Farewell and Yamas ~ a reflection from my time in Greece

adfdca68-676a-4691-a511-63b2cac9e6e9Yesterday was Friday and my very last day in Greece. We were unsure of whether or not we would be going to camp but even though camp wasn’t back to normal, we were given the green light to go in and do the laundry. Laundry is one of the other tasks CCS volunteers are required to do. So far Xenia has been in the laundry for 5 weeks straight and having got a taste of it myself I give full kudos to her. There are about 15 washing machines lined up in a portable container (but only a handful work at a given time).  There is no light (that works properly) so the farther back you go into the container the less you can see. Along with actually doing the loads of laundry you also have to keep track of who’s wash is who’s and set up the next appointment for them to come drop off their next load. Again communicating this is extremely difficult when they speak many other languages and none of those are English. Let me tell you – even though I cursed at not having any light it’s probably a blessing. The smell of some of the laundry made me gag one or two times. As well, I know I was touching everyone’s underwear so you can only imagine what I was touching. Some of it was damp and I tried to tell myself it was just a wet towel, but again it could have easily have been soiled clothes. It was complete chaos the entire day because of the evacuation on Wednesday and not having been open on Thursday. All four of us worked together which was a nice way to end my volunteer stint. Once the load of wash was finished we would then put the wet laundry either in plastic bags or buckets and set them outside for residents to pick up. This worked out well until it started to storm with thunder and lightning. Now it was a mad rush to get the wet but clean clothes back in the container with us. With about an hour to go in the day our trusty machines started to break down. One by one they would error and clothes would come out dry. No water was going into the machines. This lead to a haphazard clean for those poor residents who waited patiently for their clothes.

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Leaving camp was weird. I thought I was going to do a few workshops with the ladies but because the Female Friendly Space never reopened I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to some of the girls and women whom I’d met. I know my work was needed but it didn’t feel as particularly moving as I had hoped it would when I decided sign up for this. For the most part it felt like I was doing the work of a janitor. In other words definitely needed but not particularly glamorous or appreciated. I feel so mixed about my volunteer experience. I don’t regret it by any means but it just didn’t have the same fulfilling effect as it did when I volunteered in Africa 10 years ago. When I compare the two there are definitely reasons that could explain this. When I was in Tanzania, although the people were poor and had very little in terms of material goods, the people had their freedom and dignity. They had a home and a community. They had their family and routine. Here in camp, so much of what is essential to living a peaceful and fulfilling life has been stripped from them. Although they may be safe from civil war, they don’t have the freedom to do as they please – right down to the ability to do their laundry whenever they want.

From my short two weeks in the camp I noticed that the way residents showed their appreciation was very different from culture to culture. The most grateful and pleasant were those who had come from Africa. Sadly the Kurdish seemed the least appreciative. When you look at the history of the Kurdish people however, they have been oppressed and marginalized their entire lives. Kurdistan was dismantled in 1925 and absorbed by the surrounding countries of Syria, Turkey, Iran and Iraq.  Even though the people of those areas technically belonged to their respective countries they were treated as the lowest on the totem poles. They didn’t have the same rights as their native born neighbors. So for decades the Kurdish have not had the same opportunities with education, healthcare etc and for that you can see the results in the differences of the residents. Human behavior is a direct representation of how they were treated throughout history. And perhaps there is a parallel with how our Indigenous people in America have been oppressed and why they still fight for equality and overcome negative stigma. This is my own perception and take-away from what I have experienced but I could be wrong.

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Anyway last night was bitter sweet. The four of us girls went out with Mrs Fotini and her daughter Konstantina for dinner one last time. We drank ouzo, had traditional Greek food and had plenty of laughs. I get made fun of all the time because I can’t help but feed all the cats who come to my table. I’m sure the orange kitty last night had a belly ache from all the fried sardines I was feeding him. At one point in the night a live band came around from table to table awaiting their tips. At the next restaurant we could see two ladies get up and start dancing. Maria and I decide to join them and danced around the restaurant with them. It was all fine and dandy until the music got really fast and my gyrating moves scared the musicians – they quickly stopped playing. Ooops. After dinner we decided to end the night with a round of bowling. It was so much fun but also made it so sad to say our final goodbyes. Mrs Fotini made Lucy and I these beautiful candle holders made of wood. She does woodworking and I can’t be more touched that she shared her gift with us.  It’s a treasure I will keep forever.

