Come Over Into Macedonia, H. Allen

Not By Bread Alone


THAT MAN does not live by bread alone applies even in a primitive, under-privileged society. And this hunger of the mind and the spirit must be satisfied just as the daily needs of the physical body must be filled. In either case the food provided may be sometimes of inferior quality and unnutritious;

but, such as it is, it will be consumed.

The humble peasant is no exception to this Biblical truth. He has the social cravings and the spiritual hungerings of all humans and these natural instincts demand their share of attention. The means at his disposal are usually limited and sometimes not uplifting. Not infrequently they may be wholesome, picturesque, and well adapted to his mode of life. Such activities, good and not so good, play an important part in the social life of every Macedonian community.

Our few achievements of early 1930 in providing a certain amount of physical recreation for the youth of the village could hardly be said to have constituted an important contribution to this particular problem. Therefore, in October, at the end of our first year of a systematic program, with considerably increased experience and clearer insight into the needs of Macedonian community life, we added a department of recreation. Engaged for the purpose of organizing this new section was a former recreational worker among the outplaced orphans of the now liquidated Near East Relief.

I found our new leader in the last days of the relief work carrying his earlier experience as a boