Talk to Your Yiayia . . . (And if you don’t have one, find a grandma!)

imageI love my husband for so many reasons, but for one that I had never expected. He taught me how to appreciate old people, especially how to hold my yiayia’s hand, caress her cheek, lie in bed with her.

When I was in my 30s and still single, an old maid by Greek standards, my grandmother wanted me to find a good husband. She was the product of another generation, and though she believed every woman should be married, she quietly celebrated the fact that I dated and had many lovers before “settling down.” I know this because she was always a naughty yiayia, asking me very specific questions about my boyfriends, “So he has big . . . thing, yes?” Then she would roar with laughter.

imageStill, despite our openness about sex (not typical for a Greek grandmother but mine had lived all around the world and was very open-minded), her and I were not especially close. That is, until my husband came into our lives.

The first time Hugo and Yiayia saw each other, in the summer of 2004, it was love at first sight. They met, he held her hand tenderly, and she said in English (one of the six languages she spoke), “You good man?”

“Yes,” he replied.

“You love Kimi?”

“Yes,” he said, “very much.”

“Good, good. Now you listen to my anecdote.”

My grandmother started telling him a dirty joke about an Italian soldier with a macaroni stuck up his derrière, and he continued to hold her hand while sitting on the bed beside her. Yiayia had been bedridden for almost twenty years (mostly by choice). I’m tired. I don’t want to get up. But she ambled to the bathroom till she was ninety-four without a cane or walker or help.

I had heard the joke countless times, so I went to the kitchen to make a frappé because she didn’t care if I were there or not. She had the attention of a handsome young man, and Yiayia always preferred boys to girls—her grandsons were her favorites; the granddaughters she could live without. When I came back into the room, my husband was lying on her double bed beside her, chuckling, “Yiayia, tell me another joke!”

“Oh, you like?” she said and grinned at him.

“Yes! Yes!” while laughing from his heart. I stood there and thought two things: I don’t think I had ever—in my adult life—lain next to my yiayia, and second, I had never seen her so illuminated. She adored Hugo and he adored her. Every summer we would visit Greece and he would lie beside her, kiss her forehead, touch her in a way that was foreign to me. I always kissed her quickly and was never that physically close to her. Why? Because I had the crazy idea that old people didn’t need touch.image

I watched him throughout the years and I learned. It was osmosis; the more he loved her, the more I did, too. The more he caressed her, the more I wanted to, too. He leaned on her shoulder, stroked her hand, and always kissed her forehead when he came and when he left. He learned this from his own Peruvian upbringing. His family is inimitably kind to old people, so when my mother-in-law gave up her spacious bedroom to her mother-in-law for the last few years of her life, I wasn’t surprised.

Hugo’s grandmothers were extraordinary women. Mamama (my mother-in-law’s mother) was already lost to Alzheimer’s when I met her; she was gentle and sweet, loved to sing and dance, visions of her at our wedding in a polka dot red dress, twirling on the dance floor, fill my mind’s eye as I write this.image But before her illness, I heard Mamama was strict and would lift her skirt, giving Hugo a kick in the backside if he misbehaved.

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Nana at ninety-five, a year before she died.

Nana, my father-in-law’s mother, on the other hand, was still sharp at eighty-eight when I met her, a statuesque woman who lived alone. Nana mostly sat in a recliner, but one could see that she was still a tall woman with straight shoulders and extensive legs. Nana went to Peru from Normandy in the 1930s, and though she had been in Peru since she was a teenager, she still retained a strong French accent and an air of arrogance.

I adored Nana. Her hair was white and fluffy, smelling like a strawberry patch; she always wore a matching necklace and earrings, her lips painted bright red by the woman who took care of her during the day. She sat upright, but with great labor, shortened breath, told me about France, stories of love and heartbreak. I only regret not writing them down and asking more questions because they are bit and pieces of images, but not a clear story in my head.image

Unlike Nana who I immediately admired, the feelings towards my own grandmother were more complicated because we had had our share of troubles. When I was young, we were jealous of one another and constantly vied for my mother’s attention. When Yiayia would visit California for three months of the year, I was told to give up my bedroom and, as a spoiled teenager, was quite resentful.

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South Africa, 1981. Yiayia would come stay with us for a few months of the year wherever we were living.

