As we shuffled on the ancient streets of Athens, looking for their apartment, we talked about how cool it was to be invited to a refugee family’s home for dinner this evening. Neat experience, something we could check off our list, but little did we know how our hearts would change.
At the beginning of the week, we learned the single mom and her son would love a blender, rollerblades and a shawl. It was the least we could do since they graciously opened their home for dinner to the 5 of us tonight. Looking for those items in another country felt like the ultimate Scavenger Hunt, and we had won. We rang the doorbell on the side of the mortar building to let us in, anxiously taking in our surroundings of the narrow street, feeling the rainy mist. She buzzed us in, and we started the trek up four flights of the spiraling staircase, in the dark hallways. Some refugees have been placed in apartments by the Love Without Borders organization, and we were going to see one for ourselves. As we walked in, taking our shoes off, we see a small room with two beds, a small sink, a plugged in burner, refrigerator and I would not be exaggerating to say that was about it. The oven was on the patio which held some other items, but two rooms was it.
Weedad, a Syrian refugee and Muslim woman, opened her arms wide to hug us each so tight, in broken english she expressed how thankful she was to have us in her home. Her 14-year old son, Amer, was excited, especially as we immediately gave him the rollerblades. His eyes beamed with delight, and took them out of the box to try them out on the patio. Philip and he connected off the bat, and could not stop talking. Amer shared with Philip about how his father was killed in the crossfire of the Syrian civil war, protecting his family in their own home, dodging bullets, as they hid behind a couch. After that, Weedad and Amer traveled in a nine meter raft with fifty other refugees across the sea to safety. Heavy stuff. Weedad began to set the “table” on the floor filled with many Syrian treats. In Syrian culture, food is the love language. We knew we were loved because there was LOTS of food for even nine people in the dinner party. Syrian beef balls, roasted chicken, rice pilaf, Dolma (stuffed cabbage), Kousa Mahshi (stuffed zucchini), Tabouleh (cilantro dish), and PIZZA! (Bonus points to an IJ who makes one of these dishes and posts it). To show your love, you must eat lots of food. Everytime our plates looked empty, Weedad would pile on more food. In her own words, “If you love me, you eat.”
We loved her a lot, so we ate no matter how full we may have felt. Love will drive you to do things like that. Even with the language barrier, we laughed until we cried, then ate some more. She cooked the most beautiful meal- with a limited budget, one burner, small oven, in a one room apartment on the fourth floor. Weedad began to put plates together to give to the neighbors- not to save for leftovers, but to give to everyone she could. She did it because she loved her neighbors- and they loved her. They shared stories, Salim and Eiríni, our translators and now friends, kept the conversation going. We can’t wait for you to meet them one day.
We finished dinner, sat back, and Weedad began making us Syrian coffee, unlike anything we have ever had. She would show us pictures of her daughter, and son-in-law in Germany, and share how much she longs to be with them again. They are set to be reunified with their family, but the Greek government has a hard time sending back paperwork to make it happen. So they wait- they live in Athens, with no family, only each other, longing to be with their family. Amer showed us pictures of his cat that traveled with them on the raft from Turkey to Greece, and lived in the tents of the refugee camp. Eventually the cat died, but the joy he had in talking about the cat could be seen on his face. Weedad said over and over, as she held our hands tight, “I love you very much. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.”
She was thanking us for coming to her home, as she made us dinner, with almost nothing. We thought bringing gifts was a nice thing to do, but we did not realize the labor of love that would be returned. We stayed until midnight- laughing, talking, and dreaming of visiting them the next time when they are reunited with their family in Germany- our prayer. As the night ended, she made us a Knafeh, a middle-eastern cheese dessert, along with a silver plate of fresh fruit.
Our stomachs were full, but our hearts overflowing. We never expected to receive so much love from someone who never met us, looked different from us, and even at times had been told we do not belong in the same room. Yet here we are, eating dinner, sharing laughter, giving hugs, and listening to each other’s stories like old friends.
As we said our goodbyes, we realized that the hope we gave her was so small in comparison to the lesson of love she taught us. To do more with what you have been given, start something that changes lives, even if that is having dinner, with a refugee family, across the world in Athens, Greece. Weedad and Amer do more with what they have been given everyday- because it is their only means of survival. We have a choice to live out a story of love everyday- and we have been given so much more.
So what will you do with what you been given? Where will you go? Who will you talk too? How can you show love- where hope seems lost? It is in your backyard, in the whole world around you, just go. Do something awesome- start something that changes lives.
WHERE IS SHE NOW?
Weedad has now moved from Greece to Germany. Why? She has been reunited with her daughters, their family is together again. She still has not been able to find a job or place of her own. We are working with her to fix both. She is designing a product to tell her story, a cookbook and in the future, her own cooking show. In Syria, she was a teacher and is thrilled to start her venture with #ImpactJunkie teaching us (and you) what she loves: Food, family & love.
This post was written by #ImpactJunkie Clarissa Buckley
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