Art group helps keep Greek culture alive in Alexandria, Egypt

In the heart of Alexandria, the Greek quarter represents a slice of Greece in Egypt stretching from the Consulate and the Club to the Tositsas-Pratsikeios elementary school and the Averoff middle and high school, including Greek businesses and homes, the Manna retirement home, the last residence of the poet C.P. Cavafy (now a museum), the Hellenic Foundation for Culture and the seat of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa.

As the population of Greeks in Alexandria continues to decline, now at an approximate 1,000 compared to 150,000 back in its heyday, the need for a sense of connection not just with Greece but also with the Egyptians is growing stronger and manifests itself in various ways, such as in the Athens-based Parodos Art Group.

“It was 1993 when over 3,000 Greeks gathered in Alexandria to celebrate 150 years since the Hellenic Community of Alexandria was established in Egypt,” Ilias Pitsikas, the Parodos Art Group’s coordinator, says of how it all started. “We proposed to the head of the Hellenic Community of Alexandria at the time, Stefanos Tamvakis, that we present a series of entertainment and artistic activities for Greek and Egyptian youngsters. He was very optimistic about the idea. The result is that we have visited Alexandria every year since then.”

This year’s event included construction workshops, theater games, a play and a dance produced by the smaller children, as well as a more sophisticated performance by the older participants. A short film was also created, under the supervision of Angelos Georgopoulos, who has been to Alexandria before, and Giorgos Menegakis, a first-timer.

“It was such a powerful experience and very constructive,” says Georgopoulos. “We have built a relationship with all the kids and keep in touch on Facebook.”

Parodos also visited the Greek retirement home.

“After singing the songs we had prepared, the elderly residents sang out verses of their favorite tunes so we could perform them. We sang all together; it was very touching,” says Anastasia Samartzi.

At the Hellenic Foundation for Culture, where there are about 50 Egyptians learning Greek, Parodos presented Greek songs.

“Some of the students visit the retirement home to practice their Greek with its elderly residents,” says Pitsikas.

How do young Egyptians see Greece?

“For them, Greece is the summer and the chaos,” says Dimitris Karatzas. “I was struck by the fact that when I asked a few of them, the ones who study economics, where they would like to work, they all said, ‘Not Greece!’”

For Karatzas, this was his second time in Alexandria and he was impressed, not just by the sights, sounds and aromas, but also the hospitality.

“Someone from the Hellenic Community of Alexandria was always picking up the bill, whether we liked it or not,” he says.

Despina Kolokotroni has been principal of the Averoff middle and high school for seven years.

“There are 40 students at the school, mostly Greek and mixed families. There are also a few Egyptian children who went to school in Greece when their parents migrated there and who could not adapt to Arabic school when they came back as a result of the crisis,” she says.

The Tositsas-Pratsikeios elementary school has a similar mix of students, who number 26 in total.

Kolokotroni believes it is essential for the school to encourage the students, especially the Greeks, to maintain a bond with Greece.

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