Today was a cold day in Athens. Around 10 degrees. By Dutch standards still wonderful weather to go for a walk. So that’s what I did, the first leg by tram and then by foot along the sea. Whenever the sun showed its face, it felt outright balmy! This morning I first visited a church, called Panayia Faneroméni. The apparition of the virgin. A Greek Orthodox church where a Mnimósyno was held. A commemorative service held 40 days after someone’s death. In this case that of my Greek teacher’s mother-in-law, whose funeral I also attended. After the service, which was pretty long and during which I was mostly standing, there was Greek coffee, cookies, water and a glass of brandy. Upon leaving we received a small paper bag with kollyva (boiled grain mixed with sugar, walnuts, almonds and pomegranate), a small brioche and a thank you card from the family. I tend to find the whole service rather impersonal, the name of the deceased is only mentioned towards the end, when the service is nearly finished. And that’s that. No personal note, no heartfelt words addressed to the family, no encouraging passage from the Bible. For us it is very difficult to put ourselves in such a situation. It made me quite sad. I was happy to be there though, for in this way I could show my sympathy.

This week I had once again several meetings with people. Yesterday Sandy (not her real name) came to visit me. A 20-year old girl with an 18-month old son. She has a past that is hard to imagine. Both parents died when she was still very young. Her grandmother took care of her until she was 9. Then she was “rented out” to a family who paid the grandmother. There she was treated in an awful, not to say criminal way, but, as she herself says, one can endure shouting and beating. Fortunately she was not raped (at that time). But she has scars over her whole body from the wounds that her “boss” inflicted on her. When she was fifteen, she “escaped” to another country. There she was raped repeatedly and ended up in hospital just in time. A woman who came from the same country donated blood to save her life. Finally she arrived in Greece via Turkey. The “friend” in Turkey who is the father of her little son could not marry her. His family would not accept a woman who could not read and write. She used the 300 dollar he gave her to travel to Greece. Now she has a provisory asylum permit, but no more money. She wants to go to school and to another country. She finds life here difficult, but better than she ever had. She is a cheerful girl, she says “I only feel stressed when the day that I have to pay the rent or the electricity bill is nearly there”. I helped her with some money and fortunately I had a lot of clothes. Both for her and for her son. We had made a kind of display on my bed, so she could choose. One knows that there are a lot of people like her, but when one hears someone personally tell her story, things get a lot closer all of a sudden.

This week Ahmad (not his real name) also came by again. He is from a country where the caste system is still alive and kicking. I have known him for a while now, for he receives some extra help for the Salvation Army. He has a small apartment here, but can no longer pay the rent. His savings are gone. And there is no work to be found. He and his wife have a little girl. Because it wasn’t very busy I had the opportunity to talk more extensively with him about his background. I asked him how the situation was in his country and whether he still had family there. It was rather complicated. The gist was that he had to leave the country because he dared to marry a woman from a higher caste. That caused a lot of problems. He was no longer accepted, lost his job. Now he is here and his situation is, if possible, even more hopeless than before.

Just two stories. People who come on your way. Who touch your heart. Whom you cannot let down. But what is the right help? …. And whom do you help first? … And for how long?… There are the considerations that I have to weigh every day. And how glad I am, in spite of everything, that I may and can do anything at all!

Have a lovely week!