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“These Are from Me”

Ali is a waiter at a Manhattan restaurant where we dined the other night. He must have recently started working there – unless we just didn’t meet the last time we went a little while ago.

He is a young Turkish man – tall, kind, strong, well-groomed – who spoke English very well.

“I am Turkish,” he told us with an embarrassed smile. “I know from the reservation you made that you are Greek.”

And before we could reply, he added: “I have no words to thank you for the help you have given us in this great crisis we are going through.”

“But alas,” we told him. “We are all human.”

It is at times like this that we forget what separates us. When we show our humanity.

“Do you come from the area that was destroyed, do you have relatives there,” we asked him.

Ali came closer to us. He put down the clipboard and pen he was holding to take our order. Now he started talking to us like a friend.

Ali is from there, from the area destroyed by the earthquake. He said the name of his village, but I didn’t retain it.

So the issue for him is not merely national. It is also personal.

In the hours when he is not working, he and his acquaintances gather whatever help is possible for their fellow countrymen. They do what they can.

The rest of the time he spends on the phone and in front of the television.

Fortunately, his mother survived. She lived in a low-rise house, and when it collapsed she was not hurt much as no heavy objects fell on her.

Somehow both of his brothers survived, but they are all now suffering greatly from the cold and snow. The catastrophe, he says, with pain in his soul, is beyond imagination.

His people are trying to get away – he did not say so, but we inferred he is trying to help at his own expense – from there, but they cannot find a means.

He keeps talking to them on the phone, giving them encouragement.

But he’s lost friends and acquaintances. His life will never be the same again. He thanks God that he lives in New York.

“How well known is it to your countrymen,” we asked him, “that Greece is giving aid to Turkey?”

“We all know it,” he said.

“Were you surprised by what Greece did?”

“Yes, many in Turkey did not expect it. But we who live here and come into contact with Greeks were not surprised. We know that you are good people. After all, we as peoples have nothing to divide us. Everything is created by politicians.”

He was speaking for 15 minutes – then he began looking left and right, anxious lest his employers were getting upset.

“May I take your order?”

Soon he returned with our drinks. “These are from me,” he said.


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