I have only been on the island for twelve days so far, but I have learned so much already. In the evening everyone goes to the platia, or town square, to gather with friends and relatives and talk. Everyone knows everyone, and my best guess is that everyone makes it down to the square at least a few times a week. The children run around and the adults sit, enjoy a drink, mazettas (appetizers) and each others company. I have found that everyone has a story about the past and most love to share–and for that, I am grateful.
I have spent almost all of the nights, sitting with my two cousins, Sophia and Stella, who have helped to make the transition to Karavostamo very smooth. They are Americans, and Sophia and her family are visiting for a few months this summer. Stella returned to Greece 15 years ago and still lives in the village. Between the two sisters, and their father, Zacharias, I have learned a lot about the island. We can sit and talk for hours on end, and I never get restless.
During one of the conversations, I mentioned a “statistic” that I had read on the internet regarding the number of people who died in Karavostamo during the German/Italian occupation of the island. As I wrote about earlier, in Four Weeks, my grandmother, as well as many others, had to escape the island because there was no food. What I read on Wikipedia was, “The island suffered tremendous losses in property and lives during the Second World War as the result of the Italian and then German occupation. There are no exact figures on how many people starved, but, in the village of Karavostamo alone, over 100 perished from starvation.” Stella explained to me that it was only here, in our village, that so many died, and so many other villages went unaffected by the occupation. The men of Karavostamo made their living by climbing up into the mountains to cut down trees and make, karvouna, or charcoal. They would leave for weeks at a time and return to the seaside village with money in their pockets. The families didn’t need to live off of the land because of the incoming income; therefore, Karavastamo was a village without olive trees. When the war broke out, all food stopped coming to the island. The villagers were contained to their village and had to scrounge for food. They would boil the greens and weeds they found, but they had no olive oil to cook with. Without the oil, or the fat, nothing stuck to their bones. People in the other villages survived because they had lots of olive oil and because of their location, high up in the mountains. It is said that after the war, the people of the village planted olive trees in every free space they could find.