IN HIS ARMS AT LAST

BASHAR 1

Bashar seeing Hanan and his boys for the first time in a year. Happy, relieved, overjoyed, overwhelmed and many more emotions.

Oh my, I have no idea where to begin this post. Maybe last week. When I met Bashar for the first time. Bashar is a computer engineer from Syria. His wife a medical student. In 2014, as they moved from place to place, watching bombs drop on their neighborhood in eastern Syria, they decided that it would be best if he settled in Europe and then send for them. Bashar left Syria about a year ago, crossed Turkey, took the inflatable rubber boat across the Aegean Sea and got to Greece. From there, he reached Germany, where he began making a life for his family.

2 weeks ago, Bashar came to Lesvos. His wife, children (boys aged 1 and 2) and other members of his family had escaped Syria into Turkey and were making their way to the west coast to cross the sea. They were in Istanbul, they hired a smuggler to assist them across, as so many hundreds of thousands others have done, and took the 7 hour bus ride to the western shore of Turkey. They set out, they were forced back by the Turkish Army. This happened THREE MORE TIMES. Two nights ago, on Friday night, she and the other women in her group were arrested by the Turkish police and forced to pay a fee to be driven by bus to the jail in Ankar, hours and hours away from the shore. Bashar was completely distraught. There was nothing any of us could tell him to make him feel better. They were released from jail and took the bus up to Istanbul, where Bashar made other arrangements (ie. got a new smuggler). Last night he got word that they were going to the leave this morning around 7 a.m. I set my WhatsApp notification for Bashar VERY LOUD and went to bed around 2 a.m. after saying prayers for safety.

Monday morning, 0738: Bashar: They arrived to the beach. They will cross after 10 minutes. Me: Okay. Praying for safe passage!

I get up, get dressed and head out to the beach with Tamara, Wayne and Tara. I want to take a walk by myself and pray and listen to Come Close by Cageless Birds. The lyrics, “Holy Ghost, won’t you come close to me”… “I’m in need of your help, in need of your hand, in need of your love”, seemed exactly what I needed to sing this morning. I prayed that they would be brought right to us, safely.

0756 – 0759: Me: The sea is perfect for crossing. Bashar: Are you there? Me: Yes, Is she on the way? Bashar: I don’t know. Me: Well we are watching the sea. I’ll keep you posted if we see anything. Bashar: They sent a position before half hour…

GPS1

The starting point is the dropped red pin, we are the blue circle on the left. She’s starting out right across from us.

0805: They are on their way…

GPS2

1 mile down, 10 to go. Waiting anxiously on the beach. Bashar is still at the camp.

Then no word for 40 minutes!! 0845…

GPS3

About half way there, but drifting to the south. At least they are in International Waters and past the chance of being sent back to Turkey!!!

At 0857, Bashar decided he couldn’t sit at the camp and wait for word. So he got in a taxi and I dropped a pin to our location so he could find us. While in route, at 0912 he sent this…

GPS4

More than half way to us…

At 0931 Bashar pulls up in a taxi… he hasn’t heard anything since the 0857 pin drop and is worried. All around us boats are landing, but their’s is still too far to be any of these. Wayne has been searching with his binoculars and south of us there is a boat “floundering”… it’s turning in slow circles, apparently drifting. We see that there is a small coast guard boat on it’s way. We are hoping this is not Hanan’s boat in trouble. We don’t want to worry Bashar. I send him with Tamara up the road to the house so he can call via WhatsApp. He comes back at 0950 and tells us that her boat has engine trouble. He is very, very worried, as are we.

Wayne then tells us that the little coast guard boat has left that rubber inflatable and is heading our way (we are about 3-4 miles from this inflatable). The odd thing is, the coast guard boats USUALLY take them straight to port, not to shore, EVER. He comes up towards us at about 0958 and we notice he is waving his arms at us, we wave back and see there are women and children on the boat. Bashar is besides himself and as the boat gets close, at 1002, just 20 feet away he sees his precious wife and sons on the boat. THE BOAT BROUGHT THEM RIGHT UP TO US. The photo at the top is just moments after we have both boys and Hanan off the boat. Everyone, all of us, are overwhelmed with joy! I prayed about this morning. I prayed they would come right to us, safely. That Bashar, this dear man, who is now like a brother to me, would be reunited with his family.

