Journal From a Refugee Camp 2017 — Week Zero

I volunteered on Greece’s Lesvos Island as an interpreter for six weeks in 2015-2016 and had always meant to get back. Now was my chance.

I needed something to do, literally and figuratively.

I finished a Celta/TEFL course three weeks ago and realized I couldn’t work for three months then ask for all of December off. I don’t need a month of vacation, but I do need to see a podiatrist, get new orthotics, see a neurologist, get an MRI and EEG done, and trick the VA into sending me a year worth of medication. I need a full month for errands. Seeing family for Christmas and probably New Years is just a bonus.

IMG_20170917_234048498Not being able to get a normal job was the excuse I needed to get back to Greece and volunteer at refugee camps again. I had done it in 2015-2016 and eventually ended up as a medical interpreter; I couldn’t wait to do it again. As soon as I made up my mind I tuned out in class and instead wrote down a medical cheat sheet and practice conversations in Farsi. I spent my evening emailing friends, friends of friends, and friends of friends of friends looking for places to volunteer. I found lots of people who wanted my help either as an interpreter or as an English teacher, but nobody willing to followup. I passed the class and after a week of exploring more of Colombia with two close friends, I was off.

But first, a trip to New York. I had planned on flying through Orlando until Hurricane Irma shut most flights in and out of Orlando down. My parents were in New York for a real estate conference so it made things easy. I spent one day shopping for needs (a new backpack, a new jacket, new thermals) and wants (a GoPro, resistance bands), then one day hanging out in New York City with my dad, then a final morning studying and picking up packages to donate. I also learned why I won’t fly discount airlines anymore.

To get to New York, I flew with InterAir and had a layover in Mexico City. To get to Thessoloniki, I flew with Aeroflot/Russian Airlines and had a layover in Moscow. InterAir lost two of my jackets and a luggage tag; both Aeroflot flights were delayed by more than two hours. You get what you pay for.

I stayed a night in Thessoloniki to drop off two packages, then found offers to volunteer in Athens and was off. First I went to City Plaza, an abandoned hotel run by an amazing group of ‘anarchists.’ The hotel owner allowed the hotel to be used with the condition that it be in shape to open again once the squatters finished. While the infrastructure was a great and a coat of paint could fix 90% of the problems, the smell of cigarettes on every floor was impressive. The hotel acted as a refugee camp, protest headquarters, community center, while also hosting LGBT events and screenings of explicit movies. It sounds like a list of contradictions but the volunteers there made it work. Each was skilled in his/her own way, giving, and extremely charismatic. On the walls were not-rules for the not-boss to enforce, which reinforced my opinion: The problem with anarchy is there are overbearing leaders enforcing too many rules.

City Plaza asked me to teach two to three English classes a week. I wanted to, but I needed more to do. I checked with Khora, another refugee community in Athens, which was overstaffed, to find more to do and found they were overstaffed.

Instead of underworking myself, I came to Lesvos. Where I started. I’ll be a medical interpreter at a community center, like when I started. I’ll also pick up another job on the island, either as an interpreter or an English teacher. Nothing is completely arranged yet but things tend to work out.

I’m not sure if I’m ready. I’m not sure if I’m qualified. Farsi sure got a lot harder over ten years of not using it. None of that matters now. Work starts in three hours.

Will I sink or swim? We’ll find out soon.

To see my 2015-2016 journal from Lesvos, click here.


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