When Yiayia passed away last year, my mother flew to Greece, and came back with a stack of photos and a card that I had made for my grandmother that she had apparently saved throughout the years. It was from one of those visits.image I’m trying to remember the good times, not the bad, and also the happy times not the sad.image I don’t remember making the card or creating that horrible poetry, but I must have always been searching for recognition from my tough grandmother who thought putting horse manure in her daughters’ Christmas stockings would create laughs, not tears and years of distrust whenever my mother and aunt received a present. Yiayia had a twisted sense of humor, playing practical jokes all her life and wetting herself (because she laughed so hard) when her victims responded with disbelief. But Yiayia also loved fiercely, lived frugally, and saved, saved, saved—so with the manure-filled stockings, she also presented her daughters with a dozen 18K gold bracelets each; and before she died, gifted each of her three children a house. Yiayia was complicated and, as a child, I didn’t understand her—and didn’t care to (or at least that’s what I remembered till I saw this card).

My mama wanted to get rid of my homemade card and almost didn’t show it to me; she said it reminded her of a time when Yiayia and I didn’t get along. My mama is a very diplomatic woman, a perennial optimistic, someone who compartmentalizes love and chooses to only save good memories. Unlike her, I use all situations to grow and learn. My mama only wanted to remember the last decade, the one where Yiayia and I loved each other deeply and openly. It was finally through my husband’s silent actions and, unbeknownst to him, teachings that, at the end, Yiayia and I had the relationship I had always desired.

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Yiayia with her adopted parents (her biological aunt and her husband). This is the photo I plan to use on the first page of my novel with the dedication.

FullSizeRender-5A decade before meeting my husband, while I was in Greece, I sat rigidly on the side of Yiayia’s bed. I was just filling time, so I asked her about her life. What I didn’t expect was a waterfall of stories about travel, relationships, jobs, and dreams; her birth on the island of Imbros and her subsequent adoption, her life in Nigeria and Egypt; about her Ally “friends” who were stationed in Egypt during World War II; about her assembly line position changing the headlights on Jeeps; her desire to go to England and be reunited with her British boyfriend.

My novel, Red Greek Tomatoes, was born that day. I wrote a few notes about my grandmother’s life and stashed them in my computer; then, years later, in 2010, I started writing and in 2012, the first complete draft of my novel was completed.

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2004

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2014. A month before she passed away.

Last year, I lay down on my yiayia’s bed beside her, our legs crossed, and I touched her leg, commenting about her ever-so-soft skin (skin that I’ve luckily inherited).image Yiayia told me that when she had met my grandfather, he told her she was ugly but, thank goodness, she had soft hands, so she could rub his penis well (Yiayia always used proper terminology). Hugo was sitting on the helper’s bed beside us and laughed loudly. Yiayia at ninety-four, still so feisty, so naughty.

Then I started telling her about the character, Dita, from my novel. Dita is the grandmother character, a Greek girl who lives in Egypt, spends her time with the Allies at dance halls in the early 1940s and is—for her time—promiscuous. My yiayia listened quietly, but when I told her that Dita loses her virginity, she pretended to be horrified.

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Yiayia in Alexandria, Egypt. So beautiful. This was the first photo I had ever seen of her so young and so happy.

“But, Kimi! People will think I was poutana!”

I responded with a smile, “She’s not you, yiayia. Yes, I used some of your background, but she’s her own person.”

“Hmmm, well, she sounds like poutana to me!” Then she laughed her deep, throaty laugh.

Every summer when we would leave, I would asked her, “Yiayia, what do you want me to bring you next year?”

Her answer was always the same, “I want big, handsome Peruvian, like Hugo.” My husband and I would laugh, kiss her, cry, and then the following year we were back to lie with her on her bed and listen to her joke about the Italian and the macaroni that had to—of course—be included in my novel.

Last year was different. Hugo and my aunt had gone upstairs to visit her from my aunt’s home downstairs, and found Yiayia on the floor. For the last week of our visit she had to be in diapers and could no longer walk herself to the bathroom. When her helper was changing Yiayia’s diaper, the woman asked if I wanted to leave the room. I looked at my yiayia, “Can I stay?”

“You like smell shit? Okay, stay!” She laughed. But changing a grown woman’s diaper, who is still sharp as a Sharpie, is no laughing matter. The woman wore rubber gloves. It took several buckets of water and endless wipees—a grueling fifteen-minute process of her legs being yanked up in the air, Yiayia turned to one side, then the other.

When the woman left, I sat close to my yiayia, the room still smelling less-than-delightful, but in that moment nothing mattered. I tried to be light-hearted; inside I was breaking. “What do you want me to bring you from the States next year?”

She smiled quietly, not the naughty-girl laugh, “Nothing. Yiayia is ready.”

