Sunshine

I can see why people who move to southern California never leave!  We’ve been here over 10 weeks and we’ve only had blue skies and sunshine.  We are still swimming and wearing shorts.  And we’ve only seen 30 seconds of rain.  Everyday is like one of those rare days we have in Pennsylvania where you can’t justify staying inside.  It’s a day when the sun is shinning and the humidity is low and all you want to do is go for a walk.  One of those days that no matter how much laundry is piled up or how much work is on the desk, it can wait.  Or no matter how bad things have been or how low you feel, you instantly snap out of it.  The warmth of the sun lifts your spirits and you want to sing out loud in the car with the windows down.  It’s absolutely gorgeous.  But the days are getting shorter and we are getting closer to winter, which, here, means the “rainy season.”  I suppose it will come, and when it does, I hope that it doesn’t bring down our spirits.

Our spirits are high now because in addition to the beautiful weather, Chris has joined us.  We’ve spent our afternoons going for hikes or swimming in the sea.  Yesterday he and the kids lifted rock after rock in a shallow part of the sea and discovered sea cucumbers, star fish, and “genuine” hermit crabs.  “Just like the ones you can buy at the beach!” said one of my children!  Today he took them to another beach where they jumped of the cliffs and built things with rocks.  And earlier this afternoon he and I took a sea kayak out and discovered more of the island.

However, despite all of the beautiful pictures and the wonderful experiences we’ve had, we still get sad.  I write this with the risk of having our parents write, call, or Skype to tell me that I have made them sad and they are worried about us.  So before I begin to share my thoughts, please know that this is all part of the experiences that will shape us.  We expected that we’d have tough days and that we might go to bed with tears in our eyes.  If we didn’t have those days, we wouldn’t grow, nor could we enjoy all that we have already.  So don’t be sad for us.  Instead, just keep believing in us.

Zach isn’t sad.  Zach is happy because he is 8 years old, because he lost two teeth in the past two days and got two euros for them, and because he is with his family.  Of course Zach is also happy because Zach is just always happy.  He’d be happy no matter where we were living–Poland or Antarctica or in a mud hut or on a skunk farm.  He’s easy to please.

Rea goes with the flow and is loved here by all of the girls in the village.  Every time we see her friends they yell, “REA” and come running to hug her or pick her up.  They like to play with her hair and give her piggy back rides. She loves the attention, and she likes her friends.  But when she gets in arguments with one of us at the house, she starts to cry.  And on a few occasions, when she’s crying,  she’ll say she misses her friends.

It’s different with Elias.  He is 12.  And he’s also been cursed with my emotions.  Tonight he had an assignment to write about his identity and about the identity of the friends.  He wrote a wonderful paragraph about his identity, and I thought he was able to see himself very clearly.  The paragraph about his friends’ identity turned into a number of sentences about each of his friends and what he likes about them.  That made him realize just how much he misses being around kids that can make him laugh and feel good about himself.  I also think it made him realize how much he misses what makes him “Elias.”  He misses things like biking and running and hockey and piano and saxophone.  When you are an adolescent, your friends become the center of your world.  You share everything with them, including most of your time.  And here, although Elias has friends, he has yet to connect with them the way he has with those back home.  Once again, it’s the language barrier, just like I described in Small Talk.  What Elias doesn’t realize is how close he is to reaching out to these friends and breaking that barrier.  Much closer than I am to reaching the adults in the village.  He is starting to think in Greek.  Two nights ago I asked him to journal about what he’s done with Chris.  I read it this morning.  He had written 90% of it in Greek.  He’s so close!  Once is able to have small talk with the 5 other boys in his class, he’ll start to laugh again with friends.  He’ll find out about each of their identities and things they have in common.  And hopefully his tears will come less often.

