Stories and Photographs of my travels, Tales of friends, family, animals and my life
An explosion ripped through the air. I uncurled from my crouched foetal position on the ground and looked around in confusion. The sun was shining, the sky still blue, the hedgerow intact and alive with nodding spring flowers.
“What was that?” I asked
“Easter” Mitch said
I looked at him in confusion. “Easter?”
“Yeah. Samians tend to celebrate with loud violent explosions that create a lot of smoke and noise”
“That sounded more like dynamite than fireworks”. I replied
“It probably was. They’re nuts around here”
I was worried. “Is it safe to walk around?”
“Probably not, someone blew themselves up not so long ago” he answered.
Over the next few days, leading up to Easter the explosions increased in frequency and sound. Visions of gungho Samians gleefully lighting up a stick or two of dynamite just for fun kept me close to home. Clearly chocolate Easter eggs, fluffy bunnies and quiet candle lit celebrations just don’t do it for the adrenalin junkies.
We live directly behind one of Karlovassi’s bigger churchs. At the weekends the priest will walk up to the second floor, hang out of a small window and pull a tatty rope that is attached to the bell in the tower opposite us. Some hours before a service he will ring the bell at regular intervals to call people to pray. From our second storey window I can watch him heave on the rope. We’ve been on waving terms ever since I realised that he could see into our house when I was walking around half naked one morning. Luckily topless bathing is a norm in Samos and Greek priests are able to marry so it was marginally less embarrassing for both of us.
On special occasions, such as Easter, the priests will broadcast their services from oversized loudspeakers strategically placed around the building’s exterior. Thus ensuring that those who opted for a lie in or are too hungover to attend are awake and included in the celebrations. Non-believers, different religious nominations or the non-practising may try to find a quiet, remote corner of the village to retreat to. But with at least ten churches in and around the area and a bunch of thrill seekers letting off landslide inducing explosions, escape is impossible.
Easter day came. The bells rang out and very soon broadcasting commenced. It was a long and loud service. Suddenly a loud bass guitar accompanied by some slick riffs rolled out across the valley, a drum kicked into action and picked up the tempo. Hard rock blared out and competed with the chanting. Explosions punctuated the vocals, adding emphasis to the challenging lyrics. Stamati was taking a stand and making a very public protest. Motorhead had come to town.
Once a week I will dip into my old English Oxford dictionary and pick a word on the page that it falls open at. The challenge is to post a photograph, poem, story – whatever the genre you like best to describe of what that word means to you. Please put a link back to my challenge post so others can take part and put your post link in my comments section so people can follow it back to your blog and take on the subject.
View from the house window
A duck with a sore throat honked its way up the hill to the village. It appeared to be moving at speed because the muted cough turned into a full throttled roar as it flew past the house, around the back lanes and returned to the square within the space of a minute or two of it starting up.
About 11.00 am every day the village’s tranquillity was traumatised by this terrible racket as a man on a motorbike zipped up, around, and down whilst constantly hitting the horn to announce his passing. After a week of closing all the windows to shut out the ear splitting sound of hoarse, brash QQQQQQUUUUUUUUAAAAAAAAKKKKKKSSSSSS and broken bike mufflers, I was not suffering in silence. Wire across the road was raised as a possible solution to sooth my jangled ear drums, whilst horns and exhaust pipes came up in the same sentence. But as the noise faded away I calmed down, stopped addressing the closed shutters, revisited my conflict negotiation skills, and decided to have a chat with biker man.
The next day I heard the duck heading our way. Springing into action I raced down the stairs and out onto the marbled house steps. From my elevated position I saw the bike round the corner and drive towards me. I flagged it down. The rider stopped. We looked at each other. We both looked down at the plastic bags hanging from his handlebars. I bought two loaves of bread and told him I’d see him the next day.
The bakery was finally doing home delivery.
Samos is one of the Eastern Aegean Sea islands. It is the greenest isle of the group and its economy is based on olives, wine, fishing and, to a certain extent, tourism. For a small island it has a big history which includes, according to mythology, the goddess Hera being born here. Some of the best scientists and philosophers in ancient Greece originate from Samos including Pythagoras of Pythagora’s theorem, Aristarchus the first person to conclude that the earth revolved around the sun and Aesop of the famous fables. But my personal favourite is Epicurus who claimed that the principle of life is to satisfy the needs of the stomach and who’s advice the Samians have embraced wholeheartedly.
It was from this island that my partner’s family originated before they emigrated to Australia. He returned to the island many years later and discovered his mother’s family house abandoned. They rebuilt and now use it as a holiday home. The house has spectacular views over the town and port of Karlovassi and on a clear day Turkey can be seen in the distance (it’s 1 km across the water). The village where the house is located is a long steep walk up hill or, for those with a heart condition, a short drive. Locals in their 70’s put me to shame by bounding pass me as I gasp for breath and take numerous breaks to ‘admire the view’/have a drink of water/collect firewood (any excuse will do) before commencing my crawl upwards. If anyone is considering climbing Mount Everest this is the place to go into training.
