Archives for posts with tag: LESVOS

In the spring our village priest very proudly presided over the wedding service of his only daughter, Ismini. Everyone in the village, young and old were invited to this splendid event. Our Papa was not the only clergyman in attendance, there were several more, differing in age and draped in finery according to their importance. It was a spectacular service, a visual feast.

One of the things I love about living in a Greek village is the way the community all come together for these special occasions. Everyone dresses in their Sunday best even if it is a Saturday, and there is a real sense of community love.

Our village church is something to be proud of.  Although the outside is somewhat austere the inside shines with its ornate fixtures and fittings, glitzy chandeliers and wealth of icons. The locals flooded into the church, every square inch was occupied. In the middle of it all was the bride, Ismini who shone like a jewel.

Although these occasions are full of pomp there is still a sense of Greek fun which make them all the more enjoyable.

ismini-1435 The beautiful bride

two girls Anticipation

ismini-1354 The ceremony

chandeliers, and gold and red ornamentation inside church The church

guests seated at church watching wedding

The bride and groom Bride and groom

detail of icon pendant worn by priest

Father of the bride

Bride and groom Bride and groom

Mother of the bride Mother of the bride

portrait of priest

Brother of the bride Brother of the bride

Happiness Happiness

ismini-1464 Off they go

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Our rescue dog Nellie being adored by refugee children who have just arrived on Lesvos, by rubber boat. Nellie is such a sweet girl and so gentle and the children are immediately drawn to her. 

Last week I returned to Sydney. It took around thirty-three hours’ door to door. I travelled from My Greek Island Home by car to the airport and then took three planes before being chauffeured to my final destination, my apartment in Potts Point. I was fed along the way, watched a couple of movies and slept comfortably. On arrival I was greeted by my Mum, Dad and my best friend friend Mary Lou. My apartment was clean and warm and there was a scented candle burning and white roses had been placed beside my bed. We drank wine, nibbled on some delicious, cheeses and chattered.

I felt safe and loved.

So why am I telling you this? Because I have been trying to process a situation that has been unfolding daily, an enormous human crisis.

My journey began on The Greek Island of Lesvos, the third largest of the Greek Islands. My partner, artist, Matthew Usmar Lauder and I have had a house there for the last ten years. Lesvos is a beautiful island situated in the Northern Aegean and up until recently an island that most people had never heard of.

Now not a day goes by without it being mentioned on the news as thousands of refugees flee their homes, from countries where they are longer safe. They risk their lives travelling across the Aegean in over crowded and unsafe rubber and wooden boats in the hope of finding a safe place in Europe for themselves and their families.

On a late spring morning two years ago Matthew and I were walking our rescue dogs along the dirt track which winds out of our village for five kilometres to the Aegean Sea. It was a beautiful day and we were enjoying our walk in the sunshine. The sky was clear and we could see Turkey. On this particular day we saw something unfamiliar, a group of people in the distance, usually we only see a few of the local farmers. At first I thought it was an organised group of walkers but on closer inspection we realized they were refugees. We were shocked, really shocked. There were about thirty of them and the group included woman and children. It was so out of the blue and so out of context. We stopped and spoke with them, a couple of the males spoke English. They were Kurds and Somalian and they did not no where they were, let alone that they were on an island. They wanted to get to the nearest police station. This was our first encounter with refugees and we had no idea at that time of the avalanche that was to come.

Every day is a challenge, a struggle an emotional roller coaster. There are between two thousand and five thousand people arriving daily and there is no end to it, it’s like ground hog day.

The world is aware that Greece has its own problems, the economy is in shreds and there is little infrastructure. But despite this people on the island have been remarkable and generous beyond belief, meeting the boats, cooking food, collecting clothing, doing everything they possibly can to make the refugees safe and comfortable. The Greek people have always been welcoming and generous and the foreigners living on the island are doing remarkable work too.

Since February men, women, children, old people and disabled people have walked in the rain, wind and searing heat for four days to the islands capital, Mytilene. There they are registered enabling them to board boats to Athens and make their way to new countries where they hope to be safe and build new lives. Some of these people have witnessed members of their families dying. These people are unlikely ever see their homelands again. Can you imagine what that must feel like?

It is impossible to ignore the plight of these people, they come in their thousands everyday. Everyone is effected here. It’s extremely traumatic.

