Sound of Joy

Op deze eerste zondag in het nieuwe jaar wil ik jullie, de lezers van dit blog, een goed, gelukkig, gezond en gezegend 2018 toewensen. Je mag de hele maand januari volgens mij nog nieuwjaar wensen. De afgelopen week was een soort vakantie. Maandagavond kwam ik terug naar Athene van een paar mooie en gezellige dagen in Agria. De rest van de week was het rustig, ook in het centrum. We hadden op donderdag 2 klantjes voor de kleding, die we uitdelen. Dat is wel jammer, want er is nog heel veel. Het zal nog een toer worden om het allemaal weg te werken. Wel kwamen er veel mensen hun ingevulde formulier inleveren voor het ‘Bottles’ programma. Een groep van 30 moeders, waaronder 2 met een tweeling, krijgen 2 maanden Formula milk om hun baby’s te voeden. Daarvoor worden ze gescreend door een andere organisatie, waarmee het Leger des Heils samenwerkt. Amurtel is gespecialiseerd in moeder- en kindzorg. Het is een heel proces met veel formaliteiten, maar we hebben toch heel veel aanvragen. Meer dan we aankunnen. Voor deze moeders gaat binnenkort ook een programma van start, waarbij er workshops gegeven worden over goede babyzorg en andere relevante onderwerpen. Het was daarom best vreemd, dat donderdag, dé dag, waarop iedereen zich weer moest melden, er een heleboel niet kwamen. Ik ben benieuwd wat de excuses zullen zijn, wanneer ze morgen (maandag) komen. Als ze komen! Ziek? Een doktersafspraak? Vergeten? We gaan het zien. Het is zo belangrijk voor ze, want de melkpoeder is heel duur. Soms is er ook een reden, die je niet verwacht. Een moeder kan niet lezen, dat vertelde ze me vol schaamte, dus is het heel moeilijk voor haar om afspraken na te komen. Ons denken is vaak zo anders, hier in het westen. De balans tussen verantwoordelijkheid nemen en – geven is soms moeilijk te vinden.

De eetprojecten van de kerken zijn ook nog niet gestart. Gelukkig is er altijd wel ergens in de stad voedsel te krijgen. Je kunt met de beste wil van de wereld in Athene niet omkomen van de honger, zeg ik vaak. Ik bezocht deze week een van de grootste uitdeelplaatsen in de stad. Een gebouw van de gemeente Athene, waar ook de shelters onder vallen, de plaatsen waar de daklozen terechtkunnen om te slapen. Daar worden dagelijks maaltijden uitgedeeld, 2 keer per dag, ‘middags 500, ’s avonds 300, het hele jaar door, ook in het weekend. Betekent dat dat er niemand meer iets nodig heeft? Nee zeker niet. Er is een groep die overal buiten valt. Geen papieren, dus geen plek om te slapen, niet (meer) in staat om er zelf op uit te gaan, psychiatrische problemen. Dat is de groep die nog steeds hulp nodig heeft. Dat is ook de groep die je aantreft als je ’s avonds laat in de straten en op de pleinen van de binnenstad rondloopt. Ook voor hen is er wel aandacht, maar veel minder. Er is een categorie die tussen wal en schip valt.

Verder was het deze week Foton. Lichtfeest. Eigenlijk Epifanie, of Driekoningen. Op 6 januari. In Piraeus, waar de haven is, wordt een groot kruis in zee gegooid. Er springen dan mensen in zee en wie dat kruis opvist en als eerste aan land brengt heeft… een jaar van geluk, tenminste dat is het idee. Het evenement dat ‘het zegenen van de zee wordt genoemd’ krijgt altijd grote belangstelling. De Orthodoxe kerk leidt de ceremonie.

Ik had deze week dus wat extra tijd om uitvoering te geven aan (een van) mijn goede voornemens voor 2018. Meer wandelen. Niet alleen van A naar B voor werkzaamheden, maar gewoon voor mezelf. Ik hoorde vandaag dat er een stappenteller op de I-phone zit, dat is wel een leuk hulpmiddel.

Ik wens jullie allen een goede week!

