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Friday 24 April 2015

"EMERGENCY EXITS: Migration-Art-Identity" by Persefoni Myrtsou

The original publication of this text appeared in Greek in the journal Faros Alexandroupolis as part of Persefoni Myrtsou's graduate work, entitled "Contemporary migration biographies. Life and work styles of Greek female and male artists”. For reference to the original text, please contact Persefoni Myrtsou: This was written as part of the graduate program "Art in Context", Berlin University of the Arts (Institut für Kunst im Kontext - Universität der Künste Berlin, supervised by Professor Wolfgang Knap). It was translated from German to Greek by Persefoni, and from Greek to English by me. Persefoni notes: "As I waded through [the German text], I felt the need to make some additional comments, in appreciation of the [Greek] readers of Faros Alexandroupolis, with which I wish to share some extra personal thoughts that did not fit within an academic work". 

I got to know Persefoni from another art installation of hers - you can read about it in this link. Her recent work struck me as a very insightful contemplation on the concept of homeland, whose importance cannot be underestimated among diaspora communities around the world. Greek heritage may be shared in global terms among Hellenes, but their concept of Hellenism is more often than not influenced by locality. What follows is the journey Persefoni took to formulate her own concept of 'homeland'. 

In Greek, the terms "migration" and "migrant" are connected mainly with the experiences of Greeks in terms of labor migration, thus the experiences are mainly perceived as negative ones. In the context of this study I intend to use the term freed from its negative connotation and to use it for any more permanent than temporary human movement, though without overlooking the weight it often carries in the collective memory of Greek society.

When my grandfather Constantine Mirtzos (our name would later morph into Myrtsos due to state negligence in transcription) and my grandmother Persefoni Christodoulou, both born in Ainos in Eastern Thrace, were expelled as refugees in Turkey and sent to Greece in 1923, they were given - according to the Treaty of Lausanne that regulated the population and property exchanges between Greeks and Turks - a piece of land in the village of Agioneri (also known as Vourlantza), located near Thessaloniki. Before the population exchange, my grandparents had never even heard of this place, nor did they know anyone there. So they decided to live in Thessaloniki, where they had some relatives. They still had to travel to Agioneri where my grandfather had set up a small grain mill in the fields, and a dairy products business with his brother, Anastasios.

From the beginning Agioneri was a cursed place for my grandfather and grandmother. According to the population exchange, this village was defined as their new home. This place had to replace their idea of “homeland” which they had for their own village in Turkey. Clearly it was impossible to replace Ainos, a place that they were forced to abandon. Neither in their memory nor in their heart, nor in their bodies. My grandfather Constantine was able to work for a few years. Later, the work situation at Agioneri went awry, his body gave up, he left and remained constantly sick until his death. Although I did not meet him, because he had already died before I was born, I do not think anyone knew exactly what disease he was suffering from - to a certain extent his diseases were exaggerated by my grandmother, who adored him tremendously - but I think deep down inside, the pain of leaving his homeland ate him away. I did not get to know him, but I got to know to my father and my aunt, his children, who inherited the same disease: they hated Agioneri, and  its people. They believed that the village was the source of all the family’s ills and there is still silence about the family’s past, much of which is probably ignored by them all.

The refugee culture of the Greeks from Asia Minor and Eastern Thrace significantly changed the composition of Greek society, mainly because the concepts of migration and “prosfigia” (which roughly means “being expelled from your home” - in modern Greek, it means 'the state of being a refugee') were introduced into the collective subconscious of the people. After 1923, the feeling of homesickness and nostalgia for the so-called “lost homelands” became two central motifs in the Greek language. As I stated above, in my family there is a mystical tendency to avoid making clear references to the past. In this way, I too neglected our family’s past. For me Turkey, namely Eastern Thrace, where Ainos is located, represented an eerie place. For my grandparents, their place of origin was something whose memory was very painful. So they decided not to talk about it. In this way they tried to live a normal life in Greece without mourning what was left behind. My personal perception of migration has been influenced very much by the story of my grandparents. Sometimes I feel an inexplicable desire for homing, as well as the need to redefine my roots. I think this is something I inherited from my family.

For me the fact that I made an effort to learn Turkish, which was somehow the key language in which my grandparents were born into and raised by, as well as my constant visits to Turkey, were an indirect means of a personal effort to understand this remote past. My experiences in Istanbul, where I stayed for three months, were for me a forced landing in reality. Today’s Turkey is connected with my family’s past only in an imagined way. In fact, rationally speaking, Turkey is now simply a neighboring country of Greece. In present-day Istanbul, whose population composition has changed fundamentally due to the internal migration of the last 20 years, mainly from Eastern Turkey and areas of the Black Sea, I was nothing more than a stranger, coming from a country located more west than Turkey on the global map composed from a western perspective. So my experience as a migrant artist in Turkey canceled a romantic and naive side of my personality, which was almost bordering on orientalism. 

The road to the roots: a journey into the de-mystified past
According to Nicolas Bourriaud, plants which are radicant, such as some types of ivy, continue to grow and create new roots in the new soil they are transplanted, although the original root has already been cut. The trunk of the plant remains the same, but it morphs through the transplanting process in the new soil. If one understands this idea metaphorically in the context of human migration, it seems purposeful for someone to be able to transplant their culture to a set of new geographical, cultural and social situations. However, at the new point where it has taken root, there is always the risk of a violent degeneration of the root of the plant (and respectively, of the personal culture of the individual), perhaps because if the transplant does not assimilate, it might throw its root out of the soil and it will thus wither (and respectively the person may drop out and/or be evicted directly or indirectly from the community). In the migrant model of life, the personal culture of each immigrant tries to root in a new place, and is always influenced by this migratory transplanting process.

My personal reservation concerning this process was the family’s silenced past. In this way somehow, I decided to make a real journey back to my “roots”: a trip to Ainos.

Thracian land, en route to Ainos, 29.10.2011, photo: Persefoni Myrtsou

In October 2011 I traveled with my mother by car from Thessaloniki to Ainos in Eastern Thrace. This trip was exactly the reverse of what my grandfather and grandmother did 89 years ago. My father could not come with us because of work, or so he claimed. I decided to record our trip with a camcorder and a photo-camera. As an artist I thought such a record would be excellent material for a future artwork. In my mind I constantly had two questions: is this trip an allegorical return to the “homeland” or an attempt towards a symbolic appropriation of space (in the sense of a personal colonial exploitation of the space) as a greedy artist, who wants to use the history and her relationship with this place for the purposes of her work? What is the real significance of this journey to the village of my grandparents’ origin? Am I travelling as a visitor? As a tourist? As an heir?

The day we traveled to Ainos was a national holiday in Turkey. We found out later that the 29th of October was the day of the proclamation of the Turkish Republic by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in the year 1923 (in Turkish: Cumhuriyet Bayramı). In the same year, the population exchange took place, the one in which my grandparents left Ainos. In the central square of Ainos, a big celebration had been organised  - much like our own ones in Greece - with flags, grandstands, and children from schools reciting poems about Mustafa Kemal and Turkey, and all these in the predominant presence of military forces, which probably had to do with the location of Ainos at the border of the political map of Turkey.

The central square of Ainos, 29.10.2011, photo: Persefoni Myrtsou

At the end of the feast we walked around for a bit. There were a lot of people in the village, mostly from Istanbul and Edirne, who were probably originally from Ainos and had travelled especially for the holiday. After a while, we sat down in a restaurant to eat. We ordered meatballs, rice and shepherd’s salad, my mother asked for Ayran, and I had a Coke. The well-dressed waiter asked us where we were from and what we were doing on a day like this in Ainos. I replied in Turkish that we were from Thessaloniki, but my grandfather and grandmother were from Ainos, and we had come to see their place of origin. The fact that we had come on the day of the holiday was coincidental. He stared at us silently for a while. Then he sat down next to us and began to chronicle his own story: his own father came from Thessaloniki, or from a village near there, during the population exchange - I didn’t understand him very well as he was speaking rather fast and my Turkish was quite rusty at this point. He himself had never travelled to Thessaloniki: “It is that damn hard to get the EU Schengen visa thing”... On my cellphone, I happened to have a background photo of the promenade in Thessaloniki. I showed him the photo. He asked me to send it to him by MMS, and I did so.

