3 weeks have never flown by so fast. I feel like I just arrived in Athens, but somehow today is my last day. If I had the money to survive here longer, I would love to stay and keep working at the refugee residence. I’ve gotten to know the kids and some of the adults so well, and we’re JUST getting into a good routine, when it’s time for me to leave. One of the Spanish volunteers will be taking over the English lessons for the kids, so at least they’ll continue with a routine, instead of classes being put on hold until another native speaker/teacher arrives.
It’s a typical Mediterranean summer day; way too hot. We arrange for a beach trip, thinking it would be primarily kids and their families, but when I arrive to the residence at noon, at least 50 people are all ready and waiting with swim suits and towels. Some of the teenage boys have brought a giant speaker on wheels to kart with us to the beach. They’re blasting Syrian party music (please go check out my new favourite song, Jenno Netto) as we all dance/walk down to the tram line.
Once on the tram, our vibe is killed because we all have to cram in to these poorly air conditioned cars, and stand, sweating, for what feels like an eternity (but is probably more like 45 minutes) to Kalamaki beach. The babies are so well behaved and not even crying. IIIIII am basically crying, so I don’t know how they do it. Everyone is stoked once we arrive, the boys turn the beats back on, and we all spill on to the beach.
Look, I know we’re super annoying to any surrounding beach goers who were hoping for a quiet day. I would hate us. But everyone is having such a good time that I just can’t care.
Some dude freaks out when we switch from Spanish music to Arabic. A Greek woman comes running to out defence and gives him shit. He leaves us alone. Legend.
Some of the adult refugees have told me they don’t know how to swim so I’ve offered to teach them. I’m not really that strong of a strong swimmer, but I’m sure I can handle basics. I find one of the guys I said I’d help, standing on the top of a human tower in the shallow water. He does a flip, surfaces, and motions for me to come over before doing a perfect front crawl deeper out into the sea. Sooo he can totally swim, then? I follow him, and we spend some time floating and chatting. Turns out he was a bronze medal swimmer in Syria before the war, but hasn’t swam much in recent years.
There is an interesting contrast between volunteers in bikinis and camp resident women in long sleeve shirts, leggings, and sometimes even headscarves in the water. No one seems bothered by either choice; I assume most of us are on the same page and believe women should be able to wear whatever the f*#@ they want.
Back on the beach I find baby Hamoudi, one of the cutest little chubby babies you’ll ever see, wandering around on his own. I don’t know where his family went but he’s just chillin’ near some neighbouring beach goers. He’s only about 2. I bring him down to the water, unsure if he’ll like it or be freaked out. I start by dipping his feet and he’s giggling like mad so eventually I get him in up to his neck. I’m probably having more fun than he is. I don’t generally love babies but he is an exception.
Poor little Hamoudi is too cute for his own good. All the kids and some other volunteers want to play with him, and start splashing waves of salt water in our direction. I do my best to protect his eyes (and say “be careful!” 50 times; I’ve become such a helicopter Mom here) but it’s too late and he’s already crying. Just as I’m about to take him out, his 16 year old sister comes to collect him. I think she’s going to bring him to safety but instead she plugs his nose and dips him entirely underwater. He hates it. I hate it. I’m stressed af but he’s not my kid, what can I do? She brings him out deeper to where her family is wading around and I have to shrug and let him go. He’s a tough little guy and stops crying. He’ll be alright. I did just find him wandering around the beach alone and he was fine.
We’ve drawn quite the crowd around us, but in a positive way. Some other kids have joined our kids in playing and splashing about. Most of the refugee children can speak Arabic, English, and some Greek so they have no problem communicating and making new friends. Some other beach goers have joined our volleyball circle. It’s fun!
I stay in the water, playing and teaching until I’m pruney and need to head back to the shore. The young adults have mostly all done the same, and the dance beats are back. A circle starts and the men are killin’ it with dance moves, everyone is clapping, the women are shouting and cheering. I’m having the time of my life and just soaking up the vibes from the perfect last day I ever could have asked for.
I go home to pack up my bag before meeting some friends in Exarxia (a fun anarchy district near the abandoned school residence) for the last time. I sit with some volunteer and refugee friends, drinking an Alpha beer and listening to improvised African drum music in the square. One of my friends from Syria is very open about his past and what he went through to make it here. He gives me permission to write about his experiences so we spend some time talking and clarifying details before I have to go and catch an early morning flight. I’m working on telling his story and will post it soon.
My next stop is in England, where I’ve come to meet my family before returning to Canada. I have reverse culture shock for the first time in my life. I’m feeling weird about being in a city that’s so landlocked. I cannot believe how cold and cloudy it is. Why does everyone speak English? Things are so clean. And expensive. I’m dressed like a homeless person and people are not okay with it. I guess I have to slowly assimilate back to my western life.
I miss the Mediterranean!