A Peek at the Greek (way of life) Part I

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In the end it came down to a toss-up between Greece and Turkey. Turkey was never out of the question but money was one consideration. Flying there would require us to pay a bit more on flights and to acquire visas. I have visited the country on four separate occasions and have a deep affection for the landscape, food and culture despite, or perhaps because of, my Cypriot ancestry. Mirjam on the other hand has never been there. She was scheduled to spend a month there last year but I came along and with it another set of considerations. So in effect this was a chance to put things right in that regard.

The other big pull was that of my good friend Sofian aka El Kheer, the Algerian Anglophile. He teaches English in provincial Turkey somewhere a little north of  the geographic centre of the country. He is really a very good friend of mine and I can tell you honestly, right now, that not being able to see him was the biggest disappointment in making the choice for Greece. We chatted on Skype from our tiny little garden apartment in Nea Kallikratia which was nice but certainly no compensation. My sincere apologies dear friend.

He is really a very good friend of mine and I can tell you honestly, right now, that not being able to see him was the biggest disappointment in making the choice for Greece.

And what of the recent spate of terrorist incidents in Turkey I hear you ask? I’d like to say it didn’t affect my decision-making processes but it would be a lie. Of course such a scenario played on my mind as well, even though I know there is just as great a chance that the two of us could get run over by a bus en route to the Albert Hein store up the road. However, there was another major consideration: Mirjam was pregnant. How on Earth could I ever explain to her parents that I  took her to a country with a recent hike in terrorism-related incidents knowing that? We still hadn’t told them about it at the time of our departure.

And so on this occasion, regrettably, all I can write about is Greece and even then only of the Greece we experienced: a little bit of Central Macedonia and a bit Halkidiki to the SE of Thessaloniki, and of Thessaloniki itself. I’d actually visited the region before and not that long ago, in September-October 2015. There was no particular draw-card as such but the fact that I knew people helped. We were granted leave to stay with Lizzy Scott, a friendly and engaging  expat who rented an apartment in Thessaloniki. She’d moved there some years before to be closer to her son and grandkids. We’d met when she visited the vicinity of the area near to where the family I was volunteering for in northern Greece lived. Dirk and Maria lived in a rustic little village called Pendolofo.

I didn’t get a chance to write about any of this back then because I was pretty frenetic at this stage of my journey. I left Thessaloniki and Greece with only 5 nights or so before I had to be at a language camp in Warsaw, Poland, and I’d resolved not to travel by anything other than trains. I accomplished this objective arriving on the day of the day of the camp orientation on an overnight haul from Bratislava, Slovakia. It will stand out in my memory for being an extraordinarily varied week in my life: a succession of rail platforms; overnight sleeper berths; grey skies; brightly lit city centres; midnight border-crossings replete with grim-faced border officials and menacing German shepherd sniffer dogs; a bustling party hostel in the heart of Budapest; and a smattering of hopeful refugees heading northwards.

It will stand out in my memory for being an extraordinarily varied week in my life: a succession of platforms; overnight sleeper berths; grey skies; brightly lit city centres; midnight border-crossings replete with grim-faced border officials and menacing German shepherd sniffer dogs

And so I arrived back in Thessaloniki on the 9th of March, a Thursday. We were received by a smiling Liz and spent two nights in her apartment before driving back to Pendolofo with Maria and her two young boys, Arionas, 2, and Achilleas, 4. Maria was raised here and in Athens. Dirk is a Dutchman, a little older and very well-travelled. We wouldn’t see him on this trip because he was back in the Netherlands earning an income he couldn’t hope for in Greece. He would go back for several weeks at a time and we arrived bang in the middle of one of these working visits. Maria had intimated that she’s be grateful for some help with the childcare.

