My brother George and I decided we would take my parents to Greece as a gift from us for their birthdays this year.
As both George and I had never been to Greece we felt the desire to experience it with our parents, to have them relay the history so we would be able to share this with our children one day. Sadly we did not do this when my sister Eran was alive but we knew she would be with us in spirit.
Arriving on the ferry from Rhodes into Greece’s most remote island of Kastellorizo, I felt incredibly emotional.
My Yaya (Grandma) and I were very close, she passed when I was 16. She spoke of this island often and how she had left her war-torn home in the 1940’s for Australia. Here I was looking at this tiny island dotted with colourful houses now with a population of only 500…this was my Yaya’s home.
I felt immediate spine tingles and a rush of tears that I did not expect. As a good friend said to me you really do feel a “sense of coming home” when you return to your ancestral country. Tears flowed as our old family friends from Adelaide met us at the port.
I have not been brought up in a traditional Greek family at all nor can I speak Greek but just knowing and experiencing my roots made me feel so very proud and emotional.
I loved every inch of Kastellorizo, Rhodes and Athens and really felt and experienced its beauty in the locations, food and culture. The people are so kind and generous and you can see that sense of family and giving really is at the heart of Greek culture.
All of this surrounded by the most incredible turquoise blue/green Aegean ocean I have ever seen brought daily inspiration. Everything was washed with blue, the light was magical from sunrise to sunset and the waters so crisp and clear, framed beautiful buildings steeped in history.
Before we left Adelaide I found an old polaroid I’d taken of Yaya when I was 10. I put it in my bag and carried it with me everywhere for the two weeks I was in Greece, so she knew I was there for her.
I imagined her as a young girl, the hardships and the challenges she must have experienced just broke my heart. The sacrifices she and so many migrants made for a better life not just for themselves but for their future generations is beyond any uncertainty I have experienced in my life. I have no real idea just how massive the decision, journey and the subsequent rebuilding of their lives must have been.
When we finally located her house from a sketchy old photo with the help of locals – there are no street names – we realised we had been eating at a little restaurant right in front of it for two days in a row. Yaya was with us.
Whilst on Kastellorizo there were Syrian refugees arriving from Turkey each day. The numbers were small but it was clear these people were escaping war and bravely stepping into an unknown path to a freedom they were not sure they would ever achieve.
One night a woman and her three children approached our group wanting to have a photo with one of the ladies who had blonde hair. We all connected with this woman’s eyes and instantly felt drawn to help her family in some way. We couldn’t speak one another’s languages and there were many others there in the same situation.
With hand gestures and some words we managed to learn that this woman had fled Syria with her young children (who were similar ages to mine), her husband died in a bombing attack and they had no choice but to leave Syria. Her son who looked about 10 years old had shrapnel from a bomb lodged in his eye and he couldn’t see, they had just a few bags of clothes and nowhere to sleep. It was heartbreaking on a whole new level. I felt helpless.
There I was enjoying this beautiful island, celebrating what my grandparents had achieved, and these people were at the beginning of a horrendous journey to freedom, leaving their lives, family and horror behind with no guarantees. Similar to the path my Yaya took.
A few of us managed to find this Syrian family at different times to assist with money but that is all we could do. We had to be careful we didn’t give them money in front of the authorities in case that was detrimental to their release. We didn’t know how the police and Greece were managing this.
What was obvious though is they were not all bundled up and sent to a camp as they would be in Australia, they were treated individually and later we found out that the police on Kastellorizo were very open to assisting women and children to travel through Greece on their way to Germany unescorted.
On the ferry back to Rhodes we met that same Syrian family again and they were with another female refugee who spoke English. She completed the story for us, spoke of the daily bombings and war in their cities that they could not fathom, the decision to leave (some have left their husbands in Syria), the treacherous journey and the relief they felt when they made it to Greece alive. The next steps were to get through Greece to Germany but there were no guarantees. Listening to these women talk, looking at their children and how different their life experiences have been to mine…there were no words…I was holding back tears (unsuccessfully) the whole time.
Gratitude, inspiration, knowledge, tears, laughter, family, friends all brought together in a country I had never visited before but now has a giant piece of my heart.
The lifecycle of a charm
Yaya gave me a gold sovereign coin on a chain when I was young. I discovered it about nine years ago after my sister died, it had been packed away, as it wasn’t something that I wore. This medallion inspired the Palas round charms concept and when I first launched the charms I had them photographed on lace my Yaya had handmade. This was the very lace she used to make and sell in Kastellorizo to people passing through its port on ships so she could feed herself and her family.