When I decided to make this one-way journey back in May, I didn't have any particular reason to start it in Greece. My decision to begin my journey here was a simple consequence of the yoga retreat I am leading in Santorini this fall. Greece was the next place on my calendar that I had to show up to. This wasn't a place I had daydreamed of and, aside from my study of Santorini for my retreat, I hadn't done any meticulous research on Greece -- what to pack, what to expect or how to survive -- as I did for my trip to India.
Even as I boarded my plane to Athens I still had no idea what they ate, how to find the most convenient ways of getting around, or how to say basic words like "Hello" or "bathroom" in their language. When I stepped off the plane, I was completely unprepared.
And I think that is how the Greeks prefer you arrive. Without an agenda to push or a glossed-over guidebook version of what to expect (especially in the present ever-changing political climate). Because that kind of mentality simply doesn't go very far here. It's better to show up without anticipation than to endure the hassle of unpacking preconceived, and often false, ideas of how things are. And now that I am here, I realize I did not daydream of this country because I couldn't daydream of this country. The kind of beauty and effortlessness of this place is not something the mind, or at least my mind, is even capable of fabricating on it's own.
The first thing I observed in being here is how easy existence is here. And I am not speaking for the local people (especially in this time of economic uncertainty) but as a traveler, life here is so easy it's eerie. Having only traveled in developing countries like India and Nepal, I haven't experienced travel without some sort of consistent struggle in the day-to-day of things. Of course, you acclimate to these struggles and don't consider them inconveniences so much as the norm over time, however, there is still a kind of guardedness required to exist in these places.
Here I don't have to be guarded about what I eat. I can eat raw. I can eat meat. I can drink the water and not worry about ice cubes. Here, I can be myself as a woman without meeting a cultural standard of modesty. I don't have to cover my shoulders. I don't have to cover my legs. Or go swimming with my clothes on. Here, I can wear what I want, lie naked in the sand, or walk topless on the beach if I so decide. Here, I don't have to worry about mosquitoes or the diseases they carry, unsanitary food preparations, or Delhi belly. I don't have to carry malaria pills, antibiotics, antibacterial wipes or toilet paper everywhere I go. I don't have to worry about toxic water in the shower, ants infesting my hostel or finding rats in my toilet. And I can walk alone at night without the slightest question of my safety.
India is still my favorite place in the world so I am not mentioning these things as complaints so much as to provide contrast to what I am experiencing now. Existence has never felt simpler. And as a woman, I have never felt so free. Even the waters of the Aegean are calm, even, dependable and still. It does not thrash you around like the waves of the Arabian Sea.
And maybe that is a good analogy for life here in Skala Eressou. It does not thrash me around like India has. The lessons Greece have to offer have nothing to do with endurance, overcoming fear, accessing calm in the turbulence or equanimity in the storm. Here, at least in this tiny Greek village in Lesvos, there is no storm. There is no struggle. Greece teaches you to put your guard down; to relax your shoulders away from your ears.
On my first evening in Skala Eressou, as I made my way back to my apartment, I walked through the restaurant I had gone to for lunch. My first warm fava with fresh tomatoes and red onion. Stuffed tomatoes. A perfect glass of Rosé. The owner recognized me, came over, took my hand to greet me, and escorted me over to his table where he was drinking ouzo and enjoying a cigarette with his friends.
"Can I buy you an ouzo?"
"Sure, thank you. I haven't tried it yet."
I sat down next to them and he poured me two inches of ouzo. I picked it up unsure how to proceed.
"How do I drink it?"
"You take a sip to feel it. Then you add ice or water to dilute it to your taste."
I sipped it. It burned my tongue and sent a distasteful tingle down my spine like a warm shot of well tequila. I added water in increasing amounts until it was diluted to the point I could pretend it was NyQuil. He held up his glass toward me, to which I mimicked and said, "Cheers."
He retracted his glass.
"No. ... Yamas."
I nodded. "Yamas." Our glasses clinked.
I struggled to find conversation with the older Greek men who spoke minimal English as much as I struggled to drink the ouzo without grimacing at every sip. Finally I asked:
"What is the best thing to do around here?"
He laughed. "Hm. That's a good question."
He paused to reflect.
" ...The best thing to do is to relax. To collect energy for the coming things."
I finished the ouzo and thanked God it was over. Then he went to pour me another glass.
"No, thank you."
"One for the walk home." He insisted.
I complied. "Sure."
I took the ouzo, thanked him and ensured I would return the glass the next day. As I began walking toward my apartment, I came along the shore and decided to greet the Aegean Sea for the first time. I walked right up to it, without hesitation, and as it's icy waters rushed into my feet, it sent shivers down my spine like the first touch of a new lover.
I sat down in the sand and poured some water from my bottle into my ouzo and began to sip. I sat there for a while, canopied by the endless stars; listening to the waves as they spoke. I held the ouzo glass up to my mouth and began to speak into it as if I was infusing the liquid with my words and deepest intentions for my time here.
I stood up and walked closer to where the water touched the earth. As the water ran over my feet again, I simultaneously poured the ouzo into the sea as if to ensure that my will be done; the universe as my witness to this cosmic exchange.
I have only spent a few days in this country but, so far, this land and it's people have taught me that existence can be effortless and relaxation is an art. One that can feel foreign and uncomfortable for those of us not used to it.
It has taught me that our time and attention is our highest currency and we should offer it non-sparingly to ourselves and our tasks.
It has taught me that sometimes lunch is worth three hours of my time and each bite should be chewed slowly. That a properly grown cucumber shouldn't be just "good" or "healthy" but blow-your-mind amazing. That a tomato should make love to your mouth and the quality of a glass of wine correlates directly to the amount of devotion you bring to each sip.
Greece is an ever-present reminder for me that life, and each of it's moments, is meant to be savored and that I am just as worthy of my time, love and attention as anyone else.
This country may be in financial ruin, but it's people still know abundance.
Blessings from Greece,