I asked her, “Are you afraid?”

“Yes,” she bravely admitted. “But Yiayia not want live like this.”

Goodbyes are always painful, tears drop on the keyboard as I write this, but last year, I knew the goodbye would be forever. I never questioned Yiayia’s strength and determination to live—or die—the way she saw fit. The final morning before my 7a.m. flight, I went upstairs and Yiayia screamed, “Leave! Why you come up? We say goodbye last night!” I had saved an extra twenty minutes for a final cup of coffee with my yiayia, and I’m so glad I did. I was calm and relaxed. I sat beside her, held her hand, and left nothing unsaid. I cried while looking back; she had tears while blowing me kisses.

Twelve days after my return to the United States, she died quietly while holding my aunt’s hand. In a few weeks, I’ll be in Greece and attending Yiayia’s one-year memorial. My novel will one day be dedicated to this venerable woman, and all other women, who broke the mold for how “good” girls should act. Through their daring and unapologetically unique behaviors, women—like my yiayia—paved the way for future generations of women—like me—to have choice.image

I’ve learned so many lessons over the last few years; an important one is that old people have so much to share. I hope you take the time today, or the next, to ask an elderly person about his or her life. Listen, really listen. And maybe even hold their hand while they talk.image

In loving memory of Constantina Gialias. February 10, 1920 – August 12th, 2014.

What Is Love?

Dressed in a crisp white blouse, olive-colored pants, and high-heeled shoes with a thin gold band, Maria Bello looked elegant and serene. Later, when signing her book, Whatever . . . Love is Love: Questioning the Labels We Give Ourselves, and as we chatted briefly, I saw her slip the shoes off, saying something under her breath: “Ouch, I have to get out of these.” FullSizeRender-7That moment struck me as metaphorically poignant because during her interview with journalist Sandy Banks, at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, she had shared a story about gold shoes, about finding one—a glittery pump—in the snow on 23rd street in NY when she was a struggling actor; Bello explained how she read it as a sign that she should continue to act, but also that her proverbial Prince Charming would one day provide the perfect shoe, give her the perfect life, and they would live “happily ever after.” But that shoe never attracted The One, but a series of Not-Prince Charmings—though, she writes, some acted, looked, and “were princely” (WLIL 105). After several failed relationships, she finally learned “not [to] wait for Prince Charming or Cinderella to kneel before you with arms outstretched so that you could succeed” (114).

And she did succeed. Her television, film, and activist work are plentiful, yet no one’s story is uncomplicated. Bello’s golden shoe story—the shoe that magically multiplies—has many facets, but suffice it so say, as she signed a copy of her book for me while slipping off her shoe, I couldn’t help make some connections. FullSizeRender-4While on stage, she commented about buying a great pair of shoes from DSW, so even when one does find a shoe that fits like a glass slipper, and even if you buy it for yourself, and even if you’re convinced it’s comfortable, beautiful . . . nothing is perfect and everything is fluid.

Having read her memoir and reflected upon its ending, I feel she’s now in one the healthiest places of her tumultuous life, all while understanding that one never completely arrives. One is always searching, expressed symbolically by the gold shoes she collects, including the ones she wore for that talk. Life, relationships, and oftentimes sexuality are fluid. I believe one must accept the fluidity in life to survive and thrive. This concept is beautifully expressed when Bello writes: “There are no labels that can define my relationship with Clare. This relationship, like all relationships, constantly evolves . . . and though the form of our relationship changes, the love is always the same” (158).

If we don’t put boundaries around ourselves, we may realize that our options for whom to love becomes bigger, wider, more open.

This idea of openness is one found at the heart of my own novel, Red Greek Tomatoes. My protagonist, a Greek-American traditional woman believes she’s strictly heterosexual until she has a Sapphic encounter. She has many relationships in the novel and closely examines her life and choices as well as her yiayia’s in 1940s Egypt and her mother’s in the 1960s Greece to understand why women of so many generations think they need a Prince Charming (or Princess) to feel whole in this world (http://redgreektomatoes.com).

In 2012, when I sat across the table from an agent to pitch my novel, I told her that one of the relationships my protagonist has is with a woman. The agent said, “Hmmm, maybe you should sell it as lesbian literature.” FullSizeRender-5A year later, at another writer’s conference, another agent said, “Hmmm, if the relationship with the woman is only forty pages of the novel, consider taking it out, so that the novel can be pitched as a traditional, multi-cultural novel. Adding the same-sex stuff just may be too much.” I was speechless. It was 2013 and these agents were categorizing, labeling, and putting my novel into a box when it is so much more.

