Does this mean our plans to go to Greece, to our beloved island Sifnos this spring, could be dashed? was the first thought I remember having when the reality of the coronavirus , this Covid 19, started to bite. They can’t be. They just can’t.
I need this vacation. Really need it, is what I thought next. And then … We’ll get there. Somehow.
Those thoughts, of course, were all about me. Now, thankfully, I’ve come to see it quite differently than all that. We will not go to Sifnos as planned. There’s no longer any question about that. And that’s how it should be. How it must be. The very best thing for us all.
It’s interesting to look back on how my thinking has evolved over the last weeks. The stages of reality, travel-planning-2020 style, I call them.
After a few days of stewing in my own disappointments, thoughts of others began to creep in, about those who depend for so much of their livelihoods on the arrival of visitors like me. These people have always treated me like family and I couldn’t, just couldn’t, desert them now.
But finally, when all began to come into better focus, I saw something else. How selfish it would be of me to go right now. There’s so much more that everyone everywhere needs to worry about now, and imposing oneself on others needlessly would be wrong. Tourism for now will have to wait.
I had a dream once that something I’d done had so offended the people of Sifnos that the next time I arrived on the ferry, an angry, picket-sign-wielding crowd sent me fleeing on that very boat back to Athens. After I recovered from the shock of that dream, I came to see it as so funny because the smiles and hugs and genuine welcomes I’m always treated to from my very first steps onto Sifnian soil are almost beyond belief. Now though, I see it so differently. In the current atmosphere, such signs would be well justified. Anyone from anywhere else and the possibility that they might bring with them this vile virus that is sweeping the world is a justifiably frightening prospect, especially in such a small and isolated place as that.
Greeks are famed for filoxenia, their long-standing cultural obligation to treat strangers as treasured guests. But lesser-known is that filoxenia also places obligations on the guests. They must be respectful, courteous to the host and take pains not to be a burden. So now is the time for all of us, lovers of Greece and those planning their first trip to discover why we fuss about this place so much, to return in kind the filoxenia that has so enriched our lives. It’s time for us to stay home. For now. Until all of this has been properly sorted out.
I read a Facebook post last week by the Sifnian author, Daphne Kapsali. As usual she talks about her island more authoritatively than I, for she lives there year-round, and so eloquently, for she’s a gifted writer.
DON’T COME NOW! is her message. Don’t even consider it.
DON’T BRING THIS VIRUS TO OUR ISLAND. To any other. Or to anywhere in Greece. We don’t even have hospitals on small islands like ours. STAY PUT. WAIT IT OUT.
You can read Daphne’s post here.
Or if you can’t access it through that link, her words are below. Read them. Please!
“This is my first and, hopefully, my only post on the coronavirus, and it’s largely a plea to anyone considering travelling to Sifnos (or any of the smaller Greek islands in a similar situation). I am never one for fear-mongering, and those of you who know me know that I’m always more likely to point out the positive side of any situation, and make a joke of anything that can be joked about. But there is nothing funny in all of this at all.
I write this as a permanent, all-year-round resident, who has become hyper aware of how a health crisis will affect a medical support system that struggles to cope with serious incidents even under normal circumstances. Please understand this: we do not have the resources to respond to a coronavirus outbreak. We do not have the facilities to test for the virus, nor to care for serious cases. There is no testing centre anywhere closer than Athens, and the boats serving us are as sporadic as ever. Anyone showing symptoms will have to either travel to Athens and hope to be tested and treated at the already overwhelmed hospitals there, or stay put and take their chances. We cannot hope to avoid contamination altogether, but our only chance is to only have a few, mild cases within the low-risk, healthier part of the population. Our saving grace, our relative isolation, will be immediately cancelled out if you – anyone – brings this thing in, and the consequences will be dire. PLEASE do not think of Sifnos (or your island of choice) as a safe haven to escape the virus; think of it as a place that needs to be protected from contamination, and DO NOT take the risk of being the one to bring it in. Even if you feel healthy. Even if you feel scared. We are not talking about freedom of movement here: we are talking about human lives. PLEASE stay put in your cities, where they are better equipped to cope, and wait it out. We are now each of us responsible for not just ourselves, but for others; potentially countless of others. Do not think individually, think collectively, think globally. Or, if individual works better for you: imagine if you’re the one to show symptoms whilst on a small island where treatment is non-existent. Put yourself in that situation, and stay safe. Stay put. Wait it out. Please. — in Sífnos.”
Daphne Kapsali Author of 100 Days of Solitude, and so much more
As for me, I’m hoping now for Sifnos in the fall. As a friend, another lover of Sifnos, always says, Inshallah, the Arabic expression for “If God is willing.”
Sharon Blomfield is the author of The Sifnos Chronicles: tales from a greek isle and, new this spring, Sifnos Chronicles 2: more greek island tales. These books are available at To Bibliopoleio, The Book Shop in Apollonia, Sifnos, at Tithorea, a Greek food shop in Rockwood, Ontario, Canada and on Amazon.