my fifth day in katerini started off with a brief team meeting at the church where the needs of a new family were being assessed. a mother with her four children would be picked up from a refugee camp outside Thessaloniki the following day and so we needed to furnish one of the apartments for them with the essentials: beds, pillows, cleaning supplies, and a table with chairs. the four team members and I loaded everything into the van and drove it over to the property where we unloaded it all but left it in a central location so that the family could arrange everything to their liking.

following this, we headed to the food pantry to collect kitchen essentials for the family that would be picked up by them the next day. we started a pile for them with towels and from there we added sheets, pillowcases, silverware, glasses, plates, and basic cook wear. we also compiled a foundation of food supplies for them, in addition to the fresh produce and regular weekly items. after the family is picked up from the camp, they would then be brought straight to the food pantry to pick up their things and then they would head over to their apartment to relax for the rest of the day.

while we were at the food pantry working, the Syrian man who I recently went to the UNHCR with arrived and greeted me warmly. we talked for a bit and exchanged contact info so that he and his wonderful wife can keep in touch with me, even after I leave. they hope to make it to Germany soon and the husband told me that they’ve already decided to have me over for a visit once they get settled in. I’m absolutely honored to be able to stay in touch with them during the rest of their journey to reunite with their sons.

towards the end of our time there at the food pantry, an NGO group from the USA arrived for a meeting with the team here. we walked over to the church together and alexandra gave them the shpeal about their work in katerini. she stressed that the work here is done in a professional and supportive manner, seeking to aid those who are most vulnerable in the camps. during this meeting I got to hear a bit more about the data of the organization, including that their monthly safe houses budget is 7,000€ which includes the homes that people live in, the salaries for the staff here, and the food that is provided three times a week at the food bank for families. it was nice to get to hear a bit about this side of the operation.

I did lunch in the city on my own again and grabbed a chicken gyro (I could eat them every damn day, seriously) with a Coke and a lemon tart (an impulse buy on my way back to the hotel haha).

I was picked up by alexandra in the early evening to head south of the city to leptokarya where the church has a camp. Alexandra showed me around the camp grounds by the sea that hosts different groups of kids year-round and then we headed to the beach just across the street.

it’s been four years since I’ve been in the sweet waters of the Aegean and it felt so. damn. good. to be back.

I swam out far enough to not touch the bottom and bobbed, looking down into the clear teal water at the seaweed and sand patterns below me. waves lazily made their way towards me, gently lulling me into a relaxed state. I floated on my back and gazed up at the ombré blue sky, changing from deep blue to a hazy sky blue as I moved my eyes closer towards the horizon line at the beach, where the humidity tends to make everything a bit opaque. my body rose and fell with every deep breath I took, rocking back and forth as waves rolled by me, a gentle reminder that I was completely safe.

for me, there’s always been something primordial about water – the fact that all the water we have on earth has always been here and is recycled over and over is a beautiful thing to me. the very water I was floating in had been all over and had probably seen so many things during its time on earth. I floated there amidst the history of this place, safe and at peace in the Aegean, never wanting to get out.

eventually, though, I did have to say goodbye to the sea and make my way back to katerini. it was bittersweet – leaving the waters that have molded me into the person I am today in so many ways but also heading back to a town that I’ve now grown close to because of the amazing people who I’ve met. as sad as it was to say goodbye to the Aegean, I’m thankful to have had time there at all, for it was something that I wasn’t sure would happen due to my busy schedule with the team here.

i left the sea with a sense of surety and peace about the future, still not knowing what would come for the people who I have connected with during my time here, but optimistic all the same.