It’s been a year—exactly a year today in fact—since my husband Ross and I moved to live in Athens, Greece. And what a year it has been!
Culture stress is a well-known phenomena experienced by anyone who moves to live in a culture new to them. Someone once briefly described to me how the human brain (or is it the mind?) reacts in relation to a new and unfamiliar culture; it made sense and helped explain what I was going through. In a fairly normal, everyday sort of situation in my new life, I automatically head off down a well-worn pathway in my brain only to find that I can’t go that way. All the familiar signposts don’t work here! The process of developing new pathways can be a confusing and exhausting one, even if the adventure of it adds a wonderful myriad of colour to my life!
So, you might ask, what are some highlights of this first year in Greece for me?
The food. Most local areas in Athens, like the rest of Greece, host a weekly farmer’s market known locally as the ‘laiki’ or more technically, the ‘laiki agora’; literally, it means the people’s market. Imagine table upon table of the freshest fruit and vegetables—and you’d be correct! Not only is the food fresh, but it is also seasonal. I remember the time I forgot about the lettuce in my fridge. I expected to find it wilted and sad; but no, I found a lettuce which looked fresher than I would’ve found in the supermarkets of Melbourne!
The people. (Maybe they should’ve come first!) This is a nation of people who are strong and resilient and creative… a people who have learned to persevere in the face of one trial and crisis after another—both historically and more recently. Hospitable, friendly, helpful, delightful, kind-hearted, passionate, encouraging. These are all words which might generally describe the Greek people I have encountered. Of course, there are exceptions, but aren’t there anywhere?
The language. One of the best things I chose to do was to more formally learn Greek. A lesson with Kiki (my teacher is Greek and she teaches Greek!) is a weekly adventure. Each new grammar rule expands the capacity of my brain, even if it does sometime ache with the effort! (Note to school students: it’s worth paying attention to those grammar lessons!) Each new word and phrase learned and practised, serves to open up a new avenue of communication! It’s an exciting new world, and one in which I have encouraging and enthusiastic language helpers most places I go to; supermarkets, the local church, market, neighbours… And just a note on language dear Reader; if you ask me to say something to you in Greek, in my experience, all my words seem to disappear somewhere I can’t access ‘on the spot’!
The roads. Oh, the roads! One of the major victories I have had during the last year in Greece, is to learn to drive on the ‘other side’ of the car, on the ‘other side’ of the road! Another has been to learn to expect the unexpected! That time when the woman crashed into the rear of our (borrowed car), I was so very thankful that Ross was with me, no one was hurt, she spoke English and she admitted fault! On a more general note, it seems to me that switching on the hazard lights of a car means its driver can pretty well do anything—even stopping unexpectedly right there on the road in front of you! I might add here that the many motorbike riders without helmets worries me. I’ve worked in a major hospital’s Intensive Care Unit. Enough said…
The weather. Living in Greece has allowed me to experience every season. Summers are long and hot made even hotter by heat waves! Anyone who can do so, escapes Athens in summer, especially in August. Winter was cold but not as cold as I imagined it might be. There was a brief covering of snow on the mountains just before Christmas which made for some super-cold winds but spectacular scenery! Springtime has possibly been my favourite season with its mild weather, and such treasures as the wildflowers. On my daily walks, to see the rich display of red poppies together with their neighbours all dressed up in blue, yellow and purple in a riot of colour, has been wonderfully life-giving.
The Celebrations. Christmas, Easter… It has been such an experience to be here and experience the various celebrations that are familiar to me but are celebrated in different ways. Maybe I’ll tell you about the red coloured Easter eggs another time (by the way, I didn’t see any hot-cross buns and very few chocolate products which was refreshing!). Other celebrations or remembrance days unique to Greece, have spoken into my love of culture and history.
Transition and Home. Dear Reader, Ross and I don’t regret leaving ‘home’ to come to live in Greece but we do miss our family and friends, not to mention all the familiar support structures that we took for granted. We treasure your communication with us and gifts of encouragement to us, as we continue to navigate our way through one transition after another. We’re gradually making new friends and learning how to thrive in our adopted home.
We began our adventure in Athens staying for a few weeks in an apartment in central Athens. From there, we moved to the foothills of one of the mountains surrounding Athens to ‘house-sit’ a property for eleven months (we sub-leased the fully furnished house). The cat, whose care was entrusted to us, will be joyfully handed over to her family soon! (We’re not ‘cat-lovers’—apologies if you are!) The coming three months will see us staying in different places whilst we wait for an ‘inner-city’ apartment to be ready for us.
May you and I know through faith and experience—especially in the winds of change and uncertainty—the reality of being held secure, at peace, in the sure and strong and wise grip of Jesus who is magnificently one with the Father.
Until next time,
With love from Heather
PS, What’s a letter without a few photos? Here are a few of my favourites in a slideshow…