Evgenia Gravani – When you have to burn bridges to make a fresh start
It is 8 a.m. in Agios Kirikos and Evgenia is taking out the metal chairs and tables, placing them in front of the wood fired bakery store. She then takes the koulouri off the oven sheets, piles them up nicely on a plate. After she’s finished this, she turns the bread loaves, takes them to the shelves, where she arranges them accurately by type and by size.
In between, the first customers are coming in and Evgenia hands over koulouri and bread loaves. She will continue like this until 3 p.m., perhaps interrupted by little breaks, giving her time for a cigarette and checking out her mobile or just chatting with people from the neighbouring shop.
Evgenia has a little smile and some nice words for everyone coming into the bakery : „How are you? How is your day?“ Seeing her busily running forwards and backwards, arranging breads, cleaning the oven sheets, sweeping the floor … you could not imagine that she arrived on Ikaria only four years ago, not knowing how her life would develop. The only thing she knew for sure at that time was living in Athens was no longer an option – neither for her, nor for her family.
In 2016 Athens was still suffering from the financial and economic crisis. Even though Evgenia and her husband Stathis were lucky to keep their jobs, they felt the depression of the crisis like a heavy layer on their lives. As Evegenia has an educational background in computer systems, she had a decent income from working in an office for councelling students in their carreer. And Stathis was working at Beiersdorf & Procter & Gamble – so feeding the family and their two kids as well as paying the bills was not a problem. But Evgenia could feel that the crisis was casting a dark shadow on their lives. At that time Athens was flooded with migrants, who didn’t know where to go. Their dreadful living conditions left Evgenia helpless, and caused a lot of discussions about their lives between Stathis and Evgenia. When Stathi’s working situation became more and more insecure, Evegina found it noticeably difficult to find sense in her daily routine. She thought she only had one option: to survive the day and she didn’t want to think about everything else anymore.
During that time the family had a chance to spend some holidays on Ikaria. Evgenia’s sister in law has a house in Xilosirtis, so the family took the chance to come and visit them. For all four of them it was like diving into another world.
Not in the sense of the „Blue Zone“ publicity – you are coming to Ikaria and while eating chick-peas you are becoming healthier and more mindful -. no, for Evgenia it was more liking sitting at the shores of Ikaria she could sense that life could offer different options. An alternative to the city life in Athens. She could feel and see that a life can happen near to the sea, giving her the chance to offer her kids a life in a small community, more balanced with nature and outdoor activities.
After these holidays Evgenia and Stathis had a lot of discussions, but even while talking about the pro’s and con’s, both had already decided with their hearts. They were ready for a change. They both wanted this turn in their lives, even though it would mean more difficulties and insecurities. As they put their first steps on a new road, a new chapter in their lives took shape. As Stathis has a skippers‘ licence, he found a job on Santorini during summer months, sailing with tourists around the Aegean. So Stathis would do this for a living from March until October, while Evgenia would settle with the kids on Ikaria, where he would join them during winter months. It was a completely different concept of life, but both felt that it was the right one – and perhaps the only thing to do to escape Athens and to have a future.
So in summer 2016 Evgenia disembarked on Ikaria. She arrived in July, her two kids at her side, three suitcases filled with bare necessities to make a new start. She left behind an empty apartment in Athens, as well as many boxes filled with the memories of her old life and now stored somewhere. The kids were looking forward to a long relaxed summer on Ikaria, but Evgenia had more things to handle than just the beach. Through her family they found a small house in Xilosirtis – 2 rooms, kitchen and a bathroom. That was it … and it was now up to Evgenia to make it a cosy home for all of them.
During the first few weeks, she struggled a lot. She did not know the people around, she did not have a car to carry her stuff and she did not know where to find the right tradespeople to fix the house. So within a short time she had to learn very quickly to be independent and to improvise. But even though it was tough, she did not question their decision for one moment.
Why also? Stathis was happy sailing the Aegean sea, the kids had found good company and their way into the new school system and Evgenia had enough time to think about her future on Ikaria. She was happy to explore her village and its surroundings and the beach at Xilosirtis became one of her favorites places on the island.
But from time to time she also worried. Will they really make it? Where will the money come from? As she does not like to sit around doing nothing, Evgenia started looking for a job. Finally she found a job at the wood fired bakery store in Agios Kirikos.
She doesn’t mind that the job may not match her former qualifications. In her former life in Athens, qualifications and certificates did matter. Here on Ikaria the story is slightly different and little by little Niko’s bakery became her second home. The work fullfils her and she does it with passion and that’s all that matters at the moment.
Slowly Evgenia makes her roots on Ikaria. She has found a good balance between the bakery shop and her family life. During the months when Stathis is away, she lives the life of a single mum, being in charge of everything. But she can handle it, because she enjoys the close contact with the kids.
This is one of the positive outcomes which the move from Athens to Ikaria brought about: on Ikaria their relationship became more intense, as they are spending a lot of time together. As often as possible, Evgenia takes her kids to the beach, to the woods and to the mountains. They are collecting different materials: shells, wood, moss and stones, which they then use for various handicrafts. Doing so, Evgenia can finally come back to her artistic skills. Since early school she‘d loved drawing and painting and today she can explore it in more detail; she also takes great pleasure in introducing charcoal and pencils to her kids.
During winter, when long rainy days are keeping the family into the tiny house, life becomes a bit more difficult, especially when the island is hit by frequent power cuts or the roads are blocked by erosion. At that time of year, having access to the internet is a must for Evgenia. She wants to keep in contact with her family and the friends she left behind in Athens, because for her living on a remote island is not an argument that you no longer care about what is happening in the world around you.
If asked about possible negative aspects of her life on Ikaria, Evgenia has to think hard about it. And when she answers, she first talks about the most positive things she is experiencing on a daily basis: to be part of a small community, where people are still helping each other. Nobody is left outside alone. The laughter you can hear all around, as Ikarians like to make their little jokes.
Here she can develop her own rhythm of life, Ikaria and its people are giving her the freedom to do so and Evgenia is enjoying it to the fullest. She is feeling more balanced with the opportunity to be outdoors as often as possible. She also sees this as a good opportunity for her children. On Ikaria they can enjoy their freedom, while playing outside and hanging around with their friends.
As she gives it a second thought, Evgenia may tell you about her concerns about the current developments on Ikaria. She is hoping for a sustainable and more environmentally friendly future for the island. She is ready to be part of it, by being an example for her kids and her surroundings: reducing plastic garbage, being concerned about over-consumtion. But of course, this is not enough. Hopefully tourism, as a key element of the economy of the island, may go into a more eco-friendly direction. In this context Evgenia is happy that some teachers and parents at school are coming up with environmental projects, where she happily joins in.
In her opinion, education is essiantial l to make things happen on Ikaria and where possible she will support the related initiatives, knowing that it will take some time to make the change. But Ikaria has already taught her to be patient, so she will follow the rhythm of the island.
When it comes to cultural life, Evgenia doesn’t miss much. As the family had neither television nor internet during their first months on the island, she learned to be frugal … even though – just from time to time – it would be nice to have some more theatre plays or concerts. But Evgina may say with a smile: „You cannot have it all, and I am really happy with what I have now“ before she turns around to go back to her oven plates and the bread shelves. Seeing her like this, you can understand that she had to burn the bridges to her former Athenian life to have a chance to build a different, better life on their ashes.