Journal From a Refugee Camp – 3 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.

Tuesday, 3 October

I started off the day running to and from two refugee camps to pick patients up for medical appointments in Mytilini’s main hospital. I hate being the clinic’s only driver — I have epilepsy and don’t want the clinic’s operations to depend entirely on me feeling well — but I knew as soon as I was willing to drive once that within a week I would be the full-time driver. My estimation was off: It took two days.

At the hospital I checked a patient in, ignored the receptionist telling us she could make an appointment in two weeks, then pushed my way to the front of the line to have the patient put on today’s waiting list. After an hour of waiting, I went to four labs to check for another patient’s biopsy before being directed to a fifth. Each lab kept their results in a notebook instead of a computer, meaning there was no centralization of patient information and nobody who knew exactly which lab the results should be at. I was nervous about being late so I left the labs and went back to the waiting room to help my patient with a surgery consultation. I waited another two hours with him.  The Greeks might not be the best at the Olympic sports they created, but they will forever be champions of making excuses and sending you elsewhere for a new round of excuses.

Once the wait was over, doctors pulled my patient in and spent a minute probing, poking, and nearly punching the patient, then sent him back to the hall. After a short wait, the patient was pulled into another office and grimaced while they got the same treatment. I couldn’t tell if they were being thorough or being spiteful — it didn’t look like a pleasant exam.

After the exam I translated for two young Afghans I overheard speaking Dari in the hall. I told a receptionist their problem and tried to get the nurse who made the waiting list to add their names, but she ignored me and pretended not to understand English even though we had spoken a few hours before. I thought she hated me, then saw her yell at an old lady with a limp and a hunched back for standing too close to a door and realized that’s just who she is.

As usual, I was late for work at the camp clinic because the ten-minute exam we showed up at 8:00 for took the entire morning. Work at the clinic was tedious — few patients spoke Farsi or Dari today, and those who did spoke clearly and had simple problems.

Despite the few Farsi and Dari speakers during the shift, we were flooded with Syrian, Iraqi, and Cameroonian patients, plus the doctor had to leave the clinic twice to deal with people at the camp who had had seizures. We stopped taking new patients early but the clinic went forty minutes longer than we normally do, so the class which uses the building after us had to cancel for the day. Running late brought a completely understandable but unnecessary round of tension between us. One of the dirty secrets of volunteer work is the amount of politics, backbiting, infighting, tension and general douchebaggery between people who want nothing more than to help others.

After spending eleven hours either translating, driving, or waiting in lines on behalf of patients, I got back to the apartment and started making plans for moving six patients and two volunteers to two clinics in the morning, then studied medical terms in Dari for the next morning’s work.

Tonight I was too tired to work out and had too strong of a headache to read, then realized how much I missed the days of living in a tent at Pikpa and sorting donations for the entire day.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s