Notes from the Field. March 23, 2017

A busy day overall. Started out by zipping into town, following our friend and colleague Kayra to an apartment in town where her organization houses several families. Kayra spends so much time here that she seems almost local and was able to organize a good priced car rental with Matteo, a local character who runs the only run car rental business in the village. It seems to be a moonlighting job, most likely with no office as he tends to show up either very early in the morning or very late at night at your house, with the car and the paperwork. We have rented two little canary yellow cars, which makes us pretty easy to find, especially if we travel in convoy.


In the apartment we started with a quick visit to meet a mom, auntie and little one. Neither the mom and auntie could not have been more than 25. Had a chat about the mixed feeding that she was doing and determined that there was not much desire to change the status quo. There was sometimes a story about feeding in the night and sometimes no breastfeeding at all. They are young and without an older woman present. This is what is needed so badly here, a network of older women to help. In Syria they would have had a big sister or an auntie present. but now, so much disruption affects the old, the very new, and all stages in-between.

dad and baby

In consultation with our colleague Rivka from Birth Companions International in Canada, we went in search of dates, almonds and tahini to help supplement the pregnant women’s diets. So far several of the pregnant women we have met have been anaemic and there is good evidence that for those not diabetic, dates, which are rich in iron, improve their chances of avoiding prolonged bleeding after delivery. Tahini and almonds are both high in protein and calcium, two other important parts of a pregnancy diet. The shopping was a little awkward, however. After a fair bit of driving we found a Jumbo which sells everything you don’t want and in some abundance! (Easter decorations, barbies, scented candles). The next store was a cash and carry, selling items in bulk to businesses. As CRIBS International is now a limited company and has a tax number ( although the number was admittedly not with us ) we were allowed to shop there after much discussion and promises to send our number by e-mail as soon as we got home. The power of bureaucracy! Initially they clearly thought we were bonkers, two foreign women claiming to have a business. Once we started to say the magic word “afhimi” (tax number in Greece), they started to think we weren’t so crazy after all. The helped us out with our purchases, partly out of suspicion/curiosity, and part no doubt out of kindness for people who couldn’t read labels so well. A lot of people with businesses seemed to be buying supplies that looked distinctly personal- the perfect amount for a family dinner. Any doubt that they had about our shopping for personal food purchases was quickly dispelled as we bought 24 bags of dates, 16 bars of dark chocolate, 2 kg of almonds and 12 jars of tahini.


Shopping finished, we went to meet a woman in Nea Kavala camp who had a small baby and a large family. We are not registered with the camp and are therefore not allowed in for any reason. Nea Kavala camp now has containers which are basically just empty boxes, with no amenities but air conditioning. We ended up sitting in our parked car outside the camp gates and chatting, awkwardly, especially for Kimberly, who was stuck on the passenger’s seat facing backwards. The woman amazed us with her strength and fortitude. She seemed calm and pleasant, taking what life had dealt her in stride. As with almost 70% percent of deliveries in Greece, she had had a caesarian, her first after 5 natural deliveries.

We finished our day in Polykastro at the same apartment where we began. This time we visited Maryam with the baby girl who we had previously seen with blanket over head . The flat was damp with aspergillus mould on the walls. The floor is covered with the ubiquitous UNHCR blankets and mats. Why does the UNHCR deem it necessary to stamp its name all over its donations? The family is lovely. Maryam is super competent and wraps the baby like a burrito. Once settled, we heard the story of her birth. It was the 31st of December and Maryam had been in light labour for several hours. She was taken by a volunteer in their car 25 minutes to Kilkis hospital. There, the lone doctor on duty said that Maryam must have a caesarian section. Her husband and she were both adamant there is no need. Both her other two had been natural deliveries so there was no need for a caesarian section. The doctor refused to deliver the baby. How can you refuse to deliver a baby? Fortunately this is a close couple and they were of a single mind that a caesarian was unnecessary. They made the competent decision to go to Thessaloniki and have a natural delivery there. If you read other baby related blogs, you may have heard of Kilkis Hospital. To meet one of its “patients” who was victorious is quite a thing. However, not all people that we met were lucky enough to have a volunteer willing to drive them all over the country. Any one who had come to the hospital in the usual way- by taxi or by bus – would have been left to their fate.

Then it was home to supper, ouzo and more work before hitting the sack at half past one.

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