Journal From a Refugee Camp – 13 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.

Friday, October 13th


The morning started with picking up three patients from Moria, taking one of them to a medical clinic in town and two to the hospital. One of the hospital patients urgently needed blood work done, while the other has a condition which may require surgery and needs to be seen ASAP. I handed their paperwork from our medical clinic to the receptionist, who didn’t look up before handing us sheets with appointment dates on them. One was for Halloween, the other for early November. The receptionist then pointed us towards the exit with his eyebrows.

As always, I ignored him and escorted the patients down the hall instead. The “appointments” reserved for us don’t have a specific time or doctor, they just list a date to show up. The doctor(s) see patients with appointments on a first-come, first-serve basis and don’t track appointments online, so I always take patients directly to the waiting area to be seen and try to get our name on the waiting list. When in Greece, do as the Greeks.

IMG_20171013_100228230It didn’t work today. We waited for 30 minutes for a nurse or doctor to emerge from the office with a clipboard, but the room was blocked by a screen and despite loud voices behind it, nobody came or went from the office while we waited.

While patient one waited, I took patient two to the lab to get blood drawn. The lab’s casually racist receptionist was gone today so I broke protocol and actually took the correct steps of showing the receptionist the patient’s referral and lab requests. He looked at the paper and told us we needed to be seen down the hall, pointing to where we had waited earlier.

We waited another 30 minutes and gave up when nobody emerged from the office we needed to go to. Today was the first time in Greece I couldn’t lie, cheat, or steal my way into getting a patient seen.

After dropping three patients off and picking up an Arabic interpreter (he’s the first to come back without being coerced) and the OHF medical clinic director, we got to the OHF clinic and were less than two hours late. Success! Our new clinic hours, changed without our knowledge or consent, make us open one to three hours late whenever we take patients to the hospital for appointments.

After the dullness of not being seen at the hospital and the excitement of not opening the clinic overly late, the rest of the day was boring. We had an Iranian who acted as our Farsi and Dari interpreter, leaving me to do very little in the afternoon. I helped the triage nurse, ran small errands, and talked to waiting families, but did very little in the way of translating. I was feeling like I should give up on translating and just stick to driving when our translator came to me with a handful of questions. He heard words in Dari he didn’t understand, plus had trouble when (Dari speaking) Afghans couldn’t understand some of his Farsi words. It felt good to help him with his vocab; I was still useful.

During the afternoon shift I ran a few more errands, taking one patient to a nearby store for earplugs (I bought toothpaste myself, which I later saw was expired. Never change, Greece) while driving another patient back to camp Moria to be with family after hearing bad news. I then packed and unpacked boxes while helping families with general questions and trying to get patients to relax.

Today summed up the week pretty well: Lots of driving, not much translation, and the clinic opening late nearly every day.

Tomorrow I’ll start translating for doctors from the IsraAid NGO at camp Kara Tepe’s medical clinic, which should be different on all three fronts. I don’t need luck, but wish me fun please.


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