Everyone is Named Mohammed

Our fourth day of painting and revamping the Hub has concluded and we’re just about at our goal of painting three classrooms, the library, and the reception area of the building. I’m starting to lose my mind ever so slowly as the paint fumes have begun to mess with my brain, but I continue to be impressed with how rapidly we have gotten work done this week.

With so few of us volunteers here, we’ve been fortunate enough to have the help of some of the refugees who have shown an interest in being part of the project. On Monday, at the conclusion of the work day, I found myself at the front door, about to leave, and I turned around to say “thank you” to Mohammed for coming in and helping us, only to realize that all five of the refugees who had helped us paint that day were named Mohammed. All five of them have continued to come throughout the week.

The last time I was here in Leros, I don’t recall meeting a single man named Mohammed, but now, it seems I only know Mohammeds. To avoid confusion, the volunteers have nicknamed them all, just to keep things straight. There’s “Translator Mohammed”, “Sewing Mohammed”, “Football Mohammed”, “Oh My Gosh Mohammed”, “I Love You Mohammed”, “I.T. Mohammed”, and the list goes on. Each one is named after specific activities that they are known for participating in or for things that they’re known for saying. They’re a great group of guys, really, and they’ve moved our project along twice as fast as it otherwise would have gone.

Having a variety of cultural backgrounds in the building has been fun too because there’s always different music playing. The sounds of high pitched Moroccan Arabic singers have never sounded so sweet to my ears as the notes ricochet off of the empty walls of the building as I’m painting in a separate room from the speakers. A handful of volunteers who are currently here speak German, so between English, Arabic and German, there’s always a new vocabulary word to be practicing too, depending on who you are speaking with. For the most part, the Mohammeds are decent at speaking English, but “Sewing Mohammed”, who didn’t know more than ten words a week ago, now seems to be able to communicate with us ever so slightly using his rapidly expanding vocabulary. He used to just glance at me to greet me, now, he asks me how I am whenever I see him, and today, he tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Matt, you are my heart.” Clearly he’s got some studying to do…but it was a nice gesture.

Mohammed and me. Team bonding on Christmas involved everyone putting a dab of blue paint on the end of their nose. 

Although the work continues, it does still feel like I’m on Christmas vacation from school. I’m so grateful for a break in the routine and the school is still going to be closed for another 10 days. This project allows a bit more freedom than normal, so when I was tired at the end of the day today, I just announced that I was leaving and began to head home, I didn’t have to complete any tasks. Although my initial thought was to head home early and, perhaps, catch up on some sleep, I stopped into 7 Gates, the local cafe we always hang out at, to pay my tab and ended up getting roped into hanging out with my friend for five hours. So much for catching up on rest, but at least I got another blog entry in the books!



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