Sunday, 1 May 2011

Blame it on the frappe (Για όλα φταίει ο φραπές)

All the lyrics links in this post (except the first) lead to youtube music videos.

I went to the UK when I was 18, as a student majoring in physics. I'd been learning English throughout my school years in Greece, and when I arrived, I felt totally at home in the language. Not even the different culture shocked me; when you're young, you don't feel the differences in the same way that you do as you get older. I could have stayed in Greece to study, but I didn't want to. I had always yearned for a foreign education, and I was lucky that my parents were able to give it to me. I really loved my student life. It didn't feel foreign to me at all. I felt as though I was living the Greek dream: to get a good education in a foreign country. All my life, I'd been told that a good education will set me right for my future, and my parents provided me with the best that they could for me to do that.

Φεγγαράκι μου λαμπρό, Φέγγε μου να περπατώ, Να  πηγαίνω στο σχολειό
Να μαθαίνω γράμματα, Γράμματα σπουδάματα, Του Θεού τα πράματα.
My little shining moon, Light my way so I can walk, To go to school,
To learn my lessons, Reading and writing, godly things.

Every summer, when I'd go back home to Crete, the lack of sun, the many days and nights spent indoors, the lack of variety in my student life, the routine of getting up early, attending lectures, studying, writing, and the confinement of student dorms and bedsits, this would all suddenly hit me in the face as soon as I landed on Greek soil. The sun would be streaming in through the windows of the plane, and I couldn't wait to be home. My student life was so full that I would often forget where I had come from! In the first week of my return, I'd be thinking "What have I been missing out on all year?" I was back home with my parents, I'd meet up with my friends who had stayed in Greece to study, I spent many hours outdoors - and it never rained in summer.

Tall mountains shaped like eagles, lines of vines on the flanks of the volcanoes, the houses whiter in the azure of the neighbourhood...
†Odiseas Elytis (Nobel prizewinner)/MikiTheodorakis/Grigoris Bothikotsis

It didn't always feel good to be back home, though. I went home every year for Christmas, but not necessarily Easter because the dates didn't always coincide. Christmas felt a little strange back home, even though it was really the only kind of Christmas I had known all my life. It was too quiet in Crete, after the hustle and bustle of the Greek summer. It felt quiet for another reason too: Christmas in Crete lacks the commercialism of the British Christmas season. I looked forward to the end of the Christmas season because I couldn't wait to get back to my own private space: a tiny student flat where I could muse all day and just think to myself about myself.

Frappe coffee - an iconic symbol of Greece. 
A friend recently told me that he felt dissatisfied with his public-sector university job in Greece (he had been doing post-Ph.D. work in Spain). He said it wasn't the low salary (which he admitted that he could still live off), but the lack of organisation and the Greek way of getting things done. So I asked him why he decided to return to Greece, granted that most Greeks have a good idea of how things work (or don't work) in their country. 'Μού 'λειψε ο φραπές*' he replied, laughing. 

At the end of each of my student summers, I recall a strange sense of relief at the thought that I would be going back to the UK. Something felt wrong about Crete. It had somehow got into me that my carefree summer-holiday lifestyle in my own home environment was unnatural, somehow even wrong: all day sea, sun, sand, and frappe. I'd never even seen frappe in Leeds, and here I was drinking it two or three times a day at home! Slowly, I'd get my belongings together and make my way back to Leeds, to my busy student life, with its lectures and deadlines. I'd never notice the dull skies shrouded in mist as I landed in the UK, because I was too busy organising my student life and re-engaging with my many global friends, both Greeks and other people from right around the world, all studying in the UK like myself.

In faraway Australia, and over in America, in Canada, Brazil, how many children are suffering there too? Evil immigration, evil foreign lands, you took away from us, the best of our children.
Kostas Virvos/Stelios Kazantzidis

My English accent was so flawless that I sounded very English. Greeks who met me in the UK would ask me if one of my parents were English, while my tutors and lecturers would take me for a Brit, until they saw my name on test papers. Being a bit on the blonde side, no one would initially take me for a Greek; when I told them where I was from, they' were always surprised. It was for this reason that I never felt like a stranger in the UK. I was in the lucky position to have access to the insider's world, even though I was in fact an outsider.

