Dispatch from Kea

This winter I spent most of the month of February living and working on Kea, an island in the Cyclades in Greece. The trip and destination were made on a bit of a whim, spurred by an article in the NY Times about Greece and driven by a calling for a true adventure as I approached my 3-year mark in Maine. I don’t speak Greek and knew no one there, but I had been long ago with a friend from Babson and remembered loving it. I read that the island was known for its extensive system of walking and hiking trails, found a beautiful house perched up on a ridge overlooking the Aegean Sea, and was curious to experience the current economic and political climate in Greece first-hand.

I find it so fascinating how your experience of the world is always a reflection of where you are at. Nowhere is this more true than in travel, and this being my longest solo trip there were some serious moments of struggle, frustration and isolation. But also, I was struck by how many elements of the culture I didn’t remember from my first trip to Greece: the often seamless (and sometimes disjointed) blending of old and new, history and innovation; Eastern and Western influences weaving together in the language, food, architecture, dance, fashion, landscapes and everyday customs; the isolation of the language barrier, the expanse of the landscape, and the refinement & sophistication of the culture.

Kea is a beautiful, wild island steeped in history. Many families still live a traditional homesteading lifestyle where they produce the majority of the food they need, and the connection with the land and the rhythms of the seasons are very strong. But equally so the community is worldly, connected and well educated. The push and pull of “modern” life and tradition as evident as it is here in the US or perhaps everywhere. The chance to truly immerse myself in this culture is something I know I will always cherish. Not just as an outsider, but becoming friends with the incredible owners of the island purveyor Aristaios, Kiki and Andreas Mouzakis, and being welcomed so graciously into their lives and community. Travel is amazing like that, opening up space for new friendships and human connection even in unlikely places.

Even though from very different worlds, we bonded over a love of simple pleasures, prioritization of family (genetic and chosen) and an understanding of the way struggle and hard times remind us how piercingly beautiful our world is. We played tennis and football together, picnicked at the beach, hiked to the incredible ancient city of Karthea, talked life, politics, and weather, and shared so many amazing meals together.

I was struck by the era of transformation the island is in, evolving its deep roots of commerce and production to a future that is somewhat unknown. Kiki and Andreas pioneering a new wave of entrepreneurship, celebrating their culture and welcoming the world into it. The kindness I experienced is beyond anything I could have imagined, and for me is a powerful, powerful reminder of the bonds we all share, the coming together and exchange and inclusiveness that is humanity at its best. On my last night there we passed a phone around the table, each taking turns pulling up songs we liked and having that medley form the backdrop of our evening together.

Of course, we don’t always live in this space. We all have our own moments of fear, anger and frustration (for that I have learned some choice Greek words to express myself!), but to spend more and more time in that space, now more than ever, feels like the ultimate goal to me.

During my stay, the island went from winter to spring, The grasses greener, wild flowers appeared, almond trees burst out in blossom and the nights became warm enough for star gazing. As the island came alive I got a taste of how magical summer could be there, and I hope life brings me back to experience it. For now, I’m enjoying the new energy and creativity breathed into my work and life from the trip and so grateful to feel a sense of connection with a community halfway around the globe.

Yassas!

At the Acropolis in Athens

My home away from home on Kea

Inside Aristaios

One of the many beautiful beaches on the island

Kiki and Andreas at Karthea

The road to Vroskopos beach

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