I find myself writing this column after a refreshing shower, made possible by the clever use of cups. Evening is descending upon the village of Katakirygias, perched on the Peloponnese peninsula in Greece. Just a week ago, a storm of epic proportions swept through here, earning the moniker "Mediterranean Hurricane." Since then, the tap water hasn't returned, but I've discovered an efficient method to bathe.
In essence, I rely on six cups, mixing cold water with hot water I've heated on the stovetop (because the electricity is back!) It feels like I've stepped back in time to the Middle Ages as I go about this ritual.
The storm wrought nearly imperceptible havoc: loss of human life, roads turned into rivers, decimated beaches, sunken restaurants, crumbled homes and buildings, and cars washed out into sea. In a single day, we had more rainfall here than in the entire year up north.
I arrived here about three weeks ago, allowing myself to experience this beautiful place before the storm hit. I booked a month-long getaway for myself and my partner, Yoni, to disconnect from the intense everyday life back in Israel, escape the grind, and write. To write and create freely. I came with aspirations that would make Noa Kirel proud. I told myself that without interruptions, I could cram a year's worth of work into a month where I didn't need to rush anyone or anything else.
My daily routine consisted of waking up by azure waters, enjoying a hearty meal with plenty of salads and Greek yogurt, writing in my room or on the balcony, and then heading straight for an afternoon dip. Evenings were spent either dining at home or at a nearby tavern. It felt like living in a dream.
'As if the heavens were about to collapse on us'
Then the storm hit natural disaster proportions that neither I nor anyone else could have predicted. Locals said they had never witnessed anything like it before, even though this region is accustomed to rain. Never in my life have I heard such a thunder whiplash, nor had lightning pierced my eyes like that. It felt as if the heavens were about to collapse on us. The volume of rain kept steadily increasing, and to be honest, I had never been so frightened in my life.
Up until now, a week after the storm, my heart sometimes races when a light breeze blows over, an airplane flies overhead, or I hear even the faintest of booms. Nightmares have been keeping me up at night. I've taken sleeping pills twice because I couldn't fall asleep. I cry almost every day, and my body aches as if I've just gone through a painful breakup. It seems that something inside me still refuses to take in the loss of the paradise that stood here just a moment ago, and how easily it's now gone.
Perhaps some readers now may find it ironic (please leave a comment below), as I had wanted to escape the relentless race of life I feel in Israel (conflicts, protests, terror attacks, cost of living and the heat), and I suddenly found myself in a different battle for survival.
The roads were blocked, and it was unclear if we could leave this place. Supplies on supermarket shelves dwindled, and there was fear that deliveries might not arrive on time. Electricity and tap water were cut off, and we couldn't shower, do the laundry or dishes. In short, my private paradise turned into a nightmare.
The feeling of being stuck in a foreign land is tough. What do I even know about the Greeks? In Israel, I know that a state of emergency is a relatively routine situation. But these Greeks, who live between the sea, work and their leisure, how will they deal with a national disaster now? However, as the days went by, the Greeks displayed remarkable resilience. They quickly repaired the roads, stocked supermarket shelves with food and drinking water, started cleaning up the beaches, and most importantly, they cared so much for the tourists here.
I've been here for the past week, oscillating between existential anxiety and deep gratitude for our health and well-being. It's a kind of uneasiness where, even though everything is fine now, there's a lingering feeling that everything can turn on a dime. It's a profound realization in the gut that we can't hold onto anything. I laugh with my partner Yoni about how I'm not built for survival situations.
Amid all the chaos, there's such heartwarming solidarity among the people here (it's not dead). Many elderly villagers and local folk turned up to help.
The elderly village grocer, who's around 80, smiles at me when I approach the counter to pay for my groceries, apologizing that something like this has never happened here. But instead of me encouraging him, he tells me, "Today you can go for a swim. The sun came out." There's something about it that brings a tear to my eye. I smile at him and leave hurriedly before he sees me tearing up.
Stamolis, the owner of the devastated tavern, responds to anyone inquiring about his well-being with the most convincing assurance that "everything is perfect." People gather at the damaged cafes, talk, exchange stories and immediately begin rebuilding.
The atmosphere in the village is still somber, but it's infused with a perplexing acceptance of reality. As if they know something about nature that urban folk have yet to grasp. They aren't in a rush, taking things one step at a time. They sweep debris out from their homes and hang wet clothes on broken fences.
People greet each other with a smile that means both hello and peace, but the subtext is clear: "Yes, we're all in this together."
Meanwhile, the sun is out again, and the sea has reclaimed its blue hue, as if saying that it, too, occasionally requires serious chaos to be born anew. Truth is, even without running water in the taps, I don't want rescue; I want to witness nature taking its course, and good people helping each other rebuild this paradise.
Suddenly, from this small village, every war now seems so unnecessary. There's only the understanding that we can build together and recreate Eden on Earth. Perhaps this understanding is the ultimate vacation?