We have to help Carry The Future | Refugees Welcome

A year ago tomorrow I boarded a plane to Athens, Greece, to meet seven women I did not know. We had all signed up as volunteers with the 501c3 Carry The Future, an organization that provides humanitarian relief to refugees worldwide by providing material aide to ease their journey. In our team's specific case, we were carrying hundreds of pounds of donated baby carriers to give to refugees as they arrived at the Port of Piraeus, Greece and continued their journey through Europe and beyond.

Refugees would stream off of ferries arriving at the port at all times of the day and night.

Ferries could arrive at any of the points mapped out below along the port. We often wouldn't know which gate they were arriving at until the ferry was in the process of docking there. We spent a lot of time walking and running from gate to gate across a vast port to try to reach the refugees directly as they debarked.

Often the refugees would be mixed in with other paying passengers who had simply used the ferry as transport that day. Our job was to suss out who was a refugee and who wasn't, and in particular, identify families with children who were in need of baby carriers.

We became practiced at zoning in on those in need and would wade directly into the crowds, draped in dozens of carriers, approaching strangers we had never met to offer them the gift of a carrier to ease their burden. 

The three most challenging parts of this process were:

1. Not speaking their language. Luckily the language of babies-in-arms and mothers-who-understand is fairly universal.

2. Approaching strangers who thought you might be trying to SELL them the carrier (we learned the words for 'free' and 'gift' in Arabic and Farsi).

3. And lastly, we often only had 2-3 minutes to fit a carrier to a body before the family had to move on. Police at the port would hurry us or the families to keep the crowds out of traffic and walkways. They also wanted to rush the refugees to awaiting buses to clear the docks immediately.

If the police or the ticket hawkers trying to fill the buses didn't give us time as they debarked, we would follow the families and go up onto the buses with them, fitting carriers in buses before they departed.

There were certain key aspects of the carriers we tried to get across in the brief moments we had with each family. It was often the fathers who wore their children (I'd say much more often than I see American men wearing their children). No matter who was wearing the child, and we encountered mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, and friends who would be the designated carrier, we quickly tried to show them how to ergonomically adjust the carriers for ease of wearing, how to get the babies up into the carriers, and how to get them safely off (especially when using back carry). 

I did a lot of signalling to the wearers to watch my hands as I pointed out adjustment points, tightening and loosening capabilities, and how to use the hoods for sun and weather protection and head support.

This video, taken and edited by our team member, Lulu Potts, gives you a good idea of the chaos we had to quickly work in and the important work we did in that short amount of time.

Click the photo or here to view the video.

Click the photo or here to view the video.

The families we met were just like your friends and neighbors. They were beautiful. They loved each other and they were grateful for the help.

Like the baby you would reach out to hold at church, or on the playground, we did lots of holding, cooing, and connecting. My teammates and I carried photos of our own children and when we had the rare moment of extra time, we would share photos of our kids to those who wanted to see. Sometimes holding up a photo was easier than trying to explain to someone in a language you didn't speak that you were a mother too and that their children mattered to you the way your own children did.

Still, of all the positive connecting we did during those days at the port, I remain haunted by the people I met.

I think of the families, and the children and I wonder where they are. Did they make it to their desired destinations? Are they stuck in limbo in a refugee camp? 

Have they been greeted with hate and fear or love and acceptance? Have they been sent back to the countries they tried so hard to leave? Are they scared? Are they hungry?

I think of this man. A father of six boys. His wife didn't make it on the journey. He's a widower now with six children. The youngest, baby Michael, was only four weeks old (second picture below.)

While this photo seems filled with hope, what you don't see is the little boy behind these men.

You can see his red jacket peeking out between the men in the pic below. He was traveling with this group. And while the older men were joyfully celebrating their arrival on Greece's mainland, the boy that was with them sat slumped. He never smiled. He just stared forward, catatonic. 

You see the same look I'm describing on the youngest boy's face in this photo (bottom right.) This was a family group traveling together and while a grandmother-figure was present, there was no mother-figure with them. Who knows what happened to her. Who knows what those children have seen. 

I remember the people who could not smile. They just had tight lines drawn across their faces. I cannot forget the women I approached who seemed to physically recoil as I advanced. One woman sat with her back to a wall, her knees drawn to her chest. A baby was placed on a pile of jackets near her feet. I went up to her slowly and simply lifted a carrier into the air with my eyebrows raised in offering. Without looking at me or the baby, she dug around in the pile of coats and lifted up a carrier she already had. Then she turned her head away in tears. I walked away quietly. 

I think about how far they would have had to come to simply have gotten to the port where we were meeting them. And how far they still had to go to find any modicum of safety or security.

In two days, we helped four mothers with newborns (all less than two weeks old). I used every ounce of emotional energy not to cry while I interacted with them, but each time they walked away, I'd sob.

When my teammate, Courtney, and I carefully unwrapped a blanket this Syrian mother was clutching to her chest, we found a tiny, two week old baby. I will never forget how that mother trusted me enough to hold the baby when we unwrapped all those blankets. While I tightened the carrier around her, an older Greek taxi driver looked on and openly wept. These babies, and their mothers, were the most vulnerable human beings I'd ever met.

That's not a smile on my face in the photo below. It's a desperate attempt to not weep along with the taxi driver who was standing just left of the photo. 

The moment that hit me the hardest and that I've had the hardest time talking about out loud was the evening I met these children. The older boy smiling in the middle saw my camera and flagged me over gesturing for me to take their photo.

Then he stood separate from the others and gestured up and down at himself. "Take my picture" he meant. And he puffed up his chest. I obliged. 

As soon as I had snapped it he started gesturing again. "Wait! Don't leave yet." And he dragged the little girl over and stepped out of the frame. "Take her picture!" he would have said if he could in English.

And then again, before I could even think of turning away he waved wildly for me to wait and he ran and got this little guy. He had to try twice to lift him up onto the wall but then he stepped out of the frame so I could snap the wee one's photo. 

After that, they all wanted to see the pics I had taken. The next request was if THEY could use my camera to take photos. Just like the little kids you know in your life who are fascinated by and always trying to use your phone, camera, or tablet, these kids were the same. The older boy and girl took turns taking photos.

After this last group selfie, the adults with them gestured for them to say goodbye. As they walked away, I crumbled inside. The sheer normality of the moment had gotten to me. Those kids could have been my kids. That scene could have played out at any play date in my hometown. Like mine, the children were so loved. And they still had so much inner confidence and all they wanted was a moment to play with a digital camera. I watched their group walk away but I've never forgotten them.

May they find a safe place, and may that have already happened considering these photos were taken a year ago. 

The work was emotionally draining.

We all tried to find small moments of zen or just to shut things out.

We tried yoga. We tried laughter.

Wine was a constant and so was direct messaging.

I spent about 10 days with my team and these women who were strangers became friends for life. There was Mary, whose official role was 'Mama Bear.' Her job was to be a mother to mothers and she more than fulfilled her role. Mary was always ready to comfort and to gently remind us to remember self-care. Her pockets held a seemingly unending supply of chocolate and Emergen-C.

After our team trip last February, Mary went back to Greece and volunteered in the Idomeni, and Ritsona refugee camps, and several camps near Thessoloniki distributing carriers, hajibs, underwear, kids' sun hats, sunscreen, bug repellent, diapers, and other aid. She also volunteers with I Am You and she sponsors a refugee mother and her 3 young daughters through Humanwire's Tent to Home campaign, moving them from a camp to an apartment while they go through the asylum process.

Courtney was my roommate and she quickly earned the nickname of Super Girl. Super she was. She fell sick in the first few days we arrived and even from her sick bed she messaged us ferry arrival times and group info. She was back to work in record time too.

