Dimitris Michalakis

The over-aged Laila and her beloved granddaughter

 She was a squatting figure in the room for about an hour. Suddenly she stood up and came to my side. She squeezed my hand and speaking a language unknown to us, showed me the front door. I couldn’t realize how we finally got to the door, how this woman drifted me with her slow pace up to there and why; when her grandson and personal interpreter said that “she tells you, let’s go, let’s go to Germany, let’s go to Nasrin!”, we understood why. The scene left us silent.

Grandmother and granddaughter: the first is 110 and the latter, 26 years-old.

These two women are separated by 80 years of living but bonded by great love. A kind of love story that must overcome a series of obstacles -poverty, war, closed borders, bureaucracy.

However, today it must endure yet another battle – the eternal one between man and time. The time is not on their side, especially with Laila’s who seems to live only to meet her beloved granddaughter, Nasrin. Nasrin lives in Germany with her husband and children and is also looking forward to the day of her encounter with Laila; this meeting will reunite some of the members of a very large family.

A story of a 110-year-old doesn’t fit into a short text. And what makes this story even more special is that it is still in progress, towards its 111th year!

The Kurdish Laila was born in 1907 in Kobanî, Syria. It was there that she grew up, got married, became a mother, a grandmother and a great-grandmother. For the last many years, she lived in the same house with one of her seven children, her son Ahmad, his wife, grandson Kahlil, and her two great grandchildren, Azar and Ari. All seven left together from Kobanî to flee war.

They describe a never-ending journey. In the hard moments, Khalil carried Laila in his arms. Khalil is the only member of the family to speak the Kurdish dialect spoken by his grandmother. During their journey and until today, Khalil always try to explain Laila where they are, why, where they want to go and their efforts to reach Germany. It is hard to explain the situation to Laila. Laila doesn’t know where she is, where Greece is and where in the world is Germany – the desirable country. She only knows what she feels and what she feels keeps her alive.

Today, they all live together in one of the SolidarityNow independent apartments in Athens, in the framework of the ESTIA* program. Prior to that, they had spent many days in Turkey and several months in the Moria refugee camp in Lesvos. They don’t want to remember these days – days when Laila slept in the cold and rain, in cardboard boxes.

Now, the family awaits for the approval of their relocation request to Germany. In the meantime, and along the organization’s support, they learn Greek and the children go to school. They talk to Nasrin every day, making the most of the technology. Laila sees Nasrin and every communication ends leaving the family members deeply moved. In the organization, Laila has become our grandmother and we try to speed up her family reunification in every possible way for her…

To beat time. 

*ESTIA, the Emergency Support to Integration and Accommodation program, is implemented by SolidarityNow, supported by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and funded by European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO).