Volunteering to help refugees

It’s easy to “like” articles on Facebook bemoaning the numerous policies enacted by an administration I cannot abide. A wave of nationalism that has arisen in countries on both sides of the Atlantic has left the most vulnerable population — refugees fleeing famine, war, and persecution — in a state of perpetual homelessness. While some lucky few get resettled, many others spend months or years living in camps. Many of them are living here in Athens. So I asked myself, what can I do to help? I’ve been regularly putting the kids’ old clothes in the donation bins at the Embassy and Liam’s school. But it didn’t feel like I was doing enough. So when an email from the Embassy went by asking for volunteers, I decided to act.

Once a month, volunteers from the US Embassy work at the Caritas Soup Kitchen, a Catholic charity that supports refugees all over Greece. They provide a hot meal for about 150 refugees in Athens every day. The embassy provided us transportation there and back, and each volunteer worked at a station in the kitchen for a couple of hours. I was on dish duty with a couple of others from the Embassy. As the dining room filled, we washed, rinsed, and dried dishes to be stacked and reused. We had a great time chatting, and we kept very busy at our tasks. People of all ages came to eat, and we had a steady stream of diners for two straight hours. I came home exhausted, but also satisfied that perhaps I’d done a small part to offset the (hopefully temporary) refugee ban from my own country.

Eager to do more, I’m also arranging to volunteer once a week to do activities with refugee children. This program is also run by Caritas, and arranged by the Embassy. It’s brand new, so I’m not exactly sure what to expect. Once I fill out some paperwork, they should be able to get me more information on what age children I’ll be working with, and what sorts of activities they’re looking for me to do. If anyone has any low-budget kids crafting ideas and games for groups, please send them my way! I will surely be scouring Pinterest in the coming weeks.

I’m also trying to get Liam in on the charitable giving. We talk a lot about the refugee crisis, and I suggested perhaps he should set aside some of his allowance every month to contribute. One of my friends volunteers at a medical clinic at one of the camps, and she said they’re always looking for diapers and formula. If all goes to plan, I’ll be taking Liam to Jumbo with the money from his “charity” bin to pick out diapers for little refugee babies. He seemed to like the idea…though he only agreed to part with 50 cents this week. But every little bit counts!



New food and the New Normal

What is this, this “olive oil biscuit”? It’s crumbly, sweet, and covered in sesame seeds. According to the picture, it appears to be infused with cinnamon and oranges. Good by themselves, or especially as a vehicle for tahini, another of our new favorites. Violet and I are gobbling them up. Liam gets home in about 10 minutes. Perhaps we’ve found a snack that (gasp!) BOTH my children enjoy? We shall see…

While we wait for his bus to pull up, let’s talk about that the heck is going on in America right now. I don’t usually like to discuss politics here. I’m a little unclear what the ramifications would be as the wife of an embassy employee. So I’ll keep it tame. But I will say that I’m highly disturbed by the news pouring through my online newsfeeds. Fox News is not one I frequent, so perhaps the doom and gloom element would be less pronounced there, but as each of these unsavory cabinet appointments get confirmed, I can’t help but picture Dr. Horrible joining the Evil League of Evil.

Maybe it’s just because Liam is listening to the soundtrack every. single. morning. But when I picture Dr. Horrible walking into that room with all those random evil henchmen, I can see Betsy DaVos or Rex Tillerson under all those ridiculous costumes. And I genuinely fear the direction our country is headed.

Ok, so speaking of Liam, he tried the biscuits, and he actually liked them. Woohoo! He also informed me of the new game he and his friends now play at recess. He’s Donald Trump, and they have to chase him around until he locks himself in the White House. The White House is base. I asked if he wears a bathrobe and wanders around for awhile when he’s in there. (heh heh). Then he loudly proclaimed that he had a golden toilet! And a golden sink! And a golden shower!

Out of the mouths of babes…

Our photo with The President

It’s Obama’s last week in office…hold on, I need to let that sink in for a minute. And maybe rock back and forth while I contemplate the degree of suckage we’ve got in store for the next four years. Anyway, while I’m doing that, enjoy this photo we got of Liam with the President. You’ll remember, back in November, right after the election, we got to meet, or rather, stand in the same vicinity as him.


Let’s see, where’s Liam, where’s Liam…hmmm. Oh, right. Here he is.


Ah, yes,  I remember hearing about all this pushing and shoving, and there was much boo-hooing about it. His friends are standing nearby trying to help him up — I was sure to thank them and their mothers after I saw this photo. Just to confirm, I showed Liam the photo and asked if this was the top of his head.

“Yeah, mom. That’s me. That’s when I fell down and I didn’t get to shake hands with Obama and (incoherent noises and crying…)”

Oh, geez, here we go again. Guess I won’t be putting this on the ol’ mantle, then.

Learning to say, “I’m sorry.”

It’s amazing how much Greek I’m starting to pick up with minimal effort on my part. I have my Pilates instructor to thank. It turns out Greek Pilates is a perfect immersion learning class. I know the words for up and down, I know that “Daxi” means ok (as in, do you understand what I just told you to do?), and I can count to about seven before I run into problems. Oh, and I know the word for butt. Ha! My wonderfully agreeable and chatty teacher tells stories in class, and I can follow them about 0% of the time. But I was delighted that I understood “big ball” and “all fours” all on my own.

After every class I have a little chat with her, asking her how to say certain words, or asking what certain words that I heard her say in class mean. I know most of the pleasantries– please, thank you — but what should I say if I accidentally bump into a stranger?

Sygnomi. That means “sorry.” SIG-NO-MEE. Got it.

On Thursday, I asked her again because I didn’t quite have it right. My teacher smiled. “Amanda, what do you need to say ‘sorry’ for?”

“TRUMP!” I replied. Everyone in the room laughed.

Thursday was November 17, a day in which protesters march from Polytechnic University to the American Embassy every year to commemorate a violent uprising against the oppressive Junta regime in 1973. Many protesters were injured and killed that day, and while American involvement is a bit sketchy, anti-American sentiment runs high on this day every year. Liam’s school closed early, and the US Embassy closed and sent everyone home by 2 PM. Streets around the embassy were barricaded off, and police stood by to intervene if things got out of hand, which has happened in the past. As an added twist, this year Obama’s visit just days before the event apparently kicked off the riots early. We were advised by the Embassy to stay home for the rest of the afternoon on the 17th.

I guess I’ll have to add this to my list of signomis.

I asked my Pilates instructor if she thought all this political business with Trump would exacerbate the riots this year. She said from her perspective, the real issue for Greeks is their dissatisfaction with their own prime minister, and the embarrassment he’s brought with his handling of the economy. This article seemed to support her view. Here I am, lamenting the whole Trump phenomenon on Facebook, but here it’s barely a blip on the radar. And for good reason. The Greeks have enough of their own problems to worry about.

I found myself at the Embassy that day at two o’clock, and as we departed, I could see the police setting up their barricades. Motorcyclists argued with police at one intersection, choosing to drive on the sidewalk to get around. Business as usual! James received updates on the riot via text message. Nothing out of the ordinary, apparently. Another day, another protest in Athens.