Journal From a Refugee Camp – 12 October

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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.

Thursday, October 12th

I started the morning off by chauffeuring patients and volunteers around the island. I took our doctor to the clinic at OHF, then picked up one patient and their family from Moria and dropped them off at a medical clinic in town, then went back and helped at the OHF clinic for nearly an hour, then went back to the town’s medical clinic and picked up the family and our clinic director, dropped the family off at Moria, and finally returned to the OHF clinic with the director.

We opened late, which will happen any time there is an appointment in the morning from here out, but I ranted about this the last two entries and won’t get into it again.

An hour after opening, an Iraqi man came in and told us the OHF director sent him. He was personable, smart, and spoke great English. Like everybody else with those qualifications, we expected him to stick around for an hour or two before leaving. Instead, he asked me for common terms at the clinic and borrowed my notebook of Farsi phrases so he could translate them into Arabic as well. He took notes throughout the shift and asked me questions from time to time, distinguishing shin from leg and finger from toe. Previous volunteer interpreters had never done this before. When he asked for my WhatsApp info and started scheduling rides to and from work, I knew he would stick around. After ~25 Arabic interpreters over the previous three weeks, we found one.

Aside from driving in the morning and showing our new interpreter the ropes, I didn’t do much today. I translated for a handful of patients and called a few others to make and confirm appointments, but generally I observed the doctor today to make sure I knew the specific terms I might need (new terms learned today: ribs, gums, liver). I’ve been translating sporadically the whole week, which frustrates me beyond belief but doesn’t crush me inside like translating for torture victims last week did. I’ll take a boring, routine shift over that every day.


I have three very pressing appointments tomorrow morning (and of course the clinic will open a few hours late because of it) so I’m spending part of the night studying various types of cancer and surgical procedures, then doing my best to translate the terms I just learned.

Tomorrow will be busy.

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