This trip has taught me so much. But mostly what it has taught me is that with HOPE, great things happen. It happened this morning on a beach in Lesvos, Greece.

BASHAR 2

Bashar, Hanan and their 2 boys.

BASHAR 3

In his daddy’s arms

A few facts as I wind up this post.
1. This trip costs thousands and thousands of dollars. The smugglers charge about $1200 per person for the boat crossing (they don’t accompany them).
2. These lovely people are humans, just like us. They are amazing, educated, loving, humble, gracious people. They do not mean any of us harm. They want what we want, a safe place to live and raise their families.
3. These lovely people are FLEEING certain DEATH. They aren’t immigrating because they want to. They are immigrating because they will DIE if they don’t. DIE. Women, Children, Men, Elderly, HUMANS. Their fear is PALPABLE and I will feel it in my heart forever.
4. Things Bashar said this past week that make this such a reality:
On Wednesday, “If this last time doesn’t work (this was before she was arrested), I will just drop my application to Germany, take a ferry to Turkey and take my family back to Syria”. Me: “But that would be dangerous! You may die”. Bashar, “But we would die together, as a family.”
Last night (Sunday), when he was telling me about moving from area to area to not be killed by the bombs being dropped from the sky, “We were looking up and saw the bomb being dropped on our neighborhood and I knew that we were going to die”. Me, “but you didn’t”. Bashar, “no, not that time. We decided to live just for that day, never for the next, because we didn’t know if there would be a tomorrow”.
5. And last, I have nothing but BIG love for all of these people, the refugees. ALL of them. Whether they are Muslim, Christian or Yizidi, I love them all. I love them all, as Christ loves me.

 

Ciao

If you’d like to support what is going on over here, money is needed for new shoes, warm clothes, socks, ferry tickets to Athens, bus tickets to the Macedonia border, etc, etc…
If you are so inclined, my PayPal is: flamidwyfe1@aol.com
and my fundraiser site is: https://www.youcaring.com/sandra-blankenship-480179

PayPal is the most convenient for most donors and for me, as well, as it is easy to pay for goods with the PayPal account. Thank you… thank you… thank you

 

 

Silver Linings

Although there is much sadness to write about, I want to share a happy story. A happy story that had me shedding tears of love, gratitude & happiness. 

Jean-Sébastien wrote the post below on Facebook yesterday morning. Kelly, Scott, Jaymarie and I had been in chatting with him and Jan and the rest of the gang from Clowns Without Borders before our ferry trip to Chios. 

This restaurant has been my favorite on Lesvos this past week. My first night I didn’t have enough cash to cover my bill and they don’t take cards. The owner told me to pay it when I had it. I did, of course, the next night when I went for dinner 😊

Here is Jean-Sébastien’s post:

Last night, here in lesbos, in the restaurant or we have our habits with the team of “clowns without borders” – a traditional restaurant Greek held by two twin brothers who cooks so well and for nothing (fresh tuna steak 300 G + accompaniment for 6,50 €!?) -‘s arrival a first family of Syrian refugees, then a 2th, then a 3th, 4th, 5th…

One of the bosses asked my friend Sabine Choucair, Lebanese Clown, come and translate the map in Arabic. She’s so grown from family to family for their describe the menu, and little by little, the tables were covered with large plates full of food warm and abundant.

The faces tired and anxious are relaxed, the mouths are untied.

The restaurant to finished by bleed out, and we found “between us”, The team of the restaurant, the team of clowns and a Syrian family.

We communicated as we could in Greek, English, Arabic. Little by little we bonded, and I could even play with one of their son, Omar, who barely a few hours earlier, soaked in the arms of his mother, trying not to die drowned in a rubber boat overcrowded.

