Public Announcements and Hospitals

I think of the “Ice Cream Man” every time I hear it.  Someone driving through the town, with a mega phone, shouting something.  Throughout the summer it was “Psaria, fresco psaria. Fish, fresh fish.”  The local fisherman would make the announcement and then park in the platia.  People would walk down, pick the fish they wanted out of the baskets in the back of the van, pay for it, and serve it that night for dinner.  Throughout the fall, the megaphone has blasted news of meetings in the town of Evdilos or the capital of Agyios Kyrikos.  That’s how information is spread in Ikaria.  There is no newspaper or television station.  Apparently there is a community-run radio station, but since it’s broadcast from the other side of the mountain, it’s hard to get it in the village.  Anything that is important is shared at town meetings.  In the summer they gather in the town squares and when the weather is bad, they find an inside location.  The meetings are announced, not only via the car that drives around village by village, broadcasting the details, but also though flyers. These flyers are posted everywhere–on bulletin boards at the grocery store, in a sign box in the town square, stapled to trees, or posted at the cantina at the beach.  They announce when and where bands will play, political rallies, panagiti’s, memosinos (church memorial services), strikes, and meetings.  Because these meetings are the primary source of disseminating information,  business and schools close during this time, so that everyone has the opportunity to attend.

This past week, there was a meeting in the middle of the afternoon regarding the status of the island hospital.  Ikaria does have a small hospital in Agios Kyrikos, the capital, as well as an emergency clinic outside of Evdilos, on my side of the island.  This is a government-run hospital, which is under the jurisdiction of the larger island of Samos.  With the economic crisis, the government is trying to find ways to make cuts.  It was shared at this meeting that there will be changes made to the hospital.  Although nothing is finalized, there were various scenarios presented and predictions made.  They believe that the administration of the hospital will be done from Samos and that they will close some of the departments in the hospital here.  The existing hospital would become more of an “emergency clinic,” but any surgeries or long-term care would be sent to Samos.   And what will become of the clinic on this side of the island?

When you are reading about this on paper and looking at budget and numbers, this might make logical sense.  But when you live on the island, it doesn’t seem logical at all.  Although Samos is “right next door,” you can only get there via a four-hour ferry ride.  In the winter, that ride is only available every other day, and it isn’t available if the weather turns bad or the country goes on strike.  Just this winter one of my cousins had to have an emergency appendectomy, and my cousin Stella’s mom had to be admitted for pneumonia.  The clinic outside of Evdilos is also a much-needed facility, as driving to the hospital takes almost a full hour from my village and an hour and a half to two hours from places further west.  Just last night we witnessed a motorcycle accident, and the driver, although conscious and moving, was covered in blood.  I don’t know what happened to him, but I am sure that if he had to make the hour drive to the hospital, he would have lost sufficiently more blood.

This is one of those times that I think about how difficult it is here and how fortunate we are in America.  The people of Greece all pay towards their healthcare–money taken directly from their paychecks.  But what they receive is minimal.  When Stella’s mother, Poppi, was ill, I spent many hours in the hospital.  I was shocked, given that every hospital I have ever entered in America has been has been the exact opposite of what I saw.  The hospital was old and in very poor shape.  In the room that Poppi had, there were tiles missing from the wall, the television (that didn’t receive any channels) was being secured to the wall stand with gauze, and there was limited hot water.  The heat and hot water on came on for a few hours a day to conserve energy and save money.  The air condition and heating units need to be replaced, and the wheel chairs and gurneys are all old, many with broken elements.  Poppi was given a bed, with clean sheets, but that is all.  The family needs to bring all of the patients “needs” with them, from towels, tissues, and straws, to pajama’s, lotion, extra blankets, and even some medicines.  The nurses are understaffed and their job is to monitor vitals and dispense medicines.  The family must care for the patient 24 hours a day, and if they cannot be there, they must hire a caretaker.  It is their responsibility to bath and change the patient, move them and shift them to avoid bed sores, and to help them with anything else they may need.  There is a lot of responsibility put on the family, and imagine what a hardship this will put on some families if they now must bring all of these items and care for their patient on another island.

