'I couldn't have imagined I would end up in Athens'
Taher has not only made Greece his second homeland – he has also dedicated his life to preserving its cultural heritage.
Working on marble, stone and plaster, the 43-year-old Afghan refugee is helping to restore the old capital of Athens. Together with his team (three Afghans, a Syrian and a Greek) he works as a contractor renovating buildings, such as the old General Chemical State Laboratory, the Piraeus Municipal Theater, the church of Ayios Konstantinos and buildings in Plaka, Monastiraki and Metaxourgeio. This is a trade he has been practicing since he was 13, when his parents smuggled him to Tehran to save him from the fighting in Afghanistan.
He tells us his story.
When I was just a kid in Tehran, by day I would work in a marble workshop and at night I would attend night-school. I discovered I had a natural talent and went to art school. Four years later I became a real professional. I specialized in Greek, Russian and Italian architecture, and have constructed houses in Iran and Dubai.
Back then, learning about how the Parthenon was built, I couldn’t have imagined I would end up in Athens. But my heart has always been in Afghanistan. I tried to return twice, but because of the war I couldn’t stay there. My desire to receive legal refugee status led me to the borders of Europe. While waiting for my application to be examined, I ended up in Argos picking up oranges – yet my hands yearned for the trowel. With patience and persistence, I sought employment as a building restoration worker in Athens.
One morning in 2004, I was outside the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA), where a large renovation project was about to commence. I walked up to one of the engineers and asked for work. Hesitantly, he showed me what I had to do and asked for a sample of my work to compare with other offers. So, surrounded by architects and engineers, I began making models and plans. At some point, the foremen came around and asked me where I was from. "That’s settled then!", they exclaimed. "Let the Taliban work on everything!", they told me jokingly. I am very proud of the NTUA. I am also proud of my children who grew up in Greece. My spare time is dedicated to the Afghan community – my goal is the rapprochement between Greece, my second homeland, and Afghanistan.