Child care is exactly  what we did for the proceeding 10 days with one or two days off in-between. It was tough on Mirjam. I probably shouldn’t have insisted on doing the volunteering at this time but we agreed that we needed to economise especially if we were going to rent a car and place for the second part of our ‘holiday’. As kind and accommodating to our needs as Maria was this leg of the trip was not a holiday. Young kids are hard work! Ha ha. The training ground begins here! I do think there’s an added pressure when you’re looking after someone else’s kids. What authority do you have? Can I exercise ‘consequences’ when they misbehave? etc

The area around Pendolofo is scenically very attractive: at the foot of the Mt Paiko range in Central Macedonia a short distance north of the ancient city of Pella, famous for having produced the legendary warrior king, Alexander. I did the museum and the excavated remnants of the city on my previous visit. On that occasion the last of the cotton harvest was being reaped and I cycled along roads where cotton lint festooned the branches and twigs of the roadside vegetation, giving it a faux-wintry look, as if the late autumn had suddenly ended prematurely.

The area around Pendolofo is scenically very attractive: at the foot of the Mt Paiko range in Central Macedonia a short distance north of the ancient city of Pella, famous for having produced the legendary warrior king, Alexander.

Testament to the durability of the cotton was the fact that the branches of these same trees and shrubs were still liberally spotted by the stuff several months later. We saw it on our drive north along the same roads some 15 months or so after I had last travelled them. The drive takes you from the region of Pella to Kilikis. Maria remarked with a look of resignation on the contrast between the conditions of the roads in the two regions. Pella is relatively well-funded whilst Kilkis is not. That said, beyond the road narrowing, I couldn’t say there was a noticeable difference in the quality of the tarmac. There were occasional holes, especially when passing through the smaller towns, but nothing to compare with the state of affairs in some parts of Africa I’d lived in.

Other than Mt Paiko, perhaps as a consequence of Mt Paiko, there are several monasteries in the vicinity of Pendolofo.

Other than Mt Paiko, perhaps as a consequence of Mt Paiko, there are several monasteries in the vicinity of Pendolofo. One of them, the monastery of St Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain (1), is a mere 20 minutes jog from Pendolofo as I discovered, literally at the end of the road. Perhaps ‘slog’ would be a more appropriate verb here considering the uphill ascent. I made it as far as the imposing gates where I discovered that my attire was unsuitable – trousers and collared shirt pictured for men, full-length skirt or shawl covering arms and legs for women – and returned a few days later with Mirjam in tow. (To clarify, we walked at a SEDATE pace appropriate for a pregnant woman and a man with unusually stiff legs).

St nicodemos

The monastery of St Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain near Pendolofo. Credit discovergreece.com

We entered the premises without encountering anyone but a priest in a black cassock pointed us towards a reception-cafeteria. I should add that the monastery itself is a towering multi-story building that appears to have been built in modern times, which should not be too surprising considering that this part of Greece was only relinquished by the Ottomans in 1902. We were met by a bearded father, probably in his early to mid-forties, who introduced himself as Father Seraphim. ‘Like the angel’ he told us in his halting English. He very kindly offered us tea or coffee and went off to prepare it. He returned a little while later with the beverages and a few Greek pastries.

We were met by a bearded father, probably in his early to mid-forties, who introduced himself as Father Seraphim.

We ate and then gestured for him to return since Mirjam wanted to buy something from amongst the impressive collection of newly printed colour-illustrated books on saints and liturgy, icons, holy crucifix, incense sticks, candles, oils and more besides. We engaged him again in conversation and the more interest we showed the more he divulged about the contents of the books, the life of St Nicodemus, and the various feast days on which their sacred icons would be on public display. Foremost amongst these is the Panagia  – Mary and baby Jesus – framed in gold and silver relief. He insisted we take a diverse selection of postcards and prints of the monastery, the icons and the processional displays. I’ve photographed them all together below.

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A collection of cards from the monastery of St Nicodemus of Mt Athos

I have to say he was a cheerful man with sparkling eyes and not the dour stereotype many expect to find holed up in a monastery on a remote mountainside. There was a touch of the religious fanatic one finds in many of the clergy of whatever faith and a sense of dire anticipation hung tangibly in the air when he asked us whether ‘we believed.’ We reassured him that we did and his sense of relief was endearing. ‘Thank God’ he proclaimed.

… a sense of dire anticipation hung tangibly in the air when he asked us whether ‘we believed.’ We reassured him that we did and his sense of relief was endearing.

