where I hear Farsi and Urdu and Greek and Spanish and I share a bathroom and a washing machine with others. I am surrounded by inspiring young volunteers and strong, tough residents, and little children, and boys who kick the ball onto the roof so they can climb onto it.

We are here, doing what we can. Doing our part.

Garden seating area, built by volunteers

Lunch - residents and volunteers

Sunday, August 6, 2017

She sent me a box full of dolls

My friend Beth is an artist. She had accumulated a number of Bratz dolls, with their high-style fashion and their glamorous makeup. She decided to scrub their faces and create a more natural look and to dress them as normal children.

Here are some "befores"



Here are a few dolls after Beth transformed them:



Beth got the idea from this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lG-7e1vaB18

Beth posted a note on her Facebook page, asking if any of her friends would like one of these dolls. I responded right away. "I'd like to have them all. I'm sure there are children at Oinofyta refugee camp in Greece, where I volunteer, who would love to have one of these dolls." Beth said that would be great, and she mailed me a box full of dolls.

I checked around to see if anyone I knew was going to Europe who'd be willing to take them along, but everyone who responded was either already in Europe or not planning to go. So I took them to the post office and, for $61, sent them on their way.

The dolls arrived at camp at the end of Ramadan. There's a celebration at the end called Eid, and traditionally children receive gifts at that time. Camp volunteers prepared gift bags for the children, and each of the twelve dolls went into a bag.

I asked Lisa, the camp manager, if pictures could be taken of the dolls with the children who received them. I wanted to send the picture to Beth so she could see the outcome of her generosity. But I had forgotten that if a child's picture is taken, the parent must approve. And all of the parents said no. A privacy issue at least, and perhaps for safety as well.

Now I'm at the camp myself. This week I'll try to find out who got the dolls and see if I can take a picture of just the doll, in the room of the owner. It's a balance of my own curiosity with respect for the culture of camp residents.

Thank you, Beth, for your gift to the children of Oinofyta.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

A tiny change in our summer plans

August was supposed to be a month of relaxed enjoyment: napping, sitting in my Adirondack chair under the grapes in the garden, reading at least four books and four magazines, relishing the beautiful weather that is our Seattle summer.

Except I had made a promise to my friend Lisa Campbell, who heads up the Do Your Part disaster relief effort at a refugee camp in Oinofyta, Greece. My husband Art and I spent a month there in late March and early April. Art did the errand running and food shopping and meal preparation for volunteers. I worked on the accounting for DYP and, for the two weeks Lisa was in the States on a speaking tour, sat in her chair at camp.

As we were leaving at the end of our month, I said, "Lisa, Art and I will come back if you need us."

Between April and last week, we did our summer thing here in Seattle - interrupted by Art's kidney stone surgery and follow up, and Art's two cataract surgeries and follow up. Very few social plans, lots of reading and relaxing.

Then, last Friday, Lisa called. "I need you to come the first week in August, for a month."

So, we're going back to Greece. Next week. Several of the camp's long-term volunteers are leaving, and Lisa is going to visit her family in the States. Again, I will sit in her chair for two weeks. Well, actually, not much sitting. Mostly doing, with a dozen volunteers and 500 residents of the camp. And listening. Whatever comes along.

I had planned on finishing our income taxes in August. On spending three days with my son and my granddaughters. On maybe flying to Colorado to visit a friend for a few days.

It's a tiny change in plans.

I am hoping our luggage will not get lost, like last time. That Art's pacemaker will not beep, like last time. That we won't hit the curb in our rental car and pay for damages, like last time. And that we'll be able to be tourists for the last week, not like last time when we flew home early to treat a kidney stone.

Until last summer, I had never done this kind of thing. Now I have. It is still unbelievable to me that I have taken this on. But I'm sure it's something I'm supposed to do.

You just never know what will happen when you say yes.


Monday, July 17, 2017

Books and cellphones and cords. Oh, my!

The rightsizing continues at our house. I bought an AARP book called Downsizing the Family Home. I read it and then I suggested Art read it. He is doing that. He commented yesterday that the book is mainly for people working with their aging parents to part with years of accumulation before they move into a smaller place, or taking care of everything themselves after one or both parents have died.

