Monday, 17 July 2017

My Greek Story.... Finale

The last chapter of the family's migration to Poros

  After two years on the island of Salamina   the Navy moved us on  again,  this time to Poros where I vowed we would stay even though it meant living enclosed in a family compound with my inlaws and my sister in law.  Far too close for my comfort  but just what the children needed.  They grew up in a close family atmosphere and their two male cousins next door became like the older brothers they had missed out on.

At first my mother-in-law expected us to live as a family unit, cooking together in the outside kitchen and eating together around her dining table.  She was so proud of her united family, boasting to friends that we all 'ate out of one pot'.  Poor K was sitting right in the middle of this pot which was ready to blow.    For a while we did cook and eat all together but the foreign daughter-in-law soon rebelled. 

I wanted my own cuisine.  Shephards pie, chicken cooked without lemon juice and no extra oil, curry, savoury rice, coleslaw, chutney, all totally unknown to greeks then.  I just started doing my own cooking and for a while  K would eat downstairs and then come up to eat with us.  It all came to a head one day when we prepared to eat downstairs with all the family and I took down a dish of rice.  M-in-law complained that the rice was undercooked (not mushy) and she got the plate thrown at her.  From then on we were on our own.  

We all got over that as families should and she continued feeding the girls when she could  and would often send up some delicacy for K.   My father-in-law suffered a stroke and had to be looked after by all of us.  We came together as a family and I was immersed in the lore of the island.

My father-in-law died soon after we settled in.  Death was 'hands on' and an occasion for all of the family to mourn together.  The open coffin stayed in the house overnight, the coffin lid outside on the road for all to know that inside was a place of mourning.  All the family, friends and neighbours gathered from far  and wide.  The courtyard was full all night as people came and went.  We served them coffee, wine, ouzo, and hard tack till the sun rose again.

Inside the house the old aunts wailed and cried until the sun went down.  The dead had to be buried within 24 hours and everyone came to say goodbye, tell an anecdote, fall weeping on the corpse, this completely covered in strong smelling flowers.  Outside they told tall tales, mostly about the deceased and many a time the mourners had to be hushed for laughing too loudly or becoming too passionate about politics or football.
I should have dressed in black for a year after the death, but I didn't. 

I learnt what was appropriate to do on a saints day, cook, clean and serve.  No ironing, sewing, knitting, washing or bathing.  I climbed up to small churches and stood piously outside while the priest droned on, but didn't join the line afterwards to kiss his hand and receive a piece of blessed loaf.  I tried crossing myself and kissing icons but felt that was going a tad too far.  Lighting a candle or two is more my style and now I disappear outside to some comfortable wall and settle down to await the end of the service.

I helped mother-in-law take the sourdough loaves to the local bakery and haul them home again.  She always made enough for a couple of weeks.  The first day the bread was fragrant and soft and we would dip slices  in olive oil.   Baking day was also the day for a pot of yellow split peas (pease pudding).  We used the bread as a shovel to eat this soft mushy 'soup'.  

The first press of the year's oil meant 'tiganites' (greek pancakes) fried in the fresh oil with sugar or honey and my mother-in-law made the best fried potatoes I have ever eaten.  She had a battered little pot  filled with olive oil and fried the chips on a little gas burner outside in the cooking shed.  They were always, crispy, full of flavour and in great demand by the grandchildren.

I wasn't expected to pick olives thank goodness. I had two children to look after.

Of course it wasn't all  rosey and I dug my heels in where I could.  The house was far too small for a family of four. Two bedrooms and a balcony we covered over to make into a small 'sitting' room.The extended family wandered in and out.  

Mother-in-law was still anxious that her only son had not married a bride with an appropriate dowry and would call us in now and again telling me that she had found a wonderful piece of land, with olive trees, a bargain, and I must phone my brothers immediately and tell them to buy it for me. 

I survived forty years in this country and am no longer quite a foreigner but am definitely not a local.  Which is why my blog is called local-alien.  When that song came out my daughters delightedly dedicated it to me and we sang it together with gusto

'I don't drink coffee, I take tea my dear
I like my toast done on one side
and you can hear it in my accent when I talk
I'm an englishman in New York

I'm an alien
I'm a legal alien'




Linda a kiwi in flight


  1. I simply love your fascinating story of how you came to be a 'local alien', and must admit, despite being a transplant myself, I think I had a much easier time.
    It's a funny thing, the choices in life we make, for love....
    I feel we are akin :)

    1. Jo you know exactly what I have been writing about. Moving to another country and accepting it's customs, adapting yourself.
      When you're young you do these things , like jumping off a bridge into a deep River, with no fear and without really thinking it out.
      I guess it was just all one big adventure!
      Hugs back

  2. Thank you Linda, i shall think about your post long after reading it,i always wonder how is it to have roots somewhere else.

    1. I'm just sorry I was so far away from home and my own mother! Now when I have children I know how hard it must have been for her. Luckily she and my father loved Greece but we were too far away to visit very often

  3. This makes scary reading for me. There are many similarities to the life of my brothers and their wives back in the 1971/72 when they brought them back to the farm. I escaped for a few years and then ran right back into it in the 1980s.

    1. Some people thrive in that tight knit family atmosphere. One of my daughters who lives there now loves it. The other got out fast and ended up in a similar situation with her husband's family.
      Its hard for those coming into it, the new wives, but does have its advantages.

  4. Can't you find somewhere else for you and your daughters to live?

    1. It was a great place for my daughters to live. They were loved and looked after in that family compound. It was just a totally different way of life for me. The house was cramped but it was typical of Greek houses back then.

  5. I'm the same when it comes to anything church related. I go to show respect, then disappear when they all go inside for the magic.

    I can remember back in 1972 when I arrived in France to take up residency in the big house I'd just bought, thinking 'What the **** have I done'. Now I would hate to leave.

    1. It takes time to absorb a new culture but there are lots of 'pros' and really I shouldn't have been so damn stubborn back then, I'd have enjoyed the experience far more.

  6. You have done very well to survive and God on you for not just doing what they all wanted you too.
    It's no different here. My MIL and I have had some doozies So yeah. Your more Greek than you think lol

    1. They are so protective of their boys! Girls just have to toe the line and behave themselves, whether Greek or foreign!. One of my cousins married a German about 10th years earlier and lived in a small town in Germany. Her German family adopted her completely, no questions asked. Is it just Greeks?

    2. Think just the Greeks. No way could I have toed the line, then or now, guess why it didn,t work.
      Says a lot for K though he surely knew his family wanted a dowry and a "nice Greek " woman for him, but he took a stance, and didn,t cave in to mumma!.

    3. He certainly didn't cave in. By that time he was a naval officer used to giving orders NOT being ordered around lol
      Sorry Im late in answering your comment. I read it and must have been distracted! Quite common around here

  7. Replies
    1. Many foreign women here have a very similar story. The clash of two cultures !

  8. This was my take on the subject back in 2010


    1. Been away all day. Just trying to get the link to work and can't. Will try on the big desk computer.

  9. This of course is just part of the story. A short summary for the blog. So many stories/episodes came to mind as I was writing all this. There is a helluva lot more to the story before you can really understand it all.

  10. Hello!! I'am glad to read the whole content of this blog and am very excited.Thank you.