written february 20th
i’m so thrilled to be back in greece again, this country which has captivated me since i first visited five years ago. for this trip i’m in katerini (a town just an hour or so west of thessaloniki) to volunteer with a local evangelical church in greece congregation. i was last here six months ago, in august, and oh my how things have echanged!
after a totally average day of travel (which was nice given how full of a weekend i had leading up to my trip here), my coworker, dia, and i arrived in thessaloniki at around five in the evening. two of the folks from the church organization came to meet us at the airport and then drove us over to katerini, passing through downtown thessaloniki so we could have a look around. we checked into our hotel (which is amazing) and freshened up quickly before heading down to the attached restaraunt to meet alexandra for dinner.
alexandra is the coordinator for the local church’s work with refugees and she’s my origional point of contact with the folks here in katerini. i met her in budapest in june, came to visit in august, and have kept in touch ever since. it’s thanks to her wonderful coordination skills that dia and i were able to come for this trip.
the hotel that her and her team found for us is just perfect! it began as a restaraunt, serving high quality apertivos and the like, and then expanded into a hotel in the building above the storefront just two months ago. there are very few rooms, but each is individually decorated in a chic minimilist style, matching the hip vibes of the restaraunt downstairs (where we’ll be eating breakfast and one other meal for free each day, as part of our stay).
anyway, i got a bit distracted! so dia and i met alexandra and zoey, a coworker of hers that i had also met in august, for dinner around seven to say hello and hear a bit about what our week would hold. it turns out that a lot has changed since i was last here six months ago. at that point, the church’s refugee housing program consisted of just 13 apartments. the program has grown so much that it has become a non-profit called perichoresis and now has almost 70 apartments in katerini that house approximately 200 people total. this work is now officially sponsored by the UNHCR, who also helped them aquire three hotels to house people from a camp near mount olympus who had to be relocated due to winter weather. the staff has grown rapidly since the summer to effectively manage these structural changes and best serve the needs of the people.
during our time here, dia and i will be meeting with the team in katerini, seeing the hotels and the work being done in thessaloniki, and much more. this is going to be another week of stretching and growing for me – i can already feel it.