THE POWER OF A PARK BENCH
Written February 23rd
Today began with a full shift in the nursery and when Dia and I arrived at the building to meet the teacher we learned that the two Syrian women from the day before were not able to be there. The teacher was especially glad to have the two of us there to help out! The local mother joined us with her two children and we began our programming. The kids played with play-dough and created full scenes of creatures, learned about the letter C, ate chocolate cookies, and played games outside with a parachute. When the day came to an end, Dia and I rode along to drop some of the kids off at home and then were ourselves dropped off at Alexandra’s office.
We arrived a little bit early so we sat out on the patio eating our casual lunch of bread and tzatziki, soaking up the sun. We met with Alexandra and talked about our days here so far and went over what the rest of the week would bring, and then we walked back to the center of town.
Because we had eaten lunch so late, and because it wasn’t much, we bought more bread as we came into the city center and headed again to the big park we visited yesterday to finish off the rest of our tzatziki, sitting next to two adorable old Greek men. When we were done we continued lounging on our usual park bench, reveling in the gorgeous Greek weather and talking about the children we had worked with in the morning.
Before I knew what was happening we were suddenly surrounded by a whole gaggle of girls from three different families that we had worked with over the last few days. They were on a walk with their mothers and were eager to greet us. They stood in a semi-circle around our bench, smiling and waving at us sweetly. Their mothers followed them over, looking at us curiously, and the children quickly explained who we were. They greeted us warmly and went on their way, the girls shrieking loudly as they played through the park.
Not ten minutes later another family strolled by, parents and their two children, and one of the daughters began waving furiously at us as she recognized us from her English class yesterday. The parents looked confused at how their daughter knew us, but smiled kindly anyway as she chatted and told them all about us.
Dia and I grinned at one another and dove back into our conversation, only to be startled a few minutes later by the whiz of bikes and the greetings shouted at us by two of the teenage boys from class yesterday – the boy i met in august and the friend that he had been sitting next to. They pulled up next to us and we exchanged greetings, asking about their day and they in turn asked about ours, outwardly proud that they were able to hold a conversation with us in English.
As they waved goodbye and took off to ride around the park, Dia and I glanced over at the two gentlemen on the bench next to ours – they were staring at us incredulously. Here we were, two English speakers, sitting on a park bench in the sunshine greeting children and families from the neighborhood and seeming quite well connected. They were even more surprised later when the boys stopped by again and one of them let me use their bike to go ride around the park. The boy I remembered from august led me around his favorite route and i eagerly followed, happy to have him showing me around and enjoying the delicious feeling of the breeze on my face. After the boys eventually left to ride around another park, I couldn’t help but think how something like this would not happen in Hungary.
Not only would there not be this many parents taking their children out to play on a sunny day (many times due to worries that their children may be bullied by others), but onlookers would have been more vocal and rude about the interactions that we had with them. Hungarians would have been annoyed when we spoke English, glared when they realized the families were not European, and then lost it when I went off for a casual bike ride with one of the boys, leaving dia and the other boy behind. It’s just not a situation that would happen there for so many reasons and it’s heartbreaking.
The Greek people didn’t have a choice about whether they wanted to accept people on the move or not – families began flooding in, searching for sanctuary and a helping hand, and the Greek people responded in kind despite their own very recent economic troubles. The rest of the world, my native united states especially, could really learn something from the Greek model. For all its faults, the people have overwhelmingly opened their hearts to these people in need and the successes can be felt as these happy children and families walk among fountains in a public park, safe in the knowledge that they are on the path to a more secure future.