Oh, Greece, I love you, and I'm deeply grateful to you, because you taught me, and I know,
how to breathe wherever I find myself, how to die where I tread, and Ι don't have to suffer you...
Manolis Rasoulis/Nikos Papazoglou

Throughout the decade of the years Ι spent as a student, my feelings for where I was would oscillate in this way, like a pendulum. I felt that I had one foot here and one foot there. No one was forcing me to make a choice about where I would eventually end up. But the choice was obvious: after so many years of being a good student, getting top grades and specialising in a subject which offered few job opportunities in Greece, I decided that it would be a good idea to stay on in the UK and enter a job in my line of work. It wasn't the fear of being unemployed in Greece that kept me in the UK; it was the stigma of being over-qualified in a town where such qualifications were not required, or even well understood. Where would I find a job there as a marine biologist?
"Crete ranks 2nd in Greece in terms of guest nights, after the southern Aegean Islands. In 2008, in Crete alone, 15,729,316 nights were spent at a hotel or similar establishment and camping, ie 24% of the total guest nights spent in Greece during the year. This number grew by 2.64% since 2007" (NSSG, Tourism Statistics Section, 2009). 
"Greece ranks fifth in the world regarding international tourism receipts, which totalled EUR 11 billion in 2005. Tourist flows are mainly from European countries (92.73% of the total number of foreign visitors), while the British and Germans are the two most important inbound tourist groups" (OECD data, 2008).
Before I finished my Ph.D. in Environmental Studies, I had also been working part-time on various projects in the academic environment that I was studying in, so it didn't feel very different to be working full-time in the same field. I felt very comfortable with my life as it had turned out for me. The money was never really very good, but it gave me the freedom I wanted in my life: I could go out for a meal at a restaurant or a drink at a pub, pay my rent and utilities, take a mini-break here and there, go on a shopping spree on the high street; life was good. In a sense, it wasn't so different making the transition from studying to working, because I continued to live in the same city, working in the same environment and with the same people.
Through long journeys, like Odysseus, Greece, I'm searching to find you... 
Thanasis Gaiffilias

There was only one difference now that I was studying. My summer holidays were suddenly cut short. In the last three years of my stay in the UK, I didn't go back home for Christmas or Easter, and my summer holidays were now reduced to three weeks at the most. I can tell you that that felt stranger than living away from home ever did. It seemed like I was disappearing from Crete just when everyone was thronging the beaches, sipping a long cool frappe loaded with ice-cubes as they lay on a deck chair, protecting themselves from the sun under the shade of an umbrella.

Yiannis Kotsiras

Having felt a stranger in my own country and a local in my adopted one, I was now coming full circle. I felt as though I did not belong there any more: σά'να μού 'λειψε ο φραπές*...

Αγρίμια κι αγριμάκια μου, 'λάφια μου 'μερωμένα, πέστε μου πού'ναι οι τόποι σας, πού'ναι τα χειμαδιά σας;
— Γκρεμνά ν΄εμάς οι τόποι μας, λέσχες τα χειμαδιά μας, στα σπηλιαράκια του βουνού είναι η κατοικιά μας.
  - Wild goats with your kids, liked tamed deer, tell me where you come from, where are your pastures?
- The cliffs are our home, the crevices our pastures, in the little caves of the mountain, that's where our abode is.
(Traditional Cretan poem in the Rizitiko style, sung by Nikos Xilouris)

After three years of post-doc research work, I decided that it was time to come back home. I had had enough of the cold dark mornings, enough of working in offices and laboratories where daylight did not exist, when I had to be reminded that it was time to go home. I had had enough of waking up in the dark and returning home in the darkness. At first, my parents were very hesitant about my returning home. "You know you won't find work in your field here," they kept me telling me. "You know you might have to move away from the island," they'd remind me, as if trying to frighten me into staying in the comfortable position that I had built for myself far away from home. When I told my colleagues, they congratulated me on my decision. "Good for you", they told me, "who wouldn't want to live under the sun if they could?"

