Niki Lazarou was born on the eastern Aegean island of Lesvos in 1944 and was sent to South Africa by her family at the age of 22 to seek a better life. After her first husband died when he was 49, she was left raising two children alone. In 1995, she returned to Lesvos with her second husband, Tom, and in 2008 enrolled at the local Second Chance School, which paved the way for her to start studying social anthropology and history at the University of the Aegean in 2014.
The 72-year-old’s life sounds like a film and now it is one, too, winning the first prize at the 4th AegeanDocs international documentary festival. “I look a bit old in the film, but that’s OK; I am old,” she says.
The documentary, “Niki,” was created by Alexandros Stergiou, Ioulia Sarantou and Despina Veri, three night-school students who knew nothing about making a film.
“We got together with some high school pupils from the island and, after attending a few seminars at the AegeanDocs workshop, started filming,” says Stergiou. “The topic we were given was the migration crisis and we immediately got down to work.”
After a while, the team wanted to do something different than a film showing the hardships of refugees passing through Greece, and settled on the subject of a woman who left Greece for a better life.
Lazarou was incredibly moved when the film on her life was awarded at the Mytilene Municipal Theater on October 4 and spoke about her husband’s initial worry about her heavy workload at university and the commute to school. “When he saw the documentary, he realized that my story means a lot of different things to different people,” she said.
“I feel like a winner,” Lazarou added. “I had an elementary school education and no skills. I was widowed in South Africa with no means of feeding my children, but I fought hard, I worked 18 hours a day and got both my children into university. My daughter is now an architect in Johannesburg and my son is a mechanical engineer in Australia, and they are both proud of me.”
Lazarou also reminisced about high school, remembering how she surprised the headmaster when she said she was registering to sit the finals, and also how her fellow students and teachers encouraged her to aim for university.
“I am in my third year of university and I’m learning so many interesting things,” Lazarou later told Kathimerini at the University of the Aegean in Mytilene. “The students love me but I also try not to pry into their private lives.”
Is she still anxious about grades?
“Now that I know I can always resit an exam, I don’t care anymore.”