We met him on a hot summer day, drying out under the Athenian heat. Wasif, alias Sifis: twenty-one years old, a social butterfly, both humorous and thoughtful, with curious eyes and a dynamic personality.The day was like a regular day of June, and Sifis like a regular student who had just finished his panellinies: he was sipping freddo espresso, dreaming of a sea breeze that would bend the tyranny of the sun. "We should have gone to the beach," he said when he arrived.

He seemed like your average student until he told us that he had learned the language on the spot, while attending high school. "I arrived in Greece five years ago. First, I got a scholarship to study at the American Community School, where I learned English. After two years, I decided to go to Greek public school to learn the local language." We laughed. Learning two languages from scratch, he made it seem so easy.

Two languages, but not only! "I learnt to play all the sports I now know: basketball, football, swimming, and ping pong..." There had been bumps on the road, of course. "The volleyball we play at home is different from the volleyball here. I had to relearn it!". In his words, as big of an obstacle was getting used to calling Greek people by their last name - a habit of locals. "I could not seem to remember any last name," he complained with laughing eyes. But practice makes perfect, and the countless hours he spent studying, talking with friends, or playing ping pong between classes paid off: Sifis has just graduated, can remember names like "Papadimitriou," plus he can defeat any ping pong adversary (or almost).

We clinked glasses to his apolytirion, his Greek high school diploma, and to the journey that went with it. "I made it!" he said with pride. This pride, he wears it humbly, grateful for the support he has received. "The people of The HOME Project, they have given me so many things. Even meeting you, it is thanks to them!" Sifis has embraced with open arms every opportunity that was offered to him.

Since 2020, Sifis works a part time job at a HOME Project boys’ shelter in Petralona, as a caregiver and interpreter. "When I arrived here, I told the director that I wanted to work at the shelter. She answered that I would need to demonstrate my responsible attitude. When I turned eighteen, they offered me the job." Wasif has learned to juggle between responsibility and fun like a professional acrobat. "At the shelter, I can’t be friends with the boys, because I work there."

With us, however, on this sunny day, Sifis also told us about Greek trap and holidays. "My best experience so far? Kefalonia!" he said without hesitation. "My friend Costas has a house there, and we spent a few days there last summer. I met the guys there, we had fun".

"Most of my friends are Greek now. When I go around, people often assume I am Greek." "You are Greeker than me," I joked. It was true. Sifis was drinking coffee at 7pm, he likes Snik and his favourite dish is makaronia me kima.

This new Greek identity is not in conflict with his Pakistani origins. Wasif is now an Urdu and Punjabi interpreter at The HOME Project. "Of course, I still speak to the people from my country, but I also like to meet other people." He might have lost the habit of eating spicy, might now prefer Greek food, but to him this is not a loss, rather a new chapter.

"Look, the Parthenon. I had read about it in my school textbook, back in Pakistan. Back then, I never thought I would see it in real life.” Past and present, Wasif and Sifis, they stand in harmony.

Of course, he has faced prejudice. "Some people do not understand. But me, I try to talk, and sometimes they are open to listening and then they respect me." Communication, it’s Wasif’s greatest force. Talking is also how he obtained the right to stay in Greece. "I got my papers a few months ago, after five years. The lawyer, Anna Maria, she helped me a lot. She convinced the judge to listen to me. When they saw that I spoke fluent Greek, they were impressed, and they granted me asylum."

"It was hard, all this waiting, my head was all dark all the time." But now, with legal documents and a high school diploma, joy writes a smile on his face. Sifis can now experience his new, Athenian life without the pending threat of an abrupt ending. Late June, he can now worry about small things like where he will go out to have fun.

Now that he finished high school, Sifis has started working full time at The HOME Project. And what about the future? "I might get a degree in tourism, or cooking, I am not sure yet."

"I want to do many things in my life," he added. "And I also want to travel, go everywhere."

The sun has gone down. We are on a hill, Athens is resting beneath us, mumbling in the background. Sifis is standing tall. The heat is no longer harsh, but soothing, just like the future.

Wasif's story was recorded by our volunteers,  Nephelie Chantzis and Charline Wasserberg.

Back to voices

Share article