When I read Maria Bello’s piece “Coming Out as a Modern Family” in the New York Times’s Modern Love column, wherein she openly and honestly wrote about her relationship with Clare, a “beautiful, curious, blond, blue-eyed Zimbabwean” (156), it confirmed that an audience for my novel exists. So many topics that Bello writes about such as the “Prince Charming syndrome” or the desire not to be labeled—unless it’s a label one chooses for him or herself—are at the core of my novel.

Long ago, in Plato’s Symposium, Aristophanes talked about The Power Of Love. He said that “the sexes were three” and that “primeval man was round, his back and sides forming a circle; and he had four hands and the same number of feet, one head with two faces”—in other words, the quintessential Soul Mates, stuck together from the beginning of time; one body, but two hearts, two minds. The story goes on that these Superhumans were sliced in two by Zeus, and now we each search the earth for our Other Half. A wonderful depiction of this myth is the song “The Origin of Love,” featured in the fabulous rock musical and movie Hedwig and the Angry Inch. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_zU3U7E1Odc

FullSizeRender-10Aristophanes goes on to say, “And when one of them meets with his [or her] other half, the actual half of himself [or herself], whether [s]he be a lover of youth or a lover of another sort, the pair are lost in an amazement of love and friendship and intimacy, and one will not be out of the other’s sight, as I may say, even for a moment: these are the people who pass their whole lives together, and yet they could not explain what they desire of one another” (Plato). Bello, in this vein, writes: “I saw that photo [of Clare] and realized I could in fact love her”(157). Just as Plato suggested so long ago, one cannot necessarily explain our desire to be with another person; sometimes it’s a feeling that is just right (157).

When Bello published her article and photos of her and Clare emerged, some media sources wrote that Bello was “coming out” as gay, as bisexual. Instead Bello writes: “Traditional labels just don’t seem to fit anymore. These labels are limiting the possibility for people to question more and become who they are meant to be” (6). She seems to be more comfortable with the “whatever” label because from her dear son’s mouth—when she told him about her romantic relationship with Clare—she first heard, “Mom, whether you are lesbian, gay, bi, transgender, shout it out to the world. Whatever, love is love” (15). In her book subtitled, Questioning the Labels We Give Ourselves, Bello doesn’t shy away from the complexities of gender identification and states, “So many in the LGBT community have sacrificed so much to change policy, hearts, and minds. The entire world has benefited from their sacrifices beyond LGBT rights. . . . all to move policies and to show the world it shouldn’t matter to anyone who you love or who you sleep with” (159).FullSizeRender-6

I do know as a part-time college professor many students do wear some labels proudly, coming to class with T-Shirts that say: “Sorry, I Prefer Girls” or introducing themselves in class as “I’m gay.” They share and educate and lead in discussions about openness. One student told me that LGBT is an outdated acronym and that the term is now LGBTQIA, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersexual, Asexual, and Ally. In jest, Maria suggests adding a “P” since her first orgasm was actually with a Pillow. Honoring my heritage, I would love to add a “P” too—but for Pansexual, “pan” being the Greek prefix for “all, everything.” Pansexuality is an all-encompassing term for love; sex or gender identity is irrelevant when choosing a romantic partner. Even if Facebook offers twenty-seven categories to label oneself, individuals should choose what feels right for them, and we should respect that. Ultimately, we have the right to choose or refuse labels.

Bello also mentions that she feels uncomfortable calling herself a “humanitarian” but chooses the word: “activist.” Whatever the label, Bello’s devotion to her Haitian community, and the various activist work that took her to all parts of the U.S. to Nicaragua and to different African countries made me reflect upon my own life. Since we are close in age, I couldn’t help question what I have accomplished in my forty-five years on earth. I’ve taught English for twenty-three years and though I have spent half my life overseas—from Saudi Arabia to South Africa to Greece to Peru—it was mostly because I was a third-culture kid, then later looking for “home,” and much later, accompanying my husband back to his country. I did some community service in Peru, but it pales in comparison when I read about Bello’s activism. She is so accomplished in television and film, and in this second part of life, I’m still working on my first novel.

FullSizeRender-8My favorite thing about Bello’s memoir is she shares her most intimate stories, written beautifully and honestly, and one can experience her most difficult moments and joyous times right alongside her. It’s a book that allows readers to question themselves and their own choices, to live vicariously through her tales, but also viscerally connect them to their own. By the end of the memoir, I realized, again, that we all have stories and successes; struggles, deep and dark; but life is also filled with goodness, light, and joy.