Lights

On this first Sunday of January, I wish you all a very happy, healthy and blessed 2018.
I think it is okay to wish everyone a happy new year the whole month long.
The past week was a sort of vacation. Monday night I came back in Athens, after a few nice days in Agria. The rest of the week was quite calm. On Thursday we had only 2 customers for the clothes that we portion out. That was a disappointment, since we had enough. It will be quite a job to get rid of it. On the other hand, lots of people came to give back their completed form. A group of 30 mothers, including two with twins, gets for two months Formula Milk to feed their babies. They will be screened by another organization. The Salvation Army cooperates with this organization.
Amurtel is specialized in maternal and childcare. It is a whole process with many formalities, but we still have a lot of requests. More than we can handle.
For these mothers, a program will start soon, in which workshops will be given about good baby care and other relevant subjects. It was a bit strange that on Thursday, the day that everyone had to report themselves, lots of mothers did not show up. I am wondering what the apologies will be when they show up on Monday. If they do… Forgotten? Sick? We shall see. It is very important for them, because the milk powder is very expensive. Sometimes there are reasons you do not expect. A mother told me once that she cannot read. Therefore, it was very difficult for her to fulfill here appointments.
Our thinking is often so different, here in the west. The balance between taking responsibility and giving is sometimes hard to find.

The foodprojects of the churches did not start yet. Luckely, there is always some food available somewhere in the city.
With the best will of the world, you cannot die of starvation.
This week, I have visited one of the greatest dispensing places of the city: a building of the Municipality of Athens. Homeless people can go to this building for a sleeping place. Meals are served every day, twice a day, throughout the year and even in the weekends. In the afternoon, 500 meals are served. In the evening, 300 meals are served. Does that mean that everyone has enough? No, certainly not! There is a group of people that cannot claim anything. They have no papers so no place to sleep, they are no longer able to solve their own problems. Sometimes they have psychiatric problems. They still need help.
When you walk down the street in the evening, you will find this people. They wander the squares of the inner city. Attention is paid to this people, but still too less.

Furthermore, it was Foton this week. Festival of Light or Epiphany. This was on the 6th of January. In Piraeus, where the harbor is, a large cross was thrown into the sea. Then people jump into the sea and whoever catches that cross and lands first has a year of happiness. Well, at least that is the idea.
This well-known event is called ‘the blessing of the sea’. The Orthodox Church leads the ceremony.

This week I had some extra time to implement (one of) my good intentions for 2018: walk more and often. Not just from A to B for work, but just for myself. I heard today that there is a pedometer on the I-phone, which is a nice tool.

I wish you all a good week!

Just like a dream

New Year’s Eve. This weekend, I spend my time in Volos with a family where I have stayed before. It’s good to be out of the city for a while. The weather is beautiful out here, and I often go for a walk. There is sea, and there are olive groves against the mountain slopes. The year is over. It has flown by, just like any other year. My mother used to say: ‘It’s just like a dream’. However, it is not a dream. I had the opportunity this year to work in a country which is experiencing so many difficulties. I got to know many different people, all from different nationalities. I collaborated with the Salvation Army and met a lot of new people in the refugee centre. Moreover, I got the chance to cooperate in different eating-projects, which are implemented to support the poorest. Thanks to the givers in- and outside the Netherlands, I was able to assist in sometimes almost hopeless situations. As the lyrics of an old song indicates: it’s all about the little things. I believe that. It’s our mission to do whatever comes on our path. Little things, yet so valuable. In the normal, the special is hidden. I thank God for His power and His grace. I am looking forward to what the coming year will bring. What I think is very special, is that I do not have to do this on my own. Many people encourage me. At the end of this year, I would like to thank you all for this support. It is not only my mission, it is the mission of many of us. I truly experience that as a blessing.

This week, we celebrated Christmas. On Christmas morning, I was in the Greek Orthodox Church in my neighborhood very early. The rituals, the singing, the prayers… it was all new to me. Step by step, I am starting to understand it, although the old Greek language is even more difficult than the new Greek language which I am learning at the moment. It was nice to sit and watch in a dusk, decorated church, while also taking a moment to meditate. From time to time, I am surprised by how your life could be totally changed. Who would have ever thought that I would come to Greece one day? I am getting a little nostalgic now, but whatever… that’s possible for once a year, isn’t it?
For my Christmas dinner, I invited 6 Iranians. I know them from the place where I work. We ate chicken the Dutch way, while at the same time eating rice the Iranian way. Well, that was something! Nowadays, it is called ‘slow cooking’ haha. It’s not really something I do. To start of the story, the cook shows up an hour later than planned. Then, it takes hours until the rice is over cooked. Every ten minutes it needs to be checked and ten minutes are added, so that in the end you are very, very hungry. However, I have to say that it was worth it. The result was good! I also made some great desserts, even though I say it myself. We read through the Christmas message of the birth of Christ and talked about it. One of the guests was Muslim, the other were Christian.