The first time I arrived on the island and stayed in the house it was apparent that the place needed a good spring clean. It was to say the least a little grubby. The lounge rug had 2mm of hair covering it, cream curtains were grey, soft furnishings had unsavoury stains on them, cupboards were dirty and the bath – well use your imagination. Apparently friends of the family often borrowed it and cleaning was obviously not on their agenda. So having OCD when it comes to hygiene (I blame the hospital work) I cleaned the house from top to bottom and discovered by chance that the way to ingratiate yourself with the women of a traditional Greek village is to scrub the doorstep until it shines. Thanks to my cleaning frenzy I became the favourite foreigner out of all the visitors and ex-girlfriends that had stayed there over the years – because according to local lore the slobs hadn’t even whisked a duster around the place. The women showed their approval by often stopping to speak to me as I laboured away, bringing gifts of lemons, home-made biscuits or whatever fruit was in season from their orchards. They spoke Greek and I had no idea what they were saying but we still managed to agree that it was about time the house was given a thorough scrub.
Since then whenever I visit the house the first thing I do is clean. First, because the local women love me for it and I get free food. Second, scorpions sometimes take up residence when the house has been empty for some time and it pays to flush them out before they sting anyone – they won’t kill you but it bloody well hurts! Third, other visitors who use the house still don’t do a good job of cleaning and tend to leave half used lotions, potions, broken toys and other rubbish lying around.
Unfortunately, the elderly woman who lived next door to us in Samos must have been the exception to the rule when it came to village standards of hygiene. The husband was sick and bed bound, she was eccentric and their house was a health hazard. When the wind blew in our direction the smell of fish, cat crap, rancid food and unwashed flesh from next door wafted through the house. To pass the time of day she used to sit at the bedroom window which looked out onto the street below. This allowed her to keep her husband company and busy body the neighbourhood at the same time. She had the voice of a fish wife so there was no need to walk downstairs to have a conversation with passing neighbours as she could shout her complaints and dislikes about others down to them.
Early one morning we heard the usual shouting from next door. But this time Vasos was calling out for Mitch, my partner, to come quickly. Braving infectious diseases he entered the squalor and found her with her husband who had passed away in the night. As he helped her organise funeral arrangements the family gathered outside the house, sat in the street sewing a shroud for the corpse and kept vigil over the empty coffin propped up next to the door. The coffin was not occupied because it had arrived before the funeral directors, who were late. Which was inconvenient for the street because as the day progressed a new smell added its unpleasant odours to the foul ones already emitting from the house. By evening there was still no sign of anyone from the funeral parlour so a DIY laying out of the corpse was carried out by some of the locals and Mitch. Balancing the open coffin on their shoulders they walked precariously down the road to the local church where they left it over night – after putting the lid on of course! All a bit undignified really.
Not being Greek orthodox I had no idea what to expect when I was invited to the funeral. So I was a little apprehensive when the bells rang out calling family, friends and acquaintances to pay their last respects. The first surprise was that on entering the church we were given unlit candle tapers which we were expected to pay for. The second one was the sight of the corpse in an open coffin over which the widow was wailing very loudly. The ceremony commenced and as the smell of the body started to compete with the burning incense and the air thickened with cloying candle smoke I nearly passed out. Moving to a seat near the open door I recovered quickly which was fortunate because I would have missed the best part if I’d fainted. The brother-in-law staggered into the church so drunk that the grieving widow had to break off her wailing to find him a seat to slump in. Delving into a plastic carrier bag he produced a can of beer, cracked it open, drank it between bouts of sobbing then proceeded to fall asleep. As I was trying hard to contain myself, two labourers wandered into the church and disappeared into the interior. Several minutes and a lot of loud thumps later they returned carrying a very large ladder and walked past past the coffin and the now snoring relative to get to the door. At the same time the candle sellers started to walk around the church, snuffing out the half used candles and collecting them – presumably to resell.
Finally it was over and as I emerged into the fresh air a piece of cake was shoved into my hand.
“What’s this for” I asked in a horrified tone, thinking there was no way I could swallow anything with the smell of the death still in my nostrils.
“It’s to sustain you on the walk up to the grave yard for the next part of the ceremony” Mitch replied with a grin.
I looked down at my kitten heel shoes which were totally unsuitable for a hike up the hill to the cemetery and sighed. No one had told me that there was a second act.
Once a week I will dip into my old English Oxford dictionary and pick a word on the page that it falls open at. The challenge is to post a photograph, poem, story – whatever the genre you like best to describe of what that word means to you. Please put a link back to my challenge post so others can take part if they wish.
Once a week I will dip into my old English Oxford dictionary and pick a word on the page that it falls open at. The challenge is to post a photograph, poem, story – whatever the genre you like best to describe of what that word means to you. Please put a link back to my challenge post so others can take part if they wish or if you wish others to see your take on the topic.
We had finished the job we had set out to do. Two bungalows painted, decorated and furnished and one painted and waiting for the bathroom to be finished. Mr Money was planning spend more time at the project and carrying on supervising where we had left off.
We decided to spend a few days at a boutique hotel as a treat before we flew back to Greece.