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Yamas

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Our last dinner together 😦

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Look at the beautiful candle holders that Mrs. Fotini made for us!

Saying goodbye to the girls today and then to Lucy was also heartbreaking. I knew I’d have an amazing time with Lucy as she makes me laugh like a mo fo, but getting to know both Maria and Xenia was also such an added bonus. These girls are half my age, but age has no boundaries and they have become my friends too. They truly have so much to offer this world and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for them next.

Thank you all for joining me on this adventure. It means a lot to have so many people interested in my passions and follow me throughout my travels. I’m not sure where the next one will be but my mind is already brewing. Love to you all!

Oh ya, I want to share a link with you. There is an NGO working with some of the women in Ritsona using a loom and weaving life vests used when crossing the sea into cushions, bags and more. It’s called Love Welcomes and I urge any of you to check out the website and perhaps do a little shopping.

And here are a few more shots from around Chalkida…

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My morning views.

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Working in a Refugee Camp – a few stories to share and a little road trip’n

This post was originally from October 3, 2019

On Tuesday we had to close the warehouse shop because of all the tension in the camp. We have the back room completely sorted now so there wasn’t anything more for me to do. I asked if I could go over to the Female Friendly Space and maybe help out there.

The FFS wasn’t fully opened because of the break-in the previous day but I was able to help Maria clean up what was left behind. The thieves took everything including the furniture. Now it is pretty much an empty space with virtually no supplies. I was able to spend some time with some of the ladies which was great. Just being in their presence and trying to share information is so rewarding to me as it means so much to connect with them at some level. Do you know what they call the thieves? Ali Baba! Ali Baba came up in conversation quite a lot yesterday!

I met one woman who is maybe only 18 (so basically a child herself). She came to Greece with her husband and her daughter but on the journey over, her husband was killed.  You wouldn’t expect upon meeting her that she has already faced so much heartache as she smiles with such a big grin. It was cute because I was hanging up posters on human rights. They were written in English and Arabic and she was immediately drawn to them. She read each human right aloud in Arabic. When she read some of the Human Rights she shook her head with so much sorrow as I know she does not experience these rights like most of the world.

I also got to spend some time with a few of the kids that came along with their moms. My favorite was a vibrant young girl who loved to sing and braid hair. I asked her if she wanted to braid mine but she thought I was crazy (as most of you know I have very short hair). Instead I showed her my handstands as I figured that would win my way into her heart. Later in the day she helped me place branches in the fence as we are still trying to fortify the wire fence so the men can’t see in.

For lunch this week I’ve been ordering from the ‘Falafel Man’. He is a resident in the camp who has the biggest smile and has his own ‘shop’. His story is also pretty unreal. I was told that on his boat over from Turkey he was with 42 other people. While they were on the boat it actually exploded. They all had to swim to the nearest island and  incredibly all 42 people survived!

After yesterday it looked like I was going to spend the rest of my volunteer time at the FFS. I even started to plan little art workshops that  I could do with the teens and ladies. But when we got to camp on Wednesday it was explained that the FFS would be closed indefinitely. Tensions are high in the camp and they don’t feel it’s safe for us to be in that space.  Lucy and I stayed in the warehouse organizing more stuff and Xenia and Maria were in the laundry.  Soon enough there was word that we might be evacuated. Apparently there was a fight that broke out between one ethnic group and another. A knife was pulled and a wooden bat. Xenia and Maria had to come into the warehouse and that’s where we spent the afternoon.

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yes, this is what we do when we are stuck in a warehouse!

Thursday we woke up and got ready like any other day but as we were waiting to be picked up we got word that we wouldn’t be going to camp that day. There was too much tension and they were worried about our safety. Three other NGOs weren’t going in either. I didn’t want to waste a day so I suggested we take a day trip somewhere. The problem lays with not only the destination but more importantly the transportation. How are we going to get there? We asked Mrs Fortini for her advise and she suggested a place called Kymi. It is on Evia Island (the same island as Chalkida). It looked to be a cute town near the sea. After trying to look up bus schedules and pricing taxis it seemed a little hopeless. The only option that would give us time once we were there would be if we rented a car. In Greece you need to have an international drivers license so I didn’t qualify. The only person who could drive would be good ol Lucy – the Britt who drives on the other side of the road. With much trepidation Lucy took one for the team and soon enough we were renting a car for the day.

