My journey to healing through writing.
This post was originally posted on Medium.com
When I was younger, I used to struggle and get frustrated when I wrote. I could hear the perfect words in my head and knew what I wanted to say, but they wouldn’t come out the way I heard them. I know I’m not the only one because, like anything, writing is a craft. It’s something you practice until you get better. You never arrive; that’s why it’s a practice. It seems that some people have been born with a gift for writing, and some just practice until they get good at it. But, to truly craft magical words, that’s another dimension.
I’ve heard people say that all gifted writers are dealing with trauma. The truth is, most of us have trauma, but I think there is a gem of truth in that idea. Is that also why they say writers drink? Does that mean I’m a drinker with a writing problem?
I am one of those writers who began by writing out my trauma. It began with a desire to make sense of the madness that was my childhood.
As you might know, using GPS in a foreign country can be a little challenging. Greece, for me, has been the most difficult I have experienced. I use Apple Maps, and after being here for over a month, we are convinced that Apple Maps is either trying to kill us or induct us into some secret cult high in the mountains.
We had rented an Airbnb for ten days while waiting to move into our rental house near Nafplio. As we hadn’t been to this area before, we put the address from the app into the GPS. We loaded up the car, including Kiki in her travel basket, and off we went.
It was an incredible drive down the west side of the Argolic Gulf. It was all mountains to the right of us and the Aegean Sea to the left, curvy roads, and many little villages along the way. We are from British Columbia, Canada, so for us, curvy roads are par for the course, but Chad and Amaya had yet to see mountains quite like these. Even though I’d lived in Greece for three years, I had never been to this area, so it was thrilling for me, too.
We reached our destination and contacted our host to say we’d soon be arriving. She directed us to meet Eleni, the caretaker of the house, at the Alvin gas station on the highway. Well, she didn’t say it was on the highway, but I know that now. We followed the GPS past the village along the sea and then up into the village in the hills, and then we continued up the mountain road. The road got steeper and steeper until we were driving on switchbacks and continuing to climb. We exclaimed at the astonishing view while Chad began to sweat bullets. He’s a BC boy, but he’d never seen roads like that.
Finally, he turned to me. “Are you sure we’re going the right way?”
I’d been thinking the same thing, but since I was the one who got us into this situation, I didn’t want to admit it. I checked my phone with sweaty hands. No signal. Great.
I could feel the tension building, and then one snap from Chad and I got defensive. We almost got into it until we heard from the back seat, “It’s an adventure, guys!”
Kiki disagreed with Amaya, but thankfully she was mostly quiet. She hated to travel, but after twelve years and several trips overseas with her Momma, Kiki was, if not accepting, at least resigned to her lot.
We had to laugh. This was what we’d come to Greece for. Adventure and a life change, which included letting go of stress and agendas. Yes, we had someone waiting on us, but if we were late, which we were, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. So, we kept going.
After another ten minutes of driving, the map said we were almost at our destination. The road began to level out near the top. We came to where the GPS said it was the turn to the village, and there was a chain across the road. There was no village and still no service. I could feel the tension begin to build again, but I fought to keep calm. This feeling of being the one in the know was new and a little scary.
When we left Canada, I knew that most of the success of our endeavor lay with me. I was familiar with both Greece and international travel. Chad had never been out of North America, and Amaya had never been out of BC, so they were relying on me, and I didn’t want to screw up.
Here we were, at the top of a mountain, with no AirBnB in sight, no village, and no cell service. What to do?
Chad said, “We’re at the top of the mountain now; maybe we should just keep going. I’m sure we’ll come to some civilization and can ask for directions.”
Sweet, sweet, innocent, Chad. I, on the other hand, was pretty sure we’d come to nothing more than abandoned houses and maybe a goat herder or two and no English. I’d been in this situation before (although not at the top of a mountain). I am an eternal optimist, so I chose to believe I might be wrong. Silly me. That’s what we found. Abandoned or shut up houses and exactly one lovely, kind goat herder who didn’t speak a single word of English.
