Reading for others

Through a brief incident, my grandfather taught me to be sensitive to the elderly, when I made a negative comment about a limitation he had because of his old age.  “One day, you will also reach my age!” he answered to my comment. He said it in a calm voice and a face full of wisdom and kindness. I remember that moment vividly, because his response felt like a punch in my brain; it made me pause and realize that I am not immune to the unavoidable.

Since then, I developed  immense respect and special interest for the elderly. Both my grandparents have been witnesses to that.  Ever since they are gone, I have been looking to find a way to bring some sparkle to other old people’s lives…  to make them feel wanted … listened to. ..noticed …valued …

My search took me to an organization called ” Reading for others”: they were looking for volunteers to read books to groups, among others,  of elderly people that are no longer capable of doing it themselves.

So, one morning this week, I had my “baptism”: I went to a nursing home for the elderly to read short stories to them.  We were three volunteers. We walked in the nursing home’s common living room area.  Old people, mostly women, were spread all over the room sitting in chairs or wheelchairs. They were all wearing their sleeping gowns. Their hair needed a brush and a haircut. They were placed there to kill time, it felt. But above all, what stroke me the most was the look in their eyes: I looked at them but they didn’t look back at me; they had the same idle stare irrelevant of what was going on around them. They had the look of someone who doesn’t exist. Their mind, whatever was left of it, was somewhere else. No wonder, since their life is restricted to the four walls of this nursing home with limited stimulation, I realized.

The three of us, sat in a corner around the biggest two tables of the room.  It was reserved for the residents that “are in a position to communicate and interact” I was told. I noticed that some of the ladies there, were wearing regular clothes  as they were waiting for us!

After some small chit chat, from our side, about news from the outside world, we started  reading stories to them. We did it in turns. I was the last one. That enabled me to see how little by little, the old women started paying attention and concentrating. First, they started smiling when the hero of the story did something good or funny.; gradually, they were laughing out louder. Later on, one made a comment triggered by things she remembered as she listened to the reading. Another one made a joke. We had become a group of humans enjoying our interaction.


“Since we are in spring, I chose to read a piece about swallows” I told them.  And so, I read about the birds’ long trip to arrive in spring, the way they build their nests, how they take care of their little babies…. Some old lady remembered how migratory birds were coming every year to her balcony and started telling us more about it, her eyes moving with life as she spoke… anoher one mentioned that she had spotted a nest in the balcony of their nursing home….Oh! Their faces were shining by now…  “It’s so nice that you are here ” one said to the three of us. “Will you come back?” another one asked. “You look like a foreigner from a north country. Where do you come from?” a third one asked me. “I am 100% Greek” I told her. I promise will tell you my story next time” …

And so, we left with the promise to be there every Tuesday at 11:00. As for me, I left with the same punch in my brain and stomach as the day of my grandfather’s incident…


I am besieged!

That morning, I wanted to take it easy and just be. So, I put on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, those that one only wears inside the house to relax and not bother about anything and anyone. I opened my balcony doors and let the sun catch me for the ultimate pleasure. I sat out there for some time, thinking of nothing, enjoying the view of the blue of the sky and the sea that became one, across the horizon. Life looked and felt good!

Eventually, my eyes caught  my plants in the balcony:  they urgently needed water. So, I took the hose in my hands, turned on the faucet and started watering each pot with full dedication. All of a sudden,  I heard a male voice calling out: “Hi there!”. How can that be? I wondered. My apartment is almost isolated: it is detached from all buildings around, is at the very top floor and noone else lives in my building … So where could this voice come from?

I looked around and saw a slender  man standing on the balcony of the top floor of the only building which is closest to mine. With one hand, he was smoking a cigar; with the other,  he was waiving at me. Could he be in his late 60s? Oh! How I am bad about guessing these things… “What’s your name?” he asked me. “We have the same name: you are Joanna and I am John” he said with a full smile. He told me that he was living there since the end of 2016. During this time, I had seen him in “his” balcony, in a split of a second,  once or twice. We never had any type of contact. “Is it you living in the apartment?” he asked me – as if he wanted to ensure that I was not the cleaning lady. After some small talk about our balcony plants he asked me: “Will you give me your phone number?” I was not at all prepared for this!  I tried to find a way out: “I don’t know my phone number by heart” I told him..  In my awkwardness, I felt I had to say something more…. “… but, you can give me yours…” I told him. Did I lessen my resistence, with what I just said? He came closer to the iron bars of his balcony and called out the numbers of his mobile phone, one by one. The wind and the distance between us made communication difficult, so he kept repeating each number a few times with increasing loudness.

