Yesterday, our friends at Second Tree organization in Ioannina, Greece invited us to spend time with an Afghan refugee family living in an urban accommodation—an apartment building which hosts refugee families considered more vulnerable than others. The building, in the heart of Ioannina, looks like any other, but the families who live inside do not have ordinary lives or stories.
Woman offering us some bread while we chatted with her about attending our women’s meeting later in the afternoon. Photo: iACT
This particular family from Afghanistan welcomed us into their home as if we were old friends, and ensured we were not short of tea, fruit, or sweets. I was immediately captivated by their 13-year-old daughter, *Zara, who greeted and hosted us. Her style of speech and tone, her mannerisms, and her seemingly carefree girlish attitude reminded me so much of my niece. She fumbled around the kitchen attempting to make us tea. “Okay, to be honest …” she would say when preparing to confidently share her opinion about something, whether it be her Greek peers, her teachers, or music and movies. She refused to tell us her favorite movie because she felt too embarrassed. Later, as if succumbing to pressure, said it was a Korean film. In those moments, I beamed while looking at her and listening to her. She was just a 13-year-old girl. She was just like my niece.
But she isn’t. As the oldest child in her family, the only one who comfortably speaks English and Greek (having learned it more quickly than her parents), and as a refugee, she doesn’t get to be just a girl. Instead, she is her family’s translator. She is their support system. She is their hope.
Later that night, when walking back to our accommodations a mere 10 minutes away, Zara stayed with us the whole way. Katie-Jay and I could see it; we barely had to speak it. Zara, at just 13 years old, carries the weight of the world on her shoulders.
*Name has been changed for protection and security reasons.
Notes: Zara and her family experienced a “hard” journey, as they would casually describe it. One that forced them to rely on smugglers, and took them through Iran, Turkey, a Turkish prison, and eventually to a refugee camp in Greece. For now, Zara and her family are in the safety and comfort of a one-bedroom apartment. These accommodations, however, are not permanent, and they live with an incredible amount of uncertainty surrounding their present and future.