After our indoctrination we were given permission to take a look at the main chapel on the ground level (there was one that appeared to be perched on top of the enormous building) and a smaller one skilfully built into the side of a narrow ravine a short distance away from the main monastic building. Although the first chapel possessed the more awe-inspiring articles, the gold-rimmed icons and menalia, it was the more modest of the two that appealed more to me. Built into the slope of the mountain one side even incorporated the volcanic strata revealed through its construction. The only downside was that it possessed the temperature of a walk-in fridge!

The Greeks are still a very religious people by and large. That is to say that the Greek Orthodox faith is deeply embedded in their culture and way of life for better or worse.

The Greeks are still a very religious people by and large. That is to say that the Greek Orthodox faith is deeply embedded in their culture and way of life for better or worse. I have just illuminated a few of the positive attributes – beautiful buildings and a sense of aesthetic in the iconography, carving and painted relief work. There may be acts of almsgiving and the like of which I am unaware of. I don’t really know too much about the charitable activities of the church. If I were to put the question to Dirk the answer would be none. He reserves a scathing criticism for the men in black. ‘They rob the widows of their pensions’ he proclaimed the last time I was there. Maria is also quite outspoken in her condemnation of the church, principally because they don’t pay any taxes to the state.

What Maria says she resents the most is the privileged position that the church takes in any economic consideration.

Maria has been trying for several years to help her parents run a guesthouse in the town of Goumenissa at the foot of the mountains in this part of Kilkis. Goumenissa is only a ten minute drive from Pendolofo and where Achilleas goes to pre-school. She and Dirk have tried hard to promote the potential of the area abroad, investing in heaps of marketing. Dirk acquired a fleet of mountain bikes for the more health-minded visitors interested in outdoor adventure pursuits.

What Maria says she resents the most is the privileged position that the church takes in any economic consideration. The mayor of the region needs votes to stay in power and a good relationship with the Greek Church ensures that he has their considerable backing. He scoffed at her suggestion that Mt Paiko be developed and marketed as a premier cycling destination and insisted that the region’s focus will be on the monasteries and encouraging more pilgrims to visit.

(the mayor) scoffed at her suggestion that Mt Paiko be developed and marketed as a premier cycling destination and insisted that the region’s focus will be on the monasteries and encouraging more pilgrims to visit.

The ability of the Greek Church to get its way on other matters was highlighted by Maria one morning in conversation with me. She had just heard the results of a local government vote on a proposal by the Monastery of St Nicodemus to increase its boundaries. Maria said that they’d alleged that local villagers foraging for wood on Mt Paiko (everyone is entitled to winter quota) were disturbing the peace. They were requesting a 1 km square ‘exclusion zone’ centred on the monastery she reported. The vote had just come in and only two members of the council had opposed the request. It was passed almost unanimously. I seemed a bit of a flimsy reason to me but it was unclear if this was a territorial expansion with land ownership passing to the Church or something more along the lines of a zone of exclusion as I wrote above.

Despite the mayor’s lack of enthusiasm I took full advantage of the geographic benefits of the region. I didn’t have access to one of Dirk’s bikes but I did have a pair of trainers. The views from the altitude of Pendolofo, at a modest 600m or so, are still breath-taking. You look down upon the fertile plains of Central Macedonia stretching south eastwards to Thessaloniki, illuminated best at night against the shore of the Mediterranean. Further to the south the snowy hump of Mt Olympus looms large on a clear day and to the northwest the Belasica range mark the junction between FYROM (Macedonia the country), Bulgaria and Greece. The snowline on this range was quite visible about two-thirds of the way up at this time of year.

The views from the altitude of Pendolofo, at a modest 600m or so, are still breath-taking.

Quite by coincidence the next run I took in the area was in the shadow of another monastery, that of the Saints Raphael, Nicholas and Irene of Lesvos. We were many miles from that particular island but the story of these venerated Saints is an interesting one. I first heard it from Brother Gregory. I’d arrived huffing and puffing at the gates to the monastery after ascending along a brand new stretch of road, another gripe of Maria’s, feeling a little awkward in my running attire. However it seemed of no consequence to Brother Gregory who ushered me in through the guest entrance to the impressively large complex of buildings.

Monastery of St Raphael icon

What appears to be the most popularised iconographic representation of the Saints Raphael, Nicholas and Irene.