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We got off to a bit of a rocky start with Lucy asking us to remind her which way oncoming traffic was coming. We quickly ended up driving down a one-way, the wrong direction but within a few minutes Lucy was a seasoned Greek driver, and even overtook trucks on narrow roads. I wanted to hold on to my ‘oh shit’ handles but this car didn’t have any. Instead I tried to gingerly hint that our car was really close to the far right and maybe we need to move over just a smidge. Truthfully she did an amazing job. The only stipulation was that we had to have the car back in the same condition we received it and we couldn’t travel over 200 km. The guy at Eurocar also suggested that we travel to Kalamos as it was said to have a beautiful beach.
Thankfully we had Siri and Google Maps. Siri helps a lot in most cases. She successfully guided us to Kymi and once we were there guided us up a windy mountain through the village. We followed her every direction and eventually when we were in the most random, far off spot that looked to be someone’s backyard, Siri announced that we had arrived at our final destination. That’s the problem about being a foreigner trying to find local hot spots. It’s like the blind leading the blind. All 4 of us had no clue what our destination was supposed to look like. All we knew was that Mrs Fortini suggested it.
We found a little restaurant somewhere in town and had lunch. From there we decided to make our way directly to Kalamos. Directly might be aiming a little high. Siri really effed the dog when she was directing us down the mountain. She would tell us to take the first right and we’d get there and it would be a narrow gravel path with a steep drop. Maybe a horse could use that path but definitely not a car. This happened several times until we had to do an Austin Powers turn (minuscule movements back and forth) on the edge of a mountain so that we could retrace our steps and head back to town.
Lucy was phenomenal and got us out of that pickle. Soon enough we were driving in the countryside past castles and windmills. Eventually we found Kalamos and it felt like we stumbled onto paradise. The water was crystal clear. When we swam you could see right down to the bottom. The beach had this cool rock formation that made a perfect cicular window that you could see onto another beach. It was wonderful. After a perfect swim I fell asleep and woke up to a sky that had turned a dark grey. Everyone was clearing out and it looked like a major storm was brewing. Sadly we had to pack our stuff up and then off we made our way back to Chalkida. Our drive back was a nail biting countdown of our odometer as we had to make sure we didn’t go over 200 km. As we pulled into Eurocar you wouldn’t believe how close we were?!!! We made it in at 199.2 km! High fives and fist bumps for everyone!

We survived our Greek road trip!

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some village fishing nets

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cute town of Kymi

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Kalamos

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what makes Kalamos even better is a Greek God! YASSSSS LADIES!

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We had to have the rental car back at under 200km…we made it by the skin of our noses at 199.2!

Back to Reality ~ Working in a Refugee Camp

This post is originally from September 30, 2019

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So a little continuation from yesterday …

As you already know, yesterday the four of us decided to hike up to a monastery. Half way through I wimped out and decided to turn back as my bummed ankle was not working in my favor. The girls continued on and by the looks of their photos they were able to capture amazing views of Hydra. When they reached the top, the Monks gave them wraps to cover their legs but good ‘ol Lucy thought she had to drape it over her head. Do you know what the Monk told her? ‘Don’t do that – you’re not Al Qaida!’ Man I wish I could have been there to see that!

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I’m not sure what is my favorite thing about this photo is – the water bottle in the middle of the picture, or the top of the church cut off!

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So as luck would have it I have Facebook to thank for connecting me with friends I’ve met in the past. This time my reunion took place in Athens after we took the ferry back from Hydra. I was able to meet up with my friend Kim who I met 20 years ago. She was a student nurse in Edmonton who was in Canada for school and we’ve kept in touch ever since. She is originally from Holland and about 4 years after she went back, my parents went to Holland and got to spend a day with her in my dad’s hometown of Nimegen . Since then she has been all over the world but has spent the majority of her time in Australia where she is now a permanent resident. Anyway, she’s spent this year traveling again and just so happened to be in Greece at the same time as me. To pin it down even further, we’d be in Athens on the exact same day. Seeing Kim again was so exciting. Even though our visit was so short I can’t be more grateful. Thank you Facebook!