I saw a man carrying his pet dog under his jacket walking the road towards Mytilene in the rain, this made me break down completely. One image set me off crying, tears streamed down my face and I found myself sobbing uncontrollably. I was beside myself with an unbelievable sense of grief. Later I felt the most enormous amount of guilt. Why did I not stop? Why did I not take him and the dog to the vet to get the dog chipped medicated and a passport for it to travel further? What made this the thing that tipped me over the edge? When I speak with other people they say the same how just one thing can make them cry uncontrollably.

Witnessing this daily has been unbelievable, everyone is traumatised.

This is the reality. The refugees leave Turkey to travel across the Aegean Sea in overcrowded, rubber and wooden boats some barely seaworthy. They pay traffickers from 1000 to 3000 dollars each to make the journey. The Turkish authorities turn a blind eye to this. If the refugees hesitate because they are terrified the traffickers hold guns to their heads forcing them onto the boats. Some of the rubber boats are being made so fast that the glue has not had time to set. The boats are completely packed, there can be as many as 50 per rubber boat and probably none of the occupants can swim. Sometimes they are told to throw the little possessions they have off the boat. One refugee is given the responsibility of steering the boat, not only can he not see where he is going because the boat is so overcrowded but he has never seen the sea before. Crossing the Aegean can be very dangerous particularly at night. There are many tankers and the sea is rough. Some refugees land with broken and dislocated limbs. Some don’t make it and drown, mostly children and babies.

One pregnant womans waters broke in Turkey and was forced onto the boat and gave birth on arrival on the beach at Lesvos. The Greek coastguards do what they can but don’t always have petrol to go out to meet the boats this leaves the local fishermen and volunteers. The fishermen cannot turn a blind eye to sinking boats and rescue people. Unfortunately, their boats are to small to take everyone and they are left to make the decision on who to take and who to leave behind.

Why in this day and age when they can send men to the moon is this happening? This is history repeating itself and some of the very old locals remember this trip themselves as children, during the cultural exchange. It’s a nightmare.

One of my friends told me that a boat arrived crammed pack with people and there was something different about them that she could not put her finger on, they seemed more traumatised than usual. After they were all taken from the boat she saw the dead body of a woman lying on the bottom. This woman had died before boarding the boat and her family did not want to leave her so her body was put in first and the men women and children placed on top.

Last week there were many lives lost in the sea because of storms it is just the saddest thing and there is absolutely no need for this to be happening. Bodies were washed up onto the beaches, a large number being children. These people have been through enough and deserve to be transported safely and treated with dignity. As the winter descends on us the situation will only get worse. I woke up in the middle of the night a few weeks ago feeling sick to my stomach at the thought of the thousands of men, women and children being exposed to terrible storms, pounding rain, wind, thunder and lightening, with no shelter.

The island itself cannot cope as there are only few ambulances, rubbish collections are scarce and the coastline is strewn with with fluorescent life jackets and rubber boats. There is litter all along the roads. People are volunteering to help with all this but it does not stop building up with new arrivals.

Nothing could have prepared us for any of this. And certainly nothing could have prepared the millions of people who are now called refugees for what they have had to endure to date.

As I sit here writing this from the safety of my Sydney home, looking out over the harbour I fail to make sense of any of it. Each day I am haunted by what I have witnessed. I realise that where you are born impacts so much on how your life unfolds. I question world leadership and political motives and my concern grows for the beautiful Island of Lesvos and its generous people. I realise that this situation is so enormous that it will not end any time soon. I understand that people no matter where they come from or what their religion are all the same.

I have encountered such warmth and gratitude from those I have transported in my car. Usually we hug to say goodbye and the depth of this hug is huge.

It’s important for everyone to see and understand just how fragile the world. It is equally as important to see how wonderful the human race can be when they work together for each other.

Thank you to all the Greek people of Lesvos who are sharing everything they have. Thank you to the non Greek locals who have been brilliant working as hard as they possibly can and thank you to the volunteers who have come from all over the world to help.

And to the refugees the beautiful people I have met I wish you safety and love and that you find peace and another place you can call home.

Please, please don’t let this put you off coming to the island, come and share all the wonderful things that Lesvos and its people have to offer. It is such a special place and it needs not only volunteers but tourists.

#lovinglesvos

 

I am constantly asked how we are being effected living in Greece in this crisis.

The fact is for us life goes on as normal and we have the option of leaving at any time.

The sun is shining the birds are singing and at the end of the day the sunsets are stunning. Whilst I write this I hear children playing in the streets and vendors touting their wares over loud speakers as they make their way through the village, it’s just like normal.

