If you've ever visited another country, you are sure to understand what I mean when I say that people from other countries are so hospitable. From greeting you with "Hello, my friend!" to inviting you in for tea, hospitality is something that permeates cultures around the world. Our experiences in the Moria Camp reflect that perfectly.
I told you about the first day, when Johannes and Imanuel, our Eritrean friends, invited us inside their tent structure for some much needed respite from the hot sun. When we wanted to help and serve them, it was they who were doing the serving.
Many of our lives have been touched by individuals in the camp who we will never forget. I have been working in Level 2, which is a family unit of about 100 refugees from Afghanistan. All of them are Afghan and have fled the terrible situation there. I have spent two days there and some of my experiences have changed my life. Today, there was a sweet little girl named Rhiana, about 5 years old, who I was talking with while I was on gate duty (this part of camp has a large gate to protect the families). She has lived in the camp for 3 months now. She has a total of 8 brothers and sisters who are living there with their parents. She had a very pretty necklace that had been woven out of simple string. I told her that I thought it was very pretty and she smiled and ran off. No more than 15 minutes later, she was running back to me with my own woven bracelet, eager to wrap it around my wrist. "Green, red, and black, the colors of Afghanistan!" she declared as she grabbed my wrist and wrapped it tightly. I hope it never falls off.
In many of the communities, some of the men have stepped up to take on leadership roles. These men work with Euro Relief and receive a large amount of responsibilities such as passing out meals to the families, guarding the staff shack, operating the gate, and resolving conflicts among the families. One of these men in Level 2 (the Afghani community) is named Shefi. Shefi is an 18 year old who has lived in the camp for 3 months. He dreams of moving to Germany to open a mechanic shop, a job that he performed back home before fleeing the wars. Shefi is an incredible person and has a huge heart. I met him yesterday, talked with him a good bit, and hit it off again today when we worked together. This afternoon, as I was guarding the gate, Shefi came running to find me. I was worried something was wrong. He grabbed my hand and repeated, "Ryan, come, Ryan, come!" I went with him into the staff cabin and was immediately brought to tears. On the floor, Shefi had laid out one of those gold foil emergency blankets that you'd find on a boat or a raft. You know those ones that are meant to keep you warm at night when it's cold? This type of thing. On the blanket he had laid out 7 meals. 7 of his own meals that were delivered to him that he was meant to eat over the next few days. With each meal, a fork, a piece of his bread, one of his juice boxes, one of his bottles of water, and two large communal bowls of traditional Afghan side dishes. "Come, sit my friend" he said as I held back emotion. Sitting there with me were 4 other volunteers with Euro Relief, Shefi himself, and Sha', a British girl who does a lot of translation work for the camp. Our wonderful host served us food, on the floor of a refugee camp, sitting on a gold foil blanket. While it doesn't seem like much, that dish of pasta, piece of bread, and orange juice box were a huge sacrifice for him. But he did it because we are guests in his community and that's the kind of guy Shefi is. I was honored to say the prayer for our meal before we ate and then we ate and laughed for a long time. It was my first meal on the floor of a refugee camp and a meal I will never forget.
Ask any one from our group and they'll have a plethora of stories to share about the love and hospitality that we have felt from the refugees at the camp. I think it's safe to say that we went there expecting to change their lives, when in reality, it has been them who have changed ours.
Tomorrow we head to another camp for a 24 hour shift. We will show up at the refugee camp located in the town of Skala Skiminia at 7 AM and will leave our shift the next morning at 7 AM. This is the camp located closest to the beach where they will immediately take refugees arriving on boats after they come ashore. The amount of work we will have will depend on the amount of refugees arriving during our shift. It could be a lot of work, it could be a little work.
"This blog is not an official U.S. Department of State blog. The views and information presented are the grantee's own and do not represent the Teachers for Global Classrooms Program, IREX, or the U.S. Department of State."
Stephen Blan teaches US History at Fort Worth Country Day in Fort Worth, TX and is a 2015 Teachers for Global Classrooms Fellow.