The dream was to share the good things of Paros with the Camphill communities in the U.K, in which our mentally handicapped daughter Claire has flourished for more than twenty years. In June 2001, enabled by kind and thoughtful sponsorship, a party of ten came to stay in our house on Krios and in brother Robin's, opposite Paroikia port. Paros worked its magic and our guests simply bloomed. (See Paros Life, September 2001).
We gained from the experience as much as they did. This year, again in early June, with continued kind sponsorship covering air fares from the UK, a larger group of young adult residents and carers arrived for a week on Paros..."the holiday of a lifetime" as one house-mother said... for the same cost to the residents as their usual week-by-the-seaside at home, for which they save their pocket money.
Within Camphill communities, 'house-parents' and their own families live together with the 'residents'. They are also assisted by live-in 'co-workers', often student volunteers. Consequently, the group arrives like one big family, knowing and looking out for one another. This year there were seven residents, two house-mothers and three co-workers. Claire, well known to them, was trusted hostess. When she leads the way, they always follow. Our job was to prepare for, and support, an already organised group.
One aspect of preparation is risk assessment. A big worry last year was (you guessed) ...what if they can't leave the island on time, and miss their plane home? Formally approached this year, their UK insurers got interested in many other issues, mostly out of context with Paros reality. They asked for a 25 point risk assessment for each resident. They also asked why we needed rental cars, and whether they would be properly insured - i.e. so they could sue the car insurance in case of accident. Dee Skaramaga commented that of all her rental clients throughout the season, our caring group presented the smallest risk, whereas walking for such a party could mean twisted ankles on rocky pathways, or meeting wobbly scooters on narrow roads - real potential hazards.
Last year's group flew to Paros (those were the days) with baggage checked all the way through. This year they had to overnight at the International Youth Hostel in Athens (8 Euros, including a packed breakfast). A taxi strike at 5 a.m. meant a quick change to the Piraeus Metro to make the Hi-Speed at 07.30. Luggage handling on and off trains and ferries was quite a concern. Not everyone could manage theirs, and, like the rest of us, they brought too much. With feedback from last year, their bags came with bright ribbons, so none were lost. Similarly, the group wore highly visible yellow hats when travelling.
Dee and Giorgos had two neat cars ready for us, with insurance contributed by them as a gift. The cars, together with our van, provided a good mix of transport for the week. Jane and Arigiri Apostolopoulos had available two apartments in Akrotiri for six of the group. They had already stocked the fridges with basics for them, another kind gift. The rest of the party stayed in our house.
As last year, the first evening meal was at Katerina's taverna, not far away on the Livadia waterfront, where our old friends patiently introduced the party to traditional taverna fare, meze style, with everyone trying and sharing. A revelation! For the rest of their stay, no-one had any hesitation when trying and sharing new dishes. Veronika Baumgartner treated them to a giant meze meal at the Anatolian restaurant, Ephesus. Other memorable meals were enjoyed with Caroline at Aroma on the peripheriko, Barbarossa's on the waterfront in Naoussa, and at Nicos and Annemarie's Palm Beach Taverna at Aghia Irini. Warm thanks to everyone for so much patience and hospitality.
Together with other activities, a visit to the open air Cine Rex to see "Shrek" in Greek was a great success. Even though they'd seen it at least three times in English at home, the inclusion of new noises (like motorbikes roaring past outside the cinema) added a whole new dimension to the soundtrack!
In conversation (over the heaped mezes) the house-mothers told how health and safety regulations at home were getting out of hand, degrading quality of life. For example - they would soon be required to wash fruits, salads and vegetables in disinfectant. Later, in a happy "thank-you" email, they told of arriving home to find other less lucky community members down with food poisoning after a week in Devon!
We look hard at potential risks. For instance, our house is not insured, but it is well prepared with Claire in mind. For one week out of fifty-two we calculated minimal risk for the group. However, they rode the Sea-jet back to Rafina, en route for the airport. Next day, the same boat on the same run hit the breakwater in Tinos port and partially sank. The week after the holiday, there was a four day ferry strike. That's where travel insurance is crucial.
As before, the group's happiness and enjoyment were a tonic. Camphill people have a calm laid-back aura about them, reflecting their communal values and mutual respect, skillfully nurtured around "anthroposophical" principles, which have proved so beneficial for Claire. Discipline? They even refused to do "pee-pee" in the sea, insisting on walking back up to the house. Ideal tourists, no?
Early June is a good holiday period, though the sea is still a bit chilly. People have time to enjoy being patient and kind, and perhaps appreciate a small kick-start early in the tourist season. This is a win-win situation. It should grow. Could it be self-supporting? What is the minimum group size to qualify for airfare or ferry reductions - 15, or is it 20? Next year, the principal house-mother coming is a flamenco enthusiast, so there's an idea for a soiree somewhere. We must make sure that the "carers" get time off for personal sight-seeing and shopping, or just to relax. We can handle one week in a year, they have the other fifty-one! Maybe different sized rental vehicles would be better - say a minibus and a small car. And so on. Lots to think about for next year.
Our thanks and appreciation to so many friends for suggestions and offers of help.
We share the comment of the little 70 year-old lady, smiling broadly as we sailed across Parikia Bay last year... "I'm not supposed to be doing this, you know, I'm mentally handicapped!"