The people here are living day to day, some hand to mouth but they are still as generous and as warm hearted as ever. We are still finding bags filled with fresh cucumbers and courgettes hung on our gate from our village friends.

The Greek people are strong, proud, independent people and their tenacity has to be admired.

Each day brings with it more challenges and more hardships, it’s never ending and demoralising and there is no quick fix.

This week I had an email from my best Greek girlfriend she writes from her heart. She shares her deep concerns along with an article written by John Humphry for the Sunday Times on June 28, ‘Let me slay the big fat Greek myth’, an article worth reading.

I have asked my friend Elpida if I could share her letter. I thank Elpida for her love and friendship and for being in my life.

And for everyone out there who asks if there is anything we need, we need you to come to Greece to enjoy all Greece has to offer from the beautiful crystal waters to the generosity of its people.

Support and love Greece.

elpida and yiannis

A LETTER FROM ELPIDA

My dearest friends, mentors, soul mates and guardian angels,

I don’t usually write in this way because I love communicating separately with all of you however this is an article a British friend sent me and given the circumstances I decided to sent it to all of you to read. 

You all know me pretty well I think after all this time and you know how hard I’ve worked and how much I appreciate life, a good laugh, love and friendship. For the first time in my life I’m lost for words, I feel terrified and I don’t know what to expect. I know that within the euro we’ll go through unbelievable austerity and difficulties and that no would be the a proud voice of Greece towards our creditors but on the other hand loosing the sense of security this hard currency affords us is quite a step.

Personally, I don’t have a bank account, a credit card or bonds that can be cut or taken away from me. I spend the money I earn and it might not be much but it has allowed me to offer my son and myself some kind of normal existence and safety. Tomorrow I’m asked to vote if I want more austerity measures or not and it’s this or not I would like to know what it means. But nobody can explain and I’m scared! I have a small business I’ve created with lots of hardship and work with no loans and in these austere times it’s been slowly and gradually growing. I don’t make much but I make enough to sustain myself. The same goes for my husband and a dozen more people who run small businesses in the area. We all depend on stability and tourism. The minute we go out of the euro nobody can guarantee anything. We will have austerity and recession and our currency will have no value at all. How many years will this last one two three four? How many?

 I’m 43 and getting older and I know some of you might smile thinking that this is nothing in comparison to older age but I’m tired overworked and disappointed. Furthermore, I live in a very sensitive area and in times of turmoil predators are always around looking out to grab the best piece. Thus if my country leaves the false protection of Europe who can guarantee the safety of my business, my land, my family, my life for that matter? I fret the moment we’ll be left alone, isolated trying to find allies who will give us credit to buy petrol, medicine and food. Unfortunately Greece produces very little on its own and we import almost everything so it will take time to find our way into survival. Cuba, Sudan, Argentina and many more countries are there as examples of what I don’t want my life to look like. I don’t mind hardship within reason I mind unreasonable hardship that will drive me to do everything manually because there won’t be enough petrol to support the National electricity company and appliances will be completely useless for example. I mind being forced to live in conditions that my grand parents and their parents lived in. I remember what it was not to have many things to go about and unlike other people I praise technology because it has made my life so much easier. I mind the black market that will thrive and  the fact I might have to live in conditions that Bulgaria and other Balkan countries lived in until some time ago. I mind the fact that I’ll have to stand in queues to get some bread and that I’ll have to buy things that matter with dollars or Euros that I’ll be happy to own if I can.

No government and no politician can guarantee me anything right now. Most of them have money abroad and the minute our currency changes they will become unbelievably rich while me and people like me will have lost everything overnight. Last summer we were all hoping that things had started to change and life had started to seem a little bit lighter. Now there’s a black cloud over me that I pray every single night to go away. Tomorrow I’ll go to vote with this cloud over my head hoping for the best. But don’t ask me what that is because I have absolutely no idea anymore.

What I want you to know is that I love you all so much, beyond words. You’ve made my life so much richer, fuller, interesting and bearable with your love, guidance, wisdom, laughter and more love all this time that despite the situation I feel blessed and hopeful because you’re there.