Central road of Ainos, 29.10.2011, photo: Persefoni Myrtsou

The oldest remaining houses of Ainos, 29.10.2011, photo: Persefoni Myrtsou

The (happy?) coincidence of the national celebration and the conversation with the waiter could make a beautiful scenario for a nostalgic film, similar to "Politiki Kouzina" [“A touch of spice”, directed by Tassos Boulmetis in 2003]. However these events revealed a very obvious truth: Ainos is not a “home” for me, like Thessaloniki is not a “home” for the waiter. Ainos is nothing more than the imaginary topography of my family’s past, whose visible signs are gone. This trip was for me a solution to my very personal concerns regarding this invisible past. This trip helped me to clarify my personal and artistic position and responsibility towards this village, which had taken on mythical proportions in my childhood and later in my adult mind.

Ainos is located on the political border between Turkey and Greece, which divides the river Evros (in Turkish: Meriç). Ainos is one of the entry points for many undocumented immigrants into Greece and at the same time the European Union. Recently I traveled to Alexandroupolis with a German delegation as a translator and I had the opportunity to talk to the guards, who describe in gruesome detail the efforts of immigrants to cross the river. In their attempts to enter, many drown, as their means of transport is extremely dangerous. Sometimes they are perceived by thermal cameras installed on the Greek side and they are sent back. Once they cross half the river and manage to get out alive, they are on “European” soil. If they get caught, they are identified by FRONTEX, the European border police - this identification is relative, since most come without any official documents - and they are then kept for some time in the notorious detention centers for immigrants, known in Greek as centers of “hospitality”. Once the lengthy identification process is finished, they are released on the condition that they return within one month to the country of their origin. (Bear in mind that the text was composed in 2012, so regulations concerning the EU migration and asylum policies may have been revised.]. Why would anyone return?. Most travel to Athens in order to find a way to get into another European country, and their tracks are usually lost. Thus, this place, which my grandparents yearned for, is today a tomb for many people with basically the same story to tell as my grandparents: people who were forced to leave their homeland or were expelled from it. These modern migration stories relativised the story of my grandparents. On this very real basis, it felt right to act artistically.

Panorama of Ainos, photo: Persefoni Myrtsou

The highest point of Ainos is dominated by the ruins of a Byzantine castle. From the castle one has a panoramic view of the natural border created by the river Evros. Next to the castle ruins I set up a camping tent and shot some black and white analogue photography. I chose the castle for this artistic action. Through the Byzantine aesthetic of the ruins, I wanted to situate the photograph in space and time.

The Byzantine castle of Ainos, photo: Persefoni Myrtsou

Panorama of modern-day Ainos from the castle, photo: Persefoni Myrtsou

The operation of setting up a tent in Ainos is invoking an ostensible and simultaneously naive contemporary repatriation. Black and white film photography was deliberately chosen, since such aesthetics allude to the one and only photograph of Ainos that I found in the family archive - I found the very same picture on the Internet later. This photo was probably distributed among many of the residents of Ainos at the time before or after the exchange. In my own photograph the item that confuses the romantic landscape of the old is the modern camping tent. The tent is the simplest and cheapest that can be found in its category on the market. Moreover it is a one-person tent. By selecting this particular kind of tent, I wanted to give a personal and collective interpretation of this work. On a personal level, the tent is a temporary form of accommodation in the space: just like an archaeologist who is trying to leave no trace at the place she was studying, I try to discover signs of my family’s past in modern-day Ainos. The choice of a cheap tent as the key item of the picutre is an act of self-sarcasm referring to my personal need for “repatriation” - an idea inspired by a nationalistic rhetoric, which has been the scourge of modern Greek identity - and to the discovery of my now-proven bogus roots.

The black and white photo that I took while in the castle, photo: Persefoni Myrtsou

On a collective level, the tent, installed on the border of this area between Greece and Turkey, becomes a report on the living conditions of refugees, living a precarious life forced on them, and the undesired uprooting many of them experience. Some months ago, a journalist in Berlin told me that this action alludes to the global "Occupy" movement, which also symbolically incorporated camping tents in their actions. How would it be to “decentralise” such actions and organise them in places like Ainos, exactly on the Greek-Turkish border, instead of Wall Street in New York, the Bundestag in Berlin or Syntagma in Athens?

In conclusion, the fundamental objective of this project was to create a bridge between the two stories of refugee phenomena that have occurred in this very same area: one story from 1923, and the other from the present day. The river Evros appears on the right-hand side of the picture. Greece is discernible beyond the river. The country, which was regarded as a place of exile, while it became home for my grandparents and for many other refugees after 1923, has been transformed today into a graveyard and, in the best case scenario, into a transit station for another prosperous country in “Europe” and at the same time into the first station of hope for a better life.

Selected  Bibliography
Anderson, Benedict, 1983, Imagined Communities, Verso, London 2006
Auge, Marc, 1992, NonPlaces. An introduction to supermodernity, Verso, London‐New York 2008
Bourriaud, Nicolas, 2009, The Radicant, Lukas and Sternberg, New York 2010
Brewer, David, 2010, Greece. The Hidden Centuries. Turkish Rule from the Fall of Constantinople to
Greek Independence, I.B. Tauris, London‐New York
Chambers, Iain, 1994, Migrancy, culture, identity, Routhledge, New York und Oxon 2005
Charim, Isolde, Auer Borea, Gertraud (Εκ.), 2012, Lebensmodell Diaspora. Uber moderne Nomaden,
Transcript Verlag, Bielefeld
Hikmet, Nazım, 1925, Die Luft ist schwer wie Blei, Dagyeli Verlag, Berlin 2000
Hirschhorn, Renee (Hg.), 2003, Crossing the Aegean. An Appraisal of the 1923 compulsory
population exchange between Greece and Turkey, Berghan Books, New York und Oxford
Kristeva, Julia, 1991, Stangers to ourselves, Columbia University Press, New York
Mahn, Churnjeet Kaur, 2009 “Romance in Ruins, Ethnography and the problem with Modern
Greeks, in Victorian Studies, Vol., 51, No. 1
Özkirimli, Umut; Sofos, Spyros, 2008, Tormented by History. Nationalism in Greece and Turkey, Kataniotis, Athens [Edition in Greek]
Said, Edward, 1979, Orientalism, Vintage Books, New York 
Todorova, Maria, 1997, Imagining the Balkans, Epikentro, Thessaloniki [Editon in Greek]
Ζαφείρης, Χρίστος [Zafiris, Christos], 2008, Μνήμης Οδοιπορία, Ανατολική Θράκη [A wayfaring of memory, Eastern Thrace], Epikentro, Thessaloniki [title translated by Persefoni Myrtsou]

Just as Ainos is not a home for Persefoni, Wellington is not my home either. Waxing lyrical about Wellington will not make is any more part of the topography of own family. But not all the visible signs of my family's past are gone. Apart from my mother's grave, our former family home (below) is still in the same state that it was when we sold it. 

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki

Tuesday 21 April 2015

Lost in modernity, mired in ignorance

I have never ever understood the Greek left, and I still don't understand them now. This 'left' concept sounds democratic - in that obsolete communist way - but it can only work when restrictions are placed on people and institutions, when funds are available to make everything free or cheap, and last but not least, when people are prepared to work together to make this ideal work. Since Greece doesn't have these funds, and no restrictions have been placed on any aspect of our daily life, and - more importantly - people cannot find the common ground to cooperate and compromise and make things work out for the greater good (instead of looking after their own interests), who is the government kidding, except itself, when they promise to raise wages and pensions, provide free medical treatment and hire more public servants? If it's not working, it's not working. (On this note, congratulations to Paul Krugman who came to Athens last week and spoke in support of this impossible scenario - like his charismatic counterpart, Greece's body-builder motorbike-loving Varoufakis, he has great ideas but he has got the context completely screwed up.)

When SYRIZA was voted into government, I was prepared to give them a chance to succeed. I supported them when they stood up against the big guns. I liked the way they carried on defiantly. A change in the establishment is always a good thing. But it has now become obvious to most Greeks that a new establishment has now come into play. Same game, different faces, that's all.