One of the brothers, Ywinne, came up to us the day we were leaving
“I’m sad you are leaving”
“You’re going to miss us?” I replied ….. very surprised
“I’m going to miss the money” he said
But leaving Ame was going to be a wrench and we both shed a few tears as we said our goodbyes
“I’ll be back for the restaurant build” I said and gave him a hug
“You are always in my heart” he replied
“And you in mine”
and he always will be.
Twice a day I would head out to collect shells to decorate the bungalows with. Low tide was normally the best time, when the sea had receded and left newly washed in shells lodged in the old reef. I never found such a variety of different colourful shells, large and small, on any other beach that I visited.
Before long my daily hunts attracted the younger village children who would accompany me up and down the beach, adding to my collection. The search invariably ended up as play time because they loved to be picked up and I loved to hear them shriek with joy. Using fishing wire I would string the shells together to make mobiles, wind chimes and shell ornaments.
The brothers who would never have admitted that they liked the decorations, often came to sit on the floor by the mobiles, listen to the shells making music as they swayed in the breeze and touch the strands in wonder.
One day I found the top of an old crate and dragged it back to make a table from it.
Watched by Mitch and Mr Money who seemed to lack any vision as to how my idea could be accomplished I cleaned, varnished, sawed and hammered until I had a table top which could be supported by two wooden fruit crates. Suddenly they understood what I was trying to do and decided to help. A little too late of course as I had done the hardest part already! Ame was very impressed and we put the table on the terrace of the second bungalow.
A few days later, Ame’s father and friends arrived for a village meeting, didn’t bother to say hello or acknowledge the work we had been doing, took over the second bungalow and demanded food. When they left there was food everywhere – including all over the newly made driftwood table, chairs and cushions.
Ame had had a particularly bad day with his brothers and the mess was the last straw.
“Ahhhhch.” he said in disgust as he surveyed the destruction ”fuuuuucking family!”
It was a turning point. Finally Ame was openly acknowledging the problem and ready help deal with it. Another positive move for the beach bungalow build.
It was Monday morning and we all had (to put it delicately) stomach problems. Sunday had been a day of partying, eating and drinking around the pool of Uprndo’s, the resort next door to Pweza. A famous English DJ called Pete Bones was staying at the Coral Rock where Mr Money worked and had come along for the ride. The younger clientèle knew who he was and fawned over him all day. Mitch and myself had never heard of the guy and didn’t really care, preferring to socialise with our friends and watch Man U play.
We all agreed that it must have been the food, but whilst the others recovered quite rapidly my stomach bug refused to go away. Having taken all sorts of pills and potions to cure it over the next few weeks, missed out on several outings, and many meals, I was starting to loose weight. Ame was worried about me.
|”I make you some medicine” he said after a particularly bad bout of sickness
“What’s in it?” I asked suspiciously
“All natural, but very very bitter” he replied “village people take for illness”
It sounded like a long shot but I was getting desperate and agreed to give it a go
Ame disappeared into the kitchen and started to brew up the concoction. Some hours later he brought me a cup containing a dark green liquid.
“drink when it cools down” he said “drink it all”
I took a sip and, as he said, it was extremely bitter. I left it to cool down but the taste just got worse the colder it became. After managing to get half the cup down I gave up.
Ame came back.
“You finish?” he asked. Then looked into the cup and frowned. “You must finish drinking medicine”, handed to cup to me and watched as I forced another few sips down.
Every half hour he came back, stood over me and watched me drink some of the medicine until the cup was empty.
It worked. The sickness and diarrhoea stopped and didn’t return. Ame looked on approvingly as I sat down for breakfast the next day.
“You see” he said smugly “You eat somewhere else and get sick. You eat here and never get sick”.
He had a point. There were several times over our stay when we had tried eating at different resorts often with bad consequences.
“We eat here from now on” I told him. He gave me a huge smile, went to make breakfast and came back with a massive plate of scrambled eggs, a loaf of bread, a plate of fruit, honey and rotis.
“For Mama Sue” he said.
Having cured me Ame had set himself a new mission…….to fatten me up!..
I heard the screams from my room. Outside there were children everywhere. A small girl was being beaten with a stick by an older girl. Sand from the beach was being brought into the compound carried by buckets or bags balanced on small heads and chucked in all directions. Osmane was lying down watching. I didn’t have to asked what was happening I could guess. Earlier in the week Mr Money had given cash to the brothers to cover labour for bringing sand into the compound. We were onto finishing touches. It looked like Osmane had recruited the village children.
Mitch strode over to the stick wielder, took it off her and threw it over the fence, He told her it wasn’t allowed and set her to work directing the sand bearers. He picked the victim off the ground and told her to put her hijab (headress) back on (reason for the punishment I presume). In the meantime Osmane had sloped off and left us to deal with the chaos he had created.
Since we had no one to complain to about child labour at that time, we pitched in, provided water for the kids, entertainment when they started to get bored, and supervision when any fights broke out and first-aid when one of the boys was cut by broken glass on the beach. There were at least 50 children and it was exhausting!
We made many small friends that day and whenever we walked into the village or along the beach afterwards we would invariably be accompanied by several of them all wanting to talk or play – without one single mention of money, sweets, water or photos. Acceptance is a wonderful thing.