Omar was very serene, very inquisitive, full of energy, to move the legs in its combination too big for him, but dry at least.

He has even offered a few big smiles, these smiles that are so beautiful that your heart opens all alone, whether you like it or not.

Omar has 3 months, and Omar’s fine.

Omar is the European tomorrow, with all due respect to all those who close their arms.

Welcome my grand, ahla w ‘ Sahla, welcome!

PS: when parents have wanted to pay the bill, the boss has refused. All is not lost in this complicated world…

All is not lost.

 

Jean-Sébastien and Omar, Lesvos, Greece


My dear readers, all is not lost ❤️

Ciao! 

Blessed Beyond

Good Morning! I got to do this before my first cup of coffee this beautiful morning…

  
That was the second boat to wash up 20 minutes apart. 

I want to start by responding to a few of you that have asked for photos. This is as close as I’ll take, for a couple of reasons. 1. Dignity and privacy for the refugees and 2. Once I’m with the refugees, my hands are busy helping 😊 Whether that is in the camp hugging a woman (that takes both hands, I’m a big, give it my all hugger!) or helping someone into dry socks, shoes or clothes or providing urgent care on the beach.

This morning I helped a woman who was hyperventilating from the stress of the 60 minute sea crossing. Once I got her baby in her husbands arms and a couple of Dutch medics help, I sat her on the ground where she could get her bearings. I held her and reassured her, calmed her down and just loved on her. Her eyes showed fear, relief and gratitude. Mine were filled with tears for the blessing of being able to do what I do best, love on another human being. 

I received a message this morning from the volunteer network, here on Lesvos, that there was an immediate need for 500+ dry shoes up at the refugee camp, due to the numbers of refugees coming in. This is where donated money comes in. 

Feeling extremely grateful this morning. For everything. For life! For all of you and mostly for this work I get to do!

If you’d like to help me help them there are two ways: 

PayPal: flamidwyfe1@aol.com

Or

https://www.youcaring.com/sandra-blankenship-480179#.VrZzFVpWW0I.facebook

PayPal friends and family option gets me money on my PayPal debit card nearly instantly. 
You have no idea how hard it is for me to ask for anything. I typically pull from my own reserves. Well I’ve pulled all I’ve got. I’m here because this is where God led me. I’ll stay until He leads me to leave. 

Much Love!

Ciao!

Day 5 – Epic Summer Roadtrip with Momma – Guest post

Today’s guest post is by another 11 year old granddaughter, Faelynn. 

June 29, 2015 Sunday

 
Today we ate Fruity Pebbles for breakfast. Then we went to Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden and then we went on a carousel. 

Now we’re in a museum called The National Museum of American History. We ate lunch at the cafeteria part of the museum. Then we went on a 3-D simulator in the museum which was fun cause it felt like we were on a roller coaster. Now we’re walking around the museum…

 
Now we’re at a museum called The National Museum of Natural History. It’s soo cool! Tonight we’re go to Boltz Burgers again. Yummy!

   

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

Sadie sketching next to another sketcher. 

 This last photo is of me and Pam. Pam is my friend Natalie’s friend and we were both on The Mall at the same time. We had never met. So we both stopped what we were doing, met at the Carousel, Sadie snapped the pic and we were all on our way, in under 3 minutes! We have a lot in common and I look forward to spending more than 3 minutes with her in the near future!

Day 1 – Epic Summer Roadtrip with Momma

And we’re off! I’ve loaded up my brand new 2015 Ford Escape for an epic 21 day East Coast Roadtrip with 3 of my grandgirlies. 

Day 1 took us from home in Stuart, FL to a fun 5 hours in St. Augustine. We parked in the garage at the Visitirs Center for $12 (car stayed cool!) and spent about 30 minutes viewing the exhibits in the center. 

We then started our 6 km walk, first stop the oldest wooden school house in America (can’t remember admission price), stopping at the fort ($10 for me, free for the kids), lunch at the White Lion and a long stroll down St. George St, stopping for ice cream. We stopped back at the car for some water and then the kids played on the “Swing” log playground for 30 minutes. 

