Dimitra Valanidou  – When you overcome fear, everything is possible

Dimitra Valanidou  – When you overcome fear, everything is possible

Dimitra’s workshop and office in Evdilos

Dimitra puts down her pencil, taking a short break from thinking about new designs for her next woven carpet. She caresses her belly, that’s getting bigger and bigger every week and her little unborn daughter kicks into her hands, calling for attention. „Shhhh“, she tries to calm her down by talking quietly to her. „Soon you will see the light of this world and I’ll be happy to guide you around in your new homeland. I hope that you’ll love Ikaria as much as I do and that you’ll take good care of this precious piece of land in the Aegean.“ As the little one gets quiet again, Dimitra stops for a moment and becomes thoughtful. Indeed, she calls Ikaria „her home, even though she only set foot on this island just 6 years ago, knowing nothing more about it than „it’s a good place to live, a place with a good atmosphere“.  And today? Today she’s ready to put down her roots onto this rocky earth, ready to raise a family, ready to stay.

This was not at all the plan, when she disembarked on Ikaria in summer 2017 with her best friend Chrysa at her side, with just a tent and a backpack. At that time both needed a break, time for reflection and a new orientation.  They got to know each other at university, years back in Thessaloniki, where they both participated in a traditional Greek dance course and shared the same passion for this cultural heritage of their country. Since then they’ve become very close friends, soul sisters, and in the following years, even though they were both very busy in their lives, they stayed close: Dimitra finished her studies in architecture, spent an ERASMUS year in Prague and then went to Brussels, where she worked for two years. Chrysa continued her studies in electrical engineering and worked at a Research Center in Switzerland.
But in 2017, at that moment in their lives, they were both very tired. Tired about looking for the next job opportunity, the next step in their career, tired of a modern societal modern lifestyle so money-oriented, showing off and superficial contacts. So coming to Ikaria without  a return-ticket gave them a chance for „time-out“ and new orientations. They didn’t have a plan, what to do, they just knew that they would like to learn more about the traditional dances on Ikaria and then perhaps new perspectives might emerge. They decided not to push anything, but to be open minded, letting things come to them. Perhaps the best approach for this island, as Ikarians don’t like to be pushed.

Dimitra and Chrysa

In autumn of the same year, both Dimitra and Chrysa started volunteering at the language school in Arethousa, helping with different activities and giving dance lessons from time to time. Arethousa was a good place to get a good grasp of the Ikarian lifestyle, its rhythm and traditions and so they decided to stay in the village for winter. They lived in a small house, enjoyed living with the local people, getting to know their surroundings, the mountains, the hidden beauties of the island. They participated in the everyday activities of the village, such as organizing the library or Sunday courses for the kids.

A bag woven by Dimitra

Winters on Ikaria are long and they can be a bit tough, when you’re not used to the place and its people. With that in mind, it was a good thing that Chrysa and Dimitra had each other. They spent hours discussing ideas, how to develop their life on the island. With all their creativity, their knowledge about dance, science and architecture it looked like that they had a broad repertoire of possibilities available. But for the moment, both were keen not to work in their former professional occupatio they wanted to try something new. For them, getting to know the local communities, the traditions and culture of the island was a priority. So the young women were keen to learn more about the traditional dances and Dimitra in particular was reaching out to the older women, absorbing all the information about weaving and traditional Ikarian patterns.

Dimitra and Chrysa dancing

By the beginning of the following summer, Dimitra and Chrysa had managed to make themselves comfortable in Kambos, where they were hosted on a piece of land belonging to a local guy. In return they looked after his animals and took care of the land. Over winter they had worked on plans for summer activities and the result was a programme with guided tours and dance lessons for tourists on Ikaria. It was a well-chosen combination and as Dimitra and Chrysa still had a broad network of friends and former colleagues all over Europe, they had groups of people coming to Ikaria, who enjoyed the quality of their organization and their programme of activities.

But these summer activities were not enough to see them through winter.  So they had to look around for additional work to have an income. And they did, coming up with numerous ideas: Dimitra started giving pilates lessons and Chrysa became involved in after-school lessons for pupils. In addition, they made soaps and creams and created their own marmalades.