Once again I was flattered to be served a mug of hot tea, a plate of pastries and a generous bowl of honey too. Gregory tended to the steady flow of local devotees visiting the monastery on this Sunday morning and chatted to me in-between. Although this monastery was only founded in 1992 the history of the Saints to whom it’s devoted goes back far further. I refer to a web source(2) for further information:

Sts Raphael, Nicholas and Irene suffered martyrdom by the Turks on the island of Lesvos (also called Mytilene) on April 9 1463 AD, after the fall of Constantinople. St Raphael was the Abbot of Karyes near the village of Thermi on the island. St Nicholas was a Deacon at the monastery, and St Irene was the 12-year-old daughter of the major of Thermi. The three saints were at the monastery with the village teacher and St Irene’s father when the Turks raided it.

These saints were unknown for about 500 years after their martyrdoms during the Turkish occupation of Lesvos. In 1959 the three saints appeared to the people on Lesvos in dreams and visions. They guided excavations of their own graves, called people to repentance, and cured many kinds of diseases.

I found Brother Gregory an engaging and thoughtful man. He told me that he’d given up everything to be there and that the story of the saints’ martyrdom and the relatively recent rediscovery of their remains had ‘changed his life.’ We talked for some time and he promised to send me the English version of a book on the three saints upon its publication some time this year. Many miracles have been attributed to these saints and some of these accounts seem to be strain the sinews of rational belief. Read more here. (3)

As it was a day of remembrance for the souls of the departed he allowed me to light a candle in the narthex of a small chapel near the entrance. I was also invited to stay for lunch and though I was sorely tempted I declined saying that someone was waiting for me back home. That much was true but there was also no way I could run the 5 or so kilometres back on a full stomach. Maybe I should have settled for an afternoon stroll and taken the lunch.

Web reference:

(1) http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.de/2009/07/st-nikodemos-of-holy-mountain.html

(2) http://www.orthodoxchristian.info/pages/sts_rni.htm

(3) http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.de/2014/04/the-monastery-of-sts-raphael-nicholas.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Taizé Mission and the Trouble Next Door

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When I questioned Barbara on her source of funding for the renovations she revealed that she was solely dependent on income derived from visitors to her guesthouses. She had originally come to Antakya in the mid-1970s to establish a Catholic church, now presided over by Fth Domenico, a Carmelite priest.

The church backed onto the Taizé guesthouse which she had established subsequently. She’d rented the various rooms and courtyards for several decades. She was by no means assured of keeping them indefinitely. In recent years wealthier individuals and families had begun to buy the older houses for restoration. She worried that her landlord/s might be enticed to sell one or other of the accommodation she rented were an attractive offer made by a prospective re-developer.

She worried that her landlord/s might be enticed to sell one or other of the accommodation she rented were an attractive offer made by a prospective re-developer.

On my first visit in the summer of 2013 I had met a number of NGO workers involved in the unfolding crisis across the border in nearby Syria (only some 50 km east of Antakya). By contrast in the winter months there were very few visitors. This time around I noticed a few, young NGO-types emerging from one of the guesthouse blocks. Barbara told me they were a French organisation who’d ‘accidentally’ become permanent lodgers.

On my second last evening I met a Polish girl called Paulina while eating out with Barbara. She worked for a Polish NGO involved with Syrian refugees. She’d originally lodged with Barbara and for a while the agency had used her premises as a headquarters. This was not ideal because Barbara forbade visitors from outside within her guesthouse commune so they had moved elsewhere once a suitable alternative had been acquired. I’m not sure what arrangement the French NGO had with her.

Paulina was a quirky, good-natured girl, probably around 30 years in age. She arrived from an afternoon break in Samandağ on the coast to join us at the Asi café. Barbara and I had already ordered. I chose a side from the limited specials section – some sort of spicy, beef stew. Barbara had chosen a Mexican steak but was informed by our young waiter a few minutes later that it was unavailable so settled for my dish instead. We requested that it not be too spicy when the waiter asked for our preference.

As it turned out it was full of fiery, eye-watering peppers. I blinked back the tears, alternating between sips of Effes lager and mouthfuls of stew and bread. Barbara seemed to be more stoic in her approach but admitted in her understated, Germanic manner that it was indeed “quite hot”. As for Paulina, she suffered a gluten intolerance couldn’t eat a dish supplemented by bread. She chose some sort of lamb dish that I’d been considering earlier. By this stage Barbara and I had finally concluded our respective duels with the fiery beef stew.

