Aine McVey ‘08
“During the summer of 2007 wildfires ravaged the Peloponnese of Greece, destroying many villages and countless acres of land. When I studied in Athens during the Fall semester of 2007 as part of the College Year in Athens program, I had the opportunity to visit some of these villages in the region of Arcadia and distribute clothing and food. Three other students and I woke up around 5:00 am and trekked down to the nearest metro station; we had to meet Nadia, our Director of Student Affairs, at her neighborhood metro station by 6:00 am so that she could drive us to the villages. When we reached the city Megalopoli, we met up with other volunteers who were part of the group Ecumenica, and began our journey. We spent our time in the first village unloading trucks of food and other supplies, and trying to talk with the locals who were now forced to live in trailer homes until they could clear their ruined land and rebuild. The conversation inevitably drifted towards politics, and one man asked us our opinions about the war in Iraq. Never mind our answers, but the man was pleased (and perhaps surprised) at our responses, and began to speak more freely (and rapidly, thankfully one of the girls acted as interpreter for us), finally saying to us, “If all Americans thought like you, things would be good.” We were just happy to have a genuine, open conversation with him.
“There was an old couple from that village who sat outside and watched as we unloaded supplies. We learned that they had lost their home and land in the fires, and when asked if they would rebuild or move elsewhere, the old man replied, ‘We have lived here our entire lives. We are too old to go anywhere else. Now we just wait here to die.’ There was no regret or sorrow in his answer, just complacent acceptance. In fact, even though the smell of burning wood and ash filled the air and it seemed as if the village would never again be verdant, a hopeful faith hovered in the atmosphere. The people did not wallow in desperation or sorrow, but looked steadily forward and knew that their land would once again flourish.
“We found the same attitude in the second village we visited, where most of the time was spent planning future replanting and rebuilding. Since I could not take part in the discussion (it was all in rapid Greek), I went outside to wander around and take pictures, and noticed a small enclosure with a couple of goats inside. While trying to snap a shot through the small slit in the door, I heard a slur of Greek, and looked up to see a young boy smiling at me. I said, ‘Δεν ξέρω (Den xero) - I don’t know,’ so he just beckoned me to follow as he started running down dusty side streets. After chasing him around twists and turns, I found him at another pen. He pointed and said, ‘Γιαγιά - Grandmother.’ Inside were about ten sheep, one of which looked to be about 100 years old. Ναι (Nai) - Yes. Grandmother.”