«Mama Maria» of Samos!
Samos was not ready to receive large numbers of refugees during the last year and a half from the coast of Turkey. Who was anyway? Greece was not ready as a country. A few people, however, were ready. They were born ready to help their fellow human beings and they helped save the honour of humanity during the refugee crisis. They continue to help, even though governments all over the world play the refugees like chess pieces. In politics certain things can be said but not done and vice versa. With regard to the refugee crisis, politicians to date would say things but they would not do things. However, ordinary people would do things but say nothing.
I met two of these people ready to help on the beach of Roditses in Samos: Maria and Mihaly. She is known as “Mama Maria” to the refugees, but her real name is Maria Makroyianni. There are few people at Maria and Mihaly’s restaurant, which is hundreds of meters from the port in Samos. Mr Mihaly sips some beer with friends in the corner of the restaurant, while Maria tidies some clothes that were sent by friends from Germany. The clothes are for the refugees.
“THE MORE THEY GO AGAINST ME, THE MORE I GO AGAINST THEM,” SAYS MRS MARIA.
Mrs Maria says, “Greek people do not come to the restaurant because they are afraid of the refugees. People ask, ‘Why do you gather refugees?’ It does not bother me. The more they go against me, the more I go against them. I help out by cooking for the refugees.” Mr Mihaly adds, “They do not come to our beach because it is said that refugees urinate in the sea. Where should they go? Don’t Greeks do the same when they go swimming?”
More than six thousand refugees have been to Mama Maria’s restaurant during the past year and a half. “I will help as much as I can. Even when there is nothing to cook, somehow God makes it so that something can be found,” she confided. She has an oil lamp and icons behind the fridge in the restaurant. “You will not believe it. Muslim refugee women come here and ask me for a candle so that they can light it in front of the icons,” she adds. There is a restaurant over the building facing the beach. “Nobody except for Mr Mihaly helps me. He is the best. Everyone else is hostile. Recently, I have been teaching Greek to twenty refugee children. You will not believe how happy they are to come to the lessons. People say I have a secret school in my restaurant, but this does not bother me. I continue teaching. In September 2015 there were over two hundred people sleeping on the beach in front of our shop. There were women and children. Neighbours called the police. There were three police officers who I could see coming to my restaurant. I said to them: “These are women and children who have nowhere to stay. I am responsible for them.” The tallest officer told me not to worry since there was no problem.”
He then raised his head towards the building and said loudly: “It would be nice if you could open the doors and let some children sleep in the building.” The officers here are very kind. Sometimes they even bring us food so that we can cook for the refugees. The church also helps. However, when I wanted to baptize some children, the priest said that the parents will have to be baptized first. When some refugees at the port had problems, a man by the name of Lefteris would give them a piece of paper directing them to my restaurant. My mother and I give out meals. One day Mihaly and I loaded a farming truck with portions of chicken. Some refugees jumped onto the truck and knocked down the portions. Lots of children ran and started eating the chicken on the street. Mihaly could not stand it and forcibly stopped those who had knocked down the portions and said: ‘Let’s go back to the restaurant, cook some more chicken, and come back here.’ He could not bear to watch the children eating chicken from the streets. He is more sensitive than me and he helps more than I do.”
THE AWARD TO ‘’MAMA MARIA’’ BY THE MAYOR OF SAMOS
Yiambas is sitting at the table next to Mihaly. Yiambas is a young Pakistani who goes to Mrs Maria’s from his camp every day. “Everybody at the camp loves Mama Maria. She invites people for food. Everyone knows her,” he says. “Now I have to bring over Africans from the camp in order to serve them food. There are about forty refugees and they are all very good people. I have yet to invite them to dinner and I want to do so,” adds Mrs. Maria. She has a daughter and a granddaughter who live in Athens. However, she also has a foster child there, Sayiat Ali. “He is fourteen years old, and before he went to Athens he was here every day,” she says and continues: “We talk on the Internet every day. He says that as soon as he turns eighteen, he will buy a car and come to Samos so that we can go for a ride. He wants to become a doctor and work in a hospital in Samos. He is from Afghanistan and his village was near the border of Pakistan.”
Love from refugee children helps Mama Maria continue. Last June she was awarded a prize by the mayor of Samos and the Central Union of Buroughs for her contributions. She showed me her plaque with pride. “It is a kind of recognition,’’ she says and continues: “I have heard a lot from people because I help refugees. Once I bought bread from a baker’s to make sandwiches for the refugees. At some point I asked the baker not to throw away the remaining bread but to give the bread to me at a better price so that I can make sandwiches. He said, ‘It would be better to give the bread to pigs instead of to refugees.’ I never went back to that baker.’’
Maria and Mihaly who are from Roditses, Samos continue to contribute to the refugees whatever they can and with whatever God gives them. Once someone said that large countries assimilate and small countries chase away. Because of Maria and Mihaly Greece remain large.