I said goodbye and rushed into my apartment. It felt safe in my fortress. I didn’t call him then and I was not intending to call him in any other moment.

The following morning, as I was opening my balcony shutter – the one which is closest to his balcony –  I saw his head; he was sitting and looking towards my direction. I didn’t dare to go out! I was besieged! In the evening,  the siege continued: I had to go out to my balcony to fetch something I needed. I turned on my balcony light first, to be able to see. A few minutes later, he turned on his balcony light, too. He called my name! I quickly rushed in.  His strategy seems to be that his persistence will overcome my resistence!

TFVD8580[1]  …So now, my dear friends, I have to develop my strategy how to regain free movement to my beloved balkony!




Where I would love to work

I read with interest that, in the beginning of the year,  a new Ministry was created within the United Kingdom government: the Ministry of Loneliness. It is the first one of its kind in the world! It aims to deal with social problems relating to loneliness, recognizing that more than 9 million people in the UK often or always feel lonely.

I admire the UK  for taking this bold step’ it made me aware that loneliness is a matter that touches many more people in our modern societies, than we might initially think.

According to a Guardian article: “Loneliness is about belonging, and belonging is about taking part, and taking part is about being of use, of being engaged. Loneliness is not about being useless but about being unused. It is about being unknown, dissapointed, deprived of something to look forward to”. “…It is an indiscriminate disease that has become an epidemic. There are some obvious pathogens: the deconstruction of community, the conversion of citizen into consumer, the politics of envy. We are no longer “bowling together” and familly life has been unravelling for some time now. Since the 1980’s we’ve been gaining comfort from consumer materialism and convenience in exchange of our identity. The public square has become privatized  and we have lived individual, unconnected lives behind locked doors in gated estates, as we gorge on delivered groceries, box sets and now just eat takeaways. We have been slowly losing touch  with each other and with reality.  The latest strain is a digital virus, detectable only to the analogue eye of our pre-electronic generation. It is demolishing real socialability and replacing it with virtual reality.”


I feel sick at heart when I think of the number of people who have noone to talk to or share their experiences with, who feel that they have no purpose or reason to exist, who are pushed away from the world that surrounds them.  I feel that this a collective failure that concerns all of us. Because I believe that each time someone goes wasted – irrelevant of age – , each one of us is poorer in some way. When one loses out, the world as a total loses out.

…So, I have no second thoughts in my mind, my dear friends: if ever I had the chance to work for the Ministry of Loneliness (or its annex), I would say: Yes! this is a job that I would love to do!


Carnival in Xanthi… and much more

As part of our ongoing bonding, my mother, my sister and I have established a tradition: every year we travel to a different part of Greece to experience the local carnival customs. This year round, we visited Xanthi: a town 700 kilometres away from Athens, located in northeastern Greece, in the region of Thrace.

The carnival was well worth its name:

Xanthi’s old town is impressive with its 18th-19th century mansions which belonged to rich merchants of various industries that were set up there, especially tobacco. Also, Xanthi is the birthplace of Manos Hatzidakis, my favourite Greek composer – his imposing family house still stands in the old town waiting to become a museum.

The cohabitation of greek orthodox and muslim populations, provides an interesting mix of east and west all around the city, creating views that are uncommon for an Athenian. It invites the visitor to seek to learn more about the region’s history and to realize the complexity of the various geopolitical issues that have been debated throughout the centuries.

This became more apparent when we visited the remote villages that are hidden up in the mountain chain of Rodopi – on the north of Xanthi. These villages are inhabited exclusively by a muslim etnic minority called Pomaks. For more than 40 years, the Pomaks were kept as prisoners within their village borders, controlled by bars and checkpoints  which had been installed in the entry points of each village. It was only as recent as the 90s that these bars were lifted and the Pomaks were allowed to move freely, to own land, to get a driving licence… Although progress has been made, a lot still needs to happen for the Pomaks to become “equal” citizens. We had the opportunity to talk to some of them and to hear first hand their tough life stories about survival in extreme conditions.  It’s the story of a forgotten Greece in a land of complex history and immense beauty; but it’s also the story of the human spirit about the drive to survive even in the most adverse circumstances.




