Posted far from the madding crowd

Teacher Andreas Kotridis has settled on the island of Icaria with his wife. Maria Kalantzi began teaching on the same island this year. Vangelis Kandris left his family in Ioannina and now teaches four of the eight schoolchildren on Thirasia. They spoke to Kathimerini about the hardships and the joys of their work, their free time and their pupils. «Leaving my family was the most difficult thing for me,» said Kandris, 34, who received his first post this year on Thirasia, a tiny island close to Santorini. He left his wife and children, Maria, 3, and Evgenia, 2, back home in Ioannina. When we asked him how often he is able to go home to see them, he quoted from the Education Ministry circular which says that «according to Law 2683…, civil servants who have completed a year’s full-time service… can take up to 10 days’ paid annual leave as long as there are serious reasons for doing so.» «So those of us who have not yet finished a year cannot take leave,» he said. His wife Olga is a kindergarten teacher, but just missed out by a few points on receiving a state school post and is working in a bookshop. She has asked him to try and find her a job on Santorini as she is having a hard time managing on her own. Prohibitive distances «The boat takes about 8.5 hours so that rules out weekends away. Even if you decide to do it, however, in winter the weather is an obstacle. An air ticket costs about 380 euros, but my monthly salary is just under 1,000. So, forget it,» said Kandris. It is up to the good will of his supervisor, he said, to give him the odd Friday off. Even singles don’t have it easy. After working as a substitute teacher for 69 months and 21 days, English teacher Maria Kalantzi received her first regular appointment this year on Icaria. «This is my job, to keep moving on,» she said. «It is not easy to keep leaving one’s family; it is also hard to form a relationship. «There is no time to get to know anyone. One’s personal life goes by the board. At least when married people go back home, their families are waiting for them.» «When I first came it was a shock, because when we arrived at the port, most of the houses were uninhabited, just like ghost towns in a western. Finally, I realized that the village where we were to live was higher up. There is some life there but most of the inhabitants are elderly,» said sociologist Vassilis Pourpouris, who is spending his second year on Thirasia. Economics teacher Andreas Kotridis and his family were pleased about his appointment to Icaria. «We were afraid of the fact that there was no pediatrician here; that was the main stumbling block. Nevertheless, we liked the place, the children adore the sea, and the local people, my pupils and colleagues, are all wonderful,» he said. «Housing is a big problem,» said Pourpouris. «Most of the rooms have been built for summer tourists, but it is a different story when they are used as permanent residences. For example, the ‘dug-out’ homes are picturesque but are not properly constructed. The one where the sports teacher is to live has a toilet linked to a cesspit – the smell is unbearable.» There are 19 «outsiders» on Thirasia, 13 high school teachers, two primary school teachers and one kindergarten teacher. But there are only 19 homes available, most of them in poor condition, according to Kandris. As for rents, these range from 150 to 180 euros a month for the 10 months until the end of June, when they will have to make the houses available for tourists. Rents on Icaria are as high as 220 euros per month. Kotridis and his wife were posted to the island last year, bringing their two young daughters, 5 years and 22 months old. They have been forced to squeeze into a studio apartment. «You have to make concessions and, of course, have quite a lot of imagination in order to set up the home to fit everyone in,» said Kotridis. High cost of living Living costs are high as most are keeping two households going. Even Kotridis, whose family is with him, maintains his home back in Veria. «We can’t abandon our permanent home; we go back at Christmas, Easter and summer, so we pay double the rent and utility bills.» «I cook for myself,» said Kalantzi. «Fresh meat is quite expensive on Icaria – 26 euros for 2 kilos of beef. And although there are two supermarkets, you have to go back and forth between the two as only one might have tomatoes, the other parsley.» Prices are often attributed to transport costs. «On Thirasia, a colleague of mine bought dishwashing liquid for 2.50 euros, but we get three for 2.35 euros on Santorini,» said Kandris. He added that since «necessity is the mother of invention,» they have found a solution by having each in the group cook for the others in turn. Transport costs are also high. «For one person, a taxi ride costs 6 euros for just short distances on Thirasia,» said Kandris. «For more passengers, it is 2 euros per person from the port to the school. If we go another 300 meters to our rooms, we pay 3 euros each.» He said that there had been a free bus service from the port to the village but that it was discontinued after a tragic accident at the Vale of Tempe a few years ago (in which several children returning on a bus from an excursion were killed). The Athens-Icaria plane fare is subsidized and so costs just 40 euros. «However, the taxi fare to the airport is another 30 euros,» said Kalantzi. No newspapers are sold on Thirasia, but during school hours there is Internet access. Nor is there a post office. Mail is left at the municipal office. On Icaria, conditions are a little better, with newspapers and some television channels and state radio. As for other cultural activities, they make do with what there is. «My older daughter wanted to learn ballet, which doesn’t exist here, so instead we have signed her up for folk-dancing classes. You find alternatives to fill in the gaps,» Kotridis explained. Free time One thing is for certain – there is a lot of free time, too much, in fact. Those on Thirasia might go across to Santorini for a drink on the weekend, that is, if the weather is good. They surf the Web, read, or go out for a coffee with colleagues. Maria Kalantzi has found an outlet in a local theater group and Pourpouris plays guitar. «When you want to enjoy yourself, you find ways to pass the time,» said Kandris. «When you know it’s only for two years, you see it as as a parenthesis in life,» said Pourpouris. «If I knew I had to stay here permanently, I’d freak out. I’d have resigned the next day. The isolation is palpable, but if you give in to negativity, things only get worse.» Asked what memories they would be taking with them when they left, Kotridis said, «The view of the sea from my window,» and Kandris, «The children’s success at university.» Teachers are here today and gone tomorrow; the children grow up in an isolated environment with few opportunities. «Although all the children are clever, they are behind in several sectors,» said Kandris. In Thirasia, until recently, the primary school had one teacher and 20 pupils.The second teacher didn’t arrive until the end of October. How much can one teacher do? No wonder the children don’t have a good foundation.» Most of the children know they will be going into the tourist industry. «On Icaria, the pupils are interested in more than just their ‘rooms to let’ but perhaps because they are disillusioned about their future, they don’t have any ambition,» said Kalantzi, who teaches about 100 pupils who come from all over the island on bad roads and poor transport. «Still, we try to do the best we can; it is the least we can do.» This article first appeared in the December 4 edition of K, Kathimerini’s color supplement.