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.
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.