Greek salad, marinated shrimp and lamb shanks will be among the items on the menu at the Asheville Sister Cities Greek Dinner on Sunday, June 12. The Mediterranean Restaurant will host the event, with food prepared by owners Pete and Paula Apostolopoulas. All proceeds benefit Asheville Sister Cities, a nonprofit organization that aims to promote international awareness and maintain relations with Asheville’s sister cities Vladikavkaz, Russia; San Cristóbal de las Casas, Mexico; Saumur, France; Karpenisi, Greece; Valladolid, Mexico; and Osogbo, Nigeria.
“We’re members,” says Paula. “My husband [Pete] is from Karpenisi and was one of the founders for the Sister Cities there.”
First created in 1956 by U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower, Sister City International’s mission continues to be the promotion of peace through mutual respect, understanding and cooperation. Its emphasis is on city-to-city relationships based on similarities, including geography, economy and infrastructure.
“I like to call it a dating process,” says Gwen Hughes, a member of the special projects committee for the organization’s local Asheville branch. “Someone comes to Asheville Sister Cities and says we think we should be sister cities — we have a castle, you have the Biltmore Estate; we’re on a river, you’re on a river. We’d be a good pair.”
Once the initial connection is suggested, a small delegation travels to the proposed sister city to determine if the two make a good match. Then an agreement is signed. “We call that getting engaged,” explains Hughes. Following the engagement, the cities two mayors discuss shared goals and objectives they have for the relationship. “They might like to see college-age students participate in exchanges or pen pal relationships going back and forth between elementary schools,” Hughes says.
The final agreement is sent to Sister City International in Washington, D.C. Upon approval, official documents are sent to both cities putting the relationship into action for perpetuity — in short, a marriage. Unless, of course, someone takes action to cancel the agreement (a divorce, if you will). “Which has never happened, as far as I know,” says Hughes.
In 2004, this was how Asheville and Karpenisi came into partnership. “Eighty percent of all the Greeks in Asheville are from our sister city,” says Hughes. Guests who attend the Greek dinner at The Mediterranean will have the chance to learn more about the organization’s projects and objectives. They will also get to hear from a group of Asheville Sister Cities members who recently returned from a 10-day trip to Karpenisi. “They’re going to give us a report of what they saw,” says Paula. “It’ll be a fun evening. You’ll get to meet a lot of people and hear about the sister city from Greece.”