Even though our income has been drastically reduced since the crisis broke out, my family's lifestyle hasn't changed much at all, something I am very proud of. Why should my life change just because I don't have as much money as in the past? We still prepare fresh frugal meals on an almost daily basis in our house, we still pay all our bills, we still manage to clothe our kids and we still manage to get a week away from the island, and all this is done on a well worked out budget. I've always known how to cut corners; I've been doing it all my life. I am fully confident that I will always be able to enjoy this kind of lifestyle. I will not have everything I want, but I will never be in need. I am sure of this. I also know that some people simply cannot do that. Not everyone is like me, of course. Apparently, that's a good thing: by having all sorts of people in the world, it makes us less boring.. But it would be nice if they behaved more responsibly, even if they weren't like me.

I am reminded of my neighbour who complained to me recently about the high cost of her electric bill the other day. She asked me what we pay on average for a two-month period. We rarely exceed 100€ (150€ if I add my mother-in-law's bill - she lives on the ground floor in a granny flat.). My neighbour's bill came to 367€ for the same two-month period. Instead of having the audacity to ask me why I am not paying as much as her, in my opinion, she should have wondered what she does that makes her own bill so high.

For a start, she lives in a two-storey villa-style house. It's huge - much larger than our own two-storey house. My 3-bedroom house and my mother-in-law's granny flat are not tiny - they are both very compact. The neighbour is one of those types who like to keep their home really clean and tidy. But this has got less to do with cleanliness and much more to do with a lack of a hobby - since she doesn't work and her kids are older teens, she has a problem of keeping busy. So she does a load of full-cycle laundry on an almost daily basis, always separating her whites from her coloureds, which inevitably means that she will have lots of ironing to do - and she irons everything, right down to socks. If you have nothing to do all day, you'll do that too, I guess, as well as vacuum the house every day. She also uses her dishwasher on a daily basis - nothing is washed by hand. She cooks just as much (and better) than me, but she doesn't use gas. What's more, she is more of an oven cook, not a stovetop cook. When she's at home on her own and she feels cold while she's watching the morning chat shows on TV, she won't turn on the central heating which will heat up the whole villa (which is of course pointless when you are the only person at home) - she turns on the air-conditioner (I can hear it cranking away). No bloody wonder she's paying so much on electricity supply.

Compare all this to me: I only use the washing machine when I have a full load. I don't separate ALL the whites from the coloureds - isn't it all colour-fast these days?! Out of respect for my husband, I iron his shirts and trousers - anything else just gets folded. If I suspect anyone of wearing something only one day before putting it into the laundry basket, I take it out and return it to them. (Who do you think you are, if you believe your skinny jeans need tightening by being washed in the machine? Soak them in a bucket, for all I care!) The kids iron their own clothes if they really want them ironed. We have a dishwasher, but I allow it to be used only when the need arises, ie we have guests for dinner, or I cooked fish (which is a smelly business). We take the turns to do the dishes - wasn't THAT the way everyone in the past (a very recent one, as far as I'm concerned) learnt to do their fair share of the housework? And you really don't need to vacuum your house every day if you have mainly stone tile floors - they just need to be swept with an ordinary broom. My oven works with electricity, but our daily meals are mainly stovetop dishes cooked on gas elements. (We pay about 20 euro per 2 months for our gas supply. It's really cheap.) When we feel cold and we are on our own, we wrap ourselves up with a blanket - the air-con is simply off limits. It's only used about 10 days a year on average to keep us cool during a warm southerly wind. 'Nuff said.

I have been cutting corners all my life here and there in order to ensure the privilege of a debt-free lifestyle, but I've never absconded from my responsibilities. I know I'm going to hear a heap of shite from leftists who will say 'you can do that, Maria because you are wealthy'. Of course I'm wealthy - I am so frugal that I don't ever spend everything I earn, even when I don't earn much! I'm also prepared to 'go without' when I know I cant afford to 'go with'. I'm prepared to wear 3€ items of clothing bought from the street market, I buy food on sale and prepare it for cooking even when the expiry date has passed, I book the cheapest flights to ensure we can all get a holiday once a year, I sleep on the floor or the sofa instead of a hotel bed, and if I can't afford to buy presents, then so be it - we don't  buy any! (We make a lot ourselves. In this have-everything world, it's the thought that counts.) I never mumbled when payback time came during the crisis. I was still prepared to give back more than the fair share of the 'blame' allotted to me when taxes skyrocketed, but right this minute, I really do NOT understand why I have to be put through the ensuing chaos of a disorganised polarised disconnected and not even unified government.