Still, there are helpful sections in the book. I note from the placement of the bookmark that Art is about two thirds of the way through it. That's a good sign.

We went through our "book closet" last week. One box of books went to the local library, to be sold as a fundraiser. Three more boxes went to Goodwill. We now have the following sections remaining in the book closet:

  • Books I have not yet read but intend to in the next couple of years. Maybe 25.
  • Books on writing that I have read and intend to read again - think Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird and Stephen King's On Writing; AMemoir of the Craft.
  • Books on writing that I know I will read (about six; the others went to Goodwill).
  • Recovery books; we have many years of 12-step experience and we still refer to these.
  • Travel books (mostly Rick Steves), pocket language books (about eight), and half a dozen local maps (the two dozen others went to Goodwill; if we ever go back through Wyoming, Montana and Utah again, we're likely to use Google maps on our phones).
  • Two Thompson guides of the Seattle area, for Art, who loves the old familiar ways.
Also on the floor of the book closet was a box half full of photos in their frames (mostly of high school seniors and offspring getting married). The top half of the box was a jumble of cords and plugs for ten years' worth of electronics. I left the photos for the kids to go through after we're gone.

I put the cords on the dining room table. I'd emptied a plastic bin of candle stubs, so I asked Art to organize the cords. You never know when someone will come along with an ancient device and need a cord or a car charger and you can be useful with your plastic bin. Art's eyes lit up when he saw the cords. He said, "I have some old phones in the sidebar drawers." He pulled out six old flip phones, the kind he used until just last year when there was such a good deal on a refurbished iPhone 5 ($50!) that he couldn't resist. For two hours he sat at the table and matched up the old phones to cords and to car charges. These he bundled together and put in a sack to recycle. We'll be taking them to a place that collects old phones for soldiers and vets. Art was a soldier and is a vet himself, so it seemed like a good choice.

The mismatched cords are still in the plastic bin, just in case. But there aren't very many of them. My friend Gail came over earlier this week, missing a car charger for her cell phone. We had one that fit!

I emptied a shoebox-sized plastic bin and suggested that it would be a good place to store batteries. Art emptied the sidebar drawers and filled the little bin with the batteries he's collected. Probably mostly from work, when he worked. Seven years ago. He tested most of the 75 batteries. So we are ready for a prolonged power outage, and we know where the batteries are.

Yesterday Art took all the books off the lower shelf of the living room coffee table. Nine of them go to Goodwill. Six go in the book closet. He did this without asking, as though it was a ho hum job. Can you believe it?

We're moving slowly. Five boxes get filled at the  top of the entryway stairs. They go into the trunk of my car. They get delivered to wherever. We start in on five more boxes. No rush, but getting there.

It's kind of fun, actually. 

Sunday, July 9, 2017

I'm not stuck. I'm waiting.

Last week I saw a meme on Facebook that was so perfect for me that I printed it out and taped it to my computer desk:

Everything will fall into place.
You just gotta be patient
and trust the process.


I took that to heart. Here's what's happening.

1. Downsizing. I had told my husband Art, "I want us to downsize inside the house and outside, and then look for a new place to live that doesn't have stairs or a big yard." He went silent but reluctantly started getting rid of stuff. 

Then, out of the blue, I got a different thought. I said, "I want us to declutter and rightsize inside and outside of the house, but make no plans to move. That way we'll be more ready, if and when a good opportunity comes along." It's a compromise that works for both of us.

2. I do the accounting for the nonprofit agency at the refugee camp in Greece where I've volunteered. I wait for others to send me receipts, tax records, and bank statements. The 2016 taxes have been hanging over my head. I just dawned on me - much later than it should have - that there is not much more I can do until I get what I need. In a couple of days I'll be caught up with my part. Then I will be patient. Everything will fall into place. I can trust the process.

