In a tiny village called Istiaia on the island of Evvia in Greece, I came to accept the reality of me.
My mother spent the first eighteen years of her life trapped in that village, forever under the watchful eyes of a small town, before she found her way to Ohio. She’s been trying to get back home ever since. When I finally decided to show up to the party, I went with her. I resisted in the only way a kid can: complaining, whining, and silent resentment. I refused to acknowledge that part of me. The very language was repulsive and creeped beneath my skin and through my hair in a way that could only be described as disturbing. I wanted nothing to do with the place that was supposed to have a hold on me, and even less to do with the people there.
The summer of 2013 found me again being dragged through the air and later across the sand of Evvia. Three daunting weeks of what might as well have been complete isolation in a deceptively cheerful locale loomed before me. I didn’t speak Greek, and the few people in that tiny village who spoke English–none of whom were the family I was supposed to be getting to know– were entirely unwilling. Armed with dozens of books, I looked for a cozy corner to settle myself in everywhere I went.
Three days of sullen solitude later, my mom had decided we were going to go on a group tour of Syros for the weekend.
That is how I met Geli Peti. She owned Tsoka Cabana (https://www.facebook.com/TsokaCabana), Must Boutique (http://www.facebook.com/MustGeliTsoutsikaPeti), Petit Cafe and Bar, and half the sass on the island. She spoke not a single word of English and had no connection to a single member of my gargantuan extended family. And for those short three weeks, she made Istiaia home. I wasn’t some foreigner anymore. I wasn’t American, or Vicky’s daughter, or Costa’s granddaughter, or that cornflake whose mother didn’t teach her the language. I was Greek, and I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
We would pick up some Frappe, “metrio”, and walk over to her boutique nearly everyday. I would sit on a modern red cushion and quietly sipping on my espresso. The very language was a world wonder. I wasn’t a piece of furniture, but an active participant, even if all I could do was listen and ask the occasional question. Later we would eat watermelon with my yiayia, and then we’d drive over to Tsoka to bask in the sunshine that spilled out into the afternoon. We’d eat “vaffles” and drink more Frappe while we relaxed in the only way Greeks can–heart shaking from a thumping bass line and good, though sometimes argumentative, conversation.
And when I looked down in surprise at the bottom of my Frappe cup, amongst the bubbly foam, I didn’t find a lonely American trapped amongst the natives, but Marilena Ioanna, a proud Greek.
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