And life goes on.

The last few days in Ikaria were very emotional.  It was difficult to balance such opposing feelings-the sadness of leaving compared with the excitement of returning home.  Our friends in the village had a surprise party in the platia for the children a few days before we left, and our friends in America had a party for us a few days after we arrived home.  We are fortunate to now have two homes.

The morning of July 11th we loaded up the car, left the village and started our 25 hour journey home.  As we walked out of the village we pinned this letter (the Greek version) to the bulletin board.

Just a few of the faces we will miss…

..and a few of the daily sites of Ikaria.

And now that we are home, we have traded one for the other….

The Roads

The View

The Vehicles

The Super Markets

Our Friends

We are truly blessed to now have parea in two countries.
Thank you to the Ikarians for allowing us to be part of Karavostamo,
and thank you to our American friends for welcoming us back with such love and joy.
And a special thank you to all of you who followed us along our journey, supported us, sent us emails, commented on the blog, “skyped” us, fed my husband, cared for my pets, and sent us your love across the miles.

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Bucket List

Part of my dream of living in Greece was to master (or somewhat master) the language.  I have been exposed to Greek all of my life, but I have never spoken it.  I didn’t go to Greek school as a child, but as an adult I took lessons multiple times.  I was sure that if I lived in Greece for a year I would finally be able to understand and speak the language with confidence.

The road to learning to master the language has been a rocky one.  I have to admit that although I understand much more than I did when I arrived, I am not still where I want to be.  I very rarely say an entire sentence correctly, and when I first started talking my kids asked me not to speak in front of their friends.  Yes, funny, I know.  It was at that moment that I realized I had finally become a true mother–you know, someone who embarrasses their children.  (Do note that a few months ago Rea did come to me, unprovoked, and apologized for having made that comment, AND Elias and Rea have been my biggest cheerleaders along the way.)

I have many issues with the language.  I do know the grammar rules after going to lessons two times a week for the past 10 months.  I have been exposed to a huge vocabulary and have sheets upon sheets of papers to prove it–first category verbs, second category verbs, third category verbs, adjectives, synonyms and antonyms, “small words,” and masculine and feminine, singular and plural, objective and subjective, and possessive cases, just to name a few.  However, the words don’t make it from my brain to my mouth. It’s as though my tongue is wrapped with cotton, and I cannot form the sounds.  I also can tell you the beginning part of most words–the first syllable or two, but struggle with the endings because they change with the gender and case of the noun or verb.  Sometimes I know what I want to say but I begin to speak too quickly and make silly errors.  Thankfully, most people are able to get the gist of what I am trying to say.  But sometimes my errors are too funny for them to resist laughing.

A while back I went to my Thea Avgetta’s house, and there were a number of people gathered around the table eating their midday meal.  She invited me to join them but I had just eaten.  I said, “Έφαγα το σπίτι μου.”  I meant to say, “Έφαγα στο σπίτι μου.”  Can you see that there is just one letter difference?  The difference is “I just ATE my house,” versus “I just ate AT my house.”  

Then last night I was at my cousin Petros bakery, and he asked when I was leaving.   I told him Thursday, and then I had to turn around and walk out because I was getting teary-eyed. When I came home I was speaking to my cousin Marina on the phone, and I was telling her the story.   I said, “Peter asked me when I was leaving and I said Thursday. Then I left because I wanted to fart.”  Apparently cry and fart are also only one letter/sound different! That one letter is very important!

Needless to say if I’ve done nothing else, I’ve provided a few laughs for the people around me. I guess I can’t check “mastering the Greek language” off of my bucket list just yet.  But then that’s no reason for me to be upset.  It just means that I’ll have to return every summer to keep working on it.

Fifty-one down. One to go.

Seven days. That’s one more Thursday, one more Friday, one more Saturday, one more Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and one more Wednesday. Then it is all over. Just typing these words caused my eyes to well up with tears. I was given 52 of each of those days, and I cannot believe I am down to my last ones.

In the fall of 2009 an idea popped into my head. I began to toss it around and eventually became brave enough to share it with Chris. We shared it with a few others in the summer of 2011. Then I let it fade away, because it didn’t seem possible. But the idea didn’t die. It kept resurfacing, and I had a choice to make. And the choice wasn’t would I bring my children to live in Ikaria for a year or stay in America. The choice was do I follow a dream or do I regret not following it?

I don’t like regret. So I went for it. With all of the support and love of my husband, I moved the children 5000 miles away and stepped back in time to live in Ikaria. (Beautiful, beautiful Ikaria.) Friends and relatives alike questioned our decision. Many wondered if Chris and I were having marital problems, and some thought we’d never make it here the whole year. Those from Ikaria thought we were crazy, and they often thought they misunderstood what I said. (“You mean you are living in Athens for a year, not Ikaria, right?”) But we weren’t, and we did, and we aren’t. And now that it is over, I know that we made the right choice.

My children came to Greece knowing almost no Greek and are leaving as fairly fluent speakers. They lived without fast food, malls, and movie theaters, in exchange for connecting with a village, swimming in the sea, and playing outside unsupervised. They experienced cultural differences and similarities, and they faced situations where they knew nothing going in but came out the other side successful in one way or another. The education they received didn’t come solely from the 6 hours they spent daily in the school or the 2 hours learning afterward. It came from their interactions with their teachers, their classmates, their cousins and relatives, the yiayias and papous of the village, the store owners, and each other. Their lives have been enriched in more ways than I ever could have imagined.

