“This story starts in May of 2018, when my dad died suddenly of cancer. We were very close, so it was a heartbreaking time in my life. But this isn’t a story of love lost, this is a story of the beauty, trust, and value we find in this life and this world, especially when we least expect it.
When my dad died, I was working for a big corporation in the U.S. This was a job I was proud to hold, and I was very grateful for it, but I never felt completely fulfilled. It didn’t pull on my heartstrings, and I knew I could build something for me, if only I had the time. So, a month after his death, I decided I would give my notice so I could travel the world on my own for a bit to sort myself out and explore. 8 months later, I began the journey.
I started my travels in Greece. My dad was of Greek roots, but he had never been to the country. My dad’s family and I were close when I was a child, but unfortunately, after his death, that side of my family turned very sour and we lost communication. The only thing I had in terms of clues of where I was from, was the $89 DNA saliva test I took just four months before, and a memoir my Greek Grandfather, Papou, wrote before he died.
Greece was incredible to me, I felt deeply connected to the beautiful land, the sea, and the people. I met so many amazing people full of love in this country. But after two months, it still didn’t feel like it was what I needed to connect to my roots. So, I went back to the memoirs.
In his memoirs, my Papou wrote that he was born in Koldere, Turkey in 1914. To my knowledge, no one in my family had been to this town before or even investigated this detail, so of course, I felt drawn to go! I bought a ticket to the coastal city of Izmir which is where this memorable story begins.
Once in Izmir, I really understood why I was there. Turkish people are welcoming, fun, and happy. Right away I made a new friend named Nabil, who is from Syria. Nabil and I hit it off right away, we talked for hours about our lives and I got to know what an inspirational, positive, and uplifting person he is. We honestly talked all night, until we watched the sun rise over the bay. I have rarely made such a quick connection with a new friend before.
You see, Nabil hasn’t seen his whole family for almost 6 years because his county is in crisis. The devastating and ongoing war affects everyone who is from the country or its borderlands. The people pretty much have three options: work for the government, hide from the government, or run. If you chose to be a part of the army, you must abide by the rules and there are stories of family members killing other family members in the name of war. If one chooses to stay in hiding, they are constantly under stress with bombings, the death of loved ones, and so many other unmentionable things. Nabil chose to run. He chose to fight for himself in this more peaceful way, with the blessings of his family.
First Nabil fled to Jordan. He loved Jordan when he first got there. He made friends, learned how to cook, and traveled a bit. But it started to get ugly there, too. He got a prestigious job as a chef, but because he was a refugee, they wouldn’t always pay him, or they would substantially underpay him. Sometimes he would work 12-hour shifts for days at a time and still end up with no money at the end of the week. So, he decided to move on. He was able to visit his father for a moment at the border of Lebanon, but he continued to run for his safety. You see, once he left, the chances of him getting killed if he returned grew exponentially. And of course, his family would rather him be free and not see him then see him and have him killed.
This is where I met Nabil. Nabil made it to Turkey, and after traveling for a bit, made it to Izmir. Amongst all the turmoil and tragedy Nabil has been through, he stays positive and trusts everything will work out even when it seems as though it won’t. This is why we really connected. I loved his vibe, so I invited Nabil to come with me to the town my grandfather was born in, after warning him I had no idea what to expect. I have no connections here, and that it is just a little town with ‘nothing to do.’ He still decided to come, and for that, I am grateful.
Nabil and I took a bus from the city to a town called Saruhanli. From here we got out of the bus into a pile of grass and dirt. Honestly, there seemed to be nothing around. Thank goodness for Google Maps! I saw the main road to Koldere was just steps away, and next to the road was a bus stop. Together we walked over to the bus stop, laughing together and crossing our fingers this would work out. Once we get there, a Turkish boy walked up and started talking to us in words neither of us understood. Thank goodness for Google Translate!
Just a few minutes later, a couple of locals picked the three of us up in their work truck, and because we were running on trust here, the boy ended up taking us to visit his friends at a nearby park. The 5 of us had some chai together, and they told us we could wait for their friend who had a car and would take us to Koldere. The 6 of us piled in a tiny car together. The first stop we made was about 10 minutes away where we picked some grapes from one of the boy’s father’s vineyards, then we made it to Koldere. Once we got there, we did nothing but walk, joke around, and take some photos of the now setting sun. We experienced this moment of life and trusted everything would work out whilst enjoying the company and kindness of new friends. This was exactly what I was after. This is what brought us to Koldere.
I’m also writing this story to highlight the life of a refugee. A refugee who trusts in God, Allah to him, and trusts the universe will provide everything he needs. I got a call from Nabil just a few weeks after we parted ways. Nabil had crossed over to Greece from Turkey by boat, in fact, he had to try twice in order to make it. But, he ended up in one of the largest refugee camps in Greece. The island of Lesvos has a camp that is meant to have a capacity of no more than 2,000 humans. At this moment, Nabil is one of 17,000 refugees in this camp of whom I am sure have similar stories. What is unique and inspiring about Nabil’s story is how he will never give up. He will always trust, uplift, and stay positive, no matter how bitter the people are around him. Even though he was denied a Greek working visa, Nabil is currently volunteering in the camp to help translate from Arabic to English. And even though he really misses his mother, Nabil will persevere, and will always stay strong, with a bright smile on his face. Which is exactly why we are friends, and why my father and my grandfather brought us to meet each other.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Guru Khalsa of Fort Collins, CO. You can follow her journey on Instagram here and on her website here. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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