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Today was back to camp life. This week we are supposed to go to Athens for a few days to help with the crisis that’s happening there. Basically heaps of boats are coming in and the amount of refugees have skyrocketed. Many refugees have been squatting in Athens and last week the government rounded them up and took them all to a prison that was converted into a camp. Apparently they only left with the clothes on their backs and the situation is dire. The problem with going in and helping on the front-line is that we can’t get the green light from the government. There is so much red tape that now we are told it might take weeks before we are allowed in. Obviously because I am going home on Saturday it looks like I will miss this opportunity. I’m really bummed as I wanted to go so badly and see a different side of the crisis. Ritsona Camp is more of a long-term camp, where as in Athens it would probably be more chaotic but helping those who need help immediately.  We have been told that with the influx of boats reaching Lesvos this weekend the government has had to stop what they’re doing in Athens and fight the fires there. And speaking of fires there literally was a massive fire that broke out at one of the camps just the other day. The camp capacity was meant for 3000 and now it has over 13 000!!! It was also recorded that a mother and her child drowned this weekend on their way over. It truly is unfathomable how immense the problem is.

So as we were getting into camp today we were told that the FFS (Female Friendly Space) had been broken into again –  but this time everything was stolen from inside. It is so disheartening because it’s like one step forward and two steps back. Now I’m not sure if the FFS will reopen any time soon. There is so much tension in the camp and today at the distribution ‘shop’ it was like there was a full moon – so much shouting and shockingly we had a kid crawl up on top of the shelving units and shimmy over to the backside to steal what we had in the warehouse. Then a little while later a woman ripped through the ‘wall’ so she could reach her hand through and steal whatever was on the other side. I understand they don’t have much, but there’s so much fighting over material things and it makes it so hard to feel like what we are doing is even useful. There are definitely moments when you get someone who smiles and is grateful but the overall feel is that nobody is grateful for what they are given and at times I feel like we are not even wanted there.  I get it, they have gone through more than I can even imagine and are not given papers to travel for at least two years so it must seem hopeless. But there is such a difference in the reception of volunteers here than when I was working in Tanzania 10 years ago. I have to realize that the two situations are very different. In Tanzania, although the people didn’t have much at least they had their freedom and dignity. I feel like those living here have been stripped away of so much. Yes, they finally might be safe, but life as they knew it is completely upside down.

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Helping unload a truck full of donations.

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This is the lock that was broken to get into the Female Friendly Space. I am not sure how they cut through that metal.

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This is in the ‘shop’ where residents can come get used clothing. As you can see, the shelves are pretty bare.

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And here we are trying on some donated glasses.

Anyway, let’s see what tomorrow holds…

Hydra – A Greek Paradise

IMG_3357This post is originally from September 29, 2019

This weekend has been nothing but a Greek paradise. Arriving in Hydra at night, all we could tell was that it looked super cute with the white washed buildings and narrow cobblestone streets. Waking up and seeing it in daylight turned the island into vibrant colours. The sea is so blue that it looks like a painting and the cute little white washed houses perched on the cliffs with colorfully painted doors as far as the eye can see are just breathtaking. There are so many cats and the majority look well fed and healthy. This truly is a kitty paradise! (Today I stopped to sit down and pet one cat and pretty soon I had about 10 around me. A couple thought I had food for them but it turns out I am just a magnet!)

Yesterday we hiked along the water’s edge until we found a beach. The beaches on Hydra aren’t sandy but it doesn’t take away from the beauty. Getting in and out of the sea on the other hand is a bit of a feat. The rocks are far from comfortable but once in the ocean it was refreshing and beautiful! I had my share of laughs watching people get in and out on all four because the rocks are so jagged and slippery. I wasn’t entirely graceful myself, but managed to get out with my bikini in tact.

The path along the cliffs near the ocean are truly picturesque as they are lined with olive and grape trees. Xenia and I plucked a black olive from a tree and took a bite out of it. We both thought we had been poisoned. The taste was like chemicals and we couldn’t get rid of the grittiness on our tongue. Obviously we are both still alive so no harm there.

The rest of the evening we walked around town and had dinner in the harbor. One appetizer we shared was feta cheese wrapped in filo pastry and covered with honey and sesame seeds. It was like a feta baklava and it was amazing!

