Peace and Response

The Peace of Wild Things – Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me15392928_10153932115741736_7714780074808315155_o
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

——

The world wears heavy on me today. What looks to be the final push for Aleppo claims the news today, but Afghanistan is also in shambles, people are fleeing Eritrea, Libya, Pakistan and the list goes on.  I have immense concern surrounding our incoming president and his Secretary of State nomination does nothing to quell those concerns for our future. As a friend quickly reminded me, there is much good as well and I agree. The prognosis on the world is not entirely dismal. There are so many things, people and situations that restore hope and take my breath away, reminding me that there’s hope for humanity and that we have a good Creator.

And yet, today it feels heavy. After a couple months in Europe the term refugee has faces and names. People I may never speak with again, but who have captured and broken my heart and whose resilience has also given me hope for the future of humanity.

I did nothing to solve the refugee crisis, fix Syria or any other country or even solve one single individual’s situation. I did a lot of laundry, (sometimes) kept a minor semblance of order to the chaos of shower and laundry queues and cleaned a fair amount of showers. I played peek a boo with smiling toddlers and laughed with the kindest 12 year old boy ever and his mother while we figured out how to fit his twin 3 week old sisters into baby carriers someone gracefully donated and allowed us to gift to his family.

I was often exhausted and not always the kind, gracious person I would like to be in the midst of bathroom squabbles. I did very little to relieve suffering and nothing to solve the actual systematic problems, but for several weeks it felt good to be exhausted going SOMETHING.

Now we’re back home. I participate in small ways in welcoming refugees to Oregon – a minuscule proportion of the globally displaced and I read the news and it breaks my heart. But where to go from here is the question on my mind most often lately. I’ve been musing over 4 arenas of response, but have no great answers. My current percolating thoughts are below, not in any linear progression, the four areas are more concurrent and overlapping and mostly documented for my sake.

—–

Rest – Rest as in Wendell Berry’s poem above. I so often come back to his Mad Farmer Liberation Front when I’m trying to center, but this one I’ve discovered more recently and been returning to often. It was on my mind this morning as I got in my first run since leaving Greece on a cold sunny Oregon coast day. Rest with intention. This is part of our goal in this phase of life. We’re trying to rest, to pause and to strategically plan what comes next. Where we spend our time and invest and where we live. I’m working to pause before I say yes to things and carefully consider how I spend time. To practice health and to practice intentionality.

Pray – My friend Astrid grew up in East Germany and has mentioned a couple of times in her writing how Americans occasionally mention praying for the wall to come down and that that wasn’t something she prayed for growing up – it was unimaginable to imagine life without the wall. She says “I am glad someone in the world stepped into the gap. Because whether you believe prayer helped the fall of the iron curtain or not, a great and unexpected thing happened. Not praying, I received. And this magnificent gift changed my whole life. I think they call that grace.”

I want to be someone that prays for the unimaginable, because great and unexpected things do happen that change the entirety of people’s lives. And so today I pray for peace in Syria – for the safety of the 100,000 people remaining in East Aleppo. I pray for peace in Afghanistan, Eritrea and South Sudan. I pray for those who have lived their entire lives in refugee camps and I pray for our incoming president.

Engage – The husband and I have had several conversations lately about how to engage well within our relationships in arenas where we disagree. My go to has been to exit conversations and call it a form of keeping the peace. But more and more that is feeling unacceptable in some realms and we’ve been discussing how best to engage, to stand firm for what we believe and do so well. Our recent travel creates easy openings into conversations that I would love to use better as does the recent election.

Act – Currently this is limited to attempts to be better educated, some small donations we make and some time I put into helping people at our church make connections to help welcome refugees locally. For the moment, we’re intentionally keeping this small as we rest, pray and consider where to fully invest our time and resources.

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Refugee Crisis News Sources

I’ve had a couple questions about where I get most of my news related to the refugee crisis, so thought I would mix things up and share that information. Particularly given how quickly things change and the nature of the crisis (I.E. many refugees wanting to remain anonymous for various reasons), it can be challenging to find good information, especially when you’re removed from a situation that is spread out across more than one continent. Over the past 18 months I’ve been reading steadily and daily about the situation and a few sources have come to the top of the pile for consistent accuracy. The three sources below are ones I follow on social media and keep up on, the first one I usually read their daily digests most days. I also read pieces from the WSJ, NYTimes, BBC, Guardian, Al Jazeera and Foreign Policy and The Economist on occasion as well. I like the balance of reading from multiple major sources in different places, but have consistently found these 3 the most reliable for on the ground news and their also the ones people are least likely already aware of.

