Fig & Vine: Greek edition
Updated: Nov 3, 2020
The name Fig & Vine came to me over a year ago as I walked through our garden thinking, listening, praying about starting a blog (does the world need another blog?) And, if I started one, what would I name it?
A whisper: What are your favorite things here in this garden? My eyes landed on our youngest fig tree, barely budding but coming along nicely. Just behind it, a grapevine trailed along the fence, its early summer leaves full, its fruit not yet apparent. Figs and vines, I thought. Yes.
Only then did I remember the biblical promise of a heavenly future where every person will sit under their own vine and fig tree. Peace, safety, well-being. Yes, please.
For the past two weeks, I've been on the Greek island of Lesvos, teaching with my husband in a training school run by our Christian organization. (Another land of vines and figs!) Traveling in the time of Covid definitely is a challenge, but we felt led to come despite everything, and here we are.
It was lovely to sit on the terrace of the fourth-floor apartment we shared the first week with four young men. Fresh breezes blew across from the not-too-distant harbor. Pastel-colored houses with brick red roofs spread before me, a hill with the ruin of a castle fort in the distance.
Below me, I could see people's gardens, citrus trees laden with oranges–some of which are said to be incredibly bitter. My colleague told me that locals like to sell these on the streets to unsuspecting tourists, then hide and watch as they take a bite, enjoying the resulting expressions of disgust. Now we understand why most of the fruit is staying on the trees.
I enjoyed the juxtaposition of the ancient, charmingly old buildings and those more modern. And most of all, breathing the crisp, fresh air, unmasked on our private balcony.
On the other side of the apartment are more terraces (so nice!) and a view of the cathedral. Beyond is the sea and a mere five kilometers across the water, Turkey, which is currently ramping up threats against many surrounding countries. And, in recent days, including France. Indeed it seems the whole world is being shaken.
A few days ago, "Oxi Day" or "No Day" was celebrated commemorating the Greeks saying "No!" to Mussolini in 1940. May they stand firm against forces once again coming against them.
What is it about traveling, being in another culture that frees up thoughts, creativity, new energy? I believe at least part of it is the stimulation of seeing and experiencing new peoples, cultures, ways of being, relating. And somehow, the contrast produces clarity and a fresh perspective.
For me, eating local food is one of the greatest pleasures of traveling. Not only because Greek cuisine is delicious, but even more so as it gives a particular window into the people and their values. Plates and platters of food to be shared are common and happens to be one of my favorite ways to eat. When at home, my husband kindly tolerates this and offers a taste of his meal whenever we're out. But here, it's all "ours," and I can stick my fork in again and again.
Lesvos island is home to Europe's largest refugee camp: up to 30,000 people have been "housed" in a space meant for 800. Inhumane, unthinkable, unbelievable comes to mind. Overwhelming. This Mória camp was recently burned from within in a desperate bid to bring change. "Homeless" they were then forced to live along a stretch of road. Several thousand, including hundreds of orphans, were moved onto the mainland, and a new camp of "only" 7500 has risen between the highway and the sea.
However, since the camp is considered "temporary," showers cannot be built. A Dutch organization is ready to fund and carry out this project but has been denied permission. Toilets and running water are limited and not hygienic. "How can we protect ourselves from coronavirus if we can't even wash our hands?" asked one woman.
To know that nearby there are multitudes of people suffering horrific conditions, with no end in sight is unsettling, to say the least. How one wishes to "fix" it all, to provide a semblance of a decent life for these refugees. There are no easy solutions.
The students in our training school here spend one day a week in the camp–playing games with the children, football with young adults, and helping as they can. While it doesn't bring long-term practical solutions, we can offer spiritual hope and a lifting of the spirits of those who wait. And wait and wait and wait.
While writing this, news came that France has once more entered a lockdown–for at least a month. It's a bit jarring to be away, to work on getting back home with flights canceled, etc. Again, I know we're supposed to be here now, but it's a bit more of an adventure than I'd imagined!
Then came the report of another barbaric terrorist attack in France, this time in Nice. Previously unthinkable atrocities have now occurred twice in as many weeks.
A day later, during lunch with staff and students, I felt a shaking that rose from below. Thinking someone was feeling antsy and jiggling their leg (pretty vigorously!) I checked under our table. No one was moving. Oh! It's an earthquake! We evacuated as one never knows with buildings here. Later we learned that the epicenter was in Izmir, Turkey, just across the ocean and a bit south of us, resulting in loss of life, collapsed buildings, and small tsunamis. Thankfully, there was no tsunami here on Lesvos, where the refugees' new camp is literally on the seashore.
It's hard to say that life is beautiful, with all this in mind. But we catch glimpses: in the dignity of the refugees who keep their tents clean and who use bottled water to attend to personal hygiene. They have not given up.
And more than ever, we can choose to cling to our anchored hope in the overall faithfulness of God, who never changes. We see dimly now, as in a foggy mirror, but it will not always be that way. There is much we do not understand in this world of covid and tumultuous elections, terrorism, and earthquakes. A time will come where everything will be crystal clear. And we'll see how it all worked together for higher purposes than we could have imagined.
La vie est belle...