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Today we got up early so that we wouldn’t waste any of the day. After having breakfast we decided to hike to a monastery. It was fully uphill and I was struggling with my ankle. Going uphill, my foot has to bend upwards and I was falling behind the other girls. (I make it sound like it was just my ankle, but it’s also because I am terribly out of shape.) When we took a break to look at the map and see how much farther we had to go I knew I was in trouble. I decided that I’d split from the girls and make my way back to the harbor alone.

Along my travels I ran into a couple and we got talking. They are TV producers from NBC and are making a pilot for a new show called Where in the World. Apparently they drop 5 people off in different locations around Greece and give them a hint.  It’s a race for the people to find each other at the undisclosed location where the winners obviously get a hefty prize. They need one more person to participate and they asked if I wanted to do it. Yah! UNFREAKINGBELIEVABLE right!? I would have to meet in Athens tomorrow and it would take a week. I’d be on my own but with my own camera crew and all expenses would be paid. Unfortunately I can’t do it because I have to be back at the camp in the morning.  You don’t know how much this pains me. I wish it could be for the week after and maybe I could change my flights.   My stomach just flips when I think about this opportunity but I know I can’t do it. Imagine coming all this way to do something selfless but then quit half way through to be selfish. My heart … my heart – plus I wouldn’t want to leave Lucy when we only get to see each other for these two weeks.

Anyway right now I’m sitting in a cafe at the edge of the sea waiting for the girls to get back from the Monastery.  I wish we had more time here as it truly is paradise, but nothing lasts forever and it’s almost time to catch the ferry back to Athens.  Until next time…

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Working in a Refugee Camp ~ week 1

This post is originally from September 27, 2019

Today is Friday which is the last day of work for the week. Lucy and I spent most of the day in the warehouse sorting through clothes and again came across some real doozies of outfits. We seem to literally get caught  with our pants down as every time we find a hilarious get up we can’t help but try them on. Today as I was trying to pull a pair of shorts off (the shorts had more material than Lady Di’s train) and I was caught yet again by a resident who volunteers in the shop. I think I gave him quite the scare because he ran by saying ‘sorry, sorry, sorry’.

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At one point we came across a box of pants that was riddled with mouse droppings. It was quite disgusting and we made the executive decision to just get rid of the contents of the box.

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After finding a box full of mouse poo we decided to throw the contents out!

There are a few residents who have started little businesses in the camp. Like a small coffee shop, a place to buy cigarettes and a falafel shop. Today we ordered a falafel before leaving for the day and boy oh boy was it delicious. The man who makes them was so grateful so I’ll definitely have to order more for lunch next week.

With our volunteer schedule, it leaves little time to do a weekend getaway. We don’t leave the camp until about 3:30 so organizing transportation from Chalkida is a bit tricky. We were successful though – we were able to figure out connections from Chalkida by train to Athens where we’d catch the metro and switch lines to the port. From there we caught a ferry for a 2 hour journey to the island of Hydra. We weren’t sure how much extra time we’d need so we literally went straight from the camp to the train station.

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All was good by the time we got our tickets at the port. We even had a bit of time to spare before leaving so we decided to grab a drink and some ice cream while we waited. We got so caught up in chatting at the coffee shop what we nearly missed our ferry. Our ferry was supposed to leave at 7:30 and at 7:15, Xenia noticed the time. We quickly scarfed down the ice cream  poured the water from the glasses back into the bottles and made a mad dash to  find our ferry. We thought the number system would be straight forward but unfortunately these massive ferries take up a ton of space. The four of us were running in among the car lanes frantically trying to find our boat. And by running I mean the 3 other girls were a mile a head of me while I trailed in the back looking more like a grandma as I can’t properly run on my ankle. Run Forest Run!!!!! There’s nothing like catching a ferry by the skin of your nose.

We arrived into Hydra after the sun set but from what I can tell it looks absolutely amazing. White washed buildings, cobblestone pathways, adorable cats and no vehicles. The only mode of transport on Hydra is by foot or donkey. Giddy up!

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More pics of Hydra to come…

I’m looking forward to tomorrow where we can go to beaches and explore the island.

