Journal From a Refugee Camp – 27 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.

Wednesday, 27 September.

I wonder every day how much more useful I would be if I had learned Arabic instead of Farsi. Only one in three patients speaks Farsi or Dari, so while the doctors struggle to play charades with Arabic patients I often have time at the clinic to research Farsi words or help with triaging patients.

Today was different. For the first three hours of the shift I was constantly translating for Afghans or Iranians, sometimes translating for multiple doctors and patients at the same time. It felt good to be busy. It felt better to be useful, to help patients all day instead of just helping the clinic. For the first time since I arrived in Greece I knew I was where I needed to be.

While I’m quickly getting used to Afghan accents and understanding Iranian Farsi again, I still can barely understand the Kabul accent. Everybody tells me that they speak clearly and never even knew Kabul had it’s own accent, but when I speak with people from there I go from understanding 90% of everything with most patients to understanding half of it. I’m sure I’ll have it figured out at the end of the week but until then I’m letting patients down and wearing myself out early in the shift. I usually don’t feel tired, but when I catch myself slipping Spanish words into Dari I know I’m overworking myself.

Today had several ups and downs. The ups–two positive pregnancy tests and two excited couples–were electric. The downs were simply obnoxious: I let two playful girls wear my baseball cap then heard the triage nurse tell me in slow motion the kids had head lice; I asked a volunteer from another part of camp if she would like to quickly see a nurse instead of waiting in line to see a doctor, then had her ask me if she looked like a child and lecture me on how important she was. I tried to have her cut in line so she could get taken care of and get back to whatever earth-shattering important work she had (I tuned out when she got into the bit about her important work), but she still had to wait half an hour to be seen for simple issues a nurse could have taken care of in five minutes. It was karma.

The day ended early-ish: We had the door closed by 4:00 and finished seeing the last patients by 5:00, then I had time to grab a free meal (rice with vegetables, made by the Southeast Asian refugees who run the kitchen) before leaving. It was a perfect day at work.

After getting yelled at by a motorcyclist and honked at by other cars for stopping at stop signs, we took a shortcut going the wrong way down one-way roads to get to the apartment. As soon as we parked the car I walked to a nearby health shop to buy whey protein–the shop had been closed at 10:30 in the morning when I tried to go–and found that it was already closed at 6:00 when I arrived. I read the business hours and it’s open from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., plus whenever the owners decide not to be there. Never change Greece, never change.

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