Journal From a Refugee Camp – 4 October

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

Wednesday, 4 October

I started off the morning as chauffeur, driving to Moria to pick up three patients and drop them off at the IKA clinic in town for appointments, then driving to Kara Tepe to pick up three more patients and take them to the hospital to check for lab results. Only two of the three people from Moria showed up. This initially bothered me, but it’s typical and we all get used to it after a bit.

A nurse from the program escorted the patients at the IKA clinic while I went with the patients at the hospital. On Monday I had been sent to four different labs to pick up biopsy results for one of the patients, then had to stop looking so I could translate for another patient. Today, the receptionist told us the surgery lab, where I was last told the biopsy results should be, was closed for the day. I ignored the receptionist as I always do. If anything is certain in life, it’s death and a Greek hospital receptionist trying to send you away.

We bypassed the first desk in the hospital’s lab wing — the receptionist there also specializes in turning people away and is also (understandably) upset when patients don’t speak Greek and can get aggressive. I speak English, Portuguese, Spanish, Farsi, and Dari, but I haven’t figured out Greek yet so I make it a point to ignore her. After twenty minutes of asking anyone in the the lab wing hall who smiled (the younger the people are, the more likely they are to help) we found the lab with the sample we were looking for. The doctor handed us a paper and shut the door behind him. The results were written in Greek (duh) so I knocked and asked him what is said when he peeked through the now-cracked door.

“It’s benign, congratulations,” he told us as he shut the door again.

I was already running late to open the OHF clinic so I had to refuse to translate when the family I came with asked me to help them have a fairly routine condition looked at. My experiences at the hospital told me that after lying, cheating, and stealing our way onto a waiting list they would still wait at least three hours to be seen for five minutes and be told to come back another day. I asked them to come to our clinic at OHF to see our doctor and have the condition taken care of, then they told me they were going shopping and wouldn’t need a ride. I knew this meant they would wait until I was out of sight and then go back in to try to be seen. I’m happy they went back, but I couldn’t afford to miss two hours of translation at OHF clinic for it.


Today at the OHF clinic we had a new EMT helping with triaging patients, taking vital signs, and giving instructions for medications — or at least giving the instructions for me to translate. The clinic ran quicker and smoother than normal; the OHF clinic director and I vowed to fight off the other organizations he volunteered for so we could work with him every day.

After a busy morning, the afternoon was slow. Most of today’s patients were Syrian or Iraqi so I had little work to do. This gave me extra time for practicing Farsi & Dari by talking with families at the camp who passed by. While it’s not 100%, I can reliably tell the Arabic speakers from the Farsi and Dari-speaking Iranians and Afghans by their clothes: The Syrians and Iraqi women typically dressed with the flair of nuns, while many Afghan women wore modest but colorful clothing and most Iranian women wore western clothing with a stylish hijab covering their hair.

Many at the camp heard about the American interpreter and would come to me asking for help gaining asylum — they’re not afraid of the Big Bad Wolf in the White House. I told them I was in no way connected with the government and had zero influence on asylum procedures, but this didn’t stop Iranian families from trickling in and asking for my help. I talked up how amazing Germany and Sweden were but they saw straight through this and went back to asking me if I could arrange a consulate interview for them.

I finally stopped with the sugarcoating. “You know the political situation between our countries, right? I can’t help you.”

Finally, after an afternoon at the clinic which seemed to stretch for time and all eternity, we finished seeing patients. A glance at my cell phone told me something I didn’t expect: We ended only ten minutes late and twenty minutes before the school we share a building with starts, which was a big plus as we finished fifty minutes late the day before and the school had to cancel their first class.


For the first time in a week I had zero new vocab to study at night and nobody to drive to appointments in the morning. I relaxed, worked out, and played Super Metroid for a bit.

Life is good.

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