Furthermore, we made 30 packages which we would bring around in the city. I met several ‘old friends’ which I knew from the ‘loaf-of-bread-project’. I am not done with providing packages yet. Next week, I will bring around some more. Even though Christmas is over, they are not less happy with it. Besides that, I love to do it. As many of you might know, direct contact work in the streets has my heart.

A new year is ahead. What will this year bring us? Nobody knows. What we know is that God is with us. This time, I will finish with a few sentences from an old psalm in the Bible Version we read at home with New Year’s Eve. ‘‘Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.’’ And from the same psalm: May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us – yes, establish the work of our hands. (Psalm 92).

I wish you all a blessed 2018!

Sound of Joy

Christmas 2017. And is again sunday night. I’m visiting the Vampoulas family, I know from OM, with whom I am still friends.
I have a busy week behind me. We had 3 Christmas parties at the Salvation Army center.
One for Arabic speaking children and two in Farsi. There had to be a present for all the children. That was quite a task. We still had around 50 boxes of stuffed animals in all kind of variations. They all went into the packages. Of course we did look if they weren’t damaged and were all clean. At the Jumbo, the huge department store where you can buy EVERYTHING we bought around a 100 small presents. Thanks a lot to all the givers in NL. Monday we wrapped everything. Heleen and Corina from my home team were still there, so they were able to help. We gave out around 200 invitations. Eventually 159 kids showed up. A busy happening but really fun to do. During this week I had bought already huge quantities of shampoo, socks and chocolate at different stores in the city. They were beautifuly wrapped in red bags with a Christmas wish on it, all done by Stathis and Sofia, of the 3rd church from the EEE. They are involved in the feeding program there.
On Wednesday evening we gave out the bags to the 62 visitors of the feeding project. On Thursday in my church in Piraeus, we made around a 100 packages. They had to look a little different because some people go from church to church and it wouldn’t be fun to get the same package. So we made them a little different and a bought also nice small boxes in which we put a golden mini-book with bible verses in Greek. I will add a picture. The next chirstmas package project will be for the rough sleepers. I’m still working on making around 50 packages for “my” street people. I don’t have to do this alone. A couple Iranian friends are helping me. Which is really nice because it’s a lot of work! Tomorrow I will have 6 of them as visitors in my house. I’m going to cook for them. Rice (one of the boys will make it, he of course we read the Christmas story and I will do the story of “the 3 trees”, that I recently read in Greek. Now I’ll do it in English, which will be translated in Farsi. It is confusing sometimes, all these languages.
I’m explaining a bit about the packages, because they were all bought with Dutch funding. One part was donated by the Dutch association in Athens, gathered from their fair and another part came from the collection during a Christmas concert of a choir named Sound Of Joy” in Werkendam, the place I live in the Netyherlands. Thank you so much people, thanks to you I can give around 200 people a Chriostmas present. Last Friday we went again to Mandra. Our so called ‘mud town’. It looks better but it still has the brown mud colour, especially when it rains. There are still basements that need to be emptied and cleaned. Two of our group went to clean it and Spiros and I brought calenders and a Christmas card to the people we worked with the ast couple weeks. One visit was really special. We were the first Ssunday in the house of an old couple that circled around for hours in the water before there arrived help. I talked about this earlier in a blog. Their house was full of mud and everything was broken and had to be taken out. They had nothing left. We didn’t know yet what had happened to these people. So we were very happy when we met them now and so were trhey!. We were taken in as family. They said so: “you’re like our family”. We met the old grandfather and – mother, which was very special, we saw the house that was completely refurbished. Unrecognizable, unbelievable that this was the place we found before completely covered with mud. They worked really hard, everything was new, there were even pictures on the wall. A beautiful moment, we were all happy to meet each other again, this time under better circumstances. We ate mélomakarona and kourabiédes, special Christmas cookies.

I wish everyone a merry Christmas and a happy new year!