Love xxx and warm hugs,

Elpida

Spring has been far to long coming this year. The only hint is the blossom decorating the fruit trees. Stealing from trees that are just awakening from the long harsh winter months seems almost cruel although placing these pretty budding stems into found glass bottles brings the house to life. I love the way they fit so beautifully in front of the dynamic landscape painted by Matthew Usmar Lauder you can go here to purchase this landscape, a taste of our Greek Island Home.

untitled shoot-7993-6 Landscape by Matthew Usmar Lauder

 

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Usually the images I post of  My Greek Island Home (check out my book) are in colour but Greek village life is just as beautiful in black and white. Enjoy my wandering around the village.

IMG_8650_1a Delicious handmade mazipan flowers by the woman in the village co-operative

IMG_3401a A villager eturnig at dusk along the track laden with hay

IMG_5953a A handfull of newly picked fresh wild asparagus

IMG_2325a Panayiota and Stratos  sitting happily together in their kafenio

IMG_0803a Fresh bread being made in the local bakery

IMG_1247a Wash day

_MG_7786a A quite moment for the late Charalambos

20091011_RALITSA LAN`D_4528a A plate of  grapes just picked from a neighbours vine

_MG_4355a Preparation for the olive picking

_MG_1688a Crocheting lace, the village women are always busy

_MG_5671a Bagging up the olives

_MG_4209a Home baking means hands on work

_MG_8180a Watching the world go by

_MG_1705_1a Things turn up in the most unlikely places

DSC00124a The original kitchen in our house

Vasso's mums handa Freshly picked vine leaves which will be used for making dolmades

 

 

 

I photographed a little peak of Matthew and my life here on the island of Lesvos for You Magazine a couple of months ago and here it is. Thank you  Clare Nolan for loving our lifestyle and Fiona McCarthy for  your kind words. Greece is the word 1

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What a great article on our village life in the August issue of  UK House & Garden  magazine. Beautifully written by Ros Byam Shaw and fabulous photos taken by Paul Massey. Thanks for coming to My Greek Island Home and sharing some of  our favourite things. My Greek Island Home published in the UK by Clearview Books.

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GRACE SPREAD A

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My beautiful god-daughter and muse, Grace Bagot.

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When we bought our village house it was filled with somebody else’s life. It was really strange to open the door and feel we were entering a very personal space that was not ours. It felt like someone had just gone out shopping or to visit a friend and had never come back. I suppose that is what happened. The house had belonged to the village priest, Papa, and his wife. After Papa’s death his wife continued to live in it until she passed away. We were extremely privileged to be privy to their lives.

Our village has many abandoned houses. When I am lucky enough to peek inside I find it fascinating. Last summer our village friend George called me into the house of one of his relatives. This house is relatively close to ours and locked up behind big blue gates, completely out of sight. George knows we love the history of the village and its people and also knows I love houses. He invited us in. The house was fab and I asked George if he would mind me taking some photographs of my goddaughter Grace who was staying with us. He didn’t mind at all and here are the results, enjoy!

Isabel La Howe – Conant, “He who loves an old house never loves in vain.”

What a fantastic London spring night for great party! My Greek Island Home has now been published in the UK by, Clearview Books and was launched in London last Wednesday night. Despite the tube strike and Chelsea playing at home my trusty friends and followers turned up in droves. It was great to see friends both, old and new and also be introduced to some new faces. The venue was Nikki Tibbles Wild at Heart in Pimlico, a fantastic location. Nikki generously provided her beautiful shop overflowing with spring blooms and her and the girls, Ruth, Robyn, Sophie and Lucy were perfect hostesses. Domus Nova, Notting Hill’s best estate agent, very generously sponsored the event and kept everyone’s glasses topped up with prossecco, rose and white wine. The Grilling Greek parked his van outside and served up a feast, thrice-cooked chips, pita, hummus, olives and vegetarian souvlaki, it was all so yummy.Some of our Greek recue dogs, Robert, Maisy and April were able to make it to the evening which for me was the highlight .Clearview Books gave 10% of the money raised from the sale of the books to Nikki’s charity The Doghouse. ‘Want me’ t shirts designed by artist, Matthew Usmar Lauder to raise awareness and money for the rescue dogs were on sale too. I am blessed to have such great friends and supporters and thank you everyone for making the night a brilliant success.If you were not able to attend the night and would like to purchase a book you can go to Wild at Heart or online to amazon. It you want to support the dogs and would like a ‘want me’ t-shirt go to www.usmarstudio@bigcartel.com. Don’t forget to take a selfie in it and share. A shared selfie with the book would also be great.Below are some photos taken on the night by Rob Dawkins, thanks Rob!

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