The last tour of Meeting the Odyssey has ended one week ago, and I am still trying to understand it. Thinking back, remembering so many things, wondering about it all. And I keep remembering things from June, getting flashbacks and very clear pictures in my head. One of them is the Sunday when we had the party on board Hoppet in the port of Lakki when all the families from the Pikpa camp came to visit us and the kids went really wild and the sun was going down and everybody was smiling, smiling. I remember the sense of surprise in myself when I approached the ship and saw all of us and all of them on board. Is it possible? Where they finally allowed to come to see the ship, and did they actually want to come? Yes, I guess they did!
I remember the boy with his little backpack, always looking straight in the eyes, so decisive, determined in his wishes. I remember the mother of a little girl of 9 months, on her way to Dortmund to unite with her husband who had never even seen the daughter. And the other kids, so full of the thing that fill most kids – a wish to play, smile, run, explore. And of course, to get attention. All the children and many of the adults as well as many of us later played some of the theatre games that they had done before at the camp. It was really hilarious to see how much laughter was produced out of the communication bridge that was built through these games. People were happy even for the fact that they were able to communicate generally with each other. In that sense, theatrical methods can do wonders, getting to the real basics of human communication.
Leros is a beautiful island and we all enjoyed the hospitality of the Artemis association and the way everything was arranged. Antonis Ntallaris promised to make a dance and music session on that Sunday, and so we did. It was a wonderful initiative, and we really could not stop smiling. And crying. When the dance ended and the people from Pikpa went back to their temporary home, and we stayed on our temporary home, we cried. The difference was of course that we left the island later that night, freer than ever, bound by nothing but winds and waves and some performance dates in the future. They are bound, on one hand by the situations in their home countries – war, persecution, jail, violence, and on the other hand by laws, regulations, bureaucracy in different European states and the EU. How do they manage? How do they keep their faith, hope, dignity?
Another memory I keep thinking about is the walk I did in Elefsina in a very special neighborhood. It is the part of town where the refugees from Minor Asia settled back in the 1920’s. Today the second and third and fourth generation is living here, in Upper Elefsina. I was invited to take part of the Instant Elefsina, which was a guided and curated walk created by the inhabitants, and led by artist Euripides Laskaridis.
The weather was weird, cloudy, stormy, maybe rain coming in a few seconds. When I got out of the taxi, I was welcomed, taken inside the house which was more like a museum. A privately kept museum about the background of the people living in the area. So tiny, so tidy. I walked back and forth, trying to understand where I was. Old photographs, old dresses from a part of the world unknown to me, letters, small objects of hundred years back. The women and the men were all busy with taking in all the tables from the street, as the rain threatened to come down. They seemed cheerful. I didn’t really know where to move or to be, but there was a photographer taking pictures of me? Of all people? Yes, apparently I was the exotic stranger in their house, their most appreciated guest. I felt a bit embarrassed, but also honored of course.
While waiting for the tour to begin, we moved in funny circles between the house and the streets. At some point all the tables were moved out again, cause the rain never really got serious. Some delicious baklava and other sweets were served, and everybody was very keen on me being the first one to get served… The women were in charge, no doubt. At one point, one of the women shouted to a man about a table being in the wrong place, and he immediately ran to change its position. I felt at home.
We walked the small streets, passed some houses, listened to songs and stories from the inhabitants, tasted the greatest dolmades ever, more songs, more stories, houses to pass through. The ones who showed their homes to us seemed happy to do so, and I felt almost ok with walking through the clean, well-kept small houses from front to back door, as if passing through a museum. It was like peeking in. With the permission to peek.
In one of the small gardens there was a little little church! With a big blue-lighted cross on top. The church itself was not taller than me, and inside there were icons and pictures of St.John. The lady of the house told the story of how St. John had appeared for her several times, the first time when she was sick with cancer and how she asked to be well and promised to build a church for him if she got well. She recovered, and then he had appeared again to remind her of the promise. So she let build the little chapel in her own garden. She loved St. John! Her house from inside was like a doll’s house, everything covered with hand-made broidery and so clean you would never believe anyone was actually living there. We were told that the pride of the women from Minor Asia was to keep impeccable households. From a perfect home you could recognize the skills and the ambition of its hostess.
The last house we passed through was not inhabited and had not been since 14 years. One of the women told the story of the house. It had belonged to her mother-in-law who died 14 years ago, asking her daughter-in-law to take care of it. So she did. Every week she cleaned the house, keeping it in a perfect condition. She said she loved the area and really cared for the house and that she enjoyed doing it and could see no reason why she wouldn’t. Why didn’t she and her husband live there, if the house was so precious? No, she said, her husband wanted them to live in a bigger house outside the town, more comfortable that way. Strange, I thought, to be so attached to a house, to be unable to let it go just because of a promise. At least they could rent it to someone?
But really. Who am I to ask these questions? She had her reasons, that was clear. And it was sweet, yet difficult for me to truly understand. But then again, I guess that is partly what this journey is about, to become more open to differences, to be able to accept certain things without judging too fast, without always seeing them first and foremost through your own personal glasses. To merely let them be reflected and then digested and then put in the box of anecdotes and stories that you carry with you.
The warm and wonderful walk in the dark streets of Upper Elefsina ended with a beautiful touching song by one of the women. All of us standing and sitting in a half circle around her, drinking something reminding me of a cold version of the Christmas wine we have in Finland, glögg (sweet red wine with cinnamon). Some kids were playing next to us. Otherwise, concentrated silence, only the sad song filling the air. I will keep this moment with me. It tells me there is goodness, there is understanding, there is beauty in the most simple things. It makes me think the world is not lost cause there are still people who care most about the happiness, traditions and memories they have in their small old houses rather than aiming for more material wealth or spending their time being afraid of how other people possibly could threaten their position. It gives me hope to remember these cheerful women and men of Upper Elefsina.