Journal From a Refugee Camp – 9 October

The OHF/DocMobile medical clinic

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

To protect patients’ privacy I’ve removed names, genders, nationalities, and identifiable health conditions.

Monday, October 9th

The news this morning couldn’t have been any worse.

A child passed away at Moria over the weekend, reportedly from a brain tumor caused by chemical weapons used by the Assad regime. The child died in a plastic shed used as a home instead of at the hospital; medical attention is hard to come by at the larger refugee camps unless you’re bleeding, screaming, or pregnant.

As the news made its way around the volunteer community, everybody was angry but few were surprised. It was a new case from an old trend. Ten people died at Moria last winter for preventable reasons. The anger remains, but the shock goes away. This is the reality which has hardened many of us.

Also over the weekend was a meeting for the various leaders at One Happy Family. My clinic director didn’t attend and I found out this morning that our clinic hours had been changed at the meeting. We would now run from 10:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. instead of noon to 5:00. While it looks like we have more time, most patients come in around 4:00 and the new time also means that we’ll need to open two to three hours late anytime I’m escorting or translating for patients at the hospital in the morning, which happened four times last week but I was told not to worry about because it’s “sporadic.” I calmly mentioning that I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes but after a patient died waiting for medical care at Moria, our OHF clinic needs to be open during peak hours and on days when we have hospital appointments. It didn’t work. I mostly bit my tongue and was considerate of others’ needs (We share the building with a school, which is starting 90 minutes earlier now) instead of throwing a fit but now I’m thinking I went about it all wrong.

There were almost no Farsi or Dari speakers to translate for during the first three hours today so I had time to steam and think about what we could change so that we wouldn’t have to run the clinic for half days whenever we had an appointment or surgery consultation in the mornings. I walked around One Happy Family, talking to people in every building except the school. Each building and tent was taken during the OHF open hours, which made me really, really wish that our director had attended the meeting all the other directors attended over the weekend.

After three quiet hours, a rush of Farsi speakers came to the clinic, mostly with infections or questions about pregnancy. Most were easy cases and spoke clearly, though an older person had a peculiar problem and a heavy accent I couldn’t figure out so I found an Afghan man to translate for them instead. He looked reluctant to help but still agreed to come by for a few minutes.

Finding someone to do your job right for you is a huge blow to the ego, but was probably a good way to calm down and add some needed humility to my attitude before leaving for the day.



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