Love the mountains and the oceans, the known and unknown places,
the birds, the flowers, the clouds, and most of all, the people.
Pantelis Thalassinos

Yes, I knew very well that I wouldn't find a job in my field. But I also knew that I would find some sort of work. Never in my life have I been a lazy person. I knew what jobs my home town had to offer a person with my skills; either you work in the tourist trade or you work in private education: I chose the latter. I now work as an English teacher in a frontistirio (private language school) and I also give private lessons to school children in heir homes. The money is very good, and the hours suit me because I like to sleep in and work later in the day. It feels good to wake up to a frappe in the morning.
"The majority of tourists book their vacation with a tour operator. As a consequence, they stay in Crete for 1-2 weeks with the 'all-inclusive' catering system, which sometimes results in their not testing local products" (Proust Rémi, Angelakis George and Drakos Periklis (2009) "A study of tourist’ attitudes and preferences for local products in Crete and changes induced by the current economic crisis." 113th EAAE Seminar, A resilient European food industry and food chain in a challenging world, Chania, Crete, Greece. September 03 – 06, 2009).
Panama has the largest ship register in the world with 52% of the world’s fleet; the largest ship-owning country is Greece - Japan, Germany, China, USA and Norway follow (CIA 2008).
I still go back to the UK to see my friends, to catch a show in London, to visit my old haunts. But I'm always glad to leave. I've been back home for three years now, and I have never regretted making the move. This is where I belong, this is where I want to be. It just wasn't feasible any longer to live away from where my heart was. I know how it is to live in two different worlds and I've paid my dues. You can't play ping pong all your life; we all know the phrase 'a rolling stone gathers no moss'. At some point, you make your choice, and you live with it. I knew what I was leaving, and what I was coming to. I feel comforted by the thought that things have turned out well for me.

*** *** *** 
This person's story (an amalgamated one heard from many of my Ph.D.-holding friends on the island) is not an unusual one. Although unemployment is ravishing Greece at the moment, the island of Crete is blessed by its popularity among European tourists, a fact which provides summer work for the locals, and its high agricultural output, which provides winter work. In this way, unemployment is minimised and people are more likely to have some extra cash to invest in their children's future, maybe just enough money to educate their children as far as their pockets will allow them. The grand majority of Greek children attend preparatory schools for learning a foreign language and getting help with their school lessons. Most children who finish high school go on to some form of higher education, despite the globally well-known negative associations between degree qualifications and job opportunities in many countries. Those who can afford to send their children overseas do so, in order to give them a better chance in life. 
"Crete is the biggest island in Greece and the fifth largest in the Mediterranean Sea. It lies at the Southern Aegean Sea and at the crossroads of three continents Europe, Asia and Africa. Crete covers an area of 8.336sq.kms. The length of the island is 260km, but the shore-length is 1.046km. The biggest width is 60km while the smallest is 12km. Today, from the total number of tourists who visit Greece, 20% of them prefer Crete. The island is divided into four prefectures: Heraklion, Chania, Rethymnon and Lasithi. The prefecture of Chania covers the western part of the island" (Tsiakali Konstantina, 2004, Measuring Customer Satisfaction: the case of the Chania tourism sector. Master thesis, Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Chania, MAICh).
Number of beds in hotel properties in Crete (2008): 148,089, as opposed to 63,945 in hotel properties in the Attiki region, which includes Athens; the Dodecanese islands (which include Rhodes) have 122,985, while the Cyclades (which include Mykonos and Santorini) have 47,407 (Invest in Greece).

Education is not the be-all and end-all in finding a job, but I like to remind my children that, even if they become a taxi driver like their father, they will be a better and more knowledgeable one with a degree up their sleeve than if they never went on to do tertiary studies. They will still be able to make an honest living in the way their parents do, even if they might be viewed by the outside world as some kind of lesser citizen. That's the outside world for you: they can't see what you've got, only what you haven't

*Moύ 'λειψε ο φραπές = I missed the frappe coffee (ie I missed Greece).

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