As I sit at the local Ouzerie, I am reminded of how powerful the actions of humans can be, regardless of the language...
We are a rather large group of foreigners in a very small village. When we move to Narthaki, we become over 6%!o(MISSING)f the population (on estimate). Sitting at the Ouzerie we are scattered, but very clearly take over half the restaurant as the students work on their field/lab journals and the volunteers catch up on home and our research projects. A family came in just after siesta, including older women, men, and even some younger children. The amount of women struck me as odd, as the Ouzerie is mostly populated by middle- to late-aged men (minus our group, and the women who work here, as it is a family run establishment). As the family members brought in plates of food covered in tin foil from home, it definitely looked like a family gathering. It was nice to see the family unit all out and gathered.
One of the women had plates of cakes and cookies and set them at the students table, without any verbal exchange but a smile, and turned back to her table.
It may have seem puzzling at first, as no one ordered food (least of all cake), but one of the men came over and explained that it was a celebration of life, as his mother had passed away 6 months ago. He turned back to his table to continue their celebrations.
Even as foreigners in this small community town, we were being included in the celebration of life for a woman we had not had the pleasure of meeting. Nothing more needed to be said. The gesture of sharing their homemade goods was more than enough. As a people we can all understand and appreciate a few things on a collective whole: family, life, and memories.
One of the things that I do as soon as I travel to a new community is pay my respects at the local cemetery. It may seem odd, but I find them fascinating. How people care for their dead, how they memorialize them, and what efforts they make to (re)visit burial placcards is a big portion of living mortuary culture. As an osteologist for ancient cultures I also feel that paying my respects is in some way helping me to deal with the fact that I am working with the “local” ancestors. I recognize that I do not have any right to work with any culture’s bones, and try to make up for this fact by being respectful in any way that I can.
I found the small cemetery during my siesta walks the other day. Individual burials were above ground, white, and often had photos of the individual within the tombstone. The cemetery gate was closed, but there was a worn driveway that went around part of the perimeter that I could wander up partway. No one was visiting the burial places except for the odd lizard, and this wandering traveler.
Not wanting to trespass further on this path I ventured to higher ground, up near the highway to the top of the mountain. I wandered as high as I could without being a risk to oncoming traffic. Seeing Narthaki from that height really accentuated how small the village is, and how homey it feels. I started my descent and ran into an older woman who I have seen around the village. I said “Yiasas”, the typical respectful “hello” greeting, and she responded with “Kala?”. I had learned this greeting the day before – it was the real testament for being welcomed as a local. The literal translation is “good?”, but the colloquial is more “are you good?” “Are you well?”, to which you nod and say “Kala” (I honestly don’t think I need to know any other response besides “I’m good” in a place like this), and then follow-up in suit. “Kala?” “Kala!”.
Walking in to make my order at the Ouzerie, I recognize the same woman, as the one who helps to run the establishment. And she seemed to recognize me. Her English is as good as my Greek and yet we managed to understand what we were both saying. She recognized me from my mountain walk, and our brief discussion. It seemed cool that it was so cyclical. In such a small village, the people, the interactions, the events, it’s all connected. And we are now part of it.
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