Journal From a Refugee Camp – 2 October

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, 2 October.

Like all Mondays, today was busy.

I picked up patients to take to the hospital for appointments in the morning, then waited for three hours to handle fifteen minutes of translations like we always do at the hospital. I’m now the clinic’s driver/chauffeur, which I knew was coming, but I still didn’t want. This gives me the opportunity to drive other volunteers around the town for errands, plus escort patients to appointments and labs around town in the morning, then still work a full shift in the afternoon. I’m glad to help but I’d much rather be sorting boxes or building shelves than spending tedious time driving down erratic Greek roads around erratic Greek drivers.


Back at the clinic, both of the British doctors from last week are gone but were replaced by a third British doctor.  He pushes everybody hard, pushes himself harder, and has an infectious positive attitude.He still saw the 40 patients that two doctors usually had. He had great rapport with patients, but this rapport might wear off when word goes around camp that he offers less pain and cold medication than previous doctors. In their place, he bought 100 euros worth of fruit and passed it out to every kid who walked by and anyone else who came through the clinic, plus didn’t stop kids from stealing oranges under their shirts–how angry can you be that somebody took the food you brought for them?

I missed Saturday night’s meeting for the organization heads at the community center over the weekend but the director promised a handful of things when I talked to her beforehand: Dedicated interpreters, something to block the windows on the doors, and a water supply. One interpreter showed up and worked thirty minutes; plastic lids from our own storage boxes were screwed over the door’s windows, and we had more clean water than we knew how to use. In the chaos and disorder of refugee camps that’s about as good as things will get.

Work itself was easier than it was Friday, which was easier than Thursday and so on. The medical terminology was the same as always, with one or two uncommon words I’m bound to forget (today: wheeze) but otherwise smooth translation. Patients are more comfortable around me now, trading banter and talking about life with me whenever there is a spare moment, which there aren’t many of. We were flooded with patients, though most had simple conditions and the doc & I easily treated most. Most. One patient had a child with a severe disability and expected us to be able to give the child detailed treatment. When we explained that that kind of treatment is far over our head, the parent started over with their line of questioning and complaints. After three cycles of this we had to send them away, unable to help them and needing to help the 39 other patients. It was heartless; I felt empty.

Word has apparently spread around camp that there’s a white guy who speaks Farsi & Dari, so now whenever I leave the clinic to grab supplies or search for an Arabic interpreter a handful of Afghans want to hear my life story in Farsi — everyone else thinks I am much more interesting than I really am. I’m happy that people finally understand that a white guy can speak tan-people languages, but I’m also short on time and have half of the conversations over my shoulder as I hurry back to work.

I got to the apartment later than usual, but still had time for a good workout and study session. In the morning I’ll have a hospital run with a surgical consultation for one family, then pick up lab results for another patient.

Last week I would have felt stressed. Not now. I got this.

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