Greeks of the World – Tanya Chambers- Chlambea

Greeks of the world

“I was born and raised in Sydney, by Greek parents who immigrated to Australia in the late 1960s from the island of Kythera.

My parents never intended on moving back ‘home’ as Australia had been their ‘home’ since they migrated and were bringing up a family. My dad however always longed for a holiday house and began building one on a waterfront block in the village of Agia Pelagia. My siblings and I considered ourselves privileged as we had been on holidays to Kythera several times as children.

In 1992, when we returned to spend Christmas with my grandparents, my dad stayed behind to finish the house when my mum, my brother, my sister and myself returned to Australia.

As he continued the project he was convinced that the building was too big for a house and that he should build a small hotel instead. And so he did, but then he couldn’t imagine running a business from the other side of the world so within a week we all made a life changing move to Greece. I had just finished the school year and we arrived in Kythera on the Christmas of 1994.

At the age of 12, being on an island with all our grandparents and having fresh memories of holidays here, we couldn’t find anything bad to say about moving to Kythera. But this time we were here permanently and not on holidays. Reality began to sink in.

Life became difficult. To be honest when school began, I don’t remember loving much, as  switching from English to Greek schooling full time for all three of us was a challenge. We were used to a very different education system and felt we were thrown in the deep end. No extra-curricular activities like sports and dancing, which we did back in Australia, and it was more difficult for us to strike up friendships.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s in Australia we were proud to be ”wogs” as we were amongst so many other nationalities who were also proud of their heritage. I believe we fitted in just fine as we were taught to respect being in a ”xeni hora” (foreign land) from our parents who weren’t taken in so smoothly. We did it the Aussie way but also attended Greek school and Greek dancing etc and our parents spoke Greek at home as it was their mother language and that gave us the opportunity to be bilingual from a young age.

We had a massive circle of family and friends in Australia and I think that was what we missed most when we moved here. And of course, the ”system” as we say. You can never stop comparing the two countries, how everything in Australia is done the “right way” but in Greece it is “who you know” which can help you get it done.

I must say that now as an adult I see things differently. I can see why my dad wanted us to ”live” with our grandparents, to give us the opportunity to try flavours they had as kids (yiayia’s cheese and voutirotsikouda).

Times have now changed. I’ve been back to Sydney 3-4 times since we moved and nothing is the same. People don’t have much time for each other, family gatherings are not like they used to be. Everyone is too busy working to pay off a house, which is nearly impossible to own anymore. So now I don’t feel like I missed out.

Aside from my lifelong habit of comparing the two countries, I must admit I’ve never thought about coming back to Australia to live. We own a business here and I would find it very difficult to just pick up and go when we have put so much of ourselves into this. If it were to get to a point where we couldn’t afford to maintain it, I may think of a different future for myself. Right now, my mum, dad, sister and myself put a lot of work in running the place and since tourism is the only thing supporting most of the Greek families we can only hope things will get better.

Our family-run Pelagia Aphrodite Hotel is a waterfront hotel in one of the seaside villages of Kythera, Agia Pelagia. It initially opened in July 1995, as a 15 room hotel run by my parents and us 3 kids, until we all finished school here on the island and then each took our separate ways to study on the mainland throughout Greece (Athens, Larisa, Thessaloniki). I’ve always been chief! But it was in 2007 when I returned to Kythera after living in Athens for 5 years whilst completing my studies, that I took full control.

In 2010 we were already in the crisis and had to decide if we were going to pull through with the building of the extension of the hotel or not. We sort of saw it as a one way street and decided to go ahead with renovations and the new extension which was launched in the summer of 2016.

Now with 26 rooms we’re proud of our family run business as it gives us great satisfaction to meet so many people from all over the world and offer them true Greek hospitality with a touch of Australian perspective, as my parents have experienced the best of both worlds. We have visitors coming back year after year and consider them true friends and family. They come back to this place which has kept its purity for years and has so much to experience without resemblance to any other island.

Greece has changed a lot in the past 22 years since we arrived. The first 5-6 years were with the local currency of the drachma. Life was good, people had savings, travelled, went out, had a good quality of life. If you were into the whole economy readings, you were convinced that we lived in a bubble.

The euro then came into our lives in 2001-2 and life became very expensive for the average Greek. Greece was a place where nearly everyone owned the roof over their heads and now people are at risk of losing it all due to loans that were taken when their income was much higher and with the crisis people just cant make ends meet.

I feel like I have two patrides and I’m proud of both. But I wouldn’t want my kids to be torn between two countries because for most of my life I felt that way. Always comparing. I’m glad I went to school in Australia as I received great foundations. But I will never change the ”filotimo” which comes naturally, the hospitality and generosity as a Greek, and more specifically for my island, we have a very good quality of life. We eat straight from the land and all food here has flavour! There is also the feeling of being safe…something you can rarely find anywhere in the world.

My wish for Greece is to finally get out of this crisis, which has really affected the majority of the Greek population. To stop making the poor poorer and the few rich richer. If there were work opportunities here, ”ta paidia mas” (our children) wouldn’t be leaving. And for the average Greek to stand with his head tall again, with dignity.”

Gina Mamouzelos

Gina is a third generation Greek Australian who grew up immersed in her Greek heritage, including the language, traditions, culture and listening to her grandparent’ mesmerising tales about life in Greece. Passionate about ensuring the Greek language is not forgotten among the younger generations, in 2002 she became a panel member on the SBS Greek radio show ‘Let’s Talk Openly.' She graduated with a Media and Communications degree from the University of Sydney and has put her lifelong passion for writing to use working in social media, public relations and advertising. Gina now joins GCT's team as a writer.