Somewhere beyond the sea, far away from mainland Greece, around 40 islander kids enter the classrooms for the academic year 2017-2018. The priest is running late for the traditional ‘agiasmos’, the Mayor is looking for him around the island, the General of the Army is fixing his green beret hat and the Coast Guard is chatting with a 10-year old kiddo who is planning to become a captain when he grows up. Parents, in summer clothes, stand waiting for the ceremony to start and kiddies, from nursery to high school, are nicely dressed, laughing under the warm (still) summer sun, excited to meet their new teachers. At least the ones who have already reached the island, as, I learn from parents chit-chatting around me that no nursery teacher has been appointed so far, but, who knows, maybe she will arrive by boat a few hours later… I also learnt that each class comprises roughly of 1-5 kids, Professors and Teachers can be counted in the fingers of one hand and that in many occasions, unexpected, but warmly welcomed, ‘study periods’ are announced, as there is no teacher to teach the designated course! No teacher, no harm, though, as the island lanes are always attractive to the little islanders.
I entered the patio of the St. Constantine & Helen Church, which happens to be the school courtyard, and three of my little friends run towards me to hug me. They are my ‘island bffs’ as I call them, embellishing every day of my island stay! I have outrightly decided that adults are too uncool to converse with (at least during vacation time) so I have invested a whole lot of time with these little creatures, who impersonate for me a whole childhood lifestyle I never got to experience. I made smoothies with them, I went to their birthday parties, I watched and analysed a whole documentary festival with some cinema fanatics among them, I clapped while they danced, I ate ice-cream on a ‘girls only night-out’, I swam, sunbathed, discussed and totally immersed myself in their narrations. Quite a few people find my long-stay here peculiar, which along with my round, black, retro eyeglasses, makes them assume I am the new (Maths) teacher. I frankly enjoy this whole mystery around ‘who I am’, so I gladfully let it unfold in front of my eyes! I have even been told that I would make a whole lot of money if I came to the island to give private language classes to students (!)
So, today, on September 11th, my biological clock rung at 7:58, even before my alarm, reminding me it was ‘school time’. I climbed up the hill of Mandraki, reached Chorafia and I was soon to be found in the majestically beautiful Santrapia Urban College (literal translation of Σαντραπεία Αστική Σχολή). A school, small in student cohort, large in historical and architectural significance. A school unlike any other public school to be found in Greek provinces, let alone the one I attended when I was 6, in my hometown. I sneaked into the classrooms, which were left intact for summer holidays, but were quietly waiting to be filled with life and laughter again. Below is what I saw. I have been asking my local friends if they are excited to be starting school soon. I now understand while they unanimously replied that they are indeed very happy to be back!
This is the day that the island family routine is tuning in to ‘winter time’. Kastellorizian households fill in with books, and kids will inevitably spend a little bit less of their time in the narrow, pebbled streets. The little, beautiful edge of Greece is saying goodbye to the last tourists and is getting ready for yet another tranquil (maybe a little bit too much of it) and challenging winter season.
My ‘island bffs’ are a summer older, entering education anew, chasing their own island (or out-land) dreams. Few of them will make it to university, just because to them, it doesn’t seem like an one-way route. And as life goes by, they will go on being the soul, happiness and future of the island.
Happy School-year, little future captains, teachers, entrepreneurs, sea-men and mermaids!
Notes of our National Anthem in the edge of Greece