On the Greek island of Lesbos, thousands of refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other war-torn countries are coming to shore each week. When I was there in mid-August, Lesbos was getting 2,000 refugees every single day. After walking up to 30 miles to the capital city of Mytilini, they stumble into the Kara Tepe refugee camp, exhausted, sunburned, dehydrated ... and hungry.
Luckily, Konstantinos Polychronopoulos — Kosta for short — and other volunteers from O Allos Anthropos are on the scene.
They may not be able to fix this global crisis, but they can make sure everyone has a hot meal to eat.
"O Allos Anthropos" is Greek for "The Other Human." Every Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, this tiny group of Greek volunteers, with no outside funding, cooks enormous communal meals for the 2,000 or so people in Kara Tepe.
Right now, the Greek government is too devastated by its own economic collapse to handle a major humanitarian crisis. And except for the International Rescue Committee and Médecins du Monde (Doctors of the World), most of the big international NGOs have been too busy handling the worst refugee crisis since World War II to get to Kara Tepe.
That's why what O Allos Anthropos is doing is so vital.
When the group shows up around noon, everyone in the camp gathers around. Some people come to ask for food. Others offer to help.
Darine and Batul, both from Syria, wanted to help cook.
Basil used to work in his family's restaurant in Damascus. He spent the afternoon helping to prepare and serve Kosta's recipe for bigouli:
"Honestly, this should be coming from us," he says. "We should be the ones doing this. But I'm glad they're doing it."
Muhammad is from the countryside outside Aleppo, the Syrian city famous for its food. He used to make a similar dish in Syria, where people call it makarona ma banadura — macaroni with tomatoes. "But their spices are even better than ours," he says. "They use whole spices, not ground. They're fantastic."
Everyone — Greek, Syrian, Iraqi — cooks and eats together.
If this sounds different from your average charity, that's because O Allos Anthropos isn't a charity. It's a "social kitchen," part of a larger movement of everyday citizens who gather every week and cook with Greece's hungry, homeless, and unemployed — and now it includes refugees and migrants too.
In 2009, when Greece's economy collapsed, Kosta lost his job in marketing and communications. Two years later, he was still unemployed and living with his mother in Athens. One day, in an outdoor market, he saw two children fighting over food from a garbage can. Everyone else walked past and pretended they didn't see anything.
"I thought that this was not acceptable and horrible and that people should care," he says. "So I decided to do something about it."
The next day, he made 10 cheese sandwiches and tried to give them to people on the street. But they were too proud to eat until he sat down with them and ate one himself. He's been cooking and eating with people all over Greece ever since.
"I am still doing marketing now but without profit," he says. He thumps his fist over his heart. "My profit is emotional."
When the food is ready, hundreds of people line up. Kids come running.
Someone from the crowd always steps forward to help coordinate the line. This day it was Basil.
Darine and Batul loved the pasta. Abdo said he wanted mulukhiyah, a rich green stew eaten in Syria and other parts of the Middle East.
This kid came up to ask how much the food cost.
I told him it was free.
Kosta's bigouli recipe is down below, if you want to share it.