Two of the kids' stories ...
Jamburai is 14 years old. He lives in Athens 5 years now, with his father and younger brother. He speaks Greek well enough, goes to school and hates skipping class. After school he sells bread on the streets. He never wanted anything from me, despite living in a condition of misery, a thing that he never made apparent. Shortly before leaving Greece their house didn't have water.
He once told me a story that took place in Afghanistan seven years before. A friend of his stabbed him in the stomach, wounding him very seriously. He went to the hospital, where they saved his life. He showed me the scar. Once he got out, his friend came by and told him he did it just for fun. Jamburai's family kept a gun in the house. He took the gun and went to the roof, he says, and seeing his friend coming by he shot him in the head. He laughs as he talks about it. He must have been eight years old when this happened. Later, his friends' father came over to ask Jamburai why he had killed his son. And that was all.
(January 22, 2013)
I met Elias again when he was living on the streets, with his father and younger brothers.That lasted for about 2 months. He was just 14. It's been six years now that he lives in Greece. Last year his pregnant mother left for Norway, alone. He speaks Greek really well. I remember him from when he was twelve: he had unique features and bright skin and green eyes and a powerful stare. His family is looking for a place to stay, because they sleep outside and colder months are coming. They ask me to help them get an apartment at the 'refugee building complex' (Prosfygika). These are houses that were built in the 1920s for the Greek refugees that were fleeing from Smyrna after the Greco-Turkish War. Despite their state of disrepair they're something of an historical landmark to anyone who lives in Athens. Now,after years of abandonment, they've reverted to their original use, housing refugees from awholly different war, in a wholly different age. Today people who find shelter here don't have the benefit of a state sanctioned program, so they're basically squatters, living in a self-organizing community. After a while Elias' family is able to find a free spot in one the buildings.
I was really close with Elias and we met all the time. He once told me: “I'm going to tell you something, but try not to get mad at me.” I asked him what was on his mind.
He explained: “My father, my brothers and I, we used to visit the market, where we could taste fruits and other food without ever buying anything. But after all we were hungry – we didn't have any money at all.”
During the last period of their stay in Greece, they didn't have electricity, they only used candles, and they didn't have a working shower or a bathtub either.
What he really wanted was a football. 'Just a football ', he said “ that. I never had a brand new one. I've always played with those I could find on the street”.
His sister Fereste is a devoted Muslim. She prays alone many times of the day and the night. That helps her.
She told me one day “When we were trying to reach Greece we came to a river that we had to cross. The water was deep and I got really scared. My father helped first my mother across,carrying her upon his shoulders. Then, one at a time, he came back for my brothers and then for me. Upon entering the river, I saw a dead body there, floating: I closed my eyes, clinging to my dad's shoulders, and started praying to God and didn't stop until I was on the otherside... I always shut my eyes and pray whenever I see something bad”.
They made it in the end: they went to live together as a family in Norway.
I was with them when they started packing. It was before sunrise and in order to see what they were doing they needed candles and flash lights.
Their father had just bought them some new clothes for the trip. Elias had the football packed in his suitcase, deflated. He never played with it in Greece.
Elias lived with a little chick, called Mek. Someone at the market gave it to him and he was raising it in his room. He loved it quite much, but he couldn't take it with him to Norway, so he said to me: “You take it. You take care of it. It will bring you good luck. Someday I'll come back in Greece to get it”.
At dawn we said farewell and I headed home, holding the box that carried Mek.
(April 23, 2015)