Volunteering in Ritsona ~ camp life so far

IMG_3569This post was originally from September 26, 2019

The last few days have been productive as we have been able to go into camp to work. There are a few NGO’s working in the camp. There is  IOM (International Organization for Migration) which is part of the UN and they are the big bosses – they make all the big decisions. And then there is I Am You – they provide English classes to kids and adults as well as giving residents glasses if they need them. Lighthouse Relief deals with children and teens. Their programs are geared toward protecting children ffrom physical harm and psycho-social distress through extracurricular activities. And Cross Cultural Solutions which is who I’m volunteering with. CCS has 3 main services. The laundry – where residents are given appointments so they can drop off their laundry at certain times and we are there to do it for them. The second service is the Female Friendly Space which I talked about in my last post. And 3rd is the warehouse/shop – this is where items are brought in and distributed.

For the last few days Lucy and I have been assigned to the shop where basically we are at a Goodwill/Oxfam and have to sort through all the incoming clothing donations and stock the ‘store’. I use the word store loosely because it’s a space for residents to come get clothing. It’s separated into sections for men, women and children. In each section are bins of clothes. Organizing the shop is complete chaos. Nobody leaves things where they found them and so it’s really difficult to see what category needs restocking. And then you go back to look for more items in that category (like boys jumpers for example) and we have nothing in the back.

It’s hard too because so many of the items donated are for hootches. I’m sorry but no Muslim woman is going to wear a crop top and mini skirt. Or then you have the prom dresses and high heels. There are so many items that just aren’t useful. Water wings? Come on!!!!

The items that can’t be placed out front and have to be specially requested are shoes. Some people don’t have any shoes so we can’t have them out in the shop. Instead they are handed out in special circumstances.

What we also really need is underwear and leggings. There are a few pairs of used knickers I have sorted through but it’s really too bad that there can’t be more new packages to hand out. Leggings are also in high demand because the women like wearing them under their abayas.

The shop is also operated by appointment. Families are given a scheduled appointment to come to the shop and once a month they are allowed in. They can take as much as they need (in moderation) but it has to be monitored to some degree because then you have residents taking what they don’t need and selling it on the side for profit. I have heard my share of arguments between residents if one person gets something of desire and the other one wants it. Or I have heard our volunteer resident arguing with the ladies saying ‘you don’t have a baby, you can’t take these baby clothes’.

Tensions are high in the camp anyway because over the last month they’ve had an influx of over 200 refugees. Not only that, they are actually clearing the land next to the camp to build more space for more caravans and more incoming refugees.

This morning we couldn’t go into camp at our regular time because there was a police raid and they were looking for drugs. Apparently there was more hostility towards the doctors on site because they would not give out medication without the person taking it in front of them. People want to stash the drugs and then sell them.  Drugs obviously lead to more violence so I know there has been talk about moving the ‘sketchy’ residents to another camp.

Later in the day Lucy and I went to the Female Friendly Space and tried to fix the fence surrounding it. It’s a wire gated fence but there has been tarp around it so that the men can’t see in. Unfortunately the tarp has been stolen so Lucy and I were weaving prickly branches in between the wires so that it is more difficult to see in. Maybe my next venture with The Urban Gypsy will involve basket weaving.

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This is Xenia – hard at work doing laundry for the residents

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Once the laundry is washed it is placed outside for pick up and then each resident is responsible for hanging their laundry to dry.

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Lucy (Sally) and Maria in the warehouse sorting clothing donations

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perhaps a prom dress isn’t the best item to donate overseas???!!!!

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Lucy and I working hard at weaving prickly branches through the wire fence so men can’t see into the Female Friendly Space

I have to tell you about Mrs Fortini. She is the lady who comes to our apartment and cooks and cleans. She doesn’t speak a lick of English so Google Translate has been our friend. She has a heart of gold and is so kind. This evening she picked us up to go for a walk. Instead we showed up at her daughter’s door and had an impromptu visit. She served us cherry juice and then a shot of traditional liquor from the island of Chios called Mastiha. Next we went for a walk and had a second dinner and wine with them. They are absolutely lovely and it is just so amazing to meet such wonderful souls.

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The AMAZING Mrs. Fortini and her lovely daughter Konstantina

 

Day 1 at Camp…or Not! Volunteering in a Refugee Camp

This post is originally from September 25, 2019

What can I say about the last few days? Yesterday was Monday and it was supposed to be my first day working in Ritsona Camp. We all got up, had breakfast and were ready to go when we got a call that there was ‘a situation’ at camp. It turns out the situation had escalated and due to protocol we weren’t allowed to come to volunteer that day. Basically if there is any sort of threat within the camp all precautions are taken and volunteers are evacuated. Seeing that we weren’t even there yet, we just had the day off.