Knowing my son is sad magnifies my sadness.  I often miss my friends and family.  Daily actually.  The hardest part of the day for me is from when I wake up at 7am until about 3 or 4 in the afternoon.  With the seven hour time difference, everyone back home is asleep.  I try to stay out of the house during those hours or to keep busy in the kitchen.  Then, once the afternoon rolls around, I check the computer at regular intervals to see if anyone has emailed me.  Sometimes I find myself just sitting there staring at the screen, waiting for the ding of an email in my inbox.  So when I see that Elias is sad, I understand why.  The mother in me wants to do whatever I can to make that feeling go away.   But I don’t know how.  So I hug him, and sometimes both of our tears hit the pillow at the same time.  Other times I try to say something silly to try to make him laugh.  Tonight I told him that his dad stinks because he farts a lot.  That worked.

But we like it here.  We really, really like it here.  Most of the days are wonderful, and we have nothing to complain about.  And of course the beautiful weather helps!  But as winter approaches,  the days are going to get shorter and the clouds are going to roll in.   Instead of blue sky we’ll have clouds.  Instead of sun we will have rain.  Don’t be sad for us.  Just send us your rays of sunshine and keep us warm inside.

AMENDMENT:

When I wrote this post last night I didn’t write it from a sad place, nor were there any tears as I sat at the computer and typed.  I found out today that most people were affected by my words and some have said that it made them cry.  Elias and I both reread the blog tonight, and it didn’t make either of us sad.  Maybe because we are living it, and we know how we really feel.  I wrote this to share that we miss our friends and family back at home….to let those who read this blog know that although I’ve posted over 30 positive and upbeat stories of our experiences, there is another side.  I have had a few friends write and ask me if I’ll “ever come back home because it sounds so wonderful there.”   And the answer is yes, we’ll be back.  The other side to this story is the reality that we have moments when we are homesick for our friends.  Those moments don’t come often, but they do come.  My mother emailed me, commented on this post, and then called me later in the day, each time saying that although the post had good things in it, there were parts that were difficult to read.  She said that the most upsetting part was that I made it sound as if Elias didn’t have friends and was more or less miserable here.  That’s not the way it is, and that’s not the impression I wanted to give.   Elias plays basketball and soccer with his classmates after school, and he has shown them all how to throw a proper American football.  So if you are worried about him (or me for that matter), please know that we laugh and smile 25 times more than we shed a tear.  Yes, we get lonely.  And yes, it “hurts” when I see that Elias or Rea are sad.  All I want to do is take away that feeling so they don’t cry.   So, they’ll get a few extra hugs, a cookie or two, or a joke to make them laugh.   Usually it works to lighten the moment, and then we move on.  So, please, don’t be sad for us.  Read this for what it is and know that you can’t have sunshine without ever seeing clouds.

School

Over the past four weeks my friends and relatives have been posting “First Day of School” photos on Facebook.  And I’ve been waiting.  And waiting.  And waiting, so that I could do the same.  Well the day finally arrived.  Yesterday, September 13th, was the kids first full day of school!  And I am in total awe of them.  They are amazing, and I don’t know if I’ve ever been more proud.  I don’t know that I could wake up, get dressed, and head off to a school that is completely and totally foreign, in every way.  But then again, I’m an adult, and adults don’t go with the flow as easily as children do.

Taking it all in the first few minutes, Ikaria, Greece

On Tuesday morning we went to the school for one hour, for a blessing from the priest.  All of the students were there, and most of the parents stood in the back and watched.  The priest said a few prayers, and blessed each child with Holy Water.  Afterwards, all of the kids went to the platia to play.  I went to my Thea Avgi’s for coffee with my cousins.  I had my first Greek coffee!

The priest preparing for the short service, Ikaria, Greece

Priest giving blessing to the entire school, Ikaria, Greece

Rea getting blessed by the priest, Ikaria, Greece

Mothers. We’re the same everywhere!

Greek coffee, served with fried zucchini flower.

On Wednesday the kids went to school for a few hours to get their books.  They were told to arrive at 8:15.  And in the true Ikarian spirit, I was told by Elias, the teacher didn’t come into his room until 9:30!  After arriving, the kids waited for a few minutes and when Kire Kosta didn’t come into the room, they went outside to play soccer.  They were called back into the room at 8:5o, where they sat at their desks and waited another 40 minutes before the teacher appeared.  Rea and Zach had similar stories.

