Monday, February 1, 2016

Into the Mild: The Adventures of Jason and Hobbes

Posted By on Mon, Feb 1, 2016 at 11:00 AM

Traveling alone can be tough. When all of my snooty friends couldn’t join me because they had families or careers they couldn’t walk away from, I had to get creative in my search for a companion.

I left Tucson in June of 2014, traveling with a group of 500 soccer fanatics to watch the World Cup in Brasil. We were hundreds of strangers from across the US and everyone seemed to bond almost immediately

Then, after two weeks, they were gone.

I next stayed with a friend from Brasil, though she usually had school and I spoke no Portuguese at the time.

Then, after two weeks, I was on my own again.

I worked in Bahia for a month, then left and never saw my coworkers again. I repeated the experience in Salvador. And Ecuador. And Peru. You see the pattern. I was surrounded by people who wouldn't stay in my life. I was alone in a crowd. I wanted a permanent travel companion, flexible and adventurous.

So I made my own.

First came the pattern. I found this nifty guide, printed out a PDF of the design, bought some fleece, and got to work.


I started with the arms and legs. They were the easiest pattern, and as I had never sewn before, the least noticeable if/when something went wrong.

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Saturday, January 30, 2016

Sunset Mag: Bisbee Among the Best Communities in the West

Posted By on Sat, Jan 30, 2016 at 9:15 AM

  • Maria Inés Taracena

Sunset Magazine has put Bisbee on the list of the best communities in the West:

The main approach to Bisbee, southeastern Arizona’s mining town turned arts colony, is through a tunnel in a mountain. Once you pop out on the other side, you’ve entered a funky Shangri-la, a free-spirited community marked by a tangle of narrow streets streaming down the canyon and 19th-century cottages clinging precar­iously to the hills, along with a historic Main Street bristling with galleries.

Prospectors discovered copper, then gold, in the surrounding Mule Mountains, and by the 1880s a boomtown developed. When the mines played out in the 1970s, counterculturalists, artists, musicians, poets, and writers moved in, drawn by the scenic canyon setting, cheap rents, and preserved-in-amber historic architecture.

That’s when Bisbee coalesced into a proudly weird (to use a favorite local adjective) and quirky community—an outpost of liberalism in an otherwise conservative state. Local theater, community radio, yoga classes, reiki therapy, and vegan eateries took root. At the same time, Bisbee also evolved into a popular tourist destination. Galleries, pubs, boutiques, inns, and restaurants popped up. A monthly art walk, as well as annual craft beer, blues, and Americana music festivals now fill the calendar.

Newcomers today are largely drawn by not only the boho vibe, but also by affordable housing. Bisbee’s sense of community is also a big magnet for those considering relocating here.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Into the Mild: Journal From a Refugee Camp: My Final Week

Posted By on Mon, Jan 25, 2016 at 9:00 AM

Lesbos Island, Greece – January 2016

This is part seven of a journal I’m keeping during my time working at a refugee camp in Greece. Part six, covering my first week working as an interpreter at a medical clinic, can be found here.

I started this week with the same job as last week, working as a Farsi interpreter at the medical clinic at Lesvos island’s biggest refugee camp, Moria.


Jan. 11

Today brought two of the most memorable stories of this month.

First was a young man who came in with charred and peeling skin on one hand. “It got burned in a fire,” he told me, “in Turkey a few days ago.” A doctor looked at his hand and found that there was no permanent damage, then went to get the young man vaseline and bandages.

While the doctor was away, I asked the young man how he burned his hand. “I was throwing gasoline on a bonfire,” he told me.

“Shouldn’t you pour the gasoline before starting the fire?” I asked him.

“Yes, but I wanted to throw the whole can on the top of the fire.”

I couldn’t help it. I turned my head to the side and pretended to cough while I quietly laughed, but he caught me. Learning to keep my mouth closed while swallowing a yawn has been the best employment skill I’ve learned, but I imagine that making an unavoidable laugh look like a cough would be equally useful. When I turned back around, the patient and I made eye contact and he tried to hide a smile. The secret was out. We both dropped the serious tone and laughed at what happened. His laughter grew as I explained to him that “The Spanish firefighters on the beach poured gasoline on a fire last week too. They lost control for a moment and scared everybody at the beach, and they were firefighters! At least you can pretend you didn’t know better!”

We quieted our laughter when the doctor came back. I resumed my role as a medical interpreter. A professional, stoic, interpreter. Definitely not someone that laughs at/with patients. “There is no permanent damage and your hand will get better every day. Apply plenty of vaseline, and change bandages whenever you do. Keep your hand clean. Come back here if the burning gets worse.” I shook the young man’s good hand and led him out of the clinic. I looked for him around camp later when I went for food but couldn’t find him. Something tells me we could have shared more cool stories.