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All I know right now is that the door to the Female Friendly Space was broken down. The Female Friendly Space is a bone of contention with a lot of the men in the camp. Basically it’s a safe space where women can go. The majority of the residents in the camp are Syrians, Kurdish, Iraqi and Afghani. (There are also some from different countries in Africa too.) Obviously with the Islamic culture you have to deal with the difference in gender equality and for a lot of these families, women have very little say. Maria and Xenia (the other two volunteers) have said that they will often see a women who is 7 months pregnant doing all the work and carrying all the bags while the husband is nowhere to be seen. Having the Female Friendly Space is a  place where they can get away and have a break from all the work. Here they have people come in and teach them English, lawyers who help them navigate seeking asylum and midwives coming to explain birth and child development. Then they also have fun things like arts and crafts, yoga, facials etc. Because it’s so controversial the centre is situated just at the edge of camp with a fence around it so nobody can see who is seeking this service. It seems so simple for a women to take time for herself but for these men it is extremely threatening to have women go and learn these skills. Maria has worked at the Female Friendly Space for 6 weeks now and has seen the transformation of some of the women. Slowly she is gaining their trust and she has been able to see small breakthroughs with the women. One story that stands out is that she saw one of the lady’s daughters playing with a few boys. The boys told her she couldn’t do something because she was a girl and the little girl stood up to him and said ‘no, girls can do anything that boys can do!’ It certainly shows how educating and empowering a women truly is educating a new generation.

Anyway, because we had a free day off I was able to catch up on some much needed sleep and then in the afternoon Lucy and I walked into the town. The streets are not in square blocks so the two of us got terribly lost.  It seemed like we had been walking for ages and at one point walked next to an abandoned building that smelled so rank you’d think there could be dead bodies inside.

Eventually we found the ocean and spent a few hours gazing at the sea while having a delicious lemonade at a cute cafe. On the way back to the apartment we came across the ultimate crazy cat lady. There could have easily been 20-30 cats surrounding her while she fed them all. I do remember from my last trip to Greece that there are no shortage of cats here, so seeing this woman bring food for them truly made my heart pitter patter.

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Getting lost on the way to the ocean…

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Lovely Chalkida

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Lucy found her hotel!

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I love how this lady makes her own cat food and feeds all the neighborhood cats. The world needs more like her!!!

 

Tourist for a Day ~ Arriving in Chalkida and exploring Athens

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This post was originally from September 21 & 22nd, 2019

Saturday September 21

Touching down in a different country truly is surreal. I can’t help but be in awe of how you can be on one side of the world one day and the other just hours later. Not to mention in a tin can that flies through the sky!!! Our world is pretty mind blowing when you think about it.5A71F75E-1B4D-42AD-8485-70DD06A459E0

As soon as I touched down in Athens I was picked up by a CCS staff member named Saif. The drive from the airport was about an hour to Chalkida. Although it was fairly straight I was lucky enough to to get motion sick yet again. I hate making bad first impressions but I think asking him to pull over instead of yakking in his vehicle was probably the better impression I could make at the time!!! We pulled off at the side of the highway so I could get a few breaths of fresh air. Eventually we got back on the road and soon enough we arrived at the apartment.

I was welcomed by two friendly girls who have already been here for 6 weeks. One is from Mexico and the other California. Both are babies at just 18 & 19 years old. The apartment is really nice. Clean and spacious with a lovely balcony. Yes,  I’ll be sharing a room with 3 others and yes there is only one shower, but I think I can easily suck it up for a few weeks.

We waited for Lucy to arrive a few hours later and once she did the girls showed us the way into the main town. It’s about a 20 minute walk through twisty roads so good luck to us finding that again!!!  The waterfront is really pretty with cafes and restaurants overlooking the ocean. This is where the original hotel is located. In all honesty it’s a way better location but the apartment itself is probably a better option long term as it’s more like a home.

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Chalkida is on the island of Evia and is home to the phenomenon of the changing tide currents (which is literally the only place in the world where this happens). The sea currents in the Evripos Channel (the narrow strait of water separating Chalkida from mainland Greece) flow in a northerly direction for 6 hours. At this time there is a period of approximately 8 minutes where the water lays still. After this, the waters change their orientation, reversing direction and flow southerly for another 6 hours. Cool eh!

