At 8:00 AM on New Year’s Day, 2010, I slid open the heavy glass door and went out on the veranda to check on the plants. The mild, typical Athens weather was comfortable, so my plaid pajamas were warmth enough. This open, exterior space is as close to the good earth as we are allowed from our apartment on the fourth floor in the old, Pangrati district of downtown Athens, Greece. The flower boxes, overcrowded by giant, venerable yucca plant trees that now reach to the neighbor’s veranda above, grant precious little space for a few plants to grow. Since we have just returned from a 2-month sojourn in the States, we are especially pleased that Ana’s good weekly work has kept most of the plants alive in our absence.
I also went outside to finish rooting that crawling, green, ground cover that I harvested on Christmas day, while visiting Sounio, at the southernmost tip of the Greek mainland. Although I have no idea what the name of the plant is or how to replant it, it seems hardy. I found it in what appears at first to be a non-hospitable habitat, crawling over the rocks and shallow soil close to the sea. With luck and enough care, I’ll be successful in transplanting it to the tiny, concrete flower boxes that give definition to our large balcony.
Like the green, crawling “stuff,” I, too, have been transplanted – at first from my native Mississippi southland to the booming metropolitan landscape of Houston, Texas; and then, after over thirty years, Janice and I moved, first to Tirana, Albania and then, to the ancient city of Athens. To take a “son of the South” from the Magnolia State to the Balkan cultures of Albania and Greece, by way of urban Houston, Texas is, perhaps as challenging as moving rock-crawling, green ground cover from the shallow, but damp seacoast to the fourth floor of an urban balcony. But, Janice and I have made that transition. With care from many, hard work on our part and not a little patience, we have moved ourselves and our many "foreign" mentalities to this busy, multicultural milieu. And, after almost seven years in the Balkans, we are feeling, if not fully “at home,” then, certainly comfortable. On our best days, we would even admit that we thrive in this place!
Likewise, our Albanian friends in Athens have been transplanted. From an isolated, neglected, economically lacking culture, ruled dictatorially by a suspicious mentality that brooked little opportunity and a truckload of fear, over half-a-million immigrants from Albania have now come to Athens. In the early days they came without the luxury of legal documents. Increasingly, today they come in the open air, seeking to abide by the ever-changing and often discriminatory legal procedures of their new host country.
Albanians in Athens, like everything that is transplanted or uncultivated, need lots of care. They need room to grow, water and other basic necessities, attention and nurture. As surely as Ana and I need to tend to the plants on the balcony, someone needs to care for Albanians in Athens. By God’s grace, Janice and I are honored to have that charge and, in 2010, return optimistically to that task.