I’m a day late because last night I opened my computer to write and immediately fell asleep. So it goes. Yesterday was the beginning of a stretch of bad weather – heavy wind and some rain, as well as cold. It’s still far better than New England in January, so I’m not complaining too much, but the rain and wind does cut down on the number of things we can get done at the camp.
I worked all day in the community room, which has a little kitchen, a ping-pong table, and a bunch of tables and benches for people to sit at. There are little couches, a sound system, and markers and paper for kids to play with. The walls are decorated with balloons and ribbons, with a huge poster translating the English alphabet into its Arabic equivalent, and sunflowers in tidy lines above windows. It’s a warm, friendly, and welcoming. My job was to keep it that way, so I cleaned the kitchen area, swept the floor, and reorganized a bit.
I have a feeling that one of the things I will consistently do while I’m here is reorganize things. Some areas, such as the clothing “shop” for the refugees, are extremely well laid out. When someone comes in for a piece of clothing, the ladies in there can reach for the right thing immediately and get it every time. They call it “microsorting,” and it works well. Other stuff is less efficient. We don’t have a great scheduling system – it’s too loose and self-directed. People just sort of… do whatever they feel like, rather than moving from one task to another with purpose. Sometimes it works out really well, but sometimes it means there’s a lot of dead space in between tasks. I don’t think it would be too hard to redo the schedule every morning to eliminate that limbo time. We’ll see what develops.
In the meantime, the community room looks beautiful. One of the nice things about working in there was that it truly is a community space for both volunteers and refugees, so I got to meet a few of the residents. One of the rules of Pikpa is that since we shelter some of the more vulnerable refugees we never post photos of them or tell stories online about them, so no details here. It was good to really connect with a few people though, and talk about their experiences. Turns out that finding a common language is surprisingly easy; between my English and French and their multitude of languages we make things work.
Today it’s pouring rain and no one is doing much. Anna and I decided not to go to Pikpa, since it’s far and judging by yesterday it will be pretty slow. We’re staying with another volunteer, Vanda, who offered to let us stay in her little apartment. We were going to go to Moria, but it seems like not much is going on there at the moment, so we’ve decided to take a day off, work on our Greek and Arabic, and rest. Bad weather means that no boats arrive on the beaches, which in turn means that once the weather improves there’s a huge backlog of people showing up. In the next few days the beaches will be packed with people arriving, and we’ll need as many people as possible fresh and able to receive them.
The big drama at the moment is that due to the weather the ferries can’t leave the port in Mytilene. Last night there were something around 2,600 people stuck, unable to leave the port for fear their ferries would leave without them, but with nowhere to sleep. Volunteers distributed blankets, sleeping bags, fruit, water, and energy bars, but according to the private chat channel I’m a part of it was a mess. UNCHR can’t help people who have already registered, so they were unable to bus refugees back to the camps. Refugees didn’t want to leave anyway, because missing a ferry means buying another ticket, and most of them can’t afford that.
At the moment I’m sitting in a little cafe called Hippocampus Cafe in Panagiouda. Later Vanda, Anna, and I will go back to Mytilene to visit and join a group of local women who knit hats and scarves for refugees above a supportive cafe. It sounds like a perfect rainy Sunday activity!