Warm Fuzzies and Cold Realities

Posted by Planet Waves

Marcy Franck, newly arrived in Chios, Greece on July 24. Photo by Marcy Franck.

Marcy Franck is currently in Greece bringing supplies and human caring to Syrian refugees in Greece. In this installment, she describes a visit to a refugee girl who needs dental care, the currency of stickers, and the art of power-shopping for groceries for a hungry family from a government-run camp.

Editor’s Note: My dear friend from high school, Marcy Franck, is currently in Greece bringing supplies and a heartful of human caring to Syrian refugees in Greece. Her trip was originally supposed to include a stop in Turkey, until the failed coup and its fallout. She wrote in her first post about the trip, “I fear that being surrounded by people whose needs surpass what I can give will damage my already broken heart beyond repair. But I’ll remind myself I’m here to stand beside them in a world that seems otherwise unwelcoming. If they are strong enough to live though this, I am strong enough to stand with them for a little while.” Any donations made here go directly to aid. — Amanda P.

By Marcy Franck

A 10-year old girl was having tooth pain and couldn’t sleep. That’s all I knew.

Marcy Franck, newly arrived in Chios, Greece on July 24. Photo by Marcy Franck.

Marcy Franck, newly arrived in Chios, Greece on July 24. Photo by Marcy Franck.

So I went with Sofia and Carlos, Portuguese volunteers, to Dipethe camp to find this girl, meet her family, and arrange to take her to the dentist on Friday.

Dipethe is a small camp located in and around an abandoned municipal theater, where about 500 people live in tents both inside the open-air building and around its perimeter.

Walking into the building felt a lot like walking through a front door and straight into someone’s living room. It’s as cozy and colorful as you could hope to make it, with a narrow strip of bare floor down the middle and squishy padding under soft blankets along the sides. Families have pitched their tents and carved little homesteads in every available space, while those with access to outlets have plugged in fans.

We were able to find our girl easily, and though we arrived unannounced as perfect strangers, she and her father welcomed us with smiling faces and warm handshakes. We told them we were there to talk about the dentist, and they invited us in to sit down.

She has four young brothers, and I gave them each two stickers. When we got settled, the eight year old put one of his stickers on my shirt, then insisted I take some of his snack. In return I gave a few more stickers to save for later. And by “later” I mean roughly 30 seconds, when he plastered them all over his 2-year old brother’s butt while he was napping.

While the grown ups talked about boring things like where they were all from, I whipped out a deck of UNO cards, and they caught on quickly. They refused to give each other the cards that would require their brother to take more from the deck, but they laughed wickedly when I made them draw four.

Eventually, it was time to go. We snapped photos, shared kisses like old friends, and put on our shoes.

Then there was some commotion when the dad greeted a visitor. She was a mom carrying a boy of about two years old, and her young daughter stood beside her.

He rushed to find a large bottle of water, two pieces of fruit, and a package of crackers, which he handed to her with urgency. She nodded, then walked away.

“They are from Vial,” he explains.

My stomach dropped.

Vial is hell on earth. It is the government-run camp that serves rotten food and refuses to let volunteers provide meals. It is more inland than the two camps on the coast, which means it has no sea breeze to relieve the punishing heat, and many women are still wearing the warmer dresses they received when they arrived in March.

Two days ago a dad from Vial asked if we had baby wipes, because they haven’t had access to any in four weeks. Now I carry a stash in my backpack for when I see folks with babies from Vial (Thank you, Donors!).

I looked again at the mother walking away. Her baby was so skinny.

I made eye contact with Sophia and Carlos, and we were all thinking the same thing: It’s time to go grocery shopping.

With one last goodbye to our new friends, I caught up to the mom and tapped her shoulder. I made the sign for eating and asked, “Would you like to eat?” she nodded. Her son had already eaten half the banana. He was so hungry.

Groceries purchased for a refugee family in Vial, Greece -- a notoriously under-supplied government refugee camp. Photo by Marcy Franck.

Groceries purchased for a refugee family in Vial, Greece — a notoriously under-supplied government refugee camp. Photo by Marcy Franck.

We walked them to a patch of shade outside and asked her to wait. Then we went power shopping.

What do you buy someone from Vial? Vitamins, fat, and protein are important, but the food can’t require refrigeration. We split into three directions and soon our basket was full of bananas (yellow for now, green for later!), apples, bread, cherry tomatoes, milk, water, almonds and toothbrushes. And, of course, chocolate.

Before my trip, an anonymous donor gave me $50 and told me to keep an eye out for a family who really needed it.

I used $35 of it to buy this family enough food to fill their bellies for a few meals.

While Carlos and I gathered the bags, Sophia ran ahead to bring them to a place down the street from camp, so that we could give her the groceries in private.

I didn’t understand anything she said besides “Thank you! Thank you!” She flung her arms around Sofia, then smooshed my cheeks and kissed my face.

People in the care of any government should not be this happy to see food.

I said, “Please enjoy,” and then, “Good-bye.”

I was five steps away when the tears started and wouldn’t stop all the way through dinner.

Learn more about my volunteer trip to help refugees in Greece, and how you can help, too.

Read all of Marcy’s Facebook posts here about her work with Syrian refugees. You can read her first two posts in one Planet Waves post here.

3 thoughts on “Warm Fuzzies and Cold Realities

  1. Geoff Marsh

    Happy to give my small contribution, Marcy. Keep up the good work. Every little helps, I’m sure.

    C’mon, peoples. You can be a hero for the price of a popsicle.

    1. Amanda PainterAmanda Painter

      Geoff — you rock! Thank you so much for getting involved. I absolutely love that I know someone personally who is over there helping out “on the ground,” so to speak. It feels good to know that all of my donation is going straight to aiding these refugees.

  2. Amanda PainterAmanda Painter

    Also, for another view (r series of views) into what life is like at various refugee camps in Greece, this week’s This America Life program presents three eye-opening segments, plus a prologue:


    Between the trauma of life before getting there, the trauma of the journey there, and the frustration and boredom of being in limbo there, it’s really an outrage that the human race keeps waging war on its brothers and sisters. That anyone comes out of the experience without being reduced solely to anger and bitterness truly is a miracle of human resilience.

    But I really, really wish we as a race would stop putting people in the position of having that resilience tested so severely.

    I offer my thanks yet again to my friend Marcy for not only helping out in person, but for writing about her experiences and letting us share them here on Planet Waves.

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