Aug 022013
 
All ages gather together on a late summer evening in the town of Christos, Ikaria

All ages gather together on a late summer evening in the town of Christos, Ikaria

I’ve found a new reason to love Greece.

Of course I love it because I lived there years ago. When you experience daily life somewhere—grocery shopping with a phrasebook in hand so you don’t create a dinner disaster or enduring a monthly bill paying ritual with your landlady because you don’t have time to stand in line at the electric company cashier or figuring out the intricacies of the washing machine that churns endlessly without draining out the water—you either learn to love Greece or hate it.

But now I’ve found another reason to love it—the Greeks’ strong connection with their families’ ancestral villages, so similar to what I’ve experienced when visiting the places where my family has roots.

In the book, “The Country Cooking of Greece,” Diane Kochalis, Greek culinary authority and journalist, says “Every Greek feels a sense of homecoming in his ancestral village.” And after spending a week on the Greek island of Ikaria, I saw the truth in this.

Person after person that I met (including Diane herself) told the story of their parents or grandparents moving away from the island, but how their generation has returned, either for summers or to live full-time. Ikarians who are “exiled” in North America and can’t make it to Ikaria gather annually to celebrate their common heritage—a tiny slice of Ikaria in America.

Children play store as their parents chat in nearby cafes.

Children play store as their parents chat in nearby cafes.

I could see the Greeks’ strong rootedness in their communities when visiting the large town of Christos on Ikaria. Old people, young people, children gathered together in the evening in the pedestrian-only center of town. Laughing and talking with one another, rather than each individual isolating themselves by silently staring down at a smartphone. Children playing store to “sell” goods to friends and neighbors passing by. Friends calling out to each other “Yah sas” and hand-delivering wedding invitations.

That sense of being rooted in and connected with a place where your family has lived, laughed, loved, and died is what I’ve experienced in visiting my own ancestral towns. Walking in the small community in North Dakota where my dad grew up feels like a homecoming to me. Immersing myself in the vast prairies of the Dakotas where my grandparents settled satisfies something deep in my soul. Visiting the villages of Ukraine and Germany where previous generations of my family lived strikes a chord of ancestral memory.

By biology and DNA, I am not Greek. But in this sense of oneness with their family roots, the Greeks are my people.

(See more on my travels in Greece on Facebook.)

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