#IAMSTRONG | Maya and Batis

Maya and Batis: two best friends

Maya and Batis belong in a large group of people that are called “moving populations”. More specifically, the two friends, are members of a subgroup of these moving populations. They are part of the LGBTI subgroup. The key cause of movement for them is mainly fear.

That fear however, is not fear of war or natural disaster, but the fear or physical integrity, isolation, displacement and abuse as well as the fear of personality infringement and other endless small, everyday worries that generate a greater one. This undefeatable fear which dabbles with guilt is created by other people and targets their peers.

Maya and Batis, both from Tunisia have been victims of discrimination, almost since they could remember.

Maya is trans and Batis is gay.

It’s hard to describe their stories separately. These two, young people have become one, as best friends usually do. It appears as if their stories and paths intertwined even before they got to know each other.

Maya is an impressive woman with long blond hair, so expressive that whatever she says can come alive right before our eyes. Her facial expressions, her eyes, often full of tears and the vibrant movements of her hands are simply stunning. When next to her, Batis talks about Maya as if she is not present, and she agrees with every word he has to say about her – “he knows me better than I know myself“.

Batis, a tall, thin, introverted and more fragile young man speaks softly when describing his past life in Tunisia and his present in Greece. Many times, during our encounter, the two friends ‘isolated’ themselves in their binary world – it was enough for them to simply gaze in each other’s eyes.

They speak Arabic, French, English and a bit of Greek. They are two young people, Maya at 26 and Batis at 27, who like most of their peers, are trying to find work in Greece. If they find a job they will stay in Athens; a city they have fallen in love with. “Before I arrived in Greece, I thought that this country would be the bridge for me to go somewhere else in Europe, but once I stepped my foot in Athens I felt it! I want to live here“, Batis says. The same applies to Maya, although Maya knows – and whoever meets her understands it too – she can survive everywhere – just like a chameleon. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have made it to Tunisia, or to Turkey where she lived with Batis for six (6) months. Maya cannot forget those cruel months, but she has left all that behind her, by trying very hard and receiving psychosocial support.

Unpleasant family memories, abuse, fleeing. Those are common characteristics the two share, causing them to leave their families and homes to start living by themselves, when Maya was only 16, and then Batis, 20. They might have lived alone but they were free. Without being punished for every move they made by the people closest to them, their parents. The years of living alone in Tunisia, until 2017 when they arrived in the Greek island Lesvos, include, both good and bad moments – as it happens in all people’s lives in any part of the world they may live in.

Even in the most terrible moments, Maya and Batis had each other. For them, being together is the motivation and power they need in order to move forward; their relationship is beautiful and rare. Sometimes, when they talk it is as if they admire what they have managed to create between them.

They live together, in the same house*. Together they overcome health problems; they attend training seminars; they dream about their lives in Greece and they organize their daily routine. They generously offer each other the love that they never received from their families. They also help those who are in need by giving them advice and support. Like Batis says for Maya, “Maya raised her two younger siblings and now she is raising us. She is a mother”.

Maya’s personality is composed of unique and contrasting characteristics. She does not express her emotions; however, she is very protective towards the people she loves and acts like a mother figure to them, supporting everyone she can. She very often talks about herself in the third person – “Maya woke up at 11”, “Maya can’t be oppressed” – and of course when we notice she replies, “I talk with her, I’m friends with Maya”.

Maya and Batis don’t differ at all from any other person of their age who is trying to mend their present and build a future, by looking for work, finding a partner and collecting experiences and knowledge. The only difference is that Maya remembers looking in the mirror and seeing a girl at the age of five, and Batis remembers falling in love with a boy when he was only nine.

It took a while for them to understand that the right to self-determination is something that exists for them too.

But now that they know, and they claim it.


*Maya and Batis live in one of the SolidarityNow accommodation structures in Athens under the Safe Refugee program implemented by the organization and is part of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees ESTIA Support Program for Integration and Housing and funded by the European Union Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO).

**Through the Safe Refugee Program, SolidarityNow provides accommodation to refugees, in independent apartments in Athens and Thessaloniki. The program’s beneficiaries receive free psychosocial support, legal counseling, they participate in educational and recreational activities, and are members of a wider support network that aims to improve their living conditions and support them during their stay in Greece.