While talking with a friend at the weekend who is a retired public servant (therefore many of her friends are also public servants), she told me that her colleagues are now mumbling out loud about the choice they made when they voted in January. Now they are wondering why they have nothing, and 'what went wrong'. Just 10 years ago, Greeks really did have it all, but they did not respect it, and they did not even protect it. That's not the worst part of it all for me. Most mid-50s Greeks do not know how to live like their parents did. Washing machines, dishwashers, electric cookers - all these became common when people started living off higher salaries, which came some time after Greece's entry into the EU (1981). Greeks have lost their continuity with the past, despite the fact that the parents of many of those 50-ers are still alive. How easily they have forgotten their origins. That's what's killing them.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Monday 6 April 2015

Agia Marina Donkey Rescue - Καταφύγιο για Γαϊδουράκια Αγία Μαρίνα

The Agia Marina Donkey Rescue is a registered Greek non-profit organisation which is runs purely on donations and TLC, by the Doulyerakis family of South Crete since 2004. It is a haven in the sunshine for aged, abused and unwanted working donkeys. If you can make a donation to the donkey sanctuary, please contact Barbara through the site's facebook page:
You can also check the sanctuary's webpage:
When fishes flew and forests walked    
   And figs grew upon thorn,   
Some moment when the moon was blood   
   Then surely I was born.
With monstrous head and sickening cry
   And ears like errant wings,   
The devil’s walking parody   
   On all four-footed things.
The tattered outlaw of the earth,
   Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,   
   I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour;
   One far fierce hour and sweet:   
There was a shout about my ears,
   And palms before my feet. (G.K. Chesterton, 1927)

There were many things I didn't want to do on Palm Sunday (ie this year's Calendar Easter Sunday - Greek Easter is next week) - I didn't want to cook the traditional fish meal for the occasion, I didn't want to play host to my daughter's friend, I didn't want to go shopping among the hordes at the start of Holy Week, I didn't want to spend my time cleaning the house all over again, plus I didn't really feel like going to a blossom water distillation festival that I was invited to (been there, done that). 
Apollo - he was rescued after her owner could no longer afford to keep her.
I wanted a Mental Health day off, so I decided to accompany my son to his fencing competitions taking place in an area of Crete that I last visited 20 years ago: the Messara valley, in the Iraklio region. This way, I would have an excuse to read Captain Corelli's Mandolin during the 2.5 hour bus trip each way. When I looked up the journey on the map, I realised it would take me close to the Agia Marina Donkey Rescue, run by a Kiwi woman and her Cretan husband. My son did not really need me around to play well, so I decided that if I found a chance to get away, I would.
Areti - she was rescued when her 92 year old owner's family forbade him to ride her after suffering a heart attack while working in the fields. The old man was very happy that his beloved donkey was going to a great home.
The route took us from Hania onto the highway, leaving it just before Rethimno, where we turned into the historic village of Archanes, then right down to the south coast of Crete at the picturesque summer resort village of Agia Galini, continuing along the coast to the greenhouse area of Timbaki, and on to the south Cretan town of Moires where the competition was being held - the donkey sanctuary is located between the villages of Sivas and Petrokefali, just 5 minutes away from Moires. It's been a long time since I have been down here, so I stopped reading my book and just admired the scenery. The villages in this area are large, easily spotted on the hillsides, tucked neatly away below the mountain peaks. The fields of the Rethimno region, leading onto the Iraklio region, are more verdant than in Hania, and the rivers much wider. Given so much rain this winter, they were full and moving fast. (The one crossing Rethimno is actually called Platis Potamos - 'wide river' - and the one crossing Iraklio is Geropotamos - 'old river'.) The rivers both run into the Libyan Sea - the Liviko, as we know it - which looked very calm among the tranquil surroundings, while a light drizzle was falling at that moment. It's really the calm before the storm, as the tourist season is about the start, with its onslaught of rental cars jamming the narrow roads.
Iphigeneia - she arrived at the sanctuary in an emaciated state. No one realised she was pregnant. The next day, her foal, Ero was born.
The roads leading to the games after we got off the motorway were all ours. Few people were driving at that particular hour of the morning (we left Hania just before 7am), it was raining, and it was Palm Sunday, a week before Easter, when not much is happening. With the knowledge that there would be no buses running, once we passed Timbaki, I decided to ask the bus driver if we would be passing any of the above-mentioned villages. "Never heard of them," he said. I had looked up the google map for the area the night before, and knew the villages we should be passing (there was no GPS on the bus), yet the driver had no idea. We were now on the road towards the ancient palace of Phaistos (of Linear A disc fame). So when we passed a sign on the road pointing to Sivas (6km), I knew another sign would follow, pointing to Petrokefali (4km). As I passed those signs, I decided that the consequences of yelling 'STOP!!!!!!' to the driver might have deleterious effects. Plus, everyone would think I was mad, which is not a bad thing at all, but having lived in Crete for over two decades, I knew that it was not the right time for me to show this side of my personality since my 14-year old was on the bus with me. (I'm sure he knows I'm mad, but he wouldn't want me to advertise it.) Despondently, I let the bus carry on to our final destination, which I could discern before we got there: from google maps, I could see the red dome of the sports building among the valley's fields of olives and grapevines. 

