Conversations about the Resurrection

Xristos Anesti – Christ has risen in the Orthodox World.  In a world crippled by corruption and greed, yet filled with passion and lust for life beyond any measure of sanity. Today is Easter Sunday for the Greek and Eastern Orthodox churches.

There should be a candle burning in my kitchen representing the Resurrection service last night, but there is not. When I first moved to Durban my father would always ask on the telephone: “Are you going to church?”

“I’ll try. I’m on call.” In the beginning call was a nightmare at King Edward VIII Hospital, where I would be stuck operating through the night and work nonstop for thirty six hours. The call in private became more civilised but I stressed over it anyway. I am on call this weekend again.I did pop into church when Father Mina was there. He was a strong link with the family and being Greek, because he was our parish priest for many years in Alberton and officiated over many weddings, christenings and funerals. He knew us all very well.

I never brought a candle home in Durban. My father always brought a candle home in Alberton. It was the most important thing to do. I think he always completed the attendance at the church service after the Resurrection and then took the candle home to lie safely in a glass vase so that it could burn through to the next morning, and also safely so that it did not burn the house down as the kitchen in those days had flimsy flammable nylon curtains. After that he would arrive at Uncle Phillip’s house which was two houses and the hall away from the church, as everyone had finished Aunty Marina’s avgolemono soup, which was a light meal to break the fast in the early hours of the morning. He would eat alone as we all watched and talked.

After a few hours sleep he would rise to supervise the lighting of the fires at 6 a.m., and then after thirty minutes put the sheep on the spit. We usually tied them down on the Saturday afternoon and left them standing like dead soldiers with spears leaning against the kitchen wall. On the Sunday morning it was an appropriate funeral pyre for them to burn on, for us to celebrate six hours later.

Once the sheep were safely on and turning slowly on the fire, before any real smell came off them, my father would take us to visit the ancestors and wish them Xristos Anesti. At the cemetery we would clean out metal vases and place new flowers on the graves of my grandparents in honour of their resurrection. The fine red sand surrounding the graves would smell of Africa when we poured water onto it. The incense we burnt to carry their spirits and our prayers to God smelt of Greece.

Alithos Anesti – In Truth He has Risen.

Father Mina in the Friday with the Epitaphio following. Circa 1974

Conversations at an Interview

Alberton in the seventies was already blown wide open when one of the Greek community’s sons underwent gender reassignment surgery. In his teens he became a she. There was never any malicious talk that I can remember from that conservative community. There were no hushed whispers when she came to church.

We used to be friends when we were preteens, but then drifted apart. Nothing was forced, and they were a lovely family.

One day my father was interviewing for a post in the company. It was an administrative position, one that would normally be filled by a woman. It’s interesting how gender roles were so fixed in those days, and still we struggle to break them down. South African women were only empowered to vote in 1943. In the years when my father was active on the community there were no woman on the committee. Woman had defined roles, catering in the hall, preparing the bier of Christ, the epitaphio for Good Friday and other important events.

And in those times here was my father interviewing, quite fairly, a gay man for a woman’s post. No doubt my father sat at his ash wood desk with a folio of foolscap pages to make notes. He would have had some questions prepared, written untidily because although he wrote right handed, he was born left handed and all of society forced him to change. Being left handed was too close to the devil, too sinister. While interview, or chairing meetings, he would unnerve people by changing pen from right to left and continue writing.

He would always ask about education and achievements at school, because they were important. Playing sport was a good indicator of social integration. Church attendance was more important than what religion a potential employee followed; I am not sure if Jehovah’s Witnesses were ever employed. I have a feeling they were, but that religion was never discussed at work. Family life was another topic to be covered in the interview. I am not sure how that would have been answered by the gay candidate. It was acceptable in a manner of speaking in those days to declare yourself gay, but not to live with a lover. Of course, marriage to that lover was unheard of, and sodomy was still a crime in the Republic of South Africa.

The candidate was a good option for the job. Well educated, a sportsman, churchgoing and well spoken. My father let him leave.

He called in his senior secretary. Prim and proper, she sat down.

“Yes, Mr Peter?”

“He is a good candidate. But I will not take him. I am worried about you girls.”

Conversations while Walking

The best time we had together was when we walked. We never walked together in Durban. It was too hot for my father, and he used to get chest pain in the heat. Also, to be fair, I work in Durban and I would rush off early to work and come back late.

We used to walk at Mbona. We would walk past the stables down the valley, over the dam wall and up through the wattle and pine plantation past my brother John’s place for coffee. Then we would contour in the grassland, past the zebra that always hide in a hollow and back onto the main road to our house.

Walking at home in Alberton was fun, because it was with the dogs. They would lead the way and set the pace. There were certain houses with enemy dogs that always required a stand of aggression, and there were other gates and poles that required a territorial marking. His attorney’s house always required the dog to mark with something more solid. The house was the last in the suburb without a fence, so it was easy to let the dog make a mark in the open. It was an abvious calling card.

