A Day in the Life of Athens Sangha Service

A Day in the Life of Athens Sangha Service

by Mercia Moseley

January, 2018

Waking with the morning bell, I realize I’ve grown content in our sweet Athens WakeUp sangha. Meditation to begin each day, then there are morning hugs, oatmeal made in varying ways (Maarten adds coconut milk, Francie fruit). Vanessa is doing yoga on the balcony that looks across the white, stacked buildings of Athens, and David is still meditating as the light rises. Dermot, Philippe, and I are being cheeky as usual, laughing over our oatmeal and teasing one another over who drank more coffee (and therefore whose turn is it to make the next pot). Soon we will all go our separate ways, scattering across Athens to different refugee organizations, to different experiences that we will share over dinner later.

“Get a wiggle on there,” jokes Dermot (always making me laugh) as he and I head out the door and into the familiar cracked-sidewalk, graffitied streets of Patissia. It’s a short walk that I’ve come to enjoy, passing the Pakistani deli, the Greek bakery, the crowded trash bins, and dodging traffic like real Greeks on our way to Hope Café. I feel safe with my tall Irish dharma brother leading the way.

There is always music playing at Hope. Everyone greets everyone, and we dive in wherever needed, sorting mounds of clothes in the dim basement, or washing dishes as people arrive and the coffee cups and cooking utensils pile up in the small sink. The chatter rises and friends greet one another in Arabic and Farsi, waiting for the free meal to be served – lentils and rice cooking in vast pots on gas burners on the kitchen floor, the smell of onion and cumin filling the space. Sometimes 80 people come, sometime 170. Women in bright head scarves carrying babies, men of all ages, kids (many, many kids).

As the weeks go by, Dermot and I get to know familiar faces. Like the Syrian family in which both parents are deaf, with 5 young children, who speak together in a lively made-up sign language. The oldest girl translates and the father jokes and laughs with everyone. He makes up humorous sign-names for each of us (mine is a twist of the pointer-finger upwards meaning, “skinny girl”). They are so remarkably joyful, so bonded, so kind. I wonder if I would have their grace, were I in their shoes? We hear other stories from various people who come through the doors of Hope, shared in pieces of broken English, little shards of tales, painful residue of experiences no one should live. We gather what we can of what life in Syria was like before the war, what it took to get to Athens, what it is to be without a country, without a job, without the “right” passport, to be alone. It’s sobering. Real. Problems without answers, or a foreseeable end.

Our Sangha brother Phillipe joins the games of our dear young friends outside Hope Cafe

After everyone has been served, we eat the free meal too. The building is full so Dermot and I sit by the road on the old sidewalk. I taste the food, cumin, tomato, thyme. I have never been without food in my life. We hold our plastic plates, eating slowly, mindfully, and are silent for a while. I feel a weight and blessing, learning something about gratitude, about the vast complexity of this world, as the traffic passes and the dishes pile up in the little sink waiting to be washed.

Later we will head home to our sangha and eat together silently, feeling the spaces and people we have each met and shared with that day. Feeling the warmth and support of each other’s presence, the sound of the clear, small bell in the wide city. Thay’s quote on our makeshift altar reminding us, “This is it.”

Mercia and Dermot at Hope Cafe

“I feel safe with my tall Irish dharma brother leading the way”

Mercia Moseley (Deep Training of the Heart) grew up going to family retreats with Thich That Hath, and feels fortunate to be part of this beautiful community as a WakeUp-er now. The last six months, she has been collaborating with a Sangha friend to develop a social entrepreneurship that aims to employ refugees called Not a Factory. To see their work, visit NotaFactory.com. When not traveling, she lives in the Pacific Northwest, WA.

Photos taken by Mercia Moseley and David Viafora