Ero - this is the first donkey to be born at the sanctuary. She is Iphigeneia's daughter.
Once off the bus, I could see hillside villages dotted around the valley from the point where I was standing. They didn't look too far away to walk, but the light drizzle didn't make the walk look enticing. By chance, Dimitris, the fencing coach from the Messara team, had just come out of the stadium. "Is that Petrokefali?" I asked him, pointing to the cluster of white buildings in the distance. I was in fact looking at Pombia, a neighbouring village due west of Petrokefali.
Agapi - she was found tied to a tree without food or water. The owner had left both the donkey and the village. 

"Do you want to go there?" he asked me. "Do you know someone there? Who do you know? How do you know them? (etc) Hop in, I'm in a rush, but I can drop you off there." My husband often considers me to be very lucky, luckier than him. I agree, although my luck is usually a case of good planning. Dimitris dropped me off at the path that led to the donkey sanctuary. It was lined with redolent wild fennel, which I hoped I would remember to forage before I left the area. 
Phaedra - when she arrived at the sanctuary, she was old, very shy and frightened of humans.
I heard about the donkey sanctuary through facebook, so it was always on my mind to visit the sanctuary some time. Crete is a big island, and the distances seem even greater in bad weather. The roads of Crete are all in good shape now (in Greek terms), but they are all full of bends and slopes. In the winter, some landslides occur; between Agia Galini and Timbaki, we were diverted because the road had sunk from this year's unprecedented heavy winter storms. So it isn't that easy to simply go for a spin to the other side of the island. A distance of greater than half an hour on these kinds of road conditions saps away our energy. The bus ride gave me a chance to enjoy my Mental Health day with greater freedom. 
Talos - he gets a bit obnoxious. As I was saying hello to the other donkeys, he moved in and pushed my hand off them. Along with his name necklace, he also wears another one saying 'I may bite'.
At the gate of the sanctuary, the customary large guard dog met me, together with a couple of smaller doggies, all of whom bared their teeth to me and growled, as a way of saying hello. This was followed by a bray of unison from the 20 donkeys at the sanctuary as they saw me approaching. They had all lined up outside the fencing sectioning them off from the home of their carers, Kiwi Barbara and her Cretan husband Fanis. Barbara and I met on facebook: we are both New Zealanders, and we left New Zealand and came to live in Greece at about the same time, so we have a lot in common. 
Haritomeni (meaning sweet-joy) - she came to the sanctuary in April 2010, lying in the back of a truck crippled with arthritis. Her owner who loved her (she even had a name!) could do nothing to ease her pain so he brought Hari to Barbara and Fanis. Within a month after medication & therapy there was a big improvement in her mobility although she cannot get up on her own after lying down. Hari is old now and tires easily. She is always found lying down every morning and is helped up. Donkeys form lifelong friendships with other donkeys; Haritomeni is nearly always seen with Pandora (below). 
Barbara was very involved with horses during her New Zealand years, which is how she got the idea for a donkey sanctuary. Horses are uncommon in Crete - they are not suited to the mountainous terrain. They are mainly used in urban environments in the tourist trade, similar to other urban centres around the world. An example of their use is the horse and carriage rides around the Venetian port in Hania, and for weddings. But donkeys are perfect for village work. The only problem is that nowadays, cars are more readily available and their maintenance is cheaper and less time consuming than the needs of a donkey. Donkey milk farms have opened up and closed down in very little times; such business ventures easily go bust because the business people don't realise how much work is involved in such a business. Donkeys are now mainly used as fairground material, while the (recently impoverished) owners of the working village donkeys are getting too old to care for them.
Afroditi - her owner was abusive and beat and neglected her. Eventually he left her tied to a tree without food or water, but a villager took care of her. When he was no longer able to due to work commitments, he asked the sanctuary to take her. This is their morning feed: the local mills grind a mixture of grains for their breakfast. This 'muesli' has a very sweet natural smell. They eat hay in the afternoon.