I can’t do anything about the situation of the government “merging” the hospitals of Ikaria and Samos, nor, do I think, can the residents of Ikaria.  I do wonder, however, if something can’t be done about the resources that they do have.  Of course, that is such an American thought.  When something is run down or broken in our country, what do we do?  We get a new one.  If our hospitals need new wheel chairs, they hospital would budget that into their account or a donor would surface and gift them to the hospital.  That isn’t the case here.  I have said that part of the experience of living in Ikaria was learning what it was like to live with “less” stuff.  Unfortunately, there is some “stuff” I just don’t think people should have to live without.  A functioning hospital is one of those things.

The Emergency Room

The Emergency Room


No words necessary.

No words necessary.


The Half Way Mark

It’s been six months, to the day, that we left America.  I’ve been trying to figure out what to write about to mark the occasion.  Something big.  Something fun.  Something funny.  Something entertaining.  But I’ve got nothin’!

But I’m still gong to write.  This blog was started as a way for me to communicate with my friends and family–a way to share our experiences so I wouldn’t have to write the same email over and over.  Right now, I am sitting on the couch and re-reading some of the entries, and I see how it’s also become a journal for our family.  A way to preserve our memories.  And I noticed that I have told story after story, but I haven’t shared exactly why we wanted to take this adventure.  And I figure now–half way through–might be a good time to answer that question.

There are many reasons.  None more important than an another.  So in no particular order I start with because I wanted to know how to speak Greek.  For whatever the reasons may be, I never learned the language as a child.  I wish I had learned it, but I didn’t.  In college I was given the opportunity to study abroad my junior year.  I had planned to go to England, only to find out they would be starting a program in Greece that year–but not until my spring semester.  I dropped the idea of a full year in England in exchange for a semester in Greece.  To be Greek and get to study in Greece, and to be taught the language, was an unexpected gift!  I anxiously awaited for January of 1991.  In December, during finals week, I was told there was a good chance the program would not begin the next semester because of the chance of the (first) Gulf War.  Heartbroken, I said good-bye to my dream and hopped on the next plane for England.  And unfortunately, I didn’t get to learn Greek in England.  Years later I took a night course at a college with my mom and sister.  We learned some, but didn’t come away fluent! I moved to Lancaster in 2000, and when Chris asked me what I wanted for my 30th birthday, I said I wanted to learn Greek. I ended up taking private lessons for almost 18 months, until Rea was born.  In that time I learned a lot but had no one to speak with on a daily basis.  Over the years, most of what I learned disappeared with my pregnancy/baby brain.  Between 2007-2011 I returned to Greece four times, and each time I was disappointed and frustrated that I couldn’t communicate.  I was also embarrassed when I spoke to people here and found out that so many of them knew English, as well as another language.  How had I gotten through life only knowing one language?  I knew that if I was just given the opportunity I could learn it.  And the one of the best ways, I figured, was to live there.  If I was immersed, I’d have no choice but to learn the language.  And, just as importantly, I wanted my children to learn Greek.  The best time to learn a language is when you are a child.  So, if I could give my children that gift, than I wanted to do it.

How’s it working out?  The kids are doing AMAZING!  They all learn in different ways.  Zach knew the least when we arrived, but he surprised us the most.   After a few weeks in school, he started speaking entire phrases and sentences in Greek all at once.  He didn’t understand the grammar rules or the word order, he just understood the meaning.  Elias knew the most when we arrived, so he was able to listen, put it all together, and understand what people were saying and how to answer them.  Rea had a nice base, but she is a lot like me.  She quickly learned how to understand her friends and what they were trying to say, based on context and hand motions.  She just didn’t speak it as readily–but she’s learning faster than she thinks!  Just this week she came home to show us an entire story she had written in Greek, all by herself!  She was so proud, as she should have been!  They all speak with their friends now, and they all–fairly often–correct me when I make mistakes.  I am sure that over the next few months their Greek will continue to improve at rapid rates, and by the time we return, they will be somewhat “fluent.”

