Rocky Waters (and Land)

Tensions are a little high this week in Athens following an earthquake of 5.3 magnitude (and the first one since 1999)! I happened to be out in the market when the earthquake hit. The shop I was in lost power (I later found out the entire district lost power) and the floor beneath me trembled! Everyone rushed to get outside and the streets quickly became crowded. As I walked home, I noticed traffic built up as people were eager to leave the city. After I reached home I felt another two aftershocks! Needless to say, it was quite an experience.

Tensions at work are a little high as well following the national elections that had occurred a little over a week ago. Although I am not well versed in Greek politics, my colleagues explained to me that the newly-elected party ran on a platform that is blatantly anti-refugee and anti-migrant. Part of their campaign promised native Greeks to evacuate refugee squats and housing to free up the space for others to use. Unfortunately, they are not providing the evacuated tenants with any other accommodations, rendering many of the refugees and migrants homeless on the streets. I can tell that this party is making good on their promise by the increased police presence on the street corners of my neighborhood, Exarchia. My coworker Fatima explained to me that Exarchia houses many refugee squats and the people living there may become upset and riot at the election results, therefore the police are there to “keep the peace.”

Many of the women who have been coming into AMURTEL recently have been worried about their current living situation and are seeking legal and social help. AMURTEL is not equipped to handle situations like this, as we offer prenatal care and lactation consultants, so the best we are able to do is refer them to other places such as the Hellenic Red Cross, Solidarity Now, and Greek Council for Refugees for legal council. Therefore, the work I have been doing for AMURTEL (compiling places in Athens that offer legal council, as well as shelter, food, and clothing) have become very important. I only have two more weeks at AMURTEL (six work days total!) before they close for summer holiday. I hope to finish this task very soon so the information can be distributed in a timely fashion!

My work at the street clinic is also going very well, I am learning a lot about both medicine and patient interaction. Yesterday evening, I was allowed to triage the patients alone! I was really excited at first but quickly got bombarded with patients and ended up having a really hard time. As I stated in my last blog post, many of the patients who come to the street clinic do not speak English, but Bangla, Urdu, Arabic, or Greek. This entails not only a bunch of men speaking to me, all at once, with raised voices, but also in languages I do not understand and with no regard for personal space. It was quite frustrating telling them to step back repeatedly when I would get crowded, and eventually Catherine had to firmly tell them to stop otherwise they would not be seen by the medics! Although difficult, I would not change the experience for the world. This bi-weekly street-side event allows me to build character, gain a better understanding of the population I will continue to serve in the future, and develop and practice skills that will prove to be beneficial in later years. For example, I am already getting quite good at communicating with patients using body language!

Overall, and as expected, I am having a great time. I made it out to the beach this weekend and the water was clear, beautiful, and much needed as the summer heat is back in full force. Also, to my delight, I attended a feminist festival in Exarchia! They had a screening of the amazing film “Cairo 6,7,8” about female empowerment and hung signs around the local square. I feel completely in my element.

—Megha Patel