We also walked in Astros. I only remember really hot days with early walks, past the village shops that were still closed, past the harbour with yachts lying unmoving in the still blue water. Past the Duck House in the middle of the harbour, and the amphitheatre at the edge of the harbour. Up the hill, with a rest at the church and sometimes to light a candle, then downhill, back into the village. Now the bakery was open and the heavy smell of fresh bread and pastries would force us to stop to buy breakfast; then laden with bags we would walk the few blocks home and devour the fresh bread with fig jam and share the apple pastries.

The best place to walk was Kakouri. He was always so happy heading off into the plain. Down the avenue of plane trees, the village fresh in the morning, the earthy smell of sheep not yet fermented in the day’s heat. After a while he would turn left into the fields, along a sand road, then left again to slowly walk up a long hill to the original spring of the village which still trickled fresh sweet water. He would stop for a drink and then continue up to the church of Agio Dimitri and then backtrack into a small ravine that separated the village from the mountain of Analipsi. From there onto a tar road studded with sheep droppings and into Keza’s Cafe, where the men were already sitting in the shade of the pergola covered with vines as old as the shop. Some were drinking coffee; a few others would always be nursing a brandy. The usual group was always chatty. More often than not someone who was not regular would come by, be offered a coffee and information would be exchanged.

I am sure the same happened at the socialist cafe up the road.

Conversations with an Herb Seller

I really do not know what else to call her.

The walk to the open market in Tripoli is from the main square through the narrow roads on uneven pavements. As you leave the square there are modern shops and banks and as you approach the market there are general trading stores, saddle makers and even an iron monger. Although Tripoli may give you the impression of sophistication with its smart bars and fancy shops, it really is a hard core survivalist agricultural trading town, where farmers can sell their wares and buy supplies to crack open the rock strewn earth to plant vegetables.

Originally they used furrows to distribute the water in the fields, then they moved onto long steel linkable pipes, with bulbous clamps to join one to the other. Now the shops sell boring black plastic pipes in big rolls, to be used for a season or two, then discarded.

The market happens on you suddenly. My father always stopped just before, on the sidewalk, where a lady used to sell fresh fried bunches of oregano. Now, I grow fresh herbs at home to cook with, but this dried oregano from the mountains of Arcadia, growing amongst the rocks and with hardly any water, is the most aromatic herb I know. A few pinches of the leaves can add another dimension to food. And if the food happens to be robust local Arcadian lamb or tomatoes, accompanied by homemade cheese, then the gods of flavour have blessed you.

Clutching the bag of mountain herbs my father would enter the market, and speak to stall holders, always spending more time with people from our village or the villages of his close friends in South Africa. He would taste and apple here, sample a cucumber and buy a few tomatoes for the house. When he was alone in the village on business he would never buy a lot, and then only classics like bread, tomatoes, onions and cheese.

By now the morning was late and the sun high and hot. He would make his way back to the main square past the church that used to house the coffee shop, a small roastery that sold fresh ground coffee, an added aroma to the heavenly incense wafting from the church: frankincense and myrrh . Off another side road was a cafe under some chestnut trees, large and shady. He would pull up a chair, usually the same one, greet a few people he knew, ask of their families and businesses (although I really think they do very little work there, hence the dire current economic times) and have a  coffee.

He always finished by saying how he loved shopping like this, and not in a mall.

Conversations with a Coach

My father and I often spoke about life coaches. In a way, he was a crisis coach for many people. People came to him with a problem, he analysed it with them and helped them look for solutions. He was a financial coach for others, a bit more structured, and something he clearly understood.

We spoke about coaches when he discussed solutions for people who had consulted with him. I think he knew a lot more about them than he let on, but used this trick of ignorance to absorb as much information from others on a topic, so that he had no bias.

The movie “The Bucket List” came out the year before my father died. I only saw it afterwards. It would have made a good conversation with him.

The thing people forget about the bucket list is you need a plain tin bucket to hold the water of your dreams. And that bucket comes with hard work. Then as you grow the dreams you need to use that water to make sure the plants of your dreams continue to grow. Some of these plants will be fruit and vegetables you eat every day, others will be shade trees to relax under while others may be blades of grass in a field that will inspire you.

But besides working to buy the bucket and fill it with water using dedication and integrity, I wonder when my father defined his Bucket List and what was on that list. I have some of his writing, but those are mainly speeches.

His list must have had categories like family, work, Greece, the community and Hellenism.

He knew he wanted to marry my mother from when she was 17 and he was 19. He wanted children to educate and leave to stand on their own feet. He wanted to ensure some financial support for his grandchildren.

He reclaimed his father’s house in the village in Greece, restored it and treasured his annual holidays there. He secured his mother’s vineyards to make wine from them each year to store in the cellar. He immersed himself in the village community and became one of them. He set up a business in Greece to secure more property (and add a lot more stress to his life).

He founded the local Greek Community in Alberton and gave it direction for many years, facilitating the building of a hall and then church. He dreamt of a local Greek school, but was a vehicle for other dreams of other people in the building of SAHETI. He dreamt of and founded the Hellenic Federation.

Those were the big dreams. The small ones were just as important. Like building a soap box cart with me.