Greece's Navarino Bay, near the western tip of Peloponnese, offers more than spectacular Mediterranean vistas, pristine beaches, olive groves, and white stucco houses with red tiled roofs. The sun-drenched bay, with its turquoise-blue waters, shimmers not only beneath open blue skies but within Greece's heart.
On October 20, 1827, at the Battle of Navarino, naval forces crushed a fleet of Ottoman ships, an outcome that ensured Greece's independence after 350 years of Turkish rule. History documents this rule as harsh. The Ottomans governed with a cruel whip. Greeks lived in abject poverty under tyrannical conditions, free only to dream about tomorrow.
Three and a half centuries is a long time to hold onto a dream, to work toward throwing off the master's yolk, to retain one's identity, as an individual and as a country. But this is exactly what happened. After the downfall of the Ottomans, the Greek culture re-surfaced, wiser and stronger, determined not to be subjugated again, by the Turks or anyone else.
The Greek language, once a language that traveled the Mediterranean -- and beyond with Alexander the Great, retains its purity, if localized to Greece these days, still, though, a remarkable feat after 350 years of linguistic onslaught. The Turks had worked to erase the language from the world's lexicon.
Unlike in Bosnia, where, basically, an entire country converted to the Muslim religion to avoid mass slaughter, Greek Orthodox Christianity thrives throughout Greece. (To be fair, the Ottomans didn't threaten the Greeks as such; however, lifestyle improved greatly if a Greek converted. Few did.) Regardless of one's religion, the fact that the Greek people preserved their spirituality deserves a certain respect (about which I'm not the first to write -- but more fully understand now -- as historians have long linked the Greek's preservation of their religion to much that is Europe today, not necessarily in a religious sense.)
However, I think the inner determination to retain core beliefs, all the while occupied by a voracious empire, speaks volumes about the strong character of the Greek people. (And I would write the same if the Greeks had occupied Turkey, if the Turks had retained their identity under such brutal conditions.
Because the character of the soul is more than a religious symbol.
Because wanting for the sake of wanting destroys an individual, brings a country to its knees, as it destroyed the Ottoman Empire (and others throughout history). It is the recognition of needs greater than simple wants that fuels the forward motion that protects society from itself.
As such, from occupied to free again (for Greece has a deep history, a rich history that gave birth to democracy and rational thought and so much more), the country's genealogy continued, families held together by stories of tragedy and hope, a freedom attained, a dream realized, a tomorrow that shimmers like the waters in Navarino Bay, mostly calm and inviting, but sometimes a bit harsh -- for Greece struggles, like other countries, with today's recession -- but always, the waters in Navarino Bay lap the shore and whisper the dream that lives.
In an era of globalization, we can still be who we are, not robots made in some factory in China, cheap goods sold on a mass market, made to fall apart after the first wash, imitations with a commercialized logo that screams for attention.
So, as I sit in a quiet lobby in a lovely hotel in Peloponnese, I am rejuvenated. Regardless of nationality or religion, regardless of the day's challenges, regardless of fears that work to mute the soul, our ancestors whisper that dreams live.
If only we'd listen.
If only we'd want more of what can't be bought.
If only we'd get our hands dirty from doing our own work, honest work that laps the soul, like the waters at Navarino Bay.