Friday, December 12, 2008
Terrorizing the Elderly in Greece
I finally did something I've always wanted to do. On our walk home the other day from the open-air market (held in the New Town on Wednesdays and the long stretch under the castle near us on Saturdays), our arms filled with our own plastic bags of fresh shrimp, cucumbers, purple broccoli and garlic for our lunch, I spied a little old woman walking the long stretch along the park. The top of her sterling head maybe reached my collar bone and the pronounced hunch in her back painfully reached high to the right.
As we walked the opposite side of the street, I saw her set her full plastic bags on the concrete bench at the middle point of the stretch and carefully seat herself next to them, giving her tired legs and gnarled hands a break from the load.
I decided today was the day--though attempting this in a country where I share maybe 5 words of the language might not have been my brightest move. I handed off my bags to Ed, told him I was going to try and would meet him at home.
I stopped in front of the old woman who had begun her journey again, her tiny form typically draped in traditional black. I asked if she spoke English. "No Ingles," she smiled and looked to keep going, probably happy not to have to even try here. In slower English and hand signals, I asked if I could carry her bags for her.
She didn't understand. I tried to be clear, pointing and using simple words.
"Me. I carry for you. Here to there." I pointed. And then I ended by gently and slowly trying to lift the heavy bags from her fingers to show her what I meant, pointing again.
She began a litany in Greek, possibly of things I could do with myself. I caught the words, "limonies" and "No Ingles" more than once. I looked down and noticed one of her bags was indeed filled with lemons.
"Ahhh, limonies." I struck on the one bit of communication we could muster. She had lemons and I recognized them. I noticed she switched the bags from the arthritic hand closest to me to the other, furthest away. She showed no signs of panicking, at which point I would have left her alone. My intent was not to cause her old heart to give out and have her drop down dead in front of me.
I walked quietly beside her, trying to come up with another way to explain my intentions. I couldn't help but wonder what else that Greek barrage might have been saying: "They're only limonies for Heaven's sake. You can pick them off any tree in town. Why in God's name must you have mine?" or "I need these limonies for my dinner. They're cheap and in season so please, for the love of Costas, go buy your own and leave me be."
I tried again, gently reaching for the bags, pointing and stating, "Me. Carry for you. Here to there." She finally relented, releasing the bags to my hand, most likely finally realizing that if I'd really wanted the damn limonies, I surely could have easily had them by now. We walked silently, slowly, carefully at her pace, the heavy bags (even for me) in my hand nearest to her. She may have wondered the rest of the way down the stretch, "At what point is this wicked woman going to knock me down and run off with my limonies?"
When we reached my favorite cafe on the corner (the one we look out on from our windows, that takes up an entire block with its own small waterfall and pond, that sits at the base of the castle and graces the ancient wall holding the entrance portal to the old town), she motioned we should walk through. I nodded and followed her. I stepped out of the way to make room for her to cross over and hold onto the railing for the step up and put my hand on her back to steady her. Once through the portal and across the street where the buildings of the old town begin, she stopped and questioned me in Greek.
I knew she did not wish me to follow her home and we were at my corner so I pointed that I must go left and handed her the bags.
"Epharisto," she said. Thank you.
"Parakalo." You're welcome.
I waved goodbye, she nodded deeply and as I climbed the many steps to my door, my heart soared. She had finally given over her fear and allowed me to do something I'd never quite had the courage to attempt.
My only wish now was that I had responded in kind with what my heart was saying.