We were also given a gift this year–completely unexpected and unpredicted, We received the gift of time. In America I work. I cook and clean. I shop and run errands, and I taxi the kids from place to place daily. I talk on the phone and text. I go out with my friends and away with my husband. I rush from place to place and event to event. I didn’t do that here. For an entire year I did nothing other than give my attention to my children. We ate dinner together every. single. night. Three hundred forty-eight days and counting. We played games. We went on hikes. We held hands as we walked down to the platia. We cleaned together and folded laundry together. We watched Little House on the Prairie and a documentary on Elmo. We sat by the fire and read. We visited new places and explored the area around us. We talked about what we missed in America, and we cried together when we ached too much. We gave lots of hugs, and we even fought now and again. And one of our favorite things was that almost every night we gathered in the bedroom and I read to them. Children grow quickly and the time we have with them is only a fraction of their lives. I am so thankful that I was given this year with my kids in a way I wouldn’t have had , had we spent the past year at home.

Is it any wonder that I can’t bring myself to think about packing or leaving? It’s not that I don’t miss my family and friends. I do! And it’s not that I can wait for the four of us to be reunited with Chris–I can’t! It’s just that I had a dream that I didn’t know if ever would come true, but it did. And I was able to live it. And I loved it. And I am just not ready to see it end. A year sounds like a very long time. But 52 weeks fly right by.

Us with our village behind us

Us , in Karavostamo

Oakmont Greek Food Festival

The Oakmont Greek Orthodox Church has its food festival the last weekend of June every year.  I went almost every year growing up when I lived in Pittsburgh. I danced for the audience when I was in elementary school and then again when I was in high school.  I volunteered  for many years with set up, baking, and serving.  And although we’ve lived in Lancaster for 13 years now, we often go back to Pittsburgh specifically for the festival.  In my opinion it’s one of the best festivals out there.  There’s the food–the pastichio and moussaka and chicken and rice, the gyros and souvlaki, the loukoumades and the pastries– the live music, the outside seating, the beer tent, and of course my family and friends and all of the Ikarians from Pittsburgh, all in one place for three weekend nights in a row.  Traditional dancers, from school age to adults, put on shows in the evenings, dancing in costumes, dancing on tables, and waving the Greek flag with pride.  Later on in the night everyone else dances for hours.

I was well aware that this past weekend all of my family and cousins would be together in Oakmont, enjoying the festival.  Of course I thought of them and wondered what they were doing.  But as it turns out, we had our “own” Oakmont Festival right here in Ikaria, which made me feel just a bit closer to home.

On Friday evening Elias and Rea had a dance performance in Agios Kyrikos.  It was their second and final show–an opportunity for the dance teachers to showcase the work they did with their students over the year.  Just as with the food festival, there were multiple groups of dancers ranging in ages from  young to adult.  For this performance the dancers were all given traditional costumes to wear, and they performed outside with chairs set up all around for others to watch.  As the kids danced, the sun set and the string of lights came on.  I looked around and remembered that in a few short hours my niece and nephew would be doing the same thing that my kids were doing.  My sister would be watching from the side, along with my mother and other family members, and I was watching with my father and cousins cheering them on.  “CHECK” in the box for traditional Greek dance performances.

On Saturday and Sunday the young people in Karavostamo were setting up, preparing for a panagiri that was going to be held in our village on Monday.  There were tables to be set up, leaves to be raked, lights to be hung, potatoes to be peeled and food to be prepped.  Since this festival is run by the young, it wasn’t my place to volunteer.  After all, I am a mother.  So instead of helping, I sent Elias and his cousin, Zach, up to help the group.  They went up to the church and didn’t come back for hours–“CHECK” in the box for volunteering for the weekend.

And on both Sunday night and Monday night we went to a panagiri. Sunday’s panagiri was in a small mountainous town of Droutsoula–a town with only nine people living there over the fall and winter months!  We went with my father and our cousins and ate goat wrapped in paper, Greek salad, crusty bread, Greek pastries and Greek coffees.  The band played and we all danced the Kariotiko, the Sousta, and the Kalamatiano.   “CHECK” for live Greek music, dancing and food!

Our imaginary Oakmont Festival concluded on Monday night when we walked out of our door, down the street 100 yards and arrived at the church, where the panagiri was being held.  Unlike the larger panagiris of Karavostamo that are held in the river bed, this one is held on the hillside adjacent to the church.  The tables are terraced along the slopes and from almost every seat you can see the small cement dance circle under the trees.  Because it is early in the summer season, there weren’t a lot of people, comparatively speaking.  The dance floor never became too crowded, and we were able to dance much more comfortably than the night before.  Rea and her friends danced for hours on end, while Elias and Zach hung out with their friends in the church yard.  I did a bit of dancing after I ate more traditional Greek food and drank a beer with my cousins Chris, Stella, and Sofia.  As the clock moved forward, I sat with Marina and watched our girls dance until they were the last young ones out there.  At 4:30 am we walked back to the house and crashed.  Although we didn’t dance until the sun came up, I can “CHECK”  beer tent off of the list.

So, although we weren’t in Oakmont we did just about everything we would have done had we been in Pittsburgh for the weekend–volunteered, watched dancers, listened to live music, danced the Kariotiko, ate Greek food and pastries, and spent time with family and friends. Knowing that the calendar was going to turn from June to July this weekend made me a bit misty eyed as I thought about leaving.  But after a weekend of realizing that so much of what I have here can be found in America, I am reminded of all that we have waiting for us at home.
** And as an added footnote, when we go to Pittsburgh for the festival we often celebrate Rea’s birthday.  It was no different here.  On Saturday night we had a party for Rea with her friends.