We then headed 40 minutes north for an overnight stay at my friend Teri’s house. The girls swam with her daughter and then Mike treated us to a lovely Mexican dinner at La Nopalera. 

Fantastic day!!!

   
             

Maasi Mara Kenyan Safari

So, all work and no play makes Sandi a grumpy person, LOL. I told our trip organizer, Natalie, I really didn’t want to go to Kenya without adding a safari in. That’s like coming to South Florida and not going to the beach! So our lovely host, Roberta, planned us a safari. And WHAT AN EXPERIENCE IT WAS!!! We did a 3 hour evening safari, spent the night in tents and then a 3 hour sunrise safari. Most pics are mine (taken on my iPhone 5) and a few belong to Natalie and Maya (both of whom had real cameras on them, lol) I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

CHEETAH

CHEETAH

BEAUTIFUL LION - WE SAW A MOMMA AND 3 CUBS THE EVENING BEFORE.

BEAUTIFUL LION – WE SAW A MOMMA AND 3 CUBS THE EVENING BEFORE.

ZEBRA... SEE THE BABY?

ZEBRA… SEE THE BABY?

STUNNING

STUNNING

AFRICAN BUFFALO

AFRICAN BUFFALO

YOUNG GIRAFFE

YOUNG GIRAFFE

CHEETAH

CHEETAH

GIRAFFE

GIRAFFE

LION

LION

OSTRICH

OSTRICH

I JUMPED OUT FOR A QUICK PIT STOP, MAYA CAUGHT ME... ZEBRA AND WILDEBEEST IN THE BACKGROUND... AMAZING!

I JUMPED OUT FOR A QUICK PIT STOP, MAYA CAUGHT ME… ZEBRA AND WILDEBEEST IN THE BACKGROUND… AMAZING!

I TOOK THIS WITH MY iPHONE... SUNSET

I TOOK THIS WITH MY iPHONE… SUNSET

PUMBA AKA WART HOG

PUMBA AKA WART HOG

THE WILDEBEEST WERE FUNNY. WE WOULD DRIVE UP ON THEM, THEY WOULD RUN A FEW YARDS AND THEN TURN AROUND AND LOOK AT US AS IF SAYING, "YOU WANNA PIECE OF ME??" ... TOO FUNNY

THE WILDEBEEST WERE FUNNY. WE WOULD DRIVE UP ON THEM, THEY WOULD RUN A FEW YARDS AND THEN TURN AROUND AND LOOK AT US AS IF SAYING, “YOU WANNA PIECE OF ME??” … TOO FUNNY

ZEBRA... ONE OF THE NEATEST THINGS WAS EARLIER IN THE TRIP, WE SAW ZEBRA HANGING OUT ON THE SIDE OF THE HIGHWAY GRAZING WITH THE COWS.

ZEBRA… ONE OF THE NEATEST THINGS WAS EARLIER IN THE TRIP, WE SAW ZEBRA HANGING OUT ON THE SIDE OF THE HIGHWAY GRAZING WITH THE COWS.

A mission to Kenya

I had the opportunity this month to travel to Nairobi and Sakwa, Kenya on a mission trip with Mission:Hope, an organization headed by my friend from all the way back in middle school, Natalie West Evans. Natalie is also the wife of the pastor at my church.

I invited Maya Bond-Duarte, a graduating midwife student from the school I was teaching at, to come as well. WHAT.A.TRIP!

We arrived in Nairobi very late in the evening, and were greeted at the airport by Roberta Peterson, our host for this trip. She is an incredible woman from NC that has a heart for Kenya and lives in Sakwa doing amazing work! We showered and hit the sack after 19+ hours of flying. Up early and a hearty breakfast and off on a 6 hour, bumpy ride to Sakwa. On the way we stopped at the Great Rift Valley viewpoint. What views we had!

Natalie, Roberta, Me, Maya and Petranila

Natalie, Roberta, Me, Maya and Petranila

We had two main objectives on this trip. To provide educational seminars and a clinic to the women of the community and to spend time with the children at the Hope Educational Center, where Roberta is the Matron.