The other story involved zero laughter.

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Monday, January 18, 2016

Into the Mild: Journal From a Refugee Camp: Week Five

Posted By on Mon, Jan 18, 2016 at 9:00 AM

Lesbos Island, Greece – January 2016

This is part six of a journal I’m keeping during my month working at a refugee camp in Greece. Part five, covering working at a distribution tent and finding a full-time translation job, is here.

Jan. 4

Today was my first full day as a Farsi interpreter at a medical clinic at Camp Moria, Lesbos Island’s biggest refugee camp. Afghans or Iranians who speak clear English are a rarity on the island, so I’ve handled a handful of different translation jobs. They all left me feeling meh. The medical clinic was different though. Working with needy people, avoiding egos, and having a uniquely needed skill set were all improvements over my previous jobs. Working in a warm building with the majority of the cute volunteers on the island was a nice bonus as well.

Working at the medical clinic finally felt like my calling.


Most of the cases today were fevers and colds. It was a good way to ease into a language that I studied 10 years ago and haven’t used again until a week ago. Hot, cold, fever, cough, and vomit were the most common words. I had prepared a long list of medical terms over the weekend and was very grateful that I didn’t have to consult it often today.

One of the rafts had hit a rock near the shore and popped that morning, leading to everyone on the raft walking the last 20 feet to the shore. While there were no drownings or hypothermia from it, one particular injury kept popping up.

"Please stop making me laugh about people getting sea urchins stuck in their feet," I giggled to S, a doctor from a medical team from Vermont. He wasn’t trying to make me laugh. He wasn’t trying not to either. I was fortunately able to hold it in while around patients.

Sobriety came quickly as a visibly pregnant woman came into the clinic. She wore tears on her cheek and her hands on her stomach. She had fallen out of the raft and crashed into a rock, stomach first. She was panicked that her baby was hurt and told us repeatedly that she was 8.5 months pregnant. It was a big relief for everybody when we found that she had “only” broken a rib. The baby would be fine.

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Monday, January 11, 2016

Into the Mild: Journal From a Refugee Camp, Week Four

Posted By on Mon, Jan 11, 2016 at 3:30 PM

Lesvos Island, Greece – December 2015 – January 2016

This is part five of a journal I’m keeping during my month working at a refugee camp in Greece. Part four, covering a week of shore rescues and work as an interpreter, is here.

Dec. 28

The day has finally come to spend the rest of my donated money. I met with two friends and drove around the city of Mytilene, looking for box stores to buy gloves and shoes in bulk. We settled for a Chinese store downtown, making three different trips to spend every dollar we had raised.

We didn’t count everything, but we got roughly 25 pairs of shoes, 100 pairs of socks, 50 pairs of gloves, 50 pairs of underwear, 20 jackets, plus assorted clothes for children and women.


We then went to Moria, the largest refugee camp on the island, in the afternoon to link up with the two Spanish women I would share rides with for the week. They had returned to Camp Pikpa, a camp for refugees with special health considerations that I previously worked at, for the afternoon. I instead used a very expensive taxi and soon realized how far out the new hotel is. 15 euros a night for a quality hotel near the camp was too good to be true!

I considered returning to the tent at Camp Pikpa that night. My new room was very cold, didn’t have hot water, and was 40 minutes from work at Camp Moria. I missed my friends at Pikpa and spent the cold night feeling like I was on the moon. I wanted to be in my old tent at Pikpa.

I promised to take 24 hours before making a decision.

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Friday, January 8, 2016

Into the Mild: Refugees Are Being Sold Fake Life Jackets? That's Just the Beginning

Posted By on Fri, Jan 8, 2016 at 10:15 AM

Lesbos Island, Greece

By now you’ve likely heard the news that refugees coming to Greece are being sold fake life jackets.

I’ve personally seen this, and it’s every bit as despicable as your gut reaction tells you it is. Unfortunately, the life jackets are the tip of the iceburg. If smugglers sell water-absorbent life jackets for only 45 euro (roughly 45 U.S. dollars), imagine what they’ll do for real money.

I hate writing this, but the media seems to ignore everything except the headline-grabbing life jackets. Someone has to tell it…

Bademli, Turkey and Lesbos, Greece are separated by less than 10 kilometers. The Aegean Sea lies between the two, with generally calm water and a mild climate. This short trip between Turkey and the European Union has been the most common route into Europe for refugees, with over 500,000 refugees arriving on Lesbos in 2015. A raft can make the trip in less than two hours on a clear day.

The trip is almost always done on a dinghy boat. These are made of rubber and will pop like a balloon if they hit a rock. These inflatable boats come from China and cost smugglers 1,200 euros. An average of 40-60 refugees are packed into each raft. 40-60 people on any of these rafts is far beyond any safe limit, with refugees sitting in the middle and hanging off the sides of the raft. Most arrive to Greece with only what fits in their pockets, as any bags on the raft with them are tossed into the sea to make room for more people. On top of all of this, refugees are told to steer the ship themselves. The price for all of this? 1,000 euros each.

