Josef from Iraq

Down on the beach, assisting the refugees on the 8th boat in less than 12 hours, I notice a man sitting, facing the ocean, and weeping. I go and sit next to him. The rest of the refugees from this boat are loading into the UNHCR bus and he isn’t moving.

I put my hand on his shoulder and ask him what is wrong. He tells me that he moved his family to a “safer” town in northern Iraq and headed to the coast of Turkey and then across the Aegean Sea to hopefully find a safe place to bring his wife and children.

He tells me that crossing that sea brought many emotions; fear, hope and joy when the boat made it safely to shore in Greece. That he misses his wife and children and he fears now that they will have to make the same crossing.

He asks me if he has to go to the refugee camp. I let him know that he needs to register, but then is free to leave the camp. I ask him why. And he says he wants to come back to the beach and patrol with all of us, receiving the refugees that come after him. He says he can help by being able to speak the language of the northern Iraqis. He is weeping openly at this point and I am crying, as well. His compassion for helping others and wanting to be there fills my heart with joy.

We stand up, so that he can join the others on the bus, and embrace. I feel some of his stress melt away. Hugging heals. It heals all the way to the heart.

Ciao!

My project this week is to purchase sweat pants and leggings for the refugees. It is still winter here, and although we’ve had a few days of temps in the 60s, many of the refugees are going to northern European countries. I found them today across the sea in Turkey for 3.50 turkish lira, that’s about $1.18 USD. If you’d like to help me get these, you can send donation via PayPal: flamidwyfe1@aol.com or via https://www.youcaring.com/sandra-blankenship-480179 THANK YOU xoxoxo

UP ON THE BEACH

Thursday, February 11, 2016… the sun has set, our daily meeting with Toula’s volunteer group (or the group I affectionately refer to as Toula’s Merry Band of Volunteers) is over and Jaymarie and I decide to go to dinner.

Driving down the beach road we come across people coming up from the sea. Refugees. I ask Jaymarie to stop and I get out while she turns around to go back to the village for help. With the exception of one woman who is acting “shocky”, everyone of the men, women and children seem to be OK, except they are wet and cold.

A young man, maybe around 25, comes up to me and hugs me and says while crying, “I drove the boat and I got everyone here safely… we are safe, we are safe!!!” The whole crowd starts to chant the same words in their language. My heart explodes with joy that I simply can’t explain.

A bit of an explanation. Sometimes the people on the boat are in a state of shock when they get on the ground. I think it’s a combination of many things including, absolute fear of the crossing (it is dark, their boats are grossly overloaded, many have never been on the sea), they are cold and wet, they are overwhelmed that the hardest part of their journey (fleeing their country, crossing multiple countries and a big, black, turbulent sea) is over and they are in Europe. All you can do is get them out of the wet clothes, put dry clothes on them and give them lots of hugs and love. This seems to work 🙂

The other thing I want to explain is the boats. I’ve touched on this before. They are rubber inflatables. They are kitted out with 30 hp engines, yes 30… that is NOT a typo! The 6 km journey takes an HOUR because there are 50-60 people on a rubber boat with a 30 horse power engine! Thus this young man’s immense joy that he brought this boatload of fellow refugees in safely. I asked him if he had ever driven a boat before and he told me, “no”. In fact, he has never been on the water before. I hugged him extra tight! He told me, “you are like my mother”. I struggle to keep my emotions in check because there is work to be done.

Help arrives! And we decide that it is best to walk them 1/2 a mile down to the clothing warehouse that is donated by a generous local man and maintained by Toula (the amazing local woman who will get her own post!) and her Merry Band of Volunteers. We get them in out of the wind and assist with getting them into dry tops, pants, shoes, socks and coats. Jaymarie helps a family with a special needs child who appears to have CP. (darn it!!! now I’m crying. In a cafe… why? Because I think of my Celeste and how scary it must have been for that mommy to travel with this special angel over that water and the whole voyage, gosh I hope they find a good place to live!). Jaymarie held the child while his mom and dad helped his siblings get into dry clothes and then clothed themselves.

Lots of love, lots of hugs, so much gratitude and JOY. What a great reason to be late to dinner!

Ciao!

 

The boat


     
    

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!

Lesvos

Day 4Up at 0600 for some meditation and reflection prior to heading off to the airport. €4 bus tix to airport and a short, 2 hour hop to Athens from Rome. I was surrounded by a team of Judo and Karate youth heading to a tournament. When we landed they broke out in very loud cheers! Scared the crap out of me! LOL

5 hour layover in Athens and now I’m sitting on the plane waiting for my flight to Lesvos. 

Total spent on my 2 day Rome layover: €71! That’s food, ground transport and accommodation!

Arrived in Lesvos around 830 pm and picked up by Kelly. 

The house we are staying in is just 2 km from the airport and right on the beach facing Turkey, which is 6 miles across the Aegean Sea. 

As I was getting coffee Wednesday morning, a boat of refugees literally landed on the beach in front of us. Below is the remnants of the very skimpy inflatable boat that is loaded with 30-50 men, women and children. 

The sea has been rough, keep the refugees in your heart, for their safety. 

More tomorrow. 

Ciao! 

 

You can see Turkey 6 miles over.

  

This is what the refugees come from Turkey to Greece in.

 

Day 3 – Roma

Day 3
1130: buy a ticket for the pink bus. Double decker to go around to the sites. Not feeling too jet lagged, so this is a good thing. 