3. I am helping one of my sons through a business crisis. I'm more of a consultant than anything. He is tearing his hair out. I know what I'd do a little differently if I were him, but I'm only the consultant. He is the decision maker. I think he will come out all right. I am not losing sleep over someone else's issue. Everything will fall into place. I'm grateful for the help I can give him.

4. I have been doing family mediations for several years and they're not as fun as they had been. So recently I've not signed up to do them. But there's a training coming up next week for mediators interested in working with a Native American tribe in my county. I figure if I can mediate at a refugee camp in Greece for seven men who, except for one, speak only Farsi, I'll be fine with the Native cultural differences. I know I trust that process!

5. I am in week seven of Weight Watchers. Today I moved a couple of pairs of pants from the "it's a little too small" side of my closet to the "I can wear this" side. I am looking forward, several months down the road, to lower blood pressure, more stamina and happier feet. I am following directions. I trust the process.

Sometimes when I'm just going about my daily business, and it looks pretty similar day after day, I think I'm stuck in a rut. Often, though, I'm just waiting.

Everything will fall into place.
You just gotta be patient
and trust the process.

And here's one story about our downsizing adventure:

Twenty years ago I bought a stoneware dinner set: salad and dinner plates, cups and saucers, butter dish and sugar and creamer and salt and pepper shakers, serving plates and serving bowls. We have a big family, after all, and I like to set a nice table every now and then. The rest of the time we use Corelle.

Now we're doing the downsizing thing. I don't think we've ever used the stoneware cups and saucers. Today, going through one of the kitchen cabinets, I told Art I thought we could get rid of them. eBay has them for sale for $2.50 apiece, so they're a good Goodwill item. Art reached to the top shelf and handed me the cups one by one, and then the saucers. I was going to find a box to put them in, when Art said, "I think I may have the original box in the garage."

"You're kidding!"

He was right. We will take the cups and saucers to Goodwill in the box they came in 20 years ago!

I can hardly wait until we start working on the garage.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Living normal

Last year I took eight trips between May and November:
  1. Tucson in late May, to get a root canal and a crown in Nogales, Mexico.
  2. Road trip to Oregon in late June for a family gathering.
  3. Muskoka, Ontario, in mid July, to visit a friend.
  4. Chautauqua, New York for a week of culture and education in early August.
  5. Oinofyta, Greece, in late August, to volunteer for six days at a refugee camp.
  6. Rockland, Maine, for a six-day schooner cruise in September.
  7. Vashon Island, Washington in early October for a five-day writing retreat.
  8. Oinofyta, Greece again, for two weeks of volunteering, in late October.
That was a lot of travel! 

This year I spent a month in the spring again at the refugee camp in Oinofyta. Since then, no travel other than one trip to Tucson to close up our winter place and bring Larisa, our Designer Cat, home to Seattle.

Now it is summer and I am having a normal life. It feels oddly quiet. Not exactly dull, but different. Here's the kind of activity I'm doing:
  • Picking strawberries from our yard and freezing them.
  • Wrapping the cat in a towel so my husband Art can trim her toenails.
  • Reading magazines as they come in the mail rather than letting them stack up.
  • Being the driver and advocate for Art as he has surgery for a kidney stone, the removal of a stent, and two cataracts. 
  • Hiring a new teenage yard person now that our grandson Kyle has outgrown the job.
  • Going through cupboards and drawers and closets for Goodwill runs. Today I took a bunch of toys outgrown by my grandchildren. I have fond memories of the Fisher-Price garage. And an umbrella stroller, which Goodwill won't take because of "safety issues". I'll wait until my teenage granddaughters visit to go through the dress-up boxes.
  • Keeping track of my eating and exercise as I head into week six of Weight Watchers.
  • Walking the two-mile route in my neighborhood several times a week.
  • Signing up for a yoga class for the first time in ten years.
  • Meditating for at least 20 minutes every day using the Insight Timer app on my iPhone.
I'm spending my days in such an ordinary way! I have absolutely no inclination to travel again this year. I probably need the rest.

And now the sun is out in Seattle. And the days are long. And there are two Adirondack chairs under my grape arbor, just right for a talk with a friend.

I get to be normal for a while. I like it.