  • Are You Syrious: I’m linking to 2 sites, first is their feed on Medium.com where they post their daily updates, and second is their Facebook page, which they post links to their digests and additional information. Since you likely already use FB, this is most likely the easier way to get their content. I’ve been following this organization since they started about 14 months ago and am continually impressed with they work and information. Daily they provide updates with numbers of refugees arriving in Europe, status in different places and various other happenings. Sometimes the English grammar is slightly off, but it’s consistently great.
  • News That Moves: Another great source of news in a constantly changing situation. Linked with Internews, which is another great organization, News that Moves aims to provide verifiable information regarding the current refugee crisis. Much of their information is geared towards refugees and aims to respond to current rumors.
  • Preemptive Love Coalition: This one is a little different. They are a faith based organization working in some of the hardest places to be right now: Iraq, Syria,, etc. The more I learn about this organization the more impressed I am. Their posts consistently challenge me and how I think about current world issues. This is an organization I’ve given money to and will continue to give money to as well. Most of their posts are linked to where they work, this is a great place to learn more about ISIS and especially Iraq.

Weekend Adventures in Athens

Thanks to a called off trip to one of the camps to install new network equipment in an effort to fix/improve their WiFi, we ended up with almost the whole weekend off! We were both fairly exhausted and had decent headaches so ended up spending most of Saturday alternating between walks exploring different areas around us and nap/reading breaks in the air conditioned apartment. Tonight is our last night in this apartment, which we’ve called home longer than anywhere else since we moved out of our house in July. It’s been nice to land in one place for a while, have easy access to laundry and to get to know a little neighborhood for a bit. We’re out of the tourist areas a little in a residential area that’s somewhere in the early stages of gentrification complete with tons of cafes, workshops and street art. It’s vibrant with a handful of little squares packed with restaurants, but plenty quiet enough to sleep well. Tomorrow we move around the corner to another apartment managed by the company until we move on from Athens. Not sure yet when that will be.

Sunday we played tourists with another couple that’s been volunteering at one of the center’s we’ve both been working at. Ironically enough, they’re also from the NW (Idaho) and it’s been a blast to get to know them a bit – particularly her as we’ve spent a lot of quality time in the women’s bathroom at the center doing laundry together. They’re traveling for a few months and moving on from Greece next week. If you’re interested in reading about their adventures check out their blog: regretless.life. I’m looking forward to seeing what they write about Athens and volunteering.

We met up at a church offering English translation via headset Sunday morning that turned out to have a British guest speaker. After a quick gyro pita we hoped on the metro south towards the coast then grabbed a taxi to Lake Vouliagmeni. img_20161016_161802047 It’s an interesting little lake just across the road from the coast, nestled up against a rock face that drops into it and creates a handful of apparently quite deep caves that haven’t been fully explored. You can dive, snorkel, sun bathe, eat, swim, etc. It’s fed by a hot spring and has a pile of minerals in it that they claim cures everything from “post stress disorders to gynecological disorders.” It’s also quite full of those funny little fish that show up in “fish spas” around the world and supposedly eat the dead skin off your feet and completely creep me out. Thankfully they don’t nibble on you if you’re moving so I just made sure to always keep moving, which is a better work out anyway right? I’m pretty sure they didn’t get me even once and I’m creeped out just thinking about the people sitting at the edges letting hundreds of them gnaw on their feet!

We came back to town, meandered a bit, grabbed dinner and wine with a rooftop view of the Acropolis and then grabbed a table at the always busy dessert place in our neighborhood, which turned out to be rather an adventure in how much chocolate 4 people can consume in one sitting! We ordered what turned out to be 5 LARGE chocolate themed desserts served around the edges of a metal platter roughly 16-18 inches across with about ½ gallon of odd tree sap flavored ice cream in the middle with pools of chocolate and mounds of whip cream filling in every possible gap between things. Just in case you need proof I’m including a rather poor picture of the monstrous dessert. It was a blast to both play tourist for a day as well as to spend a day hanging out with people! Here’s hoping we cross paths with Jared and Erika again soon – I already miss having her around the laundry room today at the center!14753727_10153779360631736_5750580497116526920_o

Today I was back volunteering at the center and hanging out in the laundry room, but with a few much appreciated breaks to chat with people and a couple good moments of laughter. Now that we’re a bit better rested AND have internet at home again now I should hopefully be back to writing a bit more again and a bit more about the work I’m doing.