Playing soccer in the school yard, Ikaria, Greece

Zach at the school, Ikaria, Greece

Yesterday they had their first full day.  They arrived at 8:15 and school began at 8:30.  It is officially over at 1:30.  In those 5 hours they had three breaks…two short breaks and one longer one.  At 1:30 the teachers are finished, and students can leave.  However, there is another teacher that stays until 4:00 to help the kids with their homework and to supervise until parents want their children sent home.  I signed up to keep the kids there until 4:00, and Despinis Cee Cee will hopefully use some of that time to help Elias, Rea, and Zach improve their Greek.  Yesterday the kids did their homework and then played for 2.5 hours with the other kids.   When they got home they were happy.   They like their teachers and they said that for the most part they were able to figure out what was going on in the classroom and what was expected of them.  They said it was a good day!  (Whew!)

I said that everything is foreign to them, and I mean that other than having a teacher and desks and books, everything is different. The school houses both the elementary school and the preschool.  In the elementary school there are less than 30 students.  That is smaller than the class sizes they had at home.  There are only four students in the fifth grade.   The school is a long rectangular building and each classroom has a door that opens up to the outside.  There are three classes, and each is a multi-grade class with one teacher–first/second, third/fourth, and fifth/sixth.  There are no hallways.  No water fountains.  No stairs.  No nurse’s office.  No morning announcements.  No bus lines.  No lunch room.  No gym.  No art or music room.  And no bathrooms.  Yeah, you read that right.  The bathroom is outside in another building, and by American standards, some would be hard pressed to even call it a bathroom.  It has Turkish Toilets.  Let’s just say that most of you would be more comfortable using an outhouse or a port-a-potty.

Domotiko Skoleio,  Elementary School, overlooking the sea, Karavostamo, Ikaria, Greece

The first/second grade classroom, Ikaria, Greece

The bathrooms. Outside. Not inside. Sinks outside.  That’s got to be cold in the winter!

A Turkish Toilet. You put your feet on the small “platforms” and aim well! (This one isn’t at the school–just a photo I found to share.)

When the kids came home yesterday, I asked them in detail about their day.  Rea told me that they read a poem in school and she had to learn it, and that she did math and it was easy.  Elias showed me what he did in “Language Arts.”  He had two pages filled out in a notebook.  There were sentences and a paragraph.  I asked him what he wrote about and he said it was based on a reading they did–a piece about a boy who imagined he was out on a boat.  I looked at him, and as my jaw hung open, I asked, “How did you know that–that it was about what a boy who was imagining?”  He said he heard σκεφτείτε, skeptic, and figured that’s what it meant.  I asked how he was able to write the paragraph, and if he used something to help him look up words.  He looked at me like I was annoying him (because he wanted to get back to reading his book) and told me that he knew all of those words.  And in one moment I was both proud and amazed, as well as feeling a bit inferior!  He is so smart and so capable. It all comes so easily to him.  I wish I could learn as quickly and easily as he does!  As for Zach, he said it was fun but boring.  They worked on the sound “a,” which he already knows.  When he was done with his work, he made paper airplanes for all of his friends.

When I went to register the students in the school, they were unsure of where to place them because of the language barrier.  Elias should be in the first year of the high school which is in the next village over; however, the course work consists of Modern Greek, Ancient Greek, Geography, Poetry, and Mathematics.  They don’t teach the students how to read or to write; it is expected that they arrive there with those skills.  The teachers felt it would be best for Elias to be in the top grade at the domotiko school, or elementary school, to learn the language.  Kire Kosta said that he would start the kids in the school and constantly assess their abilities and move them into the lessons that suit their needs.  The main goal is to learn the language.  I will work with them at home in the evenings on their American schooling so that they don’t fall behind.  The kids understand what will happen, and I believe Elias is happy staying in the village with his brother and sister.

