It is 20 years since David and I discovered Crete. Today we went back to the campsite at Sissi, to see if it had changed as much as we have. The story below is taken from my writings back in 1992. It was a time we shall never forget.
...Now, some people go bankrupt and still seem to retain a basic standard of living. We were very naïve. With only a few pounds in our pocket we queued up at the office of the Social Security. We never made it to the desk. David’s pride would not let him resort to begging money from the state, and he dragged me out of the office, saying, “I won’t do it. I’ll find some other way.” I was angry with him. What were we going to eat? Where were we going to live? He was adamant; he would not become a dropout of society.
Ashamed of our situation we stayed a few days with my father. That’s when we made our plan of the future. We could have been very depressed at that point but instead we decided that what had happened was, in fact, the best thing that could have happened in our lives. For now we had no money worries, no mortgage, no having to get up and work nearly every hour God sent, no children to support. We were free – and how good was that?
My father leant us 500 pounds. We didn’t want to waste it. This was our plan: we would set off and see the world, and find employment to keep us doing that for as long as it took. It was an exciting thing to do. Some would say a stupid thing to do. We were determined to turn the bad situation into a good one, and a few days later whilst sitting in the Salvation Army coffee shop in Oxford Street, London, we tossed a coin, whether to go to Morocco or Athens, both destinations of the Magic Bus. The coin fell for Athens and our future was determined.
This is an edited version of the account of our lives which I wrote in 1992.
As we said goodbye to our families and friends in England, we were neither sad nor regretful. We knew that the next few months would be a time to remember, and a time to forget. We had nothing left of worth except each other. Our bankruptcy had been traumatic. Too deep in the shit to crawl out, we had said, “Stuff it.” It wasn’t a bad deal really. The bank got the house and our slate was wiped clean. The financial slate that was, but I still owed David an awful lot!
The coach pulled out with our rucksacks and small tent, bundled into the boot. After three days and nights of continuous travel, we arrived in Athens. It was February and knee deep in snow. At 6.30 a.m. in a very cold bus station cafeteria, we sipped strong, black, Greek coffee and warmed our fingers on the tiny hot cups. We had not expected snow in Athens. I felt like a homeless evacuee on some wartime film set.
Our nerves were still a little frayed. The bus had made a mad dash through war-torn Yugoslavia, to avoid any trouble. We had been stopped twice by army patrols but the drivers had shouted, “All is touristic,” and we were allowed to pass. A woman teacher from Athens who was sitting across from us told us that her Professor had just returned from Yugoslavia with horrific pictures of the atrocities that were going on. Babies were being crucified; there was a mass slaughter of the Croatian people. Like day trippers to a safari park, we watched the world from our windowed cocoon, in the knowledge that we would be quite safe – after all, we were British! How pompous was that?
On a budget of 3 pounds sterling a day we had to look for a very cheap hotel and then find a place to pitch our tent. It had to be somewhere warmer than Athens. In search of the sun we decided to head south as far as possible. The next evening we boarded a boat for Crete and by 7.30 the next morning we were standing on the harbour at Heraklion. As I gazed up at the mountainous skyline, I knew that I was going to like Crete.
The sun was shining as we set up our small, two-man tent near to the little fishing village of Sissi, on the north coast. We were alone. It was out of season. There were no tourists. There, in our little paradise, we had nothing, yet we had everything. Perched on a sandy cliff-edge, with a view of the Aegean Sea and the occasional ferryboat on the horizon, we simply absorbed the total peace and harmony of the world. I built a bamboo wind shield while David made a campfire. We found an old table and chairs near the dustbins, even an old tattered parasol. Robinson Crusoe had been a good childhood teacher. I became queen of one-pot cooking, we ate spaghetti and wild greens that the locals picked. We read, and we reasoned. We had chance to talk to each other; to discuss those things that for almost twenty-five years we had kept deep inside ourselves - and the days became longer and warmer.
Eventually, as the season approached, we found work. David helped out on the campsite; I got a job in a taverna. The local people were warm, open and smiling. We saw how people could live: without television, without cars, without washing machines, without expensive clothes, without all sorts of luxuries. Our new friends in Sissi showed us the kindness that Kings will seldom know and Christians often forget. When people have nothing, they need each other, and, what is more, they genuinely love each other. It took a journey of a thousand miles, and the abandonment of all material things, to make us realize what love really is.
Time is like the gentle lapping of the powerful waters, invisibly wearing smooth, rough-cut mortals. Time is for ever; people temporarily bathing in its permanence. If all I have learned is merely worn away by time, my existence means nothing. If my knowledge affects even the tiniest being, then time is worthwhile. If I respect time, then in the shade of a rocking olive branch, I will be happy. As we were leaving Crete, after spending three months in that little two-man tent, David said, “Jane, never forget this time.” We found love under a Cretan sky. (Written in 1992)
We returned to England to be offered the wonderful opportunity of running a small guest house in the Lake District. After two years of hard work we returned to Crete to buy a small house in the mountains. That was eighteen years ago. Whatever setbacks we have had, we have just looked for the good side, and there has always been a good side. We never know where our next dollar is coming from, but while ever we can help someone out, we know that things will work out. David renovated our Cretan hovel and we now have a car, a washing machine, a television an inside bathroom, and yes, computers. We did it, and so can anyone else, but it didn’t all happen at once, the thing is, we never lost sight of the fact that one day we would have our own house again. I know that God will provide and that all things are possible, once you accept that, life is such a joy.
I have had several very vivid dreams; one in particular instructed me to read the book of Daniel in the bible; another prompted the story of Rhamu, a Minoan Prince. My book, Tears from the Sun – A Cretan Journey, is not an autobiography, it is a cameo of Cretan life taken from my experiences combined with esoteric knowledge. I am very proud of it, and I know that I was meant to write it. It has taken every penny I have to have it published and I’m back to eating wild greens from the mountain. But hey, I’m healthy; I have a wonderful loving relationship with David, and I have friends around me. I am definitely not poor. My goal is to share what I have learned with as many people as possible, and I want to build a guest lodge onto our one bedroom house so that my family and friends and anyone else can come and see what life half way up a mountain in Crete is really like.
A great energy comes out of adversity doesn’t it? If people would only use that energy to some good, put hate behind them, forgive the wrongs of the past and concentrate on making a better world for themselves and others, then they would find a peace of mind that is eternal. Love is the key; always find the good in every situation. Just now, there will be many Greek people as short of money as David and I were back in 1992. I hope that they can find a way through their problems.
To find out more about Jane’s life in Vrahassi and her book Tears from the Sun – A Cretan Journey see: http://janesharp.org
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