As for me, well, I guess the saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” applies.  This has been the hardest thing that I have ever tried to do.  My brain thinks it knows what to say, but for some reason it doesn’t make it from my brain to my mouth.  I’m frustrated, but I’m not giving up.  I still have six moths to reach my goal!

I mentioned I had been to Greece four times in the recent past.  In the summer of 2011, we spent just about three weeks in Ikaria.  We did all of the things you’ve read about already.  We went to the beaches in the day and to the platia at night.  But I felt like a tourist.  Even though the village is full of relatives, I didn’t know them.  I couldn’t speak the language, and it was a struggle just to order a drink or a souvlaki without my cousin from America or my father by my side.  I knew I didn’t like that feeling, and I wanted to feel “part” of this village.  My grandmother was raised here and my grandfather three villages away.  My father was born here, and this is where my family is from.  Many of my American friends, my husband included,  know where their ancestors come from, but for the most part have no connection to that part of the past.  They are “American.”  As I mentioned, being raised Greek Orthodox was a huge part of my upbringing.  Connecting to that place completes part of me.  And, because my father built this house, I knew that we would be returning to Ikaria for the rest of our lives.  And I knew I wanted to belong.  I knew I wanted my children to belong.  I didn’t want the kids to come back here and feel like I felt–like an outsider.  I knew that if we lived in Karavostamo, we all would grow closer to the relatives that live here.  I knew that the kids would make friends they would have for life.  I imagine that when they are 30 or 40, and they bring their families here, they will go to the platia and see one of their classmates from 2011-2012, and they will be greeted with a smile and a hug.  That makes me smile inside.

How are we doing with being part of  village?  I think we’re doing great with that goal!  My father has been here for almost a month, and almost every time he comes home from running an errand, he tells me how he ran into someone who has told him how great it is we are here or how wonderful the children are doing learning their Greek or how they are amazed that we would choose to come live on the island for a year.  The point is, people in Ikaria know us.  We are all making friends.  And, I think, we have created bonds with our relatives that will keep the family connection for another generation.

Living on an island that is only 100 square miles in area, with most of that non-livable space, is a completely different world than living in suburban America.  Chris and I wanted the kids to experience life in a different way.  To see it from another point of view.  To experience another culture, and to hopefully learn to appreciate all that we have been blessed with in America.  We live in a house on a road with no name.  A road that is no wider than a car.   There are only a few stores near by that sell just the basics.  No big box stores.  No fast food.  No ice cream stores.  No Chinese restaurants.  No pizza shops.  No dollar stores selling junk.  No malls.  There are only 30 kids in the entire school and only three classrooms.  There are no movie theaters or bowling alleys, museums or play places.  Life is about being satisfied with what you have and enjoying your para, or your family and friends.

How’s that going?  It’s a piece of this entire experience that I wish we could bottle and take back with us.  I want to live closer to all of my family and cousins.  I want to appreciate the people in my life and not feel like I am rushing them out the door in order to get to the next thing on my to-do list.  I want to relax and not rush from sporting event to sporting event.  I’m afraid that when we go back we’ll end up just like we were before I left.  But I am hoping, that I will be able to retain some of this new outlook!  I have also loved learning how to live off the land and eat seasonally.  And I believe that the kids don’t miss the material things back home.  They play outside often, they play together, and they really enjoy the freedom of island life.  I am sure they are building sibling bonds that they wouldn’t back home.  (As well as probably storing an army of stories in their mind that one day they will pull out to make fun of me.  “Remember when we were in Greece and mom told someone she ate the house instead of saying she ate at the house!” )

