Pikpa, Lesvos, Day 4 and Panagiouda, Day 5

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!


Rainy view from Cafe Hippocampus


4 thoughts on “Pikpa, Lesvos, Day 4 and Panagiouda, Day 5

  1. Hi Sonia, I’m your Dad’s cousin from California! My sister Marilyn forwarded to me this link. It is very interesting and I’m forwarding it to a group of women I work with who are interested in global issues. Your mentioned in an early note about some of the agencies in the area whom you felt were doing good things. Is there a need for any personal products (sanitary pads, hand creams, etc.) We have a source for items we could send you. Let me know your thoughts about items that might be useful.


    • Hi Jeanette, I’m so glad you’re reading my blog! Please do share it with anyone and everyone you think might be interested, it’s important to get the word out about the current crisis, even though it feels so far away. I’ve been making a list of things that might be useful, but I’ve only talked to a few people so far, so give me a few more days to ask around and I’ll have a better list. I’m planning to make a specific page on this blog detailing where people can donate specific items, because lots of people just send whatever they have and we end up having to throw it out, or recycle it because it’s not actually useful. I will definitely keep you posted, and will check specifically about toiletries and personal items for women. 🙂 Thank you again! ❤ S


  2. I have circulated your blog to quite a few people and I am reading it myself quite carefully. If you determine thru discussions with your co-volunteers some things you might need, let me know. Keep warm and get to bed earlier! Your cuz, Jeanette


    • Thank you! I hope your friends are liking it as well. 🙂 I will put up a page of useful donations and places to send them eventually, I’m just waiting until I feel like I have a really solid idea of what’s needed on different parts of the island.

      I’m a night owl! And I don’t have any set hours for volunteering, so I’m often working late, it’s not all party time! (It’s mostly party time.) ❤ S


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