After returning from Greece, Courtney met with local officials about accepting refugees in her hometown and Eugene, Oregon has since welcomed a family from Syria and a woman from Iraq. Courtney is such a Super Woman that she went to the airport to meet the woman arriving from Iraq the night before her second son was born. She, along with 30 other members from the community were there to greet the woman as she came off the plane. 

On the left next to Super Girl Is Jen. Jen is super fit. She'd go for runs, on barely any sleep, in between ferries arriving. One morning our team leader said Jen's hat made her look like a DJ. And since Jen is FAF (fit as f*ck), her team name quickly became DJ FAF. I think her energy level kept us all going. 

Jen went back to Greece in November, leading a trip for CTF to Lesvos. She goes back again in March with students from her university in Maine. Locally, she started a knitting circle with New Mainer (refugee) women.

To the right of DJ FAF is Heather. Heather was dubbed Stand-Up both because of how funny she is (like a stand up comedienne) and because she stands up for what is right. 

After returning from Greece, Heather volunteered in Cuba with Humanitarian Aid. She serves on Grand Rapid, Michigan's Sanctuary Movement Committee, and she started ServeGR.com with an Immigration feature. Heather also participates in interfaith efforts to support local synagogues and mosques. 

This is Leah. I gave her her team name of Hound Dog because she was unbelievably adept at finding refugee families with babies in large crowds. It was almost a preternatural skill. Just look at her focus in these photos.

In the last 12 months since our group excursion, Leah has done four CTF trips, three in Greece, and she led one in Lebanon. She works as staff for CTF in the capacity of Chief of the Volunteer Engagement Division. Just a few weeks ago, while visiting the US, she attended the No Muslim Ban protest march in Washington DC, in solidarity with refugees.

Lulu is a talented photographer and videographer, among other things. You've probably noticed that most of the photos in this post are attributed to her, and they're all incredible. She quickly became known as Hot Pants, because well, you CAN look good while helping others and Lulu proves that.

Lulu returned to Greece three months after our trip and volunteered with Operation Refugee Child. She continues to work with them monthly. In November she went to Standing Rock and in December she began working with the newly founded chapter of the National Lawyers Guild in Santa Ana as a media consultant and in order to facilitate legal observations. The footage that she took in November at Standing Rock contributed to this piece by Vice about what is happening there.

I don't remember who gave me my nickname but I got called Recon Charlie (RC). Perhaps because I was good at sniffing out bullshit, like when these two handsome Dutch guys tried to tell us they were 'just on vacation and interested in learning more about the refugee crisis.' Initially I thought they were undercover reporters, but with some targeted questions I quickly figured out they worked for the Dutch government.

Maybe I got called RC because I was always keenly aware of where each member of our team was during ferry missions, or perhaps it was my habit of replying 'roger that' to everything. Sailing habits die hard.

Before leaving for Greece last year I began volunteering with Jewish Family Services' Refugee & Immigration Program as a 'Friendly Match.' I was assigned a family from Afghanistan who had recently arrived in San Diego. I help and remain friends with them and their community to this day. I've also inspired other friends to join the organization as volunteers as well. 

And here is our team leader, Amy. Amy was the heart and soul of our team and we call her Yoda. The force was strong with her, and she kept it alive in all of us.

Amy has been working on staff with CTF since its inception as a baby wearing educator. She now also works with the Response Division (along with fellow teammate, Leah) and is transferring rolls to three international CTF groups as outreach. She has been on five trips with CTF including three distribution trips and an exploratory trip to Lesvos. In addition to leading our Team 4, she led Team 10 to seven refugee camps and worked two days in the pharmacy in Katerini. Her trip on Team 18 was a tech exploratory to Serbia and the Hungarian boarder. She will return to Greece next month with fellow teammate, Jen, and in June she is leading a team as well. Amy is a nurse and hopes to one day work with Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders.

There were other unofficial members of our group, like Stamos, our Greek driver. Stamos was always there for us and remained super flexible as ferry arrival times changed. He brought us coffee and played music we loved and kept an eye out for our safety. Check out his business, Opa! Taxi & Tours.

