Giorgos Moutafis for SolidarityNow

“Let the women wait…”

Τhe small spa town of Volvi, is located just a few kilometers away from Thessaloniki. In the past, the place was popular among Greeks, who received vouchers for subsidized vacations, through the state’s social tourism program; people from the neighboring Balkan countries and Russia. For the past year, the old tourist accommodations have been housing Yazidi families, as well as people from Congo, Somalia, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Syria and Pakistan.

In 1998, Stavros Tsiolis filmed there the popular Greek -classic- film “Let the women wait…”. The director has never imagined that 20 years later some refugee women would wait there to be reunited with their families. One of these women is Barfi, a Yazidi, who comes from Shingal, a small town in Iraq. Barfi is waiting to go to Germany to meet her daughter. “We left our place, our home country to come to Greece”, she tells us.

Barfi lives with her son, his wife and their children at the Volvi Accommodation Scheme** for the last 1,5 years. She is the oldest of the Yazidi women. She is 65 years-old, but she looks much older. People who have pulled through hard times inevitably look years beyond their true age. Barfi is well respected in her community. “They all love me, and I love them too. If someone is in pain, we all are; we support each other”, she underlines. The Yazidis have built strong community relationships. Barfi always wears white clothes. Even in the winter she wears her white dress under her dark-colored coat. White and red play a significant role in the Yazidi culture. “Our grandparents wore white, it’s in our tradition. When we become brides, we are dressed in red, and when we get married, we wear a white scarf”, she explains.

With Barfi and other Yazidi women we have gathered at the new outdoor oven, where the Yazidis make their traditional bread. The Yazidi men have built four outdoor ovens. “I proposed to the community to build an oven here, like the ones we had at Shingal”, says Barfi. Children are waiting for the bread to be ready and some other help in the baking process. The Yazidi bread has the shape of a thin pie. The women offer us some. It’s delicious. The ovens serve as a meeting point for the Yazidi women and the community. “We meet at the ovens and chat. We share our thoughts and discuss our problems. If we won’t do that we will feel depressed”, she notes. The ritual of baking has ended for today and the women collect their breads and return back to their homes. Barfi prefers to stay with us. We walk together around the area.

We sit on a bench in front of the lake and we talk about the past. It’s so quite here. Barfi starts to sing a sad song in her language. “This song is about the Yazidi people and what we went through. We came here and you gave us strength. I dedicate this song to my people” she says.

Despite the traumatic experiences of the past, the Yazidi women of Volvi put all efforts to start all over again and rebuild their lives from scratch. They are very active. In the mornings they come to SolidarityNow’s Woman Friendly Space*** where they participate in creative activities. “We get up in the morning, we send our children to school, and we come to SolidarityNow; we also take long walks, and this is how our day goes by”, she says. The Woman Friendly Space serves as a gathering place, and a place of interaction between the women of Volvi. “People here are good and we are doing very well together. Kurdish and Muslims joined the camp. We do not speak the same language, but we do not have any problems; we are all brothers and sisters”, states Barfi.

* Yazidis are a predominantly Kurdish religious minority from Mesopotamian region. Since 2014 they have been targeted and persecuted by ISIS.

** Iliaktida as UNHCR’s partner has the management of Volvi Accommodation Scheme, through IATAP.

*** The Blue Dots program is supported by UNICEF and funded by the European Commission – Civil Protection & Humanitarian Aid Operations – ECHO.