Last year when I was newly in love, I found myself wondering if my boyfriend would ask me to move to Crete to be closer to him. Pondering this possibility, it suddenly dawned on me that I was ready to move on. I had been living in Lesbos for twenty years, and I never expected to leave such a stunning island. I have an incredibly beautiful home that I renovated at great emotional cost. Nonetheless, I had been mildly depressed for a number of years and seriously distressed for three.
I consider myself intelligent and charming and fun to be around. Though I am highly educated and involved in environmental work and politics, I can also talk about the weather, people, and television programs. Despite the diversity of my interests, I find myself isolated in my village.
I have many Greek friends, but we rarely socialize together. Greek men in my village still often go out with each other, leaving their wives at home. The women meet for coffee parties in the winter, but because Greeks are very family oriented, they rarely develop the kinds of close female friendships we cherish in North America.
In the summer when the days are long and lovely, most of the locals are working day and night in the tourist industry. In the winter, they rest and spend time with their families. Since the economic crisis that began in 2009, most Greeks cannot afford to go out on a regular basis.
I, of course, am a foreigner, but I don’t fare a whole lot better in the foreign community. The Germans like to speak German, the Dutch like to speak Dutch, and the English seem to prefer to be with their own kind. As the only full-time resident with an American background, I am an odd person out.
Moreover, it seems that in the foreign community here, as in much of the rest of the world, couples like to be with other couples: gay and lesbian couples are included, but single women are still apparently viewed with some kind of suspicion. I thought it was only me, but I have recently learned from two other single women living in the village that they often feel left out too.
In 2015 our island was the site one of the largest human migrations of our time. Refugees fleeing wars in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan began to arrive on the shores of our village and our island in numbers that increased to over thousand a day by the late summer. Following an agreement between Turkey and the European Union, the flow of refugees has lessened, but currently there are over 7000 refugees living in deplorable conditions in a camp designed for 2000, and several hundred people are still arriving in the island each week. Witnessing human suffering on a large scale, the people in my village—myself included–are traumatized.
Those involved in the tourist industry feared loss of income, and this did indeed occur in 2016 and 2017. The local tourist organization declared that no refugee should ever been seen in our village. Because of this animosity, the Coast Guard finds it necessary to take the refugees it picks up in the sea near our village to another location to debark.
The villagers have turned against each other. Those who actively help the refugees have been accused of making lots of money while destroying tourism. I have heard people I know well and people I know slightly say horrible things. I am often caught in the middle. If I don’t speak to people who speak badly about the refugees, I will not be speaking to my neighbors. But when I do, I am told that I am betraying those who help the refugees.
I spent the end of last winter and the spring in Heraklion, a city of about 150,000 with a lively center situated on the sea and enclosed by walls dating to the era of Venetian occupation. As soon as I arrived in Crete, a mother and daughter I have known for over twenty years through my work on the Goddess Pilgrimage adopted me into their family and announced that I was to join them for Easter and First of May and was expected at an upcoming family wedding. I was on my own for much of the time I lived in Heraklion, and I often ate out alone. In my village I would have felt conspicuous or left out. In a larger city, it was accepted that I had my own life.
I planned to spend last summer working on related projects with a friend at a seaside village in Crete. When my friend left unexpectedly, I was immediately adopted (yes again) by an independent-minded single taverna owner and her two sons. I spent an idyllic summer writing in the morning and whiling away my afternoons and evenings in their taverna by the sea.
This year I will celebrate the winter holidays with my taverna family. Then I will be moving back to Heraklion where I will rent an apartment from a friend while looking for a permanent new home. No, I have not yet sold my house in Lesbos, but I am taking steps to do so.
I know there is no perfect place to live. In our world it is impossible to escape suffering. I will continue to assist my friends who work with the refugees with writing and translation. I will continue to work to end war. Are the people of Crete nicer than the people of Lesbos? I tend to think so, though I know that they are not perfect. I consider myself lucky to have the resources to be able to move on from a place where I have not been happy for many years. I look forward to blessings of love and friendship and adopted families in the coming year.
Wish me well. Even when you know it is the right thing to do, pulling up stakes is scary.
Carol P. Christ is an internationally known feminist writer, activist, and educator living in Crete. Carol’s recent book written with Judith Plaskow, Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology, is on Amazon. A Serpentine Path: Mysteries of the Goddess is on sale for $9.99 on Amazon. Carol has been leading Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete for over twenty years: join her in Crete. Carol’s photo by Michael Honneger.
Listen to Carol’s a-mazing interview with Mary Hynes on CBC’s Tapestry recorded in conjunction with her keynote address to the Parilament of World’s Religions.