 

Meteora

I feel like I’ve mostly been describing days instead of any great reflection or insight into what I’ve actually been doing or learning. There’s so much to learn, process and think about and I am very much still working through my thoughts on it all. Add in the logistics of normal life in a new place with all the housing moves we’ve done and I’ve been more eager to sleep then contemplate and write. Which is also, what this has turned out to be, but there’s pictures at least!14525235_10153758040991736_1584701461772033392_o

It somehow feels like I’ve been on the run constantly since last Thursday and I’m pretty well exhausted. I think it’s mostly that I’ve started making connections and those take time and are in different parts of the city combined with it just taking longer than at home to take care of life logistics. Without a nearby Fred Meyer (and a car to drive to it) where everything is in my native language and makes sense to me, things are a bit more adventuresome and time consuming. Which is a good lesson in many ways for us. We’ve managed to cook several meals, successfully grocery shop and are very comfortable getting around the city on the metro. I’m really impressed with how clean and efficient it is. Much cleaner than any public transit system I’ve been on in the states for sure.

We ended up with about 36 hours free between various work/volunteer commitments this weekend and after much debating between staying in town and getting out of the city decided to go for the adventure route. We picked up a rental car Saturday morning and successfully drove across the city and north to Meteora. It’s a region of Greece in a central plain near mountains where there’s a grouping of rock pillars that monasteries were built on the tops of beginning in the 13th century. Six monasteries remain and are much more accessible now than they used to be. In the 1920s stairs were added to the remaining 6, replacing previous wooden ladders and a rope/sack pulley system. Today there’s a road that winds close to most of them making the area easy to explore. It’s a climbing destination and has lots of great hiking trails and is a great to catch the sunset/sunrise.14566347_10153758047241736_3439097756995133736_o

We drove up Saturday after making it through Athens, checked in and took off driving the 15 km road around the monasteries. We hiked the steps into one of the 2 nunneries, which was bombed by the Nazis and then rehabitated and restored in the 1980s. After catching sunset we meandered back to the village and walked into town for dinner. The next morning after the usual breakfast of honey, yogurt and bread we took off on a guided hiking trip. We meandered around the valley and slowly made our way up to the Grand Meteoron monastery – the largest, which ironically has I think he said only 3 resident monks. It was a great tour, just 3 other people including a Dutch couple and a man also from the outskirts Portland.

We made it back to Athens and the next morning returned the car in the heart of downtown with only minor traffic confusion and even mixed up the running routes by running back to the apartment from the rental company.

Since then, we jumped back into volunteering and working. It’s been nice to be in one place for a few days – 8 days in this apartment will make the longest we’ve slept in one place since we left the house in July!

I spent my first day at the second center I’m volunteering with and enjoyed the chance to connect with new people, see how a different place works and continue to learn. They have someone on staff who works with immigration law/services and provides assistance linking refugees to other services, answering questions about the asylum process, etc. Since today was both pouring rain and a Shia Muslim holiday the center was pretty quiet, which provided a good chance to learn about how things work and get to know a people. It also meant I could head out when the husband left to work and sneak in a couple hour nap this afternoon and we even got a chance to go out to dinner tonight!

thursday: Elliniko

Today I met with another organization working with refugees in Greece. Faros was started by a couple Danes, but is strongly linked with several Greek churches and has been working, focused mainly on unaccompanied refugee minors since 2013. They run activities in a camp I visited today (more on that later) for children, a shelter with space for unaccompanied minors to stay and 2 centers for women and children only that provide showers, children’s activities, snacks and tea, etc. They take shorter term volunteers in the centers and I’m planning on volunteering there a couple days a week when the other center is really slow. They’re a UNICEF blue dot facility and I was impressed in their orientation and materials and am excited to learn more and participate a little next week. The husband will even help a little, but in the kitchen preparing and serving. By not allowing men at all (other than in the kitchen) it creates a culturally appropriate gender appropriate safe space for women and children.

Following the meeting with their volunteer coordinator we sprinted (or rather rode the metro) across town back to the other center. Another couple who have been volunteering for the past several weeks in the center and goes home this weekend, had voiced interest in visiting one of the camps that the guests at the center come from before they leave. Today one of the Iranian guys (early 20s I think?) that volunteers/translates at the center and just moved out of one of the camps offered to take them for a couple hours today. We tagged along to Elliniko, which is really three semi separate camps grouped together on the grounds of the old airport that was closed when the new/current one was opened in preparation for the Olympics in 2004. Greece then built a handful of Olympic Stadiums on the grounds (baseball, soccer, etc.) that are now unused. One of the camps is in the arrival hall of the abandoned airport, the other two are each in vacant stadiums, with a few larger platform tents outside. It’s a pretty otherworldly site – the abandoned airport complete with jet ways, departure/arrival signs, runways, etc. The stadiums with concession booths and signs, bleachers in various states of decay and then the reality of the refugee camps in rows of tents, clothes hung to dry, food smells and piles of children everywhere. If you’re interested, googling “Elliniko refugee camp” and looking at the images shows you a few. I didn’t take any (they’re not allowed of course) and have mixed thoughts about posting them here so am going to refrain.