Parallaxis : a year already!

  • I’ve been too long in my job. I am bored. I am already interviewing with another company. It is not my ideal but it is a change. What I really want to do is my own business, but I have a family I need to think of. 
  • I’ve always been in the same field; I am married to the same company all my life. Others tell me that I need to change, but I am not sure about my value…
  • I love my job and my company but in the coming year, the business I am in will be sold and my job will not exist anymore. I might become redundant or be given another role that I will not like. I want to prepare myself . i wouldn’t like to be forced into a situation I don’t like. By the way, I never had to make a cv or go to an interview!
  • I want to move to the US because my son has a disease that can best be treated there. I need to find a job in the US.
  • I am going to be fired. How do I negotiate?
  • I want to move out of my Division. I am afraid that my boss will not let me go… How do I go about it?
  • I took a redundancy package and left my company. I am temporarily working in the family business in a very administrative role, until I decide what I want to do next. How do I go about it?
  • I just finished my studies and I want to work for a big investment bank, but all the applications I have made have been rejected!
  • My company has been acquired by another one. Everything is changing. What do I do?
  • I left my job to start my own business. I have never done this before! I need a sounding board!
  • I was promoted and I was given an additional new, demanding country to report to me. How do I transition into my new role?
  • I have my own business which has been going through hard times. How can go about it?
  • I was fired!  I only have a few years left before retirement. I am in shock!
  • I moved to Australia to find a new job. Although I have been granted the green card, I only get rejections.
  • I am a  professor and I want to become a director of my school. I need help to prepare for the assessment process I will go through?
  • I do not want to be a full-time mum anymore. I have a business idea I want to test with you!
  • My career is stagnant. I am thinking of taking a redundancy package and move on. Sooner or later, I will find something else.
  • I want to do social work but I also need find a way to earn money to make ends meet.
  • I just came back from China where I finished my second degree. I want to find an international role outside my country
  • In the last years, I started shifting my standard  olive oil production to biological production, but my clientele is price-sensitive and they do not want to pay the higher price. What shall I do?
  • Everything in my professional and personal life, looks fine for many years now. But there is something in me that tells me otherwise.
  • I finished my studies and moved to another country to work in a one-year assignment. How do I prepare myself for the next day in my career?
  • I am soon finishing my second university degree. Shall I go into academia or business?
  • The field I studied has nothing to do with the job I do. None of the two is appealing to me!
  • I am passionate about my field. Others are not as passionate as I am and therefore in every job I take, I clash and I leave! How do I choose a role that avoids that?

… And so, each individual story unfolded…  During its first year, Parallaxis assisted people in Greece, Germany, The Netherlands, France, Spain, UK/Scotland, Colombia, Australia, UAE, India and impacted their attitudes, thinking, careers and lives. But the world is big, my dear friends! There are many more people out there that are inspired, stuck, afraid, confused, lost, disappointed, hopeful, excited, about their next career step. So, do spread the word (you can share  the attached Parallaxis information). It can change someone’s life! It has certainly changed mine 🙂



My father’s brain


I could write and say a lot about my father’s brain.  It is the principal reason that has kept me and him at a distance, throughtout the years. But, I do not mind about that now!

… Because, my father’s brain has been diagnozed with Alzheimer’s.

Now, there is only one thing I want: to keep, as long as possible, the one habit that has been constant in his brain (before and after the disease) and in our relationship: a freshly cut rose that he runs to offer me, every time he sees me.






Adult, looking out…

Oh! How art talks to my soul, like the sculpture below titled: “Love”, made by Alexandr Milov:

It depicts two adults sitting back to back (being alienated or in disagreement…). Their bodies are made out of rebar, an industrial product which is used for the construction of cages. The use of this material strengthens the idea of restriction and oppression and makes these metal bodies, that lay opposite from each other, look isolated in their independence and individuality.  When I look at them, I feel cold, sad and lose hope…

On the inside of these metal bodies though, something else is happening: in each one of them, there is a trapped child. The two children are glowing and transparent, standing erect, facing one another. Through the metal wires, they reach with their hands out to each other as a sign of unity. Oh! These children, they give off a warm, soft glow which has no restrictions or limitations as the rebar does. Instead, it radiates out in all directions indicating connectedness among the two adults. It gives me a welcomming feeling and I see how isolation and despair can turn into interdependence and love..

Oh! My dear friends! As an adult, it’s these children I am looking out for…