Worried about recent changes to the Syrian refugee crisis and find myself in nearly constant prayer about it. Where will this journey take me? Where will it take the refugees? Are we, as a world community, drifting further and further from humanity?

So, after writing this I end up getting off bus at the Colosseum and then Vatican City. I wasn’t going to get off at Vatican City, but I did. 

After walking through St. Peter’s Basilica I walked towards the nativity scene and stopped to read a poster that said (I can’t upload pics for some reason): Edited: it finally let me!!

“The Concept: There is no symbol more powerful and universally recognized than the Nativity: just a few weeks after the Extraordinary Synod on the family, The Holy family of Nazareth reminds us that mankind is also and above all is represented by those who struggle to keep ip in a world too oriented in the individual and two little towards others. When looking at a nativity scene, how can one avoid thinking about The terrible tragedy of immigration, while just over a century ago it was the people of Italy and other European countries Who were immigrating in search of A job and a future.” 

I started crying. Openly. In the middle of the square, where thousands stand to hear the pope give mass. I then spent about 10 minutes reflecting on what the nativity and immigration mean to me. My family immigrated from Italy to the US about 100 years ago. 

I stood back to take a pano (that I’m not able to post) and I noticed the priest standing at the far right of the photo. I asked him what he was thinking. And he told me he was thinking about all the pilgrims that came before him to this spot and the rich history. He asked me why I had been crying and I told him about the poster by the nativity and that I was enroute to Greece to help the refugees and how my heart breaks from the fear and hatred of immigrants of all sorts in my country. He took my hands and prayed. For me, for the refugees and for peace in our world. Of course I cried some more.

I’m glad I got off the bus. 

I then had gelato, my friend Dottie says it makes everything better. And it did. 

Dinner and then an early bed time, as I’m flying to Greece in the morning. 

Ciao!

You may donate to help the refugees here: https://www.youcaring.com/sandra-blankenship-480179

Or PayPal: flamidwyfe1@aol.com

Thank you ❤️ 

The Concept

  

The Nativity

  

The Basilica

   

Heaven

Day 2 

Day 2

Still on flight to Rome. Watched the documentary “He Named Me Malala”. Powerful story about not only Malala, but her amazing, heroic father, both whom spoke out against the Taliban. 

0912: Landed in Rome

0921: cleared immigration and customs

0935: checked the two big bags with supplies in to luggage storage at airport. No sense in schlepping them around. 

0950: on bus headed to main Termini in Rome. 

Rome Airport = most efficient international airport I’ve been through!

Napped from 1-3 and then a walk about town. 

Dinner next door to hostel. They had gluten free pasta!! So I had carbonara sauce. Oh my, so good!

As I was leaving restaurant I met Sarah and her son Sam. Brits living in Turkey. Literally on the coast just opposite to where I am going in Lesvos. There are no coincidences. 

A lovely chat with my new friend Rita from Lithuania. She’s on a short holiday to Rome. I am always amazed at how much Europeans know about our U.S. Politics, probably more than a lot of our young folks know. Both Sarah and Rita are concerned about the negative impact Donald Trump would have on our world if he were to become president. I concur. 

In bed and sound asleep by 10 pm. I awoke at 435 and ended up in a WhatsApp chat with Aisha, back to sleep around 6 and slept until 930. More tomorrow!

And if you are willing donations for the refugees can be made here: https://www.youcaring.com/sandra-blankenship-480179#

Or by PayPal: flamidwyfe1@aol.com

Ciao!

  

Day 1 – Travel Day

It’s 0518, Saturday January 30, 2016. I’m sitting in the lobby at the Double Tree Orlando waiting for my Uber car. I’m excited to start this adventure to Greece, but a wee bit tired. Flying on a Buddy pass means that I’m also flying stand-by. Fingers crossed for seats today! First journey: Orlando to JFK. 

0654: On stand by flight to JFK on a buddy pass. Got a seat in First Class. This trip is starting out pretty awesome 😊

1130 am, checked in for a 9 hour layover in the Delta Sky Club. Been watching planes fly in and out all day! 

700 pm: boarded in a comfy seat and ready for the take off. 

Ciao!

My response to Cathy

  

My sweet friend Cathy saying goid morning 😊

  

Brekkies in First Class. Took meat off bagel.

  

Snow on ground in NYC

  

Fond memories of my time in Abu Dhabi

 

Off to Greece

 It’s 157 am on Friday morning. I’ve just finished packing all but the few items of clothes I need to throw in the wash in the morning. Early morning. 

Bags full of donations for the refugees.

 
I finished up at my office a little after midnight. I’ve got just a few hours of work left there in the morning. 

Then off to Orlando. Flight in the wee hours of Saturday morning to NY. Then a 10 HR layover at JFK and a flight to Rome. Then Athens, then Lesvos. 

Lesvos is similar to Ellis Island. The refugees come on dinghies from Turkey, just 25 km away. The problem is the journey is dangerous and nearly 400 people have lost their lives. So far. THIS MONTH. 

So off I go, to help where ever help is needed. Keep me in your thoughts and prayers. And if you’d like to support my trip, visit here: 

https://www.youcaring.com/sandra-blankenship-480179

Last photo, I’m fading fast…

I’ll be working with Sisters In Health. This is their awesome logo!

 
Ciao!