Journal From a Refugee Camp – 28 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.

Thursday, 28 September.

Today started with an Inter-Agency Consultation Forum in the Town Hall. I went with our clinic director, clinic director in training, and two doctors, though we never said a word. Around 50 Non-Governmental Organization heads and directors sat in the meeting; 95% stayed silent while the other five percent asked enough questions to make up for everyone else.

Today’s main focus was the harsh fact that refugees were arriving on the island faster than Greece could build accommodations or arrange transportation elsewhere. Lots of people were upset, but none had solutions remotely possible with the current financial and political climate. The presenter had zero control over the situation but became the target of people who lacked a proper authority to file complaints to. The EU, Greek Government, and United Nations are wise not to send important figures to these meetings.

Next up came blankets. The UNHCR (United Nations High Commission on Refugees) allotted one blanket per refugee, but residents were using them as beds and dividers and unable to keep themselves warm. Also, after The Dirty Girls (an awesomely-named and run NGO which travels around camps and washes laundry) left Lesvos, there hasn’t been a way to wash most of the laundry people wanted washed.  The meeting went from calm yet disappointed to abrasive when a UNHCR offered an idea of how to clean the blankets without washing machines and showers:

“I don’t know, just have them wash blankets in toilets!”

One of the speakers at the meeting mentioned an upcoming workshop for how to interview & treat people who had been victims of torture. As an interpreter with a professional background in both military operations and work with traumatized populations this seemed like a perfect workshop for me to attend, but after the meeting nobody seemed to have information on it.


We got to the clinic late due to a broken toilet and unexpected delays in other meetings, but once we set up it was a great day. There were no serious injuries, few wrong-but-still-assertive people, and plenty of Farsi and Dari speakers to practice with.

I think I’ve finally nailed the Kabul accent as there was only one patient today I truly struggled to understand; I can understand Iranians (Farsi) and most Afghans (Dari), though people from eastern Afghanistan, especially from Kabul and Jalalabad, have been difficult for me to understand. Until today.

Every day the language is getting easier and easier. Customers with simple problems flew by and were easy to joke around with, while there was only one common word I forgot repeatedly today (itch–kharesh) as opposed to a handful I usually have (most often phlegm–khalat and infection-ohfunot). Patients joked a lot more and used more slang with me today, a sign I was more relaxed. I took a break when Spanish started slipping in though otherwise felt mentally strong for the whole shift.


One of our two doctors leaves tonight. We knew she would be leaving, and she was only here a week, but it will still be tough to adjust to her being gone. Her friend, our last doctor, will also leave over the weekend. Their attitudes were infectious and helped maintain calm and even occasional happiness in an otherwise chaotic and dreary environment.

Another doctor is supposed to arrive Friday night, though he was also supposed to arrive Monday and then Tuesday night so I’m not sold on him being reliable.

We’ll see. Things tend to work out.

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