What do you do with a donkey you no longer want or need? You can give it away, or sell it, but this is difficult in our times, when the traditional use for donkeys is no longer needed. Some people set them free to roam, which sounds kind, but this is not really the case. A donkey that is set free by its owners will wander away and run into trouble. While it may find enough food to eat, it will probably not find enough water, so in the summer, it will die of thirst. They may also be run over by cars on the road: if they were used to being led by their owner, they will not sense the danger of passing vehicles. Other owners just tie them up to a pole and leave them to their own fate, which is certain death.
Kassandra - she's had a very sad life... You can read about it here: 
Donkeys often arrive in emaciated states. Once a donkey arrives at the sanctuary, it is given a beautiful ancient Greek name, All the donkeys have their own personal history. Some tales are sad, but many also resemble the human side of life: birth, work, retirement, and eventual death from natural causes. One thing is sure at the sanctuary - the donkeys are cared for by Barbara, Fanis and their growing family of children and grandchildren. They receive a lot of attention from the many visitors that come to see them throughout the year. While I was there, various tourists visiting Crete during the Easter break came to the sanctuary - for some, it is not their first time. 
Persefoni - she has also had a sad life:
During my visit, Barbara and I had a good strong cuppa tea together, and reminisced our Kiwi life, which for both of us, forms our irrevocable history. It's a part of our life that has finished now, because now that we live in Crete, we are here to stay, a bit like the donkeys at the Agia Marina Donkey Sanctuary. It's most likely our last stop. It's so nice here, we really don't want to leave.
Achilleas - originally from the island of Patmos, he lost his hoof due to being tied up by his leg with wire. Donations have saved his leg and helped him to regrow a hoof.  Although Achilleas' health was improving, he suddenly crossed the rainbow bridge on 27 April. I was very lucky to have met him during his short stay at the Agia Marina Donkey Rescue. 
The Agia Marina Donkey Rescue is a registered Greek non-profit organisation which is runs purely on donations and TLC, by the Doulyerakis family of South Crete since 2004. It is a haven in the sunshine for aged, abused and unwanted working donkeys. If you can make a donation to the donkey sanctuary, please contact Barbara through the site's facebook page:
You can also check the sanctuary's webpage:

Bonus photo: This is Mr Prickles, a cat that a tourist brought to the sanctuary because he felt that it would be mistreated if left to survive on its own. Mr Prickles has cerebral palsy. Now two years old, it took him a while to learn to walk, as he kept falling down.
Mr Prickles
He walks just like a human being who has cerebral palsy. He reminds me of Beri, our lame cat, who adopted us six or so years ago (Beri still walks with a limp). Mr Prickles also reminds me of the disabled people I see living among us. Apart from a modest pension payment, they don't get other help from the Greek state, ie there is little in the way of assisted housing, so they are generally allowed to live a normal life among the people they have grown up with and are accustomed to seeing. Mr Prickles and Beri are no different. They just plod on stoically.

The Agia Marina Donkey Rescue is a registered Greek non-profit organisation which is runs purely on donations and TLC, by the Doulyerakis family of South Crete since 2004. It is a haven in the sunshine for aged, abused and unwanted working donkeys. If you can make a donation to the donkey sanctuary, please contact Barbara through the site's facebook page:

You can also check the sanctuary's webpage:

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