The kids with a few of their friends and school mates, Karavostamo, Ikaria, Greece

Rea with her friend and cousin, Lemonia, Ikaria, Greece

I sent the kids off to school again this morning, with their backpacks and their lunches.  They gave me a quick kiss and ran off to meet their friends.  Coming here two months before the start of school was a wonderful decision.  It gave them time to meet the other children, so that when they started their first day of school they were familiar with something!  They didn’t have to worry about not knowing the kids or about being embarassed about not speaking the language well.  With less than 30 kids in the school, they had already met everyone and everyone already knew they were “The Americans.”

So, off they went for another day, and I am left behind in pure awe of their courage.  Children are programmed to trust their parents and believe what they are told.  If their mom stands there and says, “I know it will be different, but it will be okay,” then they believe that.  As adults, from our own life experiences, we have too many memories of failed attempts or uncomfortable moments that don’t allow us to be so optimistic and trusting.  All I can say is that I’m so glad they came home with a smile on their faces yesterday.  That buys me a little more time of them trusting me!

Small Talk

“Wow. Two months to the day!” That is what Elias said at dinner tonight when he asked me the date.  And then he followed that comment up with, “And only 10 more to go!”  I’ve been well aware that our two month “anniversary” was coming up.  And aware that it’s been over four weeks that we’ve been here on our own.  We’ve done a great job, and I can say that there has only been an occasional moment of sadness here or there.  For the most part we smile daily.

There are plenty of moments, though, that are tough–not sad, just tough.  Mostly when I realize I miss things.  But I’m surprised at what I miss.  It’s easy to think that I’d miss material things…like my bed and my pillow.  Or that I’d miss parts of my daily life, like the gym or volunteering at the school.  And it goes without saying I miss Chris–I do–almost hourly.  But really, with the exception of “people,” I could really live without the things I was so familiar with and accustomed to at home.  What I miss the most, more than anything, is language.

You probably don’t realize how much small talk you do on a daily basis, but since living here, I’ve realized that it is everywhere…at the bank, the grocery store, the school, the gym, walking past someone on the street, or checking out at a store.  Now there’s just an awkward silence when I’m standing at a cash register.  I want to be able to ask the cashier, “Busy day?”  or “Are you glad it’s quiet on the island now?”   I hear the customers in front of me doing it, and there’s usually a little laughter.  And I just stand there and stare.  I wish I knew what they said so I could interject or add to the conversation.  There’s no small talk when I am in the platia or around other adults.  People can ask me how it’s going, and I can ask them the same, but that’s where the conversation ends.  There’s no discussion about the weather, their kids, or the Steelers.  The other day I saw a toddler wandering off, and her father kept having to jump up and chase her to make sure she was safe.  All I wanted to say was, “Gosh, I remember those days!  You can never sit for more than a minute and having a conversation is next to impossible.”  But all I could do was watch him and smile.  I’m silent a lot now.  I’ve learned that “small talk” isn’t that small after all!

I also miss absent-mindedly listening and know what is going on.  Do you realize how much eavesdropping you do when you are out and about?  Without thinking about it, you hear (and understand) all of the conversations that go on around you.  Maybe you are taking a walk and someone has their windows open.  You can hear their television and know they are watching a rerun of Friends, or you hear their conversation about work and can tell they had a bad day.  At the playground you know that the kids are playing hide-and-go-seek without having to stop and watch what they are doing.  You know what someone thinks about the dress they are trying on in the changing room next to you.  In none of those situations are you trying to be nosey.  It all just registers in that amazing brain of yours.

At home, I didn’t watch a lot of television, but I usually put the television on in the morning when I was making breakfast and packing lunches.  I’d go about my business, and I’d hear the “news.”  Even if I was having a conversation with one of the kids, I could “multi-task” and know if there was a story of interest coming up so that I could give it my attention.  It also happens when the radio is on in the car.  No one really “listens” to the commercials, but somehow, your brain understands what is being said and sorts it into the “useless information” part of the brain.  Now, when background noise is on, it just gives me a headache.  My brain doesn’t know what to do with the quick speaking foreign language that is being rattled off.  Most of the time I drive in silence, and we never just turn on the tv.

