Five years into Canadian Writers Abroad, I found Demetra Angelis Foustanellas, who was in Greece at the time. Her first novel, Secrets in a Jewellery Box, was reviewed by Sonia Saikaley, and then Demetra went on to review The Good Time Girl and Projection: Encounters with My Runaway Mother, for CWA. Here she is now, answering three questions for the tenth anniversary Q&A.
CWA: Where were you ten years ago?
A decade ago, I was in Eastern Greece, working in tourism and exploring my heritage on Samos, an island scenically located between sea and mountain. My husband and I had relocated to Samos Island from Ottawa in the late 1980s, with our young family. There we built a new home and started our hotel business. The plan was to enjoy the Mediterranean climate and live a relaxed lifestyle. What’s not to love and appreciate?
Happily, the first years were calm and uneventful. The tourism industry in Greece held potential. Although confronted with the challenges of adapting to a new environment, I grew accustomed to dealing with a dysfunctional system at all levels of government — what worked one day, failed the next, much like a rollercoaster ride with its ups and downs. I even managed to ignore the often rude mentality by staying focussed on the positive to retain a good balance.
In the new millennium, writing became my escape, my refuge. It opened a new adventure, introducing me to people who shared the same passion. In 2011, I organized the first writers’ workshop at our hotel on Samos. The workshops became an inspiring meeting place, connecting people from many parts of the world to learn and share their experiences.
Midway through 2015, and already amidst Greece’s ongoing social and financial tensions, regular tremors and floods, an unprecedented refugee crisis hit the country; an enormous influx of migrants arrived, mostly from the Northeastern border and Aegean Sea region. On Samos, we witnessed fear and devastation in the eyes of exhausted people arriving daily on rafts, incredibly sad, unfathomable suffering, desolation and abandonment.
With our own livelihood in tourism already under pressure, and no resolution on its way, hopes of recovery dwindled. My husband and I held on for another three years, but our children had left the country by 2012, returning to Canada. It was time to reassess our future, especially since retirement was still not an option.
CWA: What tips would you share with a writer considering a move abroad?
There’s no magic trick to ensuring a flawless move abroad. Everyone is different. However, embracing a new culture, a new environment, takes courage and commitment. Balance the perks of living abroad against possible heartaches. In any case, planning helps. Consider the following.
Will you be required to learn a new language, face a different culture or mentality, deal with an unfamiliar way of life? English is a universal language but sometimes it is not enough. Also, protocol and regulations of your host country should be examined: what is considered acceptable in one place may be unacceptable in another. Where will you live? More importantly, how will you survive? Unemployment is a global concern.
For most of us, the bottom line is feeling safe and secure, wherever we choose to go. Weigh the advantages and disadvantages carefully. Avoid letting the excitement cloud your reasoning. Brace yourself for challenges. Be open to change, to new ideas and different perceptions.
For those who are thinking of returning to the ‘homeland,’ a word of caution before uprooting. The exciting summer visits to our native villages are hardly indicative of local reality. Everyday life is not a vacation. Responsibilities don’t stop. Ask yourself if you are ready to give up your current situation. Since times change, try not to dwell in a time warp, or expect the past. That’s gone. Of course, setting aside a nice reserve fund for that rainy day hits the top five on the tip list. With common sense and determination, a new beginning could fulfill anyone’s dream. Truth is, the world is out there to be discovered and for some, like myself, to be rediscovered.
CWA: What are you doing now?
After reassessing our situation in Samos, I knew it was time to let go, leaving behind three decades of island life to return to our home in Ottawa. I live a simple yet fulfilling life, tackling new opportunities, and yes, with no reservations about trading in the blue skies of Samos and crystal waters of the Aegean to finally be reunited with my family.