“Why do you call it a pineapple?” Lukas asked as the tram rumbled gently along a blue coast.
“Because of the spikes, I think,” I said, giving the fruit in his hand a concentrated stare. “And because it’s a fruit like apples are, I suppose.”
He laughed at me and shook his head.
“It’s a silly name,” he said. “Ananas is much better.”
We had already established that pineapples are called ananas in both Spanish and Czech but our tram was taking its sweet time in getting the crew to our destination, so the pineapple kept coming up.
“What is it in Farsi?” I wondered aloud to our companions.
“What is what?” asked Samir. One hand gripped a bag full of groceries and one eye followed the bouncing energy of his young son, *Samaneh.
*(For their privacy and protection, all names in this post and those I will post about while in Greece have been changed).
“What is the word for ‘pineapple’ in Farsi?” I asked.
“What is a pineapple?” he asked me.
Lukas held up the pineapple by its foliage and said in his native German tongue, “Ananas.”
“Ananas,” Samir repeated. “We call it that also.”
I glared at them both incredulously and tapped Ali on the shoulder. “What do you call this fruit?” I asked, pointing to the subject in question.
“Ananas,” he assured me, smiling.
I didn’t believe any of them.
Saturday, January 9, 2016. By 1:30 that afternoon, about the time we were rolling past sloping beaches along a smooth, steel river, I had been in Greece exactly three days. It seems like a lifetime already.
I came to work with an organization that reaches out to refugees, primarily Syrians, Afghanis and Iranians, but I have been told that the center has hosted Nepalis, Nigerians and more when occasion necessitates it.
The team is primarily Greek, German and Finnish, with the notable addition of a Dutch girl – ‘Kiwi’ as the refugee kids call her – and several American women. For an ametuer linguist like myself, this is heaven. Most of our time has been working at the center, but Saturday is a day off and the interns decided to take a trip to the beach.
Lukas, Johannes and Doro, our German contingent, had led the charge. On Thursday, after our work at the center was finished, they invited me out for coffee with Kiwi to make plans. Sitting at a little table in the middle of a square beneath the shadow of the Acropolis, we sketched out the weekend.
In the morning on Saturday, we girls would take the metro to Neos Kosmos, getting lunch supplies on the way, and meet the boys at the tram. The boys would go to the market to pick up fresh fruits and vegetables (hence, our peculiar pineapple) and invite some of our Afghani and Iranian friends to join.
While waiting for the group to collect at the tram stop, Lukas asked me to guard the pineapple so he could buy a volleyball from a nearby vendor. Thusly, our discussion about the name of said fruit began.
It took us several false starts to find the perfect beach spot to settle at. We got off the tram three times before we all agreed, “Yes, this is where we should spend the day.”
“We have nothing but time,” Ali reminded us after our second attempt to find a patch of sand to set up camp. We had landed upon an empty beach, only to find that it was empty because of the stench and garbage. Dragging our feet and our empty stomachs back to the tram stop, we waited for the next carriage.
But it was worth it. A pebbly shore and brown-sugar sand with room to bounce the volleyball and several jetties to isolate us from the crowds was just a few stops further down the line. We spread out blankets and unloaded our lunch.
Samaneh took off in search of little rocks. He is five years old. His mother and brother are both waiting for him in Sweden. When the paperwork goes through, Samaneh and his father, Samir, will join them there. Today, he was content to search for pebbles in the sand.
Kiwi and Samir’s friend, Hassam, both played an active part in watching and playing with the little guy whose unending well of energy and distraction was both commendable and inspiring.
Kiwi studies Farsi at university. As far as I can tell, she speaks beautifully. At the very least, her interactions with those who speak Farsi are beautiful to behold, but so many human interactions are when they are sincere. And hers are sincere.
Drinks were poured, bread was sliced and passed around, cheese was fought over with friendly aggression and the pineapple sat in the middle of it all like a king among his royal subjects.
I thought for a moment how strange it was to be sharing lunch with people from four different nationalities (myself representing a fifth). On the surface, we don’t have much in common. We only met through mutual connections with a church and church-related ministries.
So Christ. We have Christ in common.
Ali, a prankish kook, gleefully gave Doro lessons in Farsi in exchange for some German vocabulary while the rest of us watched and laughed and ate. When the language lessons petered out, Doro and Johannes grabbed the volleyball and instigated a game that I made a point of staying out of.
Kiwi and Samaneh were busy collecting rocks and building walls, so I took a walk along the beach.
If you have never seen a beach in Greece, let me describe it to you. The sand is thick and soft but speckled with colored rocks. Water laps the shore in modest waves that barely break, like the continuous breath of the bay as it sleeps. In fact, between our shore and the one on the nearest island in sight, there doesn’t seem to be a single disturbance on the surface of the water. Only the island rising out of the sea interrupts the smooth horizon. And it is quite a sight. It, and the islands behind it in varying shades of shadow-blue, is a monster. It is a mountain birthed from the sea. It is the nose of a sleeping giant lying just below the surface of the water. Boats pass by it and birds fly over it and no one seems to notice it but me.
By the time my feet were ready to return, the sky was dimming and the volleyball game had ended. Kiwi pulled out a guitar and we sang songs in German, English and Farsi.
The languages we share in bits and pieces, but the content unites us completely. Only with the Word of God can strangers be brothers and enemies be friends.
Ali grabbed a knife and assisted Johannes in slicing up our pineapple as Hassam and Samir helped the girls maintain a decent chorus. Occasionally, Ali would jump into a song with a round of “Happy Birthday” just to throw us all off course.
Before the last of the light left the sky, we took selfies and group pictures in front of the waterline. Johannes and Ali were brave enough to jump into the water and swim around for a bit. (“Okay, I was wrong,” Ali admitted as he shivered next to us fifteen minutes later. “That was a bad idea. We should not have gone in.”).
Then we all watched the sun slip behind those islands like a drop of gold blazing a path through the velvet sky.
We munched on the last of the food and divied up the remaining chocolate, bread and fruit. Collecting blankets and bags, we marched back to the tram stop in the dark.
I watched my companions as the tram slinked its way once more into the heart of Athens. What different roads we all have taken to lead us to this spot. A cynic would say it was chance. But we know better.
We know that it is God who has charted our course, and for many on this tram, only a faith that He will bring us to its end will sustain us during stormy seas.
Samir said to me when the day was finished, “I will forget my own name before I forget this day.”
Fellowship is sweet. It is precious. And to see brothers and sisters in Christ drink it up with such fervor is a joy I am not likely to forget either.
Three days in Athens and I have been humbled. Humbled by the courage of people who have faced tremendous adversity. Humbled by the kindness I have been shown by people who did not know me when the week began, who speak a different language, have a different history and use a different word for a fruit I have always known as a pineapple. Humbled by the greatness of the God who has brought us all together as heirs to a promise we do not deserve.