And sight-reading.  Gosh I miss sight-reading! After you are done reading this blog and you go about your day, pay attention to how much of the written word you actually take in without actually “reading” or thinking of it as “reading.”  You’ll glance at a billboard and know what it says.  You’ll look at the cereal box and know how many vitamins and minerals it has or if it’s made from whole grains.  You’ll walk past a newspaper and take in the headlines without a second thought.  You read people’s’ shirts and laugh if they are funny.   There’s a notice posted on the bathroom door at the gym or on the door to the lunch room and as you walk by you’ll know what is being announced.  That’s sight-reading.  And every time I see the written word here, I think of the of the saying, “It’s all Greek to me!”

After two months, that’s what I miss.  I feel like I am walking around inside of a giant bubble, and I feel very isolated.  I know that there are people out there.  I can see them, and  I can hear them.  But I can’t touch them.

The good news is that I still have 10 months to improve my Greek.  Maybe before I leave, I will be able to have a simple conversation with the teachers at the school!

Winding Down

Daily life in Ikaria has slowed to a crawl these past few weeks.  All of the Athenians have returned  to their homes, and we are left with the approximately 8,300 people who live on the island year round.  Some say that the population of Ikaria reaches 16,000 over the summer, when family returns to the island for their summer holidays.  Ikaria isn’t a popular tourist island, and the people who return, return because they have ties to the island.   I mentioned in the post, Kitchen Table, that there were many reasons I wanted to spend a year in Greece with my family,  and my family ties are part of that reason.  Knowing that my family was Greek, and that three of my four grandparents were born and raised in this country, was as much a part of me growing up as knowing my address and phone number.  It was how I defined myself from as young as I can remember.  There were a few Greek families in our high school–the Calaboyias’, Frentzos’, Zanic’s, and Xilas’–and everyone knew we were Greek.  I don’t recall other kids being defined by their nationality, but we were.  I was Greek, and I was proud to be.

Despite the fact that “Greek” was who I was, I didn’t grow up visiting Greece every summer like so many of the people I knew.  I didn’t make my first trip to the island until I was 29 years old.  And when I arrived, I felt more like a tourist.  I didn’t feel like I belonged.  I couldn’t speak the language, and I didn’t know the relatives who lived here.  I came a few more times, and each time I felt the same way.  Last summer Chris and I watched our kids running around the village with a few American cousins in one group, and we watched the Greek kids running around in another group.  I thought to myself, if I want my children to be connected with their heritage, if I want them to feel like they belong to here, if I want them to have friends when they return to the island over the many years they have left in their life, then  I need to do something about it.  If they live here, they will learn the language.  If they live here, they will make friends.  If they live here, they will feel welcome when they return.

So, here we are, trying to learn the language and make new friends.  The first 6 weeks we were here, we experienced “summer Ikaria,” which is different from the “fall-winer-spring Ikaria.”  Elias, Rea, and Zach met many other kids this summer, but a lot of them didn’t live here.  Now they are learning who will be their classmates and their friends over the next 10 months.  With everyone gone, and the village down to 400 people, things are quiet.  At night, there are only a few people sitting at each of the 6 cafenios, and there is only one group of kids who play together (my kids included).  The small beach at the harbor is quiet most of the day.  There were just the right amount of people at the wedding last night–enough to fill most of the tables but few enough that there was room to dance without fear of being trampled upon.  And as I sit on the balcony, I no longer hear the sounds of motorbikes on the roads or kids screaming as they play.  I hear the sound of the waves and an occasional sound from a rooster or a goat.  Unfortunately, however, that beautiful silence is often interrupted with the sound of my kids arguing.

School still hasn’t started.  This summer has been one that kids dream of and parents fear.  My kids last full day of school was June 1st, and their first full day isn’t until September 13th.  That’s just under 15 weeks of summer vacation!  It has been amazing watching them over the past two months as they have played , explored, and shared in adventures with only each other.  However, for anyone, that’s a lot of “together time.”   With fewer people around,  we’ve been spending more time at the house.  I’ve been keeping busy in the kitchen–I’ve added grape juice, grape jam and fig bars to my list of new culinary feats–and the kids have been keeping busy finding new ways to annoy each other.  So, in the hopes of having an “argue-free” day,  on Friday the kids and I set out to finish a job we started in July!

We packed our lunch, grabbed our cameras, and set off to find the reservoirs we attempted find with my cousin Sophia–a story I shared in Around the Island.

SUCCESS!
We made it to the reservoir!

After asking a few people in the village how to find Megalo and Mikro Fragma, the large and small reservoirs, we set off on a mission.  I am pleased to say that we found Megalo Fragma without making one wrong turn and without one bout of car sickness!  We spent about an hour and a half there, exploring, climbing large boulders, and enjoying a picnic lunch.  We were fairly high up in the mountains, and there was a bit of a chill in the air.  I laid on a rock in the sun and watched the clouds whiz by overhead.  The kids were getting along, and with my eyes closed and the warmth of the sun on my face, I was actually enjoying one of the last days of summer vacation.  With our bellies full and our confidence levels high, we decided that instead of heading home, we should try to find the smaller reservoir, which is said to be more beautiful.  So, off we set, and within 15 minutes we were there.  Mikro Fragma felt very much like a small lake that we might come across in Pennsylvania.  There were cat tails lining the edges and plenty of fish, frogs, and turtles.   At both reservoirs, we were alone and enjoyed the solitude of nature and each other.

We decided to make one more stop on the way home–Mounde Monastery.  There is another Monastery in Ikaria that we visited last summer, so the kids were interested in seeing how this one compared.  Monude Monastery was first built in 1460 and was renovated in 1893.  It is hidden in the hills by towering pines and was at one point used to house people who were suffering from tuberculosis.  The church is composed of three alters, side by side, each dedicated to its own saint.  There alters are made from beautifully carved wood and painted icons decorate the ceilings.  When we stopped to visit, we were the only ones there beside the caretakers son who was filling in for the day.  Evangelo didn’t speak much English, and I’m sorry to say my Greek isn’t improving at the rate at which I would like.  So with a few simple sentences, we managed to learn what we could.

Six hours after we left the house, we returned with a camera full of photos and another memory to fill our bank.  The kids were tired, so we called it a night and chose not to head to the platia.  Instead we stayed in and watched The Jungle Book together.  We talked about how much the day reminded us of being at our cabin, and Elias fixated on Chris’s arrival in a few weeks.  The two of them plan to do an overnight backpacking hike that will take them right through Mikro Fragma.  He can’t wait to show his dad some of the things he’s discovered on one of his last days of summer vacation.

Rerun

We went to another wedding tonight.  It was just liket the other wedding and the panagitis we’ve attended.  Well, tonight we actually we just went to the reception.  There was lamb, salad, bread, appetizers, Greek wine and Coke.  There was a band, and there was dancing.  It was held in the river bed.   We sat at tables covered with paper table cloths with our cousins, and we stayed until 4 am.  Rea ran around with her friends, and Elias and I danced as much as we could.   By the time we left, Elias and I were ready to go.  Zach had fallen asleep on the bench at midnight.  And Rea, once again, was upset that we were leaving so early!

Side note:  I’ve been trying to capture a photo of families on motorcycles.  Motorbikes are very common here, and you only ever see tourists wearing helmets.  Not only do locals not wear helmets, they usually load as man people as they can on the bike.  Tonight I snapped a photo of my cousins, as they loaded up to go home from the wedding.  Three generations on the bike.  Not the best photo, but hopefully you get the idea.

Greek Dancing

Elias looked at me today, as he stood on the steps leading away from the upper village church and we were headed to our cousin’s house for coffee, and he said, “I know we are going to miss things back at home, but this is going to be a fun year!” He was smiling and genuinely happy. It was one of those moments as a parent, where you try to lock that exact moment in time into your mind so that you will always have it as a memory to recall. I smiled back at him and said, “Yes, Elias, it is going to be a good year, and no matter how much you miss the things back at home, they will all be there when we return.” He turned around and headed up the hill with his sister and brother, and 4 of his “newly found” cousins, as he calls them.