So little by little, Dimitra and Chrysa walked on more solid ground again, throwing « different balls into the air“, waiting to see what would happen. It was a good approach but, despite this positive development, now and then both friends were facing the same question : « Do I want to stay ? Am I gonna make it ? » And both had to find their own answer.

Dimitra found hers. It was a sunny day in early summer and she had been working on the land in Kambos. It was at that moment that she  understood that she had no real reason to leave Ikaria, because the island offers everything she needs. Here she has the real freedom to decide what she wants to do. Here she doesn’t feel external pressure from society. Here, on this particular remote island, she has the time and the chance to develop her projects – here she can make long term plans. As she misses nothing from her « former » life, she could let it go. So there she was: standing on a mountain top, overlooking the Aegean sea, screaming out loud: “I want to stay ! This is my home”

And Dimitra is determined to stick to this admission …  and somehow destiny has given her a helping hand.
Dimitra found a good job and she’s now working as an architect again … life goes around in circles … but this time the job doesn’t put any pressure on her. On the contrary: she’s learning more about the renovation and building of traditional Ikarian houses – a subject very close to her heart, as it combines her knowledge about modern architecture and her interest and love for traditional houses on Ikaria.

And this work leaves her enough time and energy to come up with ideas for her own projects and even though there are many, she’s focused on her dream: to have a workshop where she could work on her different art projects, such as weaving, painting, creating her own jewelry.
She has worked with all these different art forms for many years, but she’s never given them enough time and space to produce satisfying results. But now was the time: Dimitra found a small shop in Evdilos, called it “Kanavos” and spent a lot of time and energy to create her own workshop there. The result is a well-designed open space, where she’s put her desk for her “official job” as an architect. But most of the place is dominated by a wooden loom – her jewel and handmade by her father. Here she can finally put her ideas into practice, weaving carpets, bags and so much more. Of course, she’s integrating the Ikarian patterns, but she’s also modifying them or bringing in completely new ideas by combining modern design with architecture. On the shelves around the walls you’ll find her own jewelry, simple and very classical in its design, but very sophisticated when it comes to the combination of the different materials such as concrete, silver and gold. Besides the jewelry you’ll find the soaps that Chrysa and her are still making during winter time. And next to them Dimitra has put her hand-made postcards, working on pictures of well-known Ikarian places and styling them with modern graphic design.

Dimitra likes the mix of materials, putting together different art forms to create something new. In that way she gives special attention to natural and sustainable materials. Living on Ikaria has increased her awareness about the vulnerability of nature that surrounds her. As she is now raising a family on Ikaria – yes, indeed, in the meantime Dimitra got married, already gave birth to a son and is moving with the family to another house in Christos, Raches, – she reflects about her life on this island. Dimitra knows about the dangers of over tourism, which may put the ecosystem of this place at risk. But she’s eager to contribute to the preservation of the traditions of this beautiful island and to combine them with modern aspects and experiences. She knows that she has a group of like-minded people around her, with whom she can initiate activities and gets support from. Over the years, she’s found some good friends and it’s very important to her that Chrysa is also still on Ikaria and close to her.

Dimitra and her son

If you are looking at Dimitra now, as she sits in her little workshop in Evdilos, one hand on her big stomach, calming down the unborn baby, you see a woman who is secure with herself and who knows what she wants. She has found her balance and she found her roots in Ikaria, no doubts. But listening to her, you also understand that Dimitra’s life is still under development. Even giving birth to her second child will not mean that she’ll stop work on her different projects. On the contrary, many new ideas are up in the air … and somehow they will happen. The lesson Ikaria has given her so far was: “Be open to the unexpected”.
And she knows if she stays determined and focused, good things can happen. Perhaps it was and is this attitude that helped Dimitra to put down her roots on Ikaria. Being independent, but always checking if what she’s doing is still doing her good. This ability of letting go, not pushing, not holding on … but instead trusting her inner voice, what is good for her.
This philosophy helps her to overcome fear … not fearing changes in her life, but to embrace them as door openers for new things to happen. “And perhaps”, Dimitria is thinking”, there might be a good chance for my kids to grow up on this island. An island that is challenging, but one that’s offering its beautiful nature and the freedom so that they can become the person they want to be.” Dimitra smiles broadly. A challenging island indeed, but if you overcome your fear, one where everything is possible.
(@Birgit_Urban)