Archive Monthly Archives: May 2018

Opening the Door

This post was originally published on the author’s personal blog at

It’s 10am at Orange House in Athens, and we open up to the day’s first visitors, a family with two small boys. Here to use the hot shower which serves dozens of refugees every week, they prepare with patience in the living room – except for young Sami*, who, I learn too late, flings things about, and is not to be let loose with Lego. His parents tell their story in a single broken sentence. “We pick up our babies, and we run away from war.”

Another clang of the doorbell heralds bigger boys; young men, almost. Momentarily jaunty; briefly polite, they nod, then settle back to smartphones. Orange House offers free WiFi 10 hours a day, a clever way to tempt kids in and off the streets.

By mid morning, the door swings back and forth nonstop for students. Orange House has free classes daily in languages; guitar; yoga, dance. The youngest learners are 6 or 7, the oldest, 60 or 70; they speak Farsi, Arabic, Linguala; they’re Muslim, Christian, Hindi; some are illiterate, some have PhDs. They’re capable, they’re compromised. They move across our TV news in dusty pickup trucks and rubber dinghies, holding their children hard. They are the refugees.

Two small wet boys emerge, hair shining, from the shower. I switch Lego for a race car and instantly regret it, as Sami seizes on his new dream toy and won’t let go. I wonder if he’s traumatized or just a normal, tiresome 2 year old. As the family heads out, we resolve the issue, with a promise of the dream returned tomorrow, in words that no one really understands or much believes.We are the volunteers. Most of us are not here long, and none for long enough. We get to know them briefly and intensely – the Lego throwers; the villager who dries clothes in the oven; the Palestinian with a scholarship to Athens University. We engage over football and the weather; poetry and philosophy. We listen to tales of inhuman camps and missing family members. We clean, we teach, we pick up little plastic blocks. We direct people to doctors and link them with lawyers. We open the door.

Some say it’s a false dichotomy – whatever boat we came here on, we’re in together now – but we, the volunteers, can choose to leave. Most refugees don’t want to stay, but the world has closed its borders, so 60 thousand plus are stuck in Greece, and Greece is stuck with them. Greeks understand migration and unrest, and manage it, in general, with grace, but it’s a tough assignment for a bankrupt nation to take on.

By Anne Merewood.