BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS IN KATERINI
Day three in Katerini was primarily structured around a trip to Thessaloniki to the UNHCR office that I will post more about, in detail, later. Dimitrios drove a Syrian couple there for their appointment and they let me tag along; it ended up lasting from 6:45am until around 3pm.
When we returned from our trek to Thessaloniki, we headed back to the church office for a quick check in (where I also met a German man that works for an NGO in Athens that’s looking to partner with the church here) and then I was free for the rest of the afternoon. I roamed around the city center, bought a light lunch of tzatziki, chicken souvlaki, and baklava and spent a few hours reading and relaxing.
When evening came, I met up with Alexandra and went with her to visit a young Syrian couple at their apartment in order to figure out the logistics of their upcoming appointment with the UNHCR. The two of them have been married less than six months and are recent arrivals in Katerini. They married in a religious service in Syria and then immediately fled and headed west. They’re both around 25 and, due to our closeness in age, their story and struggles really hit home for me – in another world, that could be me.
The woman welcomed me into her home and didn’t mind my staying while she discussed business matters about her appointment with the translator and Alexandra, and for that I’m so thankful. The husband was out at the beach with a group from the church, so it was just the wife that I got to meet that night, but she was absolutely lovely. As soon as we sat down she brought out water and Coke, showed us around the apartment that the church has provided for her, and expressed gratitude for their help in planning her trip to the UNHCR.
Towards the end of our visit, just as we were about to leave, she jumped up and told us there was something we had to try before we departed. She disappeared into the kitchen for a bit and returned with fresh Syrian sweets for us to eat: a sweet fried crepe that has been folded, topped with a little butter, and then drizzled with a homemade sugar sauce that tasted like a lighter version of honey. It was amazing and I was touched by her hospitality, especially since I had only met her once before this.
When we finished there, Alexandra and I wandered around the town and made our way to her house for a homemade Greek dinner. Along the way she pointed out various apartments where the refugees they work with are living – at least six of them are quite close to the city center and have gorgeous views.
Dinner with Alexandra and her son consisted of tzatziki, Greek salad, and a traditional pasta and meat casserole called pastitsio – it was all out of this world delicious. Alexandra and I swapped stories about our work and the families that have touched our lives, as well as about all the volunteers that come through and seek to provide aid as well. I thanked her again for welcoming me here and letting me serve with her and her team and learn from them along the way. She smiled warmly at and met my eyes with an intense look, telling me that when we first met at the consultation in Budapest she knew that I was a serious and kind-hearted woman who would be respectful in all my work – that’s why she was so open to hosting me here with her team.
I stayed with her and her son for hours, chatting until around 11:30pm before I finally made my way back to the hotel to get some rest before my next big day.
Each day that I am here in Katerini I can feel my connections with the people deepening – both with the church staff and with the folks that they serve.