So I’m up a mountain in Crete. It’s idyllic. I’m lucky, I know I’m lucky. I’m working hard and my legs are turning into steel rods carrying things hither and thither up and down the hills. I usually live in one of the flattest parts of England, we’re not used to slopes. But, I’m lucky. I’m with nice people, Crete is stunningly beautiful and the sun is shining pretty much every day. I have a passport that allowed me to travel (for now anyway ) effortlessly on a plane to get here and I sailed through passport checks on arrival .
When I was younger I travelled quite a bit . I was fairly used to not understanding the language of the country I was in and used to struggling to make myself understood . I was pretty used to being treated with disdain because I was English (in the 80’same, being English was not cool and it’s rapidly looking that way again). I took it as standard that being a lone , female traveller meant being hassled , coming up against prejudice and having to have my wits about me. But it’s been a long time . Over the last twenty years I’ve only really travelled to visit friends where a warm reception has been guaranteed.
The Greeks are renowned for their hospitality and I have been on the receiving end of their welcoming smiles, friendly waves and open determination to try and decipher my arm waving to describe things. I have been sent on shopping missions as part of my job here and it is actually quite hard to mime a lettuce and spring onions . Try it . .. Olives are much easier and paper napkins are a doddle . However , there is one man who stands resolutely blank faced in the face of my miming and (very) pigeon Greek. At first , I thought he was just shy and maybe a bit frightened of my exuberance . I soon came to realise it is because I am foreign . He’s a rare one out here, the Greeks are gloriously friendly and generous in my experience . What was, what I thought , shy soon became mildly hostile . I soon noticed how quickly this chipped away at my confidence . How frustrating it was to not be able to ask him why, to not be able to have a conversation , to not be able to tell him that I’m a mother , a daughter , a human.
I am grateful . It is a timely reminder of what my friends are going through. That not being seen as human quickly seeps through to create a second layer of skin, it becomes a part of you. A part of you that is difficult to shake off even when amongst friends , in safe and welcome company . I am reminded of the priceless value of a friendly smile from a stranger which can lift the spirits and transform a day. You don’t have to go out and perform miracles , save the world and everyone in it. Just smile . Just let someone know that they are so welcome to share the same bit of earth that belongs to none of us. We are all only here for a short while so smile like you mean it. None of us has any more right than the next person to be walking this beautiful planet of ours.