Monday, January 20, 2020

Expat Life: When Death Came to the Village

Death, as the saying goes, doesn't take a holiday. It's a statement that became painfully true this year as death came not once, but twice, to our village in the weeks surrounding the holidays.

Our village, Agios Nikolaos
Death first came calling a few weeks before Christmas. On that visit it took a member of the local British expat community; a lady who had fought a valiant fight against cancer for many years. Although her friends were somewhat prepared for her passing, their sadness was palpable when they lost her.

Coffee with Marti a favorite pastime, often shared with our visitors, like Mary

My friend Marti and I were enjoying one of our regular and favorite pastimes - having coffee and a visit at our local taverna - when we learned of the long-time English resident's passing. She'd been a much loved and vibrant member of the community. Neither of us knew her well but were taken with the impact she'd had in the small village and the numbers of people grieving her loss. We spoke of the special person she must have been and of how much the village mourned her passing.

Our cat Princess and Marti

When death returned a second time, it landed a sucker punch on the village. The new year was barely into its second day, when death claimed my friend, Marti.

There was no time to prepare for Marti's passing. She was ill and a few days later she was gone.

With Marti's passing we lost another beloved member of the expat community and village. She'd been another vibrant, caring, person who gave of her time and talents as freely as she did of her smile and love.

Agios Nikolaos

Again, the sense of loss was palpable. This time, though, we were experiencing it up close and personal. For days I found myself -- whether in a grocery store, taverna, restaurant or middle of the street -- being wrapped in the arms of Greek and expat friends as we unabashedly shed tears together over the loss of our friend.

Marti and Me toasting springtime in Greece
Many of you who hadn't met her in person have told me that you felt you knew her through my tales told here. Others 'knew' her from my Facebook posts about our adventures living as expats in a rural area of Greece's Peloponnese. Many of you were lucky enough to have met her on your visits to our area.

As way of background for those new to TravelnWrite, we are among a couple dozen American and a few hundred British and Northern European 'boomers' who have chosen to live in this small rural community in The Mani as expats. 

Expats From Kirkland, Washington to Agios Nikolaos

It was after Marti and her husband, Chuck, friends from the Pacific Northwest, paid us a visit in 2015 that they decided to try out expat life in Greece as well.  They quickly became involved and known in the village. They volunteered for tasks when needed, whether organizing fundraisers for homeless animals or doing beach cleanup. Her garden was the envy of all. She was our gardening expert - the 'go to person' when we had questions and problems. Her baking and desserts were favorites at fund-raising dinners.

The Village Responds

Since our respective moves to rural Greece, we four expats from Washington State have had good friends back home worrying about us being 'alone' in Greece. Frankly, before we moved to Greece, I had worried about the 'what ifs' of dealing with a serious health issue or death while we were there. And Marti and I spent many a coffee session discussing those same 'what if's'.

American expats socializing with our attorney/friend Voula last fall

But after our experiences in the last two weeks, I have been able to assure those back in the States that we are wrapped in a world of friends who are warm and caring. We are definitely not alone. My frets over the 'what if's' have been filed away.

From the moment news of Marti's passing traveled through our community the offers for help started arriving: whatever needed to be done, was simply done. Quickly and efficiently.

And now, some two weeks later, the caring continues. Expats and locals alike reaching out to offer tangible support like preparing food, to the intangibles like 'just being there'. And the concern and offers of support are not only directed to Chuck; friends are checking on friends to see how they are doing as well and offering support if needed.

Agios Nikolaos

Just a few weeks ago in a retrospective piece, I wrote that 'we felt we had become part of our village in the Greek Peloponnese and it a part of us'.

I thought at the time that I had a articulated well, the way we felt about Agios Nikolaos, our small fishing village surrounded by olive groves on the Messinian Bay.

As it turns out, at the time I wrote those words, I had no understanding of the depth of that relationship at all. But I certainly do now.

From Agios Nikolaos the Messinian Bay

Again, thanks for the time you have spent with us today as I tell you of our expat life. We will be back next week with more tales of travel and adventures.  Until then, safe travels to you and yours ~

Linking this week with:

Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday

Monday, January 6, 2020

In Greece January 6 ~ 'The Festival of Light'

'Kali Kronia!'  (Happy New Year!) 'Kronia Polli!'  (Many Years!) 'Kalimera!' (Good Moring!)

Agios Nikolaos - January 6, 2020

We were stopped often as we made our way down the main street of our Greek village this morning. We called out greetings, received greetings, shook hands, and kissed cheeks as we passed friends and neighbors who were gathering at harborside.

We were blessed with blue sky and sunshine
It seemed as if the whole village - from those whose family roots are generations deep to those new seedling expats in the area -- had turned out for the annual Blessing of the Waters.

This day, the sixth day of January, is commonly known in the Christian world as Epiphany or Three Kings Day.  In Greece it is a feast day (a national holiday, to be sure) called the 'festival of light' (ton foton in Greek) and the day that marks the official end to the Christmas holidays.

The papas and his processional
In the Greek Orthodox Church, Epiphany is celebrated as the revelation of Christ as the messiah and second person of the trinity, at his baptism by John the Baptist in the River Jordan, according to the Athens Centre. (Athens Centre offers classes in Modern Greek, poetry, art, and cultural events.)

Blessings are being offered in Greek
As part of the traditional celebration, the village papas (priest) offers a 'Blessing of the Waters.

In our fishing village, Agios Nikolaos, overlooking the Messinian Bay, the blessing is an event that can't be missed. Speaking of blessings, this year we were blessed by having some of the nicest weather that we've ever experienced at this celebration. In previous year's we've nearly frozen or been drenched with rain during the brief late morning ceremony.

Time to toss the Cross

We heard the church bells announcing this special day in the early morning hours. Their ringing echoed up the hillside to our Stone House on the Hill. They rang again later in the morning calling worshippers to the church. The third time their joyous clanging filled the air was as the papas and his procession brought the cross from the church to the harbor's edge.

One diver braves the cold water this year

Reciting a blessing he tossed the cross into the harbor and pulled it back, then he repeated his actions a second time. Meanwhile one young man brave enough to dive into the water to retrieve the cross, had stripped to his swim trunks and was ready to go in. ( In previous years several young men have braved the temperatures.)

Retrieving the Cross

The third toss - the crescendo of the blessing -- was made, the young swimmer jumped in, the crowd cheered as he retrieved the cross and swam to the papas to receive his blessing.

Refreshments are served!

Then it was time for refreshments. Platters of baked goods were brought out from nearby restaurants and tavernas.  The long tables at harborside, where the fishermen usually prepare, display and sell their daily catch, were turned into serving tables. Beverages ranged from tea to Metaxa, Greek brandy.

Agios Nikolaos on the Messinian Bay
It was over in just a few minutes, far less time than it took people to arrive and gather for it. But such a significant event that people here (like villages, towns and city's throughout the country), took a break in their day to bless the water. It is this type of celebration and these age-old traditions, that we adore about our Greek village life.

We thank you for being with us again this week and our fingers are crossed that Feedburner sends this post to your inbox as it did last week.  We appreciate the time you spend with us and again our wishes for a Happy New Year and happy adventures.  We will be back next week if all goes as planned from the tropical shores of Hawaii. Stay tuned - you never know what adventures we might have there.


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