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.
Wednesday, October 11th
Today was easily the slowest and most frustrating day since I’ve been here.
I translated for one family during clinic hours. One. And I barely understood a word. The family was from a very rural area and their accent made it obvious. They were upset about the translation and refused to speak more slowly or use simple words for a simpleton like me. They got the basic care they needed but left frustrated; I provided the basic care they needed but was left frustrated.
Two Dari-speaking families came to the OHF clinic earlier, but I was at Kara Tepe refugee camp when they came. I arranged to volunteer for IsraAid, an Israeli Non-Government Organization which run the Kara Tepe medical clinic on weekends and does shore rescues during the week. I had an easy interview with the Kara Tepe director, an interview in which I barely even had to lie. I’m excited to work at their medical clinic, one with better infrastructure, more supplies, and from what I understand better organization than the clinic I currently work at. I’ll continue to work at the One Happy Family medical clinic until the end of the month, while I’ll work weekends at Kara Tepe with IsraAid and then work full time with them doing shore rescues starting in November.
After I got back from my interview at Kara Tepe, I sat around for most of the afternoon, running occasional errands (getting boxes from storage, asking for an Arabic interpreter, looking for a screwdriver, etc.) and otherwise trying to keep my leg elevated — it’s still sore a week after I bumped it.
The slow, frustrating, boring day ended with a bang. Fifteen minutes before the school we share the building with was to start, we had two patients waiting to be seen, which is a tall order for one doctor with a language barrier.
When a man came in asking for antibiotics for a child from a perscription the child had at his camp, the clinic director told him that we still had too many patients and he needed to come back tomorrow; I asked him to wait while I looked for what antibiotics we had so he would know if he could get them from us the next day or if he needed to head to a pharmacy. The clinic director again told him to leave and come back tomorrow. That’s when things got interesting.
The man escorting the child was not his father, but was an Iranian amateur Judo fighter who trains people all day at the gym and looks like every 80’s movie villain. He was also fluent in Farsi, Dari, Arabic, Kurdish, and English, and is the most useful person at OHF, one I ask favors from regularly and don’t want to burn bridges with. He didn’t take kindly to being told to take the sick child away and return tomorrow. I did my best to de-escalate the situation but it was too far gone at that point. A fairly loud “argument” ensued, which was mostly him yelling and saying he would bring the camp director into it while our clinic director told him we were closed for the day.
He left and I tracked him down five minutes later, convincing him to wait outside and that we would see the kid and do what we could to get the medication the next day. We saw the family outside the clinic after we closed and took care of the kid, having a doctor see him and give him antibiotics. He got the care he needed & I translated for the family and had an easy time understanding them and giving clear directions, an oddly happy ending to a cathartic conflict.
Our interaction in the clinic was the dumbest, most unnecessary and avoidable argument I’ve seen while volunteering and capped off the day perfectly.