Bello poses a series of questions as chapter headings: “Am I a Partner?” “Am I Forgiving?” “Am I a Bad Girl?” “Am I a Feminist?” I found myself answering these questions and saying out loud a few times: “Yes!” In one of the final chapters she asks: “Am I a Writer?” Then says, “It takes chutzpah, I know, to label yourself, especially with labels that are usually given to you”—such as capital W, Writer as I call it (177). I know this feeling. I’ve been labeled a teacher/professor for so long that I, too, had reticence to call myself a writer. Bello felt she could finally call herself one when she was paid to write the New York Times’s article. When I sent 380 pages of my manuscript to the U.S. Copyright Office, I decided to label myself a Writer. It took chutzpah, but I’m doing it.

By the end of the book, Bello does add “Writer” to her extensive resume, and she should because her memoir is a delightful read, full of insight and openness. She ends with the last question, the most poignant one of all, and one I’m certain so many of us ask ourselves daily: “Am I Enough?” I hope she feels that she is because through my brief interaction with her and having read her stories, I found her to be a very genuine person. And, being a genuine, compassionate person, a life-long learner is what counts in my book. And in hers.

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Bello, Maria. Whatever . . . Love is Love: Questioning the Labels We Give Ourselves. New York: Dey St., 2015.

Plato. The Collected Works of Plato, 4th ed. Trans. Benjamin Jowett. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1953.

Why Grown Women Still Need Their Mamas

ImageThis past week my husband had a business trip, and I was feeling a bit “alone,” not lonely, just like a stranger in a big, big city. New to Los Angeles, I have been very fortunate to have met some wonderful people. I made a few new friends and have the absolute best neighbors on both sides, who not only are animal people, but are people who I could call if I ever felt unsafe. But I don’t. I have my three bebitos at my feet and their snoring (and other sounds) actually put me to sleep at night. But this past week, I needed my mama. Yes, I’m forty-four, but does wanting or needing your mama ever really change? So I called her. My mother LOVES her home, her garden, and her swimming pool (where she does her daily—ten—laps). She loves going to Curves Gym: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Every Tuesday, she cooks dinner for my nieces; every Thursday, she sings the same three songs at her favorite karaoke restaurant. Every morning, she talks on the phone for hours with her sister in Greece. Simply put, she is retired and she loves her routine. But she loves her daughter more.

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Like most maturing adults, my mother hates to travel even if it’s a simple train ride from San Diego to Los Angeles. And she hates leaving her home more. But, like a good Greek mama, her kids and grandkids always come first. So instead of being by myself for a week, my mama came to stay with me. ImageShe always arrives with bags of goodies: pita bread and hummus (both of which we can buy from the corner Trader Joes), all my mail (still have Mom’s address from my college days), a few surprises (silver flip-flops and a pink nightie), and something sweet for my husband (homemade Baklava).

There are so many reasons why moms are the best. Here are some specific reasons why her visit was not only appreciated, but useful.

#1 She helped me clean house;
# 2 she taught me how to change my vacuum bag;
# 3 she taught me how to hem my husband’s slacks (okay, I lied, she just did it);
# 4 she kept me company when I took my Jeep for its smog check;
# 5 she helped me wash my Greek goddess dress that I wore for my birthday (that was hanging on the closet door for months!);
# 6 she took a pretty dress I bought and cut the back (it was too long) and attached it to the front (it was too short);
# 7 she scratched my back when we went to bed (just like she did when I was a little girl);
#8 and she made me laugh with her silly ways.

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And what did I do for her?
#1 I made her Greek coffee in the morning;

#2 I tried to treat her to a Starbuck’s simple coffee, but she wouldn’t let me because she said it was too expensive;

#3 I bought her a good wine to enjoy;Image

#4 I cooked a delicious curry dinner;

#5 I let her complain about our dogs;

#6 and I simply appreciated her.

It’s a funny thing, the relationship between mothers and daughters. You love that woman heart and soul, yet she is often the person who drives you a bit nuts. I look like my mom, I laugh like my mom, sing like her, cry like her. I repeat myself like her: I ask my husband a million times if he wants more food, more water, another pillow, an extra blanket. But I am also strong and happy like her. I remember a quote I read a few years ago that said: “Mirror, mirror on the wall, I am my mother after all.” I am a lot like her and also so different. My strengths are distinct, but I also don’t think I am as resilient and fearless as she is when it comes to life.