When we talked about spending a year in Greece, we almost shelved the idea because Chris couldn’t take the year off of work.  It was a big decision for us to decide to separate our family for a year, but Chris and I decided that the outcomes would be worth it.  We sat at the dining room table and tried to explain to the children why we wanted to do this.  They didn’t understand and couldn’t get passed the idea of leaving their friends.  I tried to explain it to them in a way that I thought they might understand.  I asked them what they do everyday.  They go to school.  They come home.  The go to a sports practice.  They eat dinner and do their homework.  They go to bed, only to get up and do it all again the following day.  It had been the same life for all of us since 2005, when Elias started kindergarten.  And for the next 11 years it would continue to be the same.  If they missed just one year of school, homework, and sports, they really wouldn’t be missing that much.   Six months into it, they do miss their friends.  But they’ve made new ones, they’ve begun to master a new (and difficult) language, and they’ve become part of something bigger than themselves.  They are part of a village.

I think in six months we’ve accomplished a lot.

The best of Paris and London, by Zach Fox

* Excerpt taken from Zach’s journal.

Happy New Year!  It’s 2013.  We are in Paris.  We saw the Louvre.  The most famous painting was the Mona Lisa.  When you looked at her from one side she was looking at you.  Then you went onto the other and she was still looking at you, and she has a different smile.  A famous sculpture was an athlete that won 13 times in a row.  And then they said, “You are too old to win.”  Then he said, “OK, I will go into the woods and break a tree trunk with my bare hands.”  He found a tree trunk and stuck his hand in, and it got stuck.  Just then a pack of wolves came and ate him alive.

Now we are in London.  We went to see where they filmed Harry Potter.  I saw the Gryffindor Common Room and bedroom.  Ron has posters of his favorite Quiditch team.  We went outside and saw the Dursley’s house and the Potter’s house.  Then we saw the Knight Bus and Hagrid’s motorcycle.  Then we saw where they made the goblins and they painted their makeup onto their faces.  Past the goblins we walked through Diagon Alley.  Once Fred and George graduated they made a store and in the window there is a sculpture of a girl barfing candy into a bucket.

I had a great time in Paris and London!

Happy New Year, by guest blogger Rea Fox

Great glasses thanks to my awesome cousins,Theo and Fotini!

Great glasses thanks to my awesome cousins,Theo and Fotini!


Hi Everybody!  By now we have been in Greece for 6 months.  I have made so many new friends and learned so much Greek!  A few weeks ago we went to Paris and England on vacation.  We met our dad there.  In Paris we did and saw so many amazing things.  We climbed 700 stairs to the second floor of the Eiffel Tower and got a terrific tour guide to take us around the Louvre (a really famous museum!).  She showed us a lot of famous pieces of artwork, like the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo.  We went to a cathedral (old big church) called Notre Dame that had gargoyles, or sculptures, carved as scary animals on the sides.  I thought it was neat because every gargoyle was different.  We went ice skating in front of a huge palace, went to a war museum where we “got shot out of cannons,” and on New Years Eve we walked down the Champs-Élysées, the most famous road in Paris.  It was decorated with Christmas lights that looked like hula-hoops on the trees.  To top it all off in Paris, we went on a giant ferris wheel at the end of the Champs-Élysées that looked over the city.

In England we stayed with Roula and Malcolm, our cousins from Greece.  They showed us around Newbury, where they live.  We all walked up a muddy hill and at the top we saw so much of Newbury, including the castle where they film a TV show called Downton Abby, and the country side.  The next day we visited one of the Queen’s homes, Windsor Castle.  We also went to see where Harry Potter was filmed!  All the props and background were there.  We got to see the green screens, which is how they filmed all the flying scenes like Quidditch.  We even got to pretend to fly on a broomstick on the green screens!  One afternoon we saw Stonehenge, big rocks placed in a circle from long ago.  The last full day we took a train to London where we met mom’s friend, Paul.  He took us all around London, and we saw Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, and he even took us to a huge 5 floor toy store with really cool toys  that I never saw before!  Mom let us all buy one toy.  At the end of the day we went to a science center with really interesting things about science and liquids and air.  We said goodbye to Paul and went to Roula and Malcolm’s.  The next day we had to say good-bye to Daddy and come back to Ikaria.  Now we have just another six more months to go.