Avgi and Lemonia’s mother, Marina, invited us to their house for coffee today, and of course we accepted. Avgi and Lemonia are the twins I wrote about in the post An Amazing Morning–the ones we met after we spent the morning in the pevka picking basil with Roula. They turned 9 this week, and a few days ago they invited us to their birthday party. Of course we were thrilled to be invited and excited to compare how a birthday party in Greece compares to a birthday party in America. We found out that it’s similar in many ways. The kids run around and make a lot of noise, all competing with each other for center stage. Party food is served and at least half of it ends up crushed on the floor, sticky with spilled drinks. There’s birthday cake and candles and songs to honor the birthday girl(s), including the American “Happy Birthday to You,” minus the “cha cha cha’s and you look like a monkey” add-ons.
The adults sit and talk while the chaos surrounds them, and eventually one child ends up in tears. And, of course, there is music, and dancing.

Just like in America, the dancing at parties tends to be impromptu. But the difference is that the dancing here is traditional Greek dancing. No Usher, Bruno Mars, Pink, or Tao Cruz. Just bouzouki, violin and guitar. I was sitting outside on the patio with the adults when the Greek music started to flow out of the windows. I didn’t think too much of it, as that’s truly the only type of music that we ever hear (even on the radio), until a few minutes later when someone said, “I think the kids are dancing in there.” I jumped up, grabbed my camera, and told them I’d be right back. I went inside to find a dozen or so kids inside dancing the zeibekiko, a one person dance that is fairly free of choreography. It’s a dance I’ve tried to do for years but don’t have either the rhythm or self-confidence to do it well! The rest of the kids, mine included, were sitting on the couch, watching and cheering them on (I guess that is fairly similar to what you’d see at an American party as well!). I was amazed and in awe that the children were dancing this traditional dance, just as American kids would get up and dance to a Michael Jackson song. Shortly thereafter an Ikarian song came on, and just as they did at the panagiri, all of the kids shrieked with joy and jumped up to form a line–my kids included. As I unsuccessfully tried to video tape (because the lights had been turned down too low), the dance line formed a circle in the living room and around and around the kids went. Soon they ran out of room, and they danced right out of the living room, onto the patio, where the adults clapped to the beat and some even joined in.

I was intrigued by this site. Young kids, dancing a traditional dance at a birthday party, with as much enthusiasm as pop music in America generates in kids. I wondered if these kids would be comfortable dancing to pop music if it was to played, or if it would seem just as foreign to them as dancing to traditional music is to us. I recently read that Greece is one of the few countries left that traditional dance is an everyday occurence–and is just as prevalent as it was in ancient times. Not only did I see the young adults at the panagiri dance all night and sing along with band, I have also seen them break out in dance in the platia at night. There have been evenings when three or four men would sit and play Greek songs and crowds would gather at that taverna to enjoy the music. Every time there would be three or four who would get up and begin to dance along side the tables. It was a scene that you would think you might see created for a movie that is set in Greece–people sitting at tables, drinking their ouzo, smoking their cigarettes, Greek music in the background, and a few people dancing, all in the background as the actors take center stage. But what we are experiencing isn’t a movie. It’s real life here. Dancing is as important to everyday life as taking afternoon naps and spending time with family. Even though I grew up Greek dancing at festivals and conventions and was even part of a Greek dance group that traveled and did shows, I never knew how much a part of their daily life it truly is.

As a side note, one other difference is that the party for the 9 year old girls started at 8 pm. There was no pick end time on the invitation. We left around midnight and many of the children were still there playing a game that looked similar to Outburst. Today, as we sat outside at the table and remnants of the party were still evident on the patio, I asked Marina what time all of the children eventually left. She sighed and told me that the last few were picked up at 2am. Have I mentioned that there is no such thing as time in Ikaria?