 

Sunday September 22

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Sunday Lucy and I got to be a tourist for the day. We caught a train that took us into Athens.  From there we switched lines and made our way to the Acropolis. The Parthenon is situated high on a hill so you can look up and see it from pretty much anywhere. At night they light it up so it’s really quite stunning. The area below the Parthenon is called the Plaka with restaurants and shops to serve all the tourists. We made our way to the top where we got a great panoramic view of Athens. From there we had lunch – falafel with tzaziki and Greek salad. It was delicious. We then tested our directional skills and hopped on a train to get to a different part of the city called Psiri. Here it had a more bohemian vibe with cafes, street art and traditional music coming from every direction. It really was the perfect place to sit back and enjoy the afternoon while people watching. At this point my jet lag really started to hit me and all I wanted to do was to get back to the apartment and close my eyes. Unfortunately we had a few trains and ‘layovers’ to get through before making our way back to Chalkida. I literally fell asleep outside on a metal chair while waiting for our train. Good thing Lucy had my back.

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Meet Lucy…aka Sally

This is Psiri…

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I was shocked to see the amount of graffiti that littered mainland Greece

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It was a pretty fantastic day I’d say. I had to pinch myself a few times to remind myself that this is real and I really am in Greece! Tomorrow will be a new adventure where we start working in the camp.

It’s all Greek to me!

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Hey there Everyone!

Yep…it is that time again. Twice in one year!!! I feel absolutely lucky to be able to go overseas not once, but twice this year. As most of you well know traveling is one of my biggest passions, so to be able to do this twice in 2019 is truly super exciting for me.

This trip is not like most of my others. It is a volunteer trip where I will be working in a refugee camp. The plight of refugees really tugs at my heart and over the last few years I have been researching and reading more about it. I know that being amidst heartbreak and struggle will be extremely challenging but I also feel like it will be rewarding in ways I won’t even know until I am there. The human spirit is incredibly resilient and I feel like those of us in the west need to take a few notes on how to be grateful for what we have and realize that the little things we seem to think are stressful are truly only bumps in the road that can make us stronger. (So that means I need to take my own advise and stop complaining that I missed the last half hour of Bachelor in Paradise, right?)

Tomorrow I will be heading to Chalkida, Greece and working with an organization called Cross Cultural Solutions. gr-country-map I volunteered with them in Tanzania about 10 years ago and my experience with them was amazing. When I saw that they had a placement in a refugee camp I knew that this was meant to be. I will be there for only two weeks and although it is not a lot of time I hope that I can help in some small way.

Originally I had planned on going alone but as luck would have it, my friend from the UK that I met in Brazil this year decided that she would join me too. Her name is Sally but I call her Lucy. Why? Ummmmm, no particular reason except that she looks more like a Lucy to me than a Sally. I am so excited that I get to see her again. She is an amazing person and I know it will make my time in Greece so much more memorable with her by my side!

I have to admit that this week I have had somewhat mixed emotions about this trip. Until yesterday I really had no idea where we would be staying. Originally when I signed up I was told that we would be staying in a local hotel in town and be driven to the camp each day. About a month ago however we were notified that instead of the hotel we would be staying in a house a little out of the town centre. I was a bit disappointed because a big bonus was that the hotel was near the ocean. On Sunday the Facebook page for this particular placement blew up as one of the past volunteers complained that the Home Base was unfit to live in. She posted photos of a staircase without a railing, broken electrical outlets and doors without locks. She said she left after 5 days and was taking this organization to court. Obviously this was a little unnerving as I was leaving in less than a week. For the last few days I have been trying to negotiate where I will be staying and figuring out if this company is even reputable anymore. In the end it looks like we will be staying in an apartment in town (but not as close to the ocean as before) with 5 people. It may not sound as comfortable as a hotel as we will be sleeping on bunk beds and sharing a washroom but I am pretty confident that it will be ok. I mean if worst came to worst at least I would have a good story to tell you about right?!!!!!

Anyway, I really don’t know what to expect but I can’t wait to experience this trip and share it all with you. If you get a chance you should watch the Netflix documentary Born in Syria.This is a documentary that is told from the perspective of children as they flee the violence in Syria and try to find a safe place to live.