He tried, oh, how he tried to get through my thick skull that we needed to turn around and go back down the mountain. Even with only a little Greek, it didn’t take much for me to clue into what he was saying, and I knew it wasn’t what Chad wanted to hear. He went pale when I told him he had to navigate those steep switchbacks back down the mountain. I felt so bad for him. One thing the goat herder made sure we knew, which was super helpful, was to keep to the paved road and not go onto the dirt ones. That ensured we were able to find our way back to the right road and back over the mountain.
Let’s say it was a tense ride down. We had one blowup, not a major one, but I couldn’t blame Chad. He was driving a small foreign car with a manual transmission, something we seldom have in Canada unless you seek one out, driving down a very steep mountain with his three loves in the car and their lives in his hands. He did a spectacular job.
We finally got back into cell range, and I contacted our host. She sent me a pin to the place we were to meet Eleni, and it turned out we’d driven right past it on the highway. We pulled in, and she was there waiting on her moped. She led us to a cute, traditional Greek house with an incredible view of the sea.
Once we were settled in and finally started to breathe normally again, we had a good laugh about where in the hell the GPS had been taking us. Chad started singing, “We’ll be coming round the mountain when we come …” and we all started laughing. It has now become our theme song whenever we head on a road trip anywhere in Greece.
“Maybe there’s some secret cult up in the mountains, and they’re trying to traffic us,” Amaya suggested.
We had a good laugh about that.
“Why would it take us to a road that was blocked off?” Chad asked.
“I think it was either the old village or maybe a monastery,” I said. I had been in Greece long enough to see a few old sites like that. “The problem is that the monastery, the village, and the new, modern village often have the same name. I forgot how careful you must be with GPS.”
Chad shook his head, “I’m pretty sure Amaya is right, and Apple Maps is trying to send us to a secret cult.” We laughed as he poured us some wine for our nerves. Amaya and Kiki had to settle for juice and water respectively.
We were sitting out on the terrace of the lovely little grey stone house with dark blue shutters. We couldn’t stop drinking in the view as the sun sank, turning the sky all sorts of yellow, red, and orange. It was what I’d hoped for when booking the place. I hadn’t planned on the side adventure, but isn’t that what life is all about? We had far too little adventure in our lives in Canada. It was so focused on being safe and keeping us away from precisely what had happened that day. But we all agreed it had taught us something, and none of us regretted the experience, except maybe Kiki. It got our blood pumping and made us a little unsure and even a bit fearful, but it also showed us that no matter what happened, we were together, and together, we’d figure it out.
I took a sip of the lovely rosé we were drinking and smiled at Chad. He smiled back and raised his glass. “Here’s to adventure and escaping the secret cult.”
“Yeiá sas.” I clinked his glass, and we drank to our new adventures, although hopefully less of the secret cult kind.
Today I wandered, unsure of my search. Something called to my spirit, but what, I had no idea. The perfect blue of the sky lifted my mood dulled by not having enough sleep. The sun shone and birds sang their joy of the new day with all its bright promises. There. A plant I’ve never met before. Something about it called to me. My body needed what it offered. A gift with no strings attached. Horehound. Nice to meet you and thank you for your generous gifts.
Back at home, it went into the pot with fresh lemons just picked, cinnamon, cloves, and peppermint leaves. After brewing I added local honey and took my tea out to the terrace to sip and enjoy the view of the blue Aegean Sea. My cough eased, but more importantly, I had made a new friend and ally.
Horehound is used for digestion problems and lung and breathing problems, including cough, asthma, tuberculosis, and much more.
Anyone who has been to Greece knows about the cats. There are cats everywhere. Everywhere. Some of them are ragged and starving, but most are being fed by someone and lots of them are well taken care of despite living outside. I warned Chad and Amaya about the cats and how they would pull on their heartstrings, but I’m not sure they got it until we arrived in Athens. As I’d told them, there were cats on the streets, among the ruins, and especially in the restaurants begging for food. Most places discourage feeding cats from the tables, but we saw many people doing it. I understand why, as this only emboldens them and, as I’m sure you know, if you feed an animal once you’ll never get rid of it. But, most of the restaurants have food trays set out for the cats, so they aren’t being cruel, they are just trying to ensure their guests aren’t being bothered. But, no matter what, the cats always show up.