On the right is Debbie. We met her at one of the ferry terminals wanting to help. Once she saw what we were doing, she jumped right in to help. Her pockets were always full of sweets for the refugee children and she brought supplies from her own community to hand out as well.

This wonderful man, George, owns the restaurant, Enjoy Just Falafel, in Athens. George is an immigrant himself. Fellow aid workers we met told us about his restaurant and his work to feed refugees in Athens. Naturally, we decided to patronize his establishment. He's a wonderful example of what the Greek people are doing on a day to day basis to help refugees at their door.

This is Jefferson. He was at the port one day when one of the ferries arrived. He had come to help in any way he could. As a babywearing father of two, he was inspired by our team and helped us carry the carriers into the crowds. The next day he joined us to volunteer and clean at a refugee camp outside of Athens.

He now lives in San Diego and volunteers in the same capacity that I did at Jewish Family Services helping newly arrived refugee families.

Refugees need our help. In parting, I share this poem by Warsan Shire, a Kenyan-born Somali poet, writer and educator based in London.

HOME

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well


your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilet
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
pitied

no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one's skin would be tough enough

the
go home blacks
refugees
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
savage
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off


or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child's body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
drown
save
be hunger
beg
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
saying-
leave,
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here.

You can help Carry The Future in several ways. Click here to learn how to get involved, donate material aid, or give money. 

To the over 30 people who donated last year so I could volunteer in Greece and who donated funds and supplies to the local San Diego refugee family I support, thank you, merci, shukran.

Birds and Bees Quilt, Flora and Fauna in the Winter

This quilt was sewn and photographed during the great Mammoth Lakes snowstorm of January 2017. It was freezing AND snowing outside when my six year old daughter took this photo for me. We kept trying to get a picture in between gusts of wind.

After we managed to get a full shot of the front and a full shot of the back, C went inside to warm her freezing digits, and I grabbed a chair and started doing detail shots. Every photo is peppered with snow pellets. I kind of like the look, what do you think?

This is the perfect quilt to cheer you up and help you remember the promise of spring. It also coordinates with a pillow I've made which includes a quote by Emerson, "The Earth Laughs in Flowers."

Made of 100% quilting cotton fabrics, this is a whole cloth quilt from Hawthorne Thread's Nectar line of designer fabrics. The panel is free motion quilted (FMQ), so each quilt made in this line will be slightly different than the others. 

The back fabric and trim is Crosshatch in Niagara from Carolyn Friedlander's Architextures designer fabric line. The batting used is low loft for a light, snugly, and warm feeling. 

The quilt you see in these photos is being donated to Texas Equusearch for their annual auction and fundraiser. Texas Equusearch was the search organization that stayed after all the other agencies had given up on my finding my friend, Cidnie's daughter, Kitty. You can read about Kitty here. She will never be forgotten. You can help Texas Equusearch too, by donating to their important work here.

A Very Kaufman Christmas 2016

If you remember the end of my Thanksgiving post, I had not ordered nearly enough strands of lights as I thought I'd need for our tree. Early in December I remedied that and we got the whole thing totally set up.

This year we had some of my handmade decor, including this plaid, fleece, tree skirt with satin binding (which I wrote in detail about here), and these darling miniature cinnamon stick Christmas trees. I've created my first digital pattern with these trees, so forgive me if I spam you 50 billion more times with them.

You can get the Cinnamon Stick Christmas Tree Digital pattern here.

Another handmade item featured this season was this incredible Advent calendar my sister, Sariah, sent us. It was two years in the making. She made each one of these cross-stitched stockings, and I can't even on the quality of them. This is an heirloom gift that will stay in our family for generations if I have my way.

I mean, look at the incredible details on this hedgehog!

The girls and I are in agreement that Odette the owl is our favorite. I think it's her eyelashes that seal the deal.