From what I can tell, it’s still an ‘unofficial’ camp, but that’s just my best understanding. We ran into few people seeming to be official, staff or really even volunteers. Faros runs a children’s organization and there was a locked classroom (we were there earlier then they are today) with children’s art in the windows and there was a mobile medical vehicle each from both MSF and Doctors of the World. MSF has a team of midwives, a primary care physician and psychologists that provide care on site at certain times and Doctors of the World has I believe a physician, psychologists and a dentist providing care on site. I believe at least one of them has a couple volunteers in off hours for emergency purposes as well. Other than these two organizations we didn’t come across anything in the way of services in our time there. However, we were only in one of the three parts of the camp. Additionally, it looked like the camp had just received a food delivery of some sort, several people had boxes with yogurt, prepared food and water and we saw a truck that was labeled as Halal.

Still processing the visit, my thoughts on it are percolating still. I’ve written a bit more about interacting with people there, but it’s fairly raw still so will wait as I process and mull it over before I share more here.

Thank you to the couple of you that have posted, proving at least a few people are reading this. 🙂

meanderings on today and refugees

I think we finally have housing settled for the rest of our time in Athens! That feels like no small feat after the craziness of last week. We’ve even managed to make a few of our own meals, mostly breakfast, but also a bit of a twist on chicken tacos (with feta!) for lunch today. Something about returning to rhythms of exercise and not always eating out feels stabilizing even if overall we really do like Greek food. It’s been particularly fun to discover thanks to a new friend here an app called ClickDelivery that lets you order from hundreds of restaurants across the city and then it magically appears 20-40 minutes later by motorbike. So far we have a favorite souvlaki place where you can get grilled halloumi cheese (yum!!), great grilled chicken, etc. for crazy cheap and one fail with a Chinese restaurant. Tonight we’re meeting up with another couple that’s on their 4th week of volunteering at the refugee center. We’re going to find out what well rated Thai food is like in Athens and are excited to learn a bit more about them. They’re in their mid-60s, from Kentucky and spent 3 years living in Kabul recently working with street children and setting up a women’s sewing project.

In other reasons why today has been a good day, I just had a little chaotic video chat with my sister and all 5 of her littles. Complete with lots of enthusiasm, a little tour of our apartment including the weird dolphin/seashell toilet seat and energetic attempts by the 2 year old to kiss the husband through the monitor.

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dolphin toilet seat!

Love those kids and my sister is a rock star for her ability to not just keep the 5 of them alive and fed, but also schooled!

Yesterday, the EU apparently made moves to begin deporting Afghani refugees back to Afghanistan, as discussed in this article from the Guardian. Most of the refugees I’ve been working with so far in Greece are Afghani. I’m only a few days in and can’t speak to their stories, nor are they mine to tell. Of this though, I’m sure: these are strong, resilient people who chose to leave the homes and lives they’ve built over generations for a reason. They’ve traveled thousands of miles and are currently living in horrific situations while trapped in limbo. And they are humans, a few with faces I recognize including little girls that made a good effort to knot my hair irrevocably yesterday.

The refugee crisis is a hugely complicated issue, one I can’t even pretend to understand more than small bits of, but sending people back, hardly seems like a wise solution. I am so thankful for the privilege to be able in some small way participate in restoring little bits of dignity to just a few of the thousands currently displaced. Clean clothes, bits of mimed conversation and games with little ones hardly seems like a means to change the world. Today though, I’m thinking of how great it feels to shower somewhere clean and have clean clothes and bedding after a long flight or dirty night camping and how that must be a tiny taste of what it would feel like for someone living in a refugee camp. Of how somewhere inside, cool and safe to spend several hours while letting your kids run and play knowing their safe may actually be a small way to recognize another’s humanity and dignity. And a way for me to learn a bit along the while as well.

I’m thankful for the privilege of serving in small ways these individuals that are just as deserving of clean, warm, safe homes as I am and just as loved by God as I am.