Roberta

Roberta

We held our seminar at the church. Words cannot even begin to express the joy at seeing 170+ women sitting in that church listening to health education seminars. We spoke on the importance of care during pregnancy, breastfeeding, family planning and HIV.

Women's Health Seminar

Women’s Health Seminar

Maya, Evelyne and I saw about 50 women for various and assorted ailments in the church, while Michelle (part of the NC team) saw women in an outer building for HIV testing and family planning.

Maya, Evelyne and I saw about 50 women for various and assorted ailments in the church, while Michelle (part of the NC team) saw women in an outer building for HIV testing and family planning.

Evelyne Osano is an amazing woman. She lives and works in Kisii, Kenya. She is a registered nurse and her husband is a pastor. They have a beautiful little girl named Blessing. Evelyne works full time at a local hospital and then comes home and runs a clinic, financed with her own money. She loves her community THAT much! It was an honor to meet such an amazing woman. She inspires me to do more!

Evelyne and Me... Love this amazing woman!

Evelyne and Me… Love this amazing woman!

Me, Evelyne and Maya

Me, Evelyne and Maya

Showing Evelyne the medical supplies that I collected and brought with me. Donations provided by many of my midwife friends and the birth centers they work at.

Showing Evelyne the medical supplies that I collected and brought with me. Donations provided by many of my midwife friends and the birth centers they work at.

The next day we got to spend time with the kids!!! Oh my, what wonderful kids! We read to them, sang with them, were welcomed by them, made rainbow faith bead bracelets with them and danced with them!

This is Natalie with the kids :)

This is Natalie with the kids 🙂

Me teaching the kids the Hokey Pokey!

Me teaching the kids the Hokey Pokey!

I love this photo of Maya!

I love this photo of Maya!

Me reading Bugs, Bugs, Bugs to the kids.

Me reading Bugs, Bugs, Bugs to the kids.

Reading to the kids.

Reading to the kids.

Natalie and I on Field Day with the kids.

Natalie and I on Field Day with the kids.

Maya tying the bracelets on the kids. Natalie read the story of how Jesus is our friend.

Maya tying the bracelets on the kids. Natalie read the story of how Jesus is our friend.

I even kicked a GOAL in a soccer game!!!

Goal!

Goal!

We had AMAZING food at our host home in Sakwa!!

This lunch was provided by the local ladies on our Women's Health Seminar day... YUM!!! Goat, greens and ugali... Mmmm, Mmmmm!

This lunch was provided by the local ladies on our Women’s Health Seminar day… YUM!!! Goat, greens and ugali… Mmmm, Mmmmm!

This little man stole my heart. On the day we were doing the Women’s Health Seminar he approached shyly and asked if I had a pen he could use for school. In 4th grade they stop using pencils and use pens instead. I gave him the pen I had brought from the States. He goes to the public school in town. As the days went by, he showed me each day that he still had my pen and let me know he was using it in his studies. On the last day we were there, he and other public school children were standing outside the Hope Educational Center watching the children put on a presentation just for us. As I left, he gave me a hug and said, “Thank you my friend, for the pen”. My heart melted! On our journey back to Nairobi I asked Roberta what it takes to sponsor a child to go to school at the Hope Educational Center. $60 pays for a years tuition, uniform, satchel bag and some supplies. YES, THAT IS SIXTY U.S. DOLLARS, A YEAR! A hundred dollars will help sponsor a kid and supply the school. I will sponsor this young man for many years. He will forever hold a place in my heart ❤ If you are interested in more information, you can contact me privately at sandiblankenshiprm@gmail.com.

I left part of my heart in Sakwa, with this little guy!

Here are more pics of the kids… lots more.

Maya reading with one of the wonderful teachers watching.

Maya reading with one of the wonderful teachers watching.

My naughty boy

Saying goodbye

The walk home

Walking home

Tomorrow… the Safari. 😀

Ciao!