We requested that it not be too spicy when the waiter asked for our preference… As it turned out it was full of fiery, eye-watering peppers.

The obviously French-influenced architectural style of the building opposite the Asi Restaurant.

The obviously French-influenced architectural style of the building opposite the Asi Restaurant.

Poor, poor Paulina: what did she get? Exactly what we got, that’s what. I was about to interject when Barbara exchanged words with the waiter. She turned to us and shrugged saying something about the absence of lamb in the kitchen. She gestured for Paulina to begin and waved away the waiter. The poor girl looked down at her plate with an obvious lack of enthusiasm. “Ja, they are trying their best I think,” continued Barbara in defense of the restaurant (her choice).

Personally, I would have sent it back but that may have been culturally taboo. I really don’t know, except that I really felt for poor Paulina as she picked away at the stew for the next ten minutes with only a glass of wine to extinguish the flames. Her plate of bread sat forlornly to one side.

I really felt for poor Paulina as she picked away at the stew for the next ten minutes with only a glass of wine to extinguish the flames.

We fared better with the desert at a popular confectionery café just over the Ata Koprüşü (bridge). Barbara and Paulina had several blobs of ice-cream presented in proper fluted ice-cream bowls. I had a square of some sort of gelatinous, starchy pudding which I enjoyed with a blob of vanilla ice-cream. It was surprisingly filling. I asked Paulina if she felt safe travelling alone in the area as a woman. She laughed and made light of it but admitted that she was obliged to check in with her security person before going anywhere. She also confessed to feeling a certain tension in the city. Couldn’t I? I replied that I honestly couldn’t.

A little further into the conversation she hinted at the undue attention she got from men as a foreign female and I think this may have been the source of the tension she talked of. What I saw was a bustling city where everyone seemed to be doing something, whether he or she be behind a shop counter on the main street, running a stall or workshop in a bazaar or on a side-street, or simply selling simit (seeded bread rings) or fresh produce on a street corner. In other words it was much like any other Turkish town or city but with its own particular flavour.

What I saw was a bustling city where everyone seemed to be doing something, whether he or she be behind a shop counter on the main street, running a stall or workshop in a bazaar or on a side-street, or simply selling simit (seeded bread rings) or fresh produce on a street corner.

The only other NGO person I spoke to on my trip was an Irishman staying in one of the guesthouses. Barbara had mentioned him before I actually met him. He had an unusual name which sounded like Endar, though I’m not sure how it’s spelt. He had come down from Urfa for a few days. He was working with a Danish organisation, employed as some sort of community therapist or counselor. He looked over-worked.

In the first instance he had avoided eye-contact whenever we were in the vicinity of each-other but when we found ourselves together in the quiescence of Barbara’s computer/library room he was a bit more forthcoming. He bemoaned the fact that every NGO he had worked for seemed to suffer a repeated amnesia. “I spend my life putting out fires”, he gestured with flailing arms. “They never seem to learn.”

He bemoaned the fact that every NGO he had worked for seemed to suffer a repeated amnesia. “I spend my life putting out fires”, he gestured with flailing arms. “They never seem to learn.”

Part of the problem with his current employer he told me was the number of Syrians they had taken on to assist them. “These people are immersed in the problems of other families all day long and then they have to return to crowded houses where they have to deal with the issues of their own families without the luxury of any domestic privacy”. It sounded rather desperate. We talked about the general situation in the region. When I told him that I had managed to purchase some old Iraqi dinars from a Lebanese curio seller in town he shook his head.

A 250 Iraqi Dinar note I found in a souvenir shop in town.

A set of two 250 Iraqi Dinar notes and some other bits and pieces I found in a souvenir shop in town.

“What a mess, right? Thanks to old Tony Blair. Look at him now, not in the least bit remorseful.”

I asked him if he thought the Western efforts were bearing much fruit vis-a-viz the bombing sorties against the Islamic State.

“Are you joking?” he replied. “They (the UK government) don’t have a clue. They’re just doing what the Americans tell them.”