One of the cutest things they do is put on a show to make you want to feed them over the other cats. I’ve seen several of them either tilt their head and look cute, they’ll rub on your legs, or blink at you. Whatever it takes. And they recognize a sucker. Chad and Amaya both came under their radar as suckers. I’d see Amaya try to slip food under the table without the waiter noticing. Usually, they just look the other way because Greeks collectively have a soft spot for kids. So, Amaya would get away with what an adult wouldn’t. Then the cats would notice me. I didn’t feed them (much), but they were so drawn to me. Amaya calls me a cat whisperer so maybe that’s why. Whatever the reason, cats love me and we always ended up having quite the clowder around our table.
Chad, of course, pretended he wasn’t moved by their cute antics, but I’d see him melt a little when they would blink at him and he’d pass food to Amaya. They are quite the pair of criminals.
When we moved into our rental house, we inherited what we thought was a pair of kittens. Of course, Amaya was in heaven when she met the cute little tabby and calico kitties. They were about eight weeks old and cute as every kitten is. They wanted to be cuddled and, of course, fed, so she took them on immediately. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your point of view, the night after we moved in, we discovered there weren’t two kittens, but four, and a mamma cat who was still nursing them.
So, our new home came with built-in cats. Not a surprise to me, but I knew it was going to be a challenge. We spent the first week teaching the kittens and other cats of the village, their manners. As we have a private garden just off of our bedroom, which was meant to be the domain of our cat, Kiki, we had to keep the kittens and village cats out. First off, we don’t want Kiki to feel uncomfortable in her home, but we also don’t want to expose her to any illness from the village cats. So, out comes the water hose and water gun. It might sound cruel, but until you experience the barrage of cats in a village, you have no idea what it can be like.
The kittens were crawling up all our screen mewing at the doors for food and generally driving us all nuts. Amaya had a water gun we used to keep the kittens away from the screens and to keep them from screaming at us all day and night and we used the hose to keep the cats out of the garden. It only took a few days with the occasional reminder to have a nice slew of cats around that have respect for our space.
We keep water out for them at all times and give them a little food once a day. Many of the other villagers feed all the cats, and all of the ones in this village are well-fed and very healthy-looking, so we aren’t worried about them. We mainly started feeding Mama, as we call the kitten's mother, as she was weaning them and looking rather depleted from her kittens. She very quickly started looking better, especially as we gave her some of Kiki’s high-quality soft food.
Amaya is home-schooling and we often find her outside at the table doing her work or journalling and meditation with one or more kittens in her lap. As much as having so many cats around can be annoying even though I love cats, seeing her have instant friends has been so nice. She loves spending time with them and that has made her transition to living in Greece a lot smoother.
Kiki is twelve and not used to other cats anymore, so it’s a little harder for her to adjust. She used to live in Greece. She was born in Italy and was feral when she found me, so she is used to having lots of cat friends. As she’s a Siamese and very social, I thought maybe she would enjoy the kittens, but not so far. So far she just considers them annoying interlopers. Maybe once they have a few more manners, but I’m not holding my breath.
There are many things you have to get used to when living in a foreign country, especially when the culture is very different from your own. There is the language difference, the climate, and many other things. The Greek attitude toward animals is one of the differences. At first glance, it may seem that they don’t treat animals well because they aren’t like North Americans who pamper their pets and make sure most dogs and cats are spayed and neutered. But, I find them to be very compassionate. Most village cats are fed by many people and are treated with kindness. I just feel that the Greeks are pragmatic. They don’t fret over something they can’t change, they just do their part to help. I like that a lot. So, as we are part of a village now, we are doing our small part. We have discussed getting the kittens spayed and neutered, something I did in another village I lived in years ago. We feel that will help to keep the population down and it’s something small we can do.
Brenda writes fiction and travel memoir, freelance articles, and has just completed her first young adult novel. Brenda lives and writes in Greece.