Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Pilgrimage to the homeland

When you move to a new country the question, "what nationality are you?" becomes part of the standard small talk repartee. "I'm Australian," is my obvious reply. Rarely have I added that I'm actually half-Greek and half-Australian. Why is it that most people concentrate on the place they grew up, not their actual heritage? For me, I have never really 'felt' half-Greek. Perhaps that's because I didn't grow up in a conventional Greek family - I am an only child, I don't speak the language (even though my mum does and my grandparents speak minimal English), I never went to Greek school and rarely to Greek church, we never mixed within the Greek community, and I never had Greek friends. Maybe this is also part of the reason why it has taken me 27 years to visit Greece.

I always knew that the first time I would go to Greece would be with my mum. But the older I got, the harder it became to coordinate. In hindsight, I am actually really glad I went there with mum as an adult and not as a child. As an adult I was able to talk to her about our family history with maturity and perspective. Certainly visiting now reinforced to me how lucky I was to have grown up in Australia with all the opportunities it affords.

Of the five children of my great-grandparents, only my grandmother (Yia Yia) left Greece. At the time, my grandfather had family in Australia who emigrated during the Greek Civil War in the late 1940s. My grandparents sought opportunities in a new country and were sponsored to come out. I still don't really know why no-one else followed.

Because they stayed, I have a large extended family in Greece, but I use the tearm family very loosely. To the Greeks, you're "family" even if you are seventh cousins through marriage! I wasn't complaining - we were given the "family discount" (ie, drinks on the house and food you didn't order). But on the down side, it did mean I went back to Denmark a few kilos heavier, seeping olive oil out of my pores.

It was nice to go somewhere where I wasn't considered short, dark or ethnic, and where wild curly hair was normal. I felt comfortable there. I also discovered that in Greece, telling the truth means you care. Everywhere else it means you are a rude biatch! They have no problem telling you that you're fat, living in sin, or bringing shame on the family. What a relief! I can blame my heritage when I forget to think before I speak.

I had the most amazing time with my mum.  Thanks mum for taking me - it was well worth the wait. But I am not waiting another 27 years to go back.

Olympieion - what was the temple of Olympian Zeus

Left, Hadrian's Gate and right, the Parthenon on the Acropolis

Left, standing at the entrance to the Acropolis and right, mum and me on top of the Acropolis

Sitting in the Royal box at Panathenaic Stadium (Olympic Stadium)

Number 1!!!

The gate way to Spetses Island

Leaving Spetses for Kranidi (town where mum was born)

My extended Family - three generations of women

Left, the house where my Yia Yia grew up and where mum was borne and right, celebrating St Mama's Day by making small boats and sending them out to sea

Mum and I quad biking it around Spetses

The 11th century church of Panaghia Kapnikarea built in honour of the goddess Athena

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