A few months earlier he’d witnessed IS driving up and down the hills across the border south of Urfa waving their black flags. He also claimed that the female accomplice to the recent shootings at the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris had actually been on the same domestic flight as him from Istanbul to Urfa a weeks ago. How had they not picked her up I wondered.

A few months earlier he’d witnessed IS driving up and down the hills across the border south of Urfa waving their black flags.

He intimated that the situation was spiraling out of control; that Western intelligence just couldn’t keep up any more. He didn’t offer up a solution. I doubt there is any magic bullet except to say that Western intervention in Iraq seems in hindsight to have been very shortsighted.

When, back in Izmit, I proudly showed Sofian my Iraqi dinars he nodded and smiled at Sadaam’s handsome suited image on the reverse side.

“We liked Saddam in Algeria. He was a strongman. The sort of man you need to keep a country like Iraq together. Not by killing people,” he hastened to add, “but by preventing religious violence.”

“We liked Saddam in Algeria. He was a strongman. The sort of man you need to keep a country like Iraq together. Not by killing people,” he hastened to add, “but by preventing religious violence.”

He had said the same about Gaddafi in neighbouring Libya. It seems to me as thought the good/bad, with us/against us, one or the other moral dichotomy offered up by the Bush-Blair alliance has obscured a far more complicated picture; one which the West or indeed anyone else has yet to rationalise in a manner conducive to peaceful coexistence.

Take Syria: On more than one occasion I heard people exclaim how surprised they had been at the outbreak of war and indeed the fact that it had dragged on for so long without an end in sight. Barbara herself shook her head sadly when contemplating the state of affairs.

“They were a model for us in a co-existence between different religions and ethnic groups. There seems to be a switch in the mind of human beings which can change just like that,” she continued. “We are all very shocked about what’s happened in Syria” (she pronounced Syria as Soo-ree-ah which is, I think, as it is in the Arabic tongue).

“They were a model for us in a co-existence between different religions and ethnic groups …” “We are all very shocked about what’s happened in Syria” (she pronounced Syria as Soo-ree-ah which is, I think, as it is in the Arabic tongue).

“And why did you choose Antakya?” I asked her. She expounded on the fact that it had a long history of religious interaction and something someone of religious importance had said to her about it being ‘ideally’ situated in this regard. I like the fact that the Taizé community worship chooses to incorporate ‘wisdom readings’ derived from other religions or sources of spiritual enlightenment.

Barbara encouraged me to find something from African folklore to share. I am not well versed in it but I did have a book of poems written by a man who had lived something of a hermit’s life in Zimbabwe. He had lived with and cared for lepers and his poems were an unusual mix of inspirations, from English literary traditions to biblical scripture to the African landscape and the people therein. I chose one of them to share the one evening. I think it went down well. In any event I left the book and another in her library for future travellers to read. In turn I took a book written by a contemporary novelist to read back in Izmit.

On the final day of my stay in Antakya, a Sunday, I wanted to attend a Mass at the next door Catholic church, the one that Barbara had originally established. They usually rang the bell at 0830 on weekdays but today they rang about half an hour later. Nevertheless, as I discovered on previous occasions, the imposing metal doors at the entrance remained closed. There was a buzzer to the one side but after ringing it and waiting till the intercom automatically switched off the connection to the inside I decided to try the Greek Orthodox Church on Hurriyet Caddesi instead.

I decided to try the Greek Orthodox Church on Hurriyet Caddesi instead … I was fortunate to find that the service was just getting underway when I arrived …

I was fortunate to find that the service was just getting underway when I arrived with several other members of the congregation. I explained to a man at the gate that I was a foreigner and after a quick appraisal he opened the gate to admit me,albeit without a smile.

I was concerned that I might stand out once in the church but no-one paid me undue attention. I had only attended one or two Greek Orthodox services previously, back in Harare. Zimbabwe still has a surprising number of Greeks. My father was born into the faith but had not been an active participant until it was required that he do so in order to facilitate his application for a Cypriot passport. Like his sons he adopted Catholicism, my mother’s faith. In fact, he became an enthusiastic proponent of the faith, even if he didn’t always put its teachings into practice.

