Filoxenia for Everyone

Kavala, Grecia, December 2011

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*Filoxenia: greek for hopitality, welcome, shelter.

 It is December 24th, one day before Christmas. Annika and I are ready with our ingredient list for our Christmas dinner celebration. We flew straight forward towards the cheapest and biggest supermarket to do our shopping. “ We have exactly one hour Annika”, I roared with an empty stomach. The original plan was to dine early that night so we could talk to our families through Skype and then meet our hosts Johny and Athina 9:00 o’clock sharp. However, dominated by a Byzantine Castle,  this beautiful port called Kavala and its inhabitants had other plans for us.

In record time Annika and I bought all of our dinner ingredients. With spare time I then decided to take some pics trying to portray the wonderful madness that is created around the streets this time of the year. “It will only take a minute” I said to Annika. “Alright, I ‘ll wait here with my cigarette”, she answered. And so with eyes wide open I was on the look for pictures that would represent the come and go of histerical buyers flling the bakeries, the candy shops and the fruit stands with their buying urges. I then saw them, a group of men that were laughing hard in between the smoke of the red grill and the bold smell of beef and charcoal. I then walked towards them to see what I could caputure with my camera.

I bit nervous and unsecure, I came close to them to take a good pic from this friendly reunion in the middle of the street to which I was uninvited. It was then that Yannis came up to me while I was trying to take a picture and asked in english,”Where are you from?”. “Mexico” I answered with only that single word. Again my nacionality helped me create a positive reaction that eventually turned into a open invitation to the reunion. He spoke out loud and intriduced me to the party, “toporos..anglos..Mexicanos” I could hear in greek. The reaction was immediate: “Oh Nery Castillo (mexican football player in a Greek team), Chivas and Tequila”, they chanted followed by other Greek words. “We like Mexicans, we are very similar to them unlike the Germans”, he explained. As soon as the crowed heard the word Germans, all of them extended their hands to form a V shaped expression with their hands as the used them to point on to their crouch and laughed saying Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor. In that same moment I remembered that Annika was wating for me.

But the lights were green for me to take pictures of them. I did as I wanted, they posed for me with total disposition. As soon as I finished I wanted to thank them and say goodbye, but Yannis had in his hand a big plastic glass of Tsipouro prepared specially for me. “Drink it all” the grill master said to me in english. I gladly accepted knowing that a Ohi (greek for “no”) would be considered offensive behaviour. So I took the hit from this traditional greek liqour and at the same time they had a dish with meat and bread ready for me to eat. I took it and turned around and Athina, Yannis’ wife, gave me a bit of a sausage and smiled. It was then that I knew they were not going to let me go. “Yannis I will come back in a minute. I have to go for my girlfriend. She is waiting for me, but she is German… do you think that would be a problem?” I said with a bit of worry. “What are you talking about, she is not Merkel, we are all a team here. This is the greek life Filoxenia for everyone”, he answered. I came back with Annika and she was received with the same energy as myself, with the slight difference that she was offered wine instead of Tsipouro. “ Well, now that we are all here, who are we celebrating?” I asked. “My friend the party is of everyone. Here I only know he that knows only him that invited others. Here we all celebrate. Today is Christmas with our friends and tomorrow with our families”, he explained.

I then heared the boys shaking a carton box full of money that read Chicken and calling me “Guadalajara” and I was telling them, “no, no…Tijuana, but don’t worry we will also cooperate”. Yannis did not hide his laughter and told Annika: “These guys are teasing your boyfriend. They are calling him Guadalajara because there is a place here in Greece that is called like that and him with his small eyes looks like a native from there. Tell him also there is no need to give money they are only bulling him a little”. He then added, “but that is a good sign that means they like him”. Still, I knew that was only one part of the joke, but as always I didn’t want to find out more.

Full, drunk and rock’n rolled our previous time arrangement was forgotten. We were experiencing the so called Greek Life that the locals made so much effort to explain to us. “Here friends, food, and being with your loved ones is the most important thing in our lives. Everything else doesn’t matter”, Yannis said.

Suddenly two gypsy musicans came into scene and Athina gave them 10 euros to ravish with music the afternoon. They did their job. And as the drum player was playing Athina feed him with a pork chop and Tsipouro in an act of malavarism. Strange people came in to the party with wine, meat, cheese and bread and friends left fullfilled, drunk and happy. Bachuss, the greek god of wine and celebration, was present in another type of abundance. That which must exist always in this time of the year, specially the day before of one of the most celebrated days in the Christian world.

In a country where salaries are lowest in all the European Union and the financial system is on the verge of collapse, friends, family and Filoxenia for everyone helps us remember that true richness cannot be measured with classic economical standards. After a couple of hours of spendind quality time with our new friends my stomach was full with much more than just food and drink. An afternoon I will never forget.


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