So when life is feeling a little unstable, and when I feel a bit alone, I know it’s okay for a grown woman, like myself, to need my mama.

My “Story”

The Sarawak headhunters wanted to kidnap me. They sought blonde babies, and I was the most beautiful baby she had ever seen. My mama told me this story for as long as I can remember. Obviously, she was seeing through mommy goggles because pictures of me at that time reveal a toddler with an alien-sized head, a non-existent nose, and a belly that matched Buddha’s. ImageThough headhunting rarely took place in the early 1970s and cute babies had nothing to do with their choice of head, to my mother’s relief, we left Borneo when I was almost two years old.

I grew up with stories—just like this one. My dad told strangers my mama was Miss Greece 1964 (as far as I know, in the early 60s, she worked as a hotel receptionist and never held the aforementioned title). In the 70s, an Arab Sheik wanted my mother to leave her engineer husband to join his harem; Imagein the 80s, our airplane on the way to South Africa had to do a crash landing into a bed of foam; in the 90s, my Greek grandmother gave me twelve gold bracelets from a toothless gypsy who owed her money; and in the 2000s, it was time for me to finally take my family’s oral tradition, and commit these and other stories to writing.

I still don’t know if these stories are somewhat factual or entirely fictional, but I guess it doesn’t really matter. In Saudi Arabia, as an eight-year-old, I would make up long tales of camels and princesses; fire and sand dunes. In South Africa, as an eleven-year-old, my stories became more elaborate, a missing treasure, a leopard who could talk, and a Bushman who saved the day. But my favorite stories have always been about Greece. The place where everything tastes better, looks bluer, smells nicer.

ImageWhen I was a few years old, my family and I moved, for a short time, back to mother’s native land, Greece. When my North American father got a new international engineering post, we packed our bags again. By the time I was thirteen, I had lived in six different countries and had visited countless more. In Venezuela, I ate arepas; in Saudi Arabia I rode camels; in South Africa I walked alongside giraffes and lay with leopards, Imagebut my favorite memories are in Kamena Vourla, at my grandmother and grandfather’s summer cottage by the sea.

Almost every summer of my life, I swam in the Mediterranean, ate watermelon and tomatoes from my papoo’s garden, and listened to stories that spewed from my yiayia’s mouth. Yiayia, who also grew up in several countries, told me about a green-eyed Bedouin woman who pawned her thick, silver ankle bracelets at my great grandfather’s kiosk in Egypt. Because the woman never returned, yiayia’s father thought, with her other-worldly gaze, she was an angel. ImageHe used the silver to make a religious icon, which now hangs in my mother’s bedroom. The eyes supposedly move; the “angel’s” eyes watching over all of us.

Yiayia would tell me stories of her youth in Egypt, her trials with two daughters who were so different, and the wimpy son who grew to be her favorite. My mother told me about her travels to Iran, Hong Kong, and Lesotho and about her youth in Nigeria. “I would climb a tree instead of go to school,” she told me, and “I loved swimming in King Farouk’s palace. Those days it was open on weekends to the public.” All my life I listened to the matriarchs of our family; I grew up with their stories and my father’s, so naturally enough, I too became a storyteller.

At Kmart, my first job, I worked in the fitting room. Hidden behind a stack of clothes, I would write for hours in my Hello-Kitty palm-sized notebook. After high school, I got a Bachelor’s Degree in English, moved to Greece, and got my first job teaching English. Three years later, I returned to the U.S, pursued a Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature and became an Adjunct English Professor in San Diego.

In my 12th year of teaching, I met my wonderful husband Imageand moved to Peru for six years. In Lima I secured a position as an English teacher, and then soon after as Head of Department, at Colegio Roosevelt, a prestigious American I.B. World School. It was a great experience though seeing extreme poverty juxtaposed with affluence often left me questioning my own choices. It also filled my mental rolodex with new stories I want to tell one day.

ImageHugo and I returned to the U.S. in 2010 with our little family, three beautiful (and extremely naughty) English bulldogs, and a new adventure began.

Teaching has been a happy accident. I love being in front of a class and telling students stories (as well as teaching them the mandated syllabus). And, thankfully, I have been successful and have made great bonds with students over the years. But, after twenty years of teaching, it was time to write the novels that have been in my head, the first one being RED GREEK TOMATOES, a work of fiction inspired by my mother’s and grandmother’s stories as well as my own life experiences.

ImageThere are not too many things in this world that are certain. But of one thing I am certain: I was born to be a storyteller.

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