My brothers and I had considered it a bit of a joke when he suddenly went through all the pomp and ceremony of adopting Greek Orthodoxy towards the end of his life. Shortly before he died back in 2006 he even married his long-time mistress and legal secretary in a home ceremony overseen by Father George of the Harare GO establishment (coincidentally our parish priest in the Catholic diocese had also been a Father George). Ultimately there were two funeral ceremonies for my father – one at our local Catholic parish, and another at the Orthodox cathedral. Along with another funeral and a wedding or two that was about the extent of my engagement with the GO church.

The congregation of the Greek Orthodox church emerge after the service to a wet and rainy morning.

The congregation of the Greek Orthodox church emerge after the service to a wet and rainy morning.

On this occasion, in Antakya, I found the surroundings somewhat familiar. There was some attractive iconography and lots of gold leaf embossing the visages of Jesus Christ, Mary, the Saints and other figures of religious significance. The alter was set back behind a screen comprised of the pictures I have just described and other embellishments. The priest, a middle-aged man, conspicuously clean-shaven, presided over the Orthodox Mass. He moved back and forth between a lectern in front of the screen and the alter set back behind it.

I found the surroundings somewhat familiar. There was some attractive iconography and lots of gold leaf embossing the visages of Jesus Christ, Mary, the Saints and other figures of religious significance.

I tried to soak up the sung liturgy which it seemed was recited in a mixture of Arabic and Turkish (Barbara confirmed this when I asked her late). This surprised me but, in retrospect, language has important connotations in Turkey. Whilst it wasn’t very long ago that Turks wrote in Arabic calligraphy (prior to Ataturk’s reforms) the language itself is rich in Arabic words. Greek on the other hand was the language of a traitorous minority who sort independence from Ottoman Turkey in Anatolia. Perhaps I’m going too far in my analysis. It’s just a guess.

All too soon Sunday evening came along and my final hours in Antakya were upon me. I finally got to enjoy the environs of the Mistik Cafe next door which I had been eyeing with curiosity ever since I had walked past the entrance earlier in the week. There was a spacious courtyard with several orange trees, one of whose branches hung over the wall, laden with succulent round fruit.

I finally got to enjoy the environs of the Mistik Cafe next door which I had been eyeing with curiosity ever since I had walked past the entrance earlier in the week.

Usually in the evenings there were an assortment of young adults and teens drinking coffee and smoking Nargile, as one could observe in just about any Turkish town or city. It was one of a number of cafes in the old town, testament to its growing appeal to the younger, more Bohemian members of society. This evening there were only one or two tables occupied, perhaps due to the rain which had been falling intermittently most of the day. We went upstairs to the dining area where I had an excellent tavuk (chicken) shish. The food was not only cheaper than the Asi Restaurant from the previous evening but better presented and, most importantly, you got what you asked for!

The food was not only cheaper than the Asi Restaurant from the previous evening but better presented and, most importantly, you got what you asked for!

We sat and chatted for some time after the meal. I gleaned some interesting morsels of information from Barbara about the situation as regards religion and the important role played by the relevant ministry/council in Ankara in mediating its practice and instruction in schools. I admired the secular nature of the Turkish state but wondered at the challenges presented in balancing theological laws and traditions with the secular constitution and judiciary. It wasn’t only with regard to the use of, and restrictions imposed in, Arabic language instruction in Hatay, but also the broader monitoring of Islamic Sharia as practised by more religious Muslims.

I admired the secular nature of the Turkish state but wondered at the challenges presented in balancing theological laws and traditions with the secular constitution and judiciary.

There was a slight misunderstanding as regards the terms of my stay which was a bit unfortunate but I suppose we should have discussed this at the beginning of my stay. In any event the daily rate was hardly unreasonable at approximately 10 pounds per day. I said goodnight to Barbara after settling up and returned to my room to complete the formality of packing up. Barbara is a quiet, serious lady; firm but not unkind. I think she is sensitive to other people’s opinion and feelings but does not always verbalise these thoughts. I would like to visit the guesthouse again in the future and hope that after all the years she has spent in building her community will continue to bear fruit.

I would like to visit the guesthouse again in the future and hope that after all the years she has spent in building her community will continue to bear fruit.