For Young Greeks, A Communal Escape From Woes | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

For Young Greeks, A Communal Escape From Woes

Play associated audio

Facing their country's worst recession in a half-century, many young Greeks are leaving for jobs abroad. But Apostolos Sianos, a 31-year-old Athenian, decided to buck the trend.

Two years ago, Sianos quit his lucrative job designing websites in Athens to help establish an eco-commune, called the Telaithrion Project, in Aghios, his family's ancestral village on the island of Evia. The idea was to teach people to be self-sufficient at a time when both money and opportunities are drying up.

"This means they may be taught simple things like baking your own bread or more complex things like building your own house," says Sianos, who helped build the commune's yurts — the giant, rounded tents favored by Central Asian nomads. About 20 people live on the commune at any given time, and Sianos estimates more than 2,500 people — including many outside Greece — have visited in the last couple of years.

A recent visitor was 26-year-old Julia Friedrich. She traveled from Berlin to spend a week learning about organic farming, something she wants to try back home in Germany. "I brought my sleeping bag and my mattress," she said, showing the corner in the yurt where she slept. "They have mattresses and some blankets and pillows, so there's everything you need for a good night's sleep."

Friedrich had spent the day cleaning walnuts with 24-year-old Myrto Vournia, who quit her low-paying waitressing job in Athens to work on the commune. "We'll make dinner with [the walnuts] tonight," says Vournia, who's lived here for a month. "Later, we're preparing sun-dried tomatoes."

Those who visit the commune also learn to forage for nuts and wild greens, restore discarded furniture and even make their own toothpaste (a mixture of clay, baking soda and peppermint).

Sianos and his partners chose Aghios as the site for their project in part because they wanted to find enough land to eventually expand the commune into a school that teaches sustainable living in a cash-free economy.

"We searched all over Greece," Sianos says. "Most of the people we talked with said to us, 'Don't go somewhere that you don't know anybody.' "

His father, Giorgos, already lived on Aghios. Before the recession hit five years ago, the elder Sianos left his import business in Athens to return to the village where he had grown up. He introduced his son to the conservative villagers of Aghios.

"At first, they were skeptical because rural Greeks tend to be suspicious," he says. "It helped that they already knew me. So the locals embraced him, and some villagers lent [the commune] their fields to cultivate."

Giorgos Sianos now stocks his taverna with fresh produce from the commune, which is vegan and cultivates 80 percent of its food.

Dionysis Papanikolaou, a 30-year-old chemist from northern Greece who has lived on the commune for six months, plants sage, rosemary and lavender. He says working here has taught him to blaze his own path.

"I don't think a country can provide opportunities," he says. "I mean it's up to the individual if they want to grab opportunities or create opportunities for themselves."

With a doctorate in chemistry, Papanikolaou could work anywhere in the world. But he says he wants to stay in Greece. He says it's a land he's just begun to cultivate.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

The Colorful, Blossoming D.C. Arts Scene In The 1950s, '60s

In 1965 the work of six local painters went on exhibit at the now-defunct Washington Gallery of Modern Art. The show launched a movement, and the painters' work now hangs in major museums. One of those artists, now 97, lives in Arlington, Va.
NPR

Cash For Halloween Candy? Dentists' Buyback Program Is Booming

If you're like many parents, by tomorrow morning you'll be facing a candy glut. One possible solution? Sell it to a dentist participating in a program that sends candy care packages to troops.
NPR

For This Colorado Voter, Oil And Gas Debate Plays Out On His Property

Knocking on doors in Colorado, Steve Inskeep asks Antionio Covello about the election. The successful Denver business owner, a conservative, weighs mineral rights, foreign policy and division at home.
NPR

Doppelnamers: When Your Digital Identity Is Also Someone Else's

Finding your email double or Twitter twin is easier than ever, with Web searches and social media reminding us how un-special our names really are. So how do you stand out when others share your name?

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.