About our stay in Agios Ioannis

Our first visit to Agios Ioannis was on the last day of August 1978. The bus took us to Anopolis in the afternoon, and we started on our tour about 17:00. The walk was hot, long and hard; crossing the gorge of Aradena for the first time was a thrilling experience. We reached the village gate shortly after sunset and were soon surrounded by curious people. We were taken to one of the houses, where approximately 15 people spent the evening wondering what to do with us.

It was obvious that everybody was puzzled by these to strangers who walked into the village and said they might want to stay for a year. We slept on the roof of the house and woke up next morning to what was my 30th birthday. Two weeks later we returned, made an agreement about renting a house and slept the first night in what was going to be our home for the next year. 

The house consisted of four rooms – two of them were used by us. The main room was restored, with a new concrete floor and roof; the kitchen had a dirt floor, large holes in the walls, and contained enought bugs, scorpions and mice to last us the whole year. We fetched water from the cistern or the tap outside the house. For heating we had a small paraffin stove to keep us somewhat warm, and cooking was done on a gas stove. Oil lamps gave us light, and we soon learned the importance of a good flashlight. We also acquired a cat to keep the rodent population under control.

The arch gave the front porch shade in the summer and provided a sunny spot protected from the wind during the winter months. The view was magnificent; we could see large parts of the village. In front we could see the Mediterranean and the islands of Gavdos and Gavdopoulos and in the back the Lefka Ori.

The first thing we noticed was the absence of noise. In the morning we woke up to the roosters crowing, the donkeys braying or the barking of a dog. Once in a while a plane would pass above us. Otherwise the bells of the sheep or the wind was all that could be heard.

Living in your own house gave us the opportunity to be visited by everyone in the village. It also provided us with a lot of work. Cleaning the house, washing clothes, fetching water and cooking food takes a lot of time when all the water had to be fetched from the cistern and heated on an outdoor fireplace or a small gas cooker.

Most of our time was spent visiting the other households and receiving visitors in return. My husband was much in demand to give a hand with the sheep and goats, and we both helped with the olives. We were given quite a lot of food by the villagers – eggs, bread, goat milk, fruit, vegetables and not forgetting my favorite: the local pita with honey – but nothing could be bought on a regular basis. Everything else had to be purchased in Anopolis or Chania and brought in by mule or on our backs. Life was good, but strenuous.

In the beginning of our stay we were viewed as tourists, but after a while our status changed and our life as “villagers” begun. In early summer my parents visited us, and I believe this increased our acceptance in the village. We were never one of them, but were still part of the daily life.

This website is not about me – or us – but is an attempt to show the village and the life of the villagers as we saw it. The photos I have included were – with few exceptions – taken by us between 1978 and 1983. They show the village and the villagers during their everyday life and during celebrations of religious and social events.

We left Agios Ioannis on September 1, 1979. It was a sad day, and I wrote in my diary that this would never be “our” village again. And even though we visited several times over the next few years, we had changed into guests and were no longer part of the village life.

The materials in this website are previously unpublished except for a few photos that have been shown on http://www.sfakia-crete-forum.com. The photos are from my fieldwork collection, and the text draws mainly upon my unpublished thesis and other collected data, including a large amount of kinship data for Agios Ioannis showing the relations between the village and the surrounding area. 

I made this website to show some of the pictures and data we collected during our stay. The village – as it was at that time – no longer exists, but our memories of the people and the area are still alive. The people of Agios Ioannis taught us a lot and changed our lives forever. This is my way of saying thank you to everyone for taking us into their homes and putting up with all our questions.

At the time of our stay in Agios Ioannis we were both students at the University of Oslo. The stay was part of our anthropological fieldwork and supported by The Institute for Comparative Research in Human Culture.

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