The dinghy boat being towed by the Coast Guard was originally filled with roughly 50 people.
  • The dinghy boat being towed by the Coast Guard was originally filled with roughly 50 people.

The tickets are so expensive that many refugees wait in Turkey for up to a year, working under the table until saving enough money to be smuggled. This makes them easy targets for gangs and human traffickers. Or sweatshops. Sweatshops where they make fake life jackets. Once you’re able to save 1,000 euro, you are able to be smuggled into Europe with only the clothes on your back.

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Monday, January 4, 2016

Into the Mild: Journal From a Refugee Camp, Week Three

Posted By on Mon, Jan 4, 2016 at 12:30 PM

Lesvos Island, Greece

This is part four of a journal I’m keeping during my month working at a refugee camp in Greece. Part three, covering working at Camp Pikpa and branching out to find my role on the island, is here.

Dec. 21

A couple more volunteers left over the weekend, leaving nobody to conduct the coordination meetings in the morning. My impatience got the best of me as I clanged a rock against a metal pole until everyone gathered, then quickly briefed everyone on the ongoing projects.

I spent the rest of the day building shelves for the Medicins san Frontieres tent at Pikpa. A team of Germans came in, all of whom had previous experience in construction, which dramatically lessened my workload and made life easier for C, the woman who designs the shelves. C stays stays in the same tent as me at Camp Pikpa and is another Bay Area native. Roughly half of San Francisco is currently volunteering on Lesbos Island in some capacity.

We spent the early evening preparing and packaging meals for Moria, the main refugee camp on the island. Moria seems to be perpetually cold, understaffed, and undersupplied, so the Pikpa volunteers spend a lot of time there and bring clothes and food up when we can. Packing meals for them is a nightly ritual that signals the end of the work day at Pikpa.

Myself, two tentmates, and Dutch volunteer R went into town and spent the rest of the evening at a Syrian restaurant. It was R's last night and we wanted something better than refugee camp soup for our final meal together. Being waited on in a warm restaurant after two weeks in a tent seemed to be a delicious dose of civilization for all of us, though we were sad to see R go.

Downtown Mytilene at night
  • Downtown Mytilene at night

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Monday, December 28, 2015

Into the Mild: Journal From a Refugee Camp, Week Two

Posted By on Mon, Dec 28, 2015 at 9:30 AM

Mytilene, Greece – December 2015

This is part three of a journal I’m keeping during my month working at a refugee camp in Greece. Part two, covering settling in at Camp Pikpa and starting work, is here.

Dec. 14
: Reality sank in this morning. A very overqualified volunteer had gone back to her 9-5 job in the U.S., meaning the rest of us had to pick up the slack.

It was a lot of slack.

Several of us teamed up in the morning for around 45 minutes to take out and sort all of the trash and recycling, something she had done by herself. Another volunteer took on the nearly full-time job of washing dishes.

I spent the rest of the morning cutting out letters with an American volunteer. The letters were of the Latin alphabet and I drew their corresponding Arabic letter on each side of the letter. As we hoped, some of the children began playing with the letters and spelling their names! We can’t have much in the way of classes since we have such a fluctuating roster of children, but having kids leave Pikpa with a basic grasp of phonetics will be a big win if we can pull it off.

I spent the afternoon at Moria with two friends, although we didn’t do a whole lot. Situated in the hills above Mytilini, it offers an amazing view of the surrounding olive groves, with the Aegean Sea serving as a backdrop. Moria is run by the United Nations and has roughly 20 Non-Government Organizations floating around. There is often more need for help there than at Pikpa, but it is more difficult to be registered and approved. I headed over to the Olive Grove (where the non-Syrian and non-Iraqi refugees are sent) and did a bit of translating, but an Iranian-British woman was more enthusiastic and clearly more capable at this than myself, yelling orders and commanding respect as she marched through several lines of refugees.


That evening at Pikpa was fun, with a traditional Irish band coming to play for the children. The parents joined in and even let their guard down as they clapped enthusiastically to the beat. As I started dancing, a young Afghani man grabbed my hand and began dancing with me. I didn’t really think anything of it at the time as holding hands with other men is seen as a sign of friendship in many Arab countries (save your angry comment, I’m fully aware that few Afghanis are ethnically Arab). We danced nonsensically for a couple of songs before I left for the nightly job of preparing meals to be sent to Moria. Unfortunately, he flirted uncomfortably with me over the next week and generally begged for my attention. This (and similar incidents that tend to find me) is clearly karma for the times I've been friend-zoned and still went for the girl.

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