Journal From a Refugee Camp – 25 September

I’m currently volunteering as a Farsi interpreter at a medical clinic at the One Happy Family community center on Lesvos Island. In 2015 I volunteered as general labor and later an interpreter at Camps Pikpa and Moria and shared those stories here.

Monday, 25 September.

I was nearly useless today.

For the first half of my shift at the medical clinic, all I did was help arrange the tables and benches, hang up shower curtains for a private area, and carry boxes of medicine around.

Halfway through the day I went to talk to Heather, who teaches English to the Farsi speakers at the community center. We had meant to talk since last Thursday but worked the same hours and never found time to meet. Now that we finally talked, I realized that NATAN-International, an Israeli NGO, ran the school and would have a new teacher come on Wednesday to replace Heather. I wasn’t needed.

I went back to the medical clinic and continued to help with triaging patients and making sure the right people were seen at the right time, while during quiet moments I studied Farsi terms related to thyroid surgery and hernias.

Then three Afghan men came in. I asked if they needed an interpreter and they replied by correcting my language (I had said motarjem, which is Iranian Farsi, but they preferred motarjemahn, which is Afghan Dari), then explaining the difference in English. Their English is much stronger than my Farsi so we spent the next half hour discussing the differences between Dari and Farsi, most of which relate to spoken contractions and colloquial terms used in Farsi and not Dari.

It felt odd: In Moria the year before I was using exactly what they were teaching me now, though this everybody else I had spoken to this year used the Iranian style (Me-too-nam instead of the more proper mee-tav-ah-nam or khaste-ee instead of the more proper khaste-hasteed — Imagine always saying I am instead of simply I’m). The men giving me Dari tips were well-educated and each had university degrees, which explained their English skills and likely their insistence on proper Dari instead of the Farsi which most patients speak. I practiced Afghan Farsi/Dari with them until they went to see the doctors, then got back to studying.

After we closed the clinic I tracked down two people who we will escort to medical appointments for potential thyroid and hernia surgeries tomorrow. I coordinated where and when we would meet, and I felt useful for the first time today.

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