Eric digs Alastair the snowboarding alligator.

Sariah knows we aren't religious so I doubly appreciated that there isn't any overt religious iconography on the stockings. While I still occasionally use the term Christmas, we aren't celebrating anybody's birth when we put up a tree. Call it a Yule tradition, or Winter Solstice, or Festivus, there's just so much of Christmas that I do like, that we incorporate the things we see fit (kinda like the way Christians incorporated all the traditions from the peoples their religion overran.)

Instead of filling the daily Advent calendar with chocolates, we had the girls sit down and think about people they'd like to do nice things for and we put their names in each little stocking. For 25 days we focused on helping others. We bought presents for children in need for a local gift program and we sent letters to friends and family who weren't in town. Even after delivering the gifts to the local gift drive we kept the tags on the tree. I hoped the girls would keep those kids in their hearts. 

I had invited several families we have met since moving up here to dinner on Friday the 23rd. However, when Friday morning dawned, I awoke to horrible pain in my right ovary. This pain has become cyclical since before the surgery I had in May of this year. I never know what level of pain each cycle will bring. Sometimes I can take Motrin and take it very easy and it's bearable, sometimes it's so bad I've gone to the hospital. Friday's pain was the 'don't move a muscle and do absolutely nothing and you'll make it through' kind of pain. It meant canceling dinner with my friends, which totally sucked.

The next day was Christmas eve and our town had received several feet of fresh powder. That meant two things: a white Christmas! and that Eric was high up on Mammoth Mountain riding double blacks down the face all morning. About mid-day he discovered he had forgotten to zip his jacket pocket and he'd lost his car keys. 

I'd been still taking it easy and trying to avoid pain. The girls had been watching Netflix almost all day. We all piled in the car in our pjs to pick Eric up once the tow truck arrived. We had the car towed to our house so we can sort out getting new keys on Monday. (You try getting a new key and alarm fob made on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day in a town as small as Mammoth). 

Eric took the whole thing in a stride, because really, what can you do? We also ended up helping the guy parked next to us whose car wouldn't start. The tow truck guy jumped him and then we all caravan-ed back to our house.

On the drive back I was still tired and recovering and knew that I wouldn't be making any dinner that evening. Eric was starving and the girls were hungry so we ordered pizza and salad from John's Pizza Works to go. It was a smart and delicious move.

As the night waned on we made sure we were ready for Santa and basically entertained the kids until it was time to send them to bed.

Finally, after wearing the kids (and Eric) out thoroughly, and reading 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, we got the kids to sleep.

The next morning came swiftly, and so did the pure joys that only kids really exhibit on Christmas morning.

"Candy?! We never get candy!!"

There was the joy of seeing Lyra, who had asked Santa for a reindeer, get one.

There's nothing quite like nailing a gift. 

We don't buy a lot of presents for the girls or ourselves. Of the stuff we did get, we focused on toys related to S.T.E.A.M. (science, technology, engineering, arts, and science). I was blown away by the state of LEGO today. This dragon is fully articulating. And it came with a little catapult too. 

This year I decided to make fabric gift bags instead of using wrapping paper. It's better for the environment, cheaper, and EASIER. OMG. So damn easy to "wrap" presents now. I wrote about the ones I made here

The sum total of our trash made up of wrapping paper fit in the palm of my hand, and came from gifts from friends and family.

We spent some time playing with the new toys (even as an adult it's hard to not get sucked into Goldiblox, LEGO, and snap circuits.)

But we didn't chill for long. Part of the cards we had written in the Advent calendar included our local police and firefighters. We explained that most people want to spend a day like today with their families, but some people have to work, including our first responders. The girls had drawn cards for them, and for our local friends, so we piled in the car to spread some holiday cheer.

It was a fantastic day and a wonderful month all around. We finished out the day playing with new toys, reading, and spending time together. I'm grateful for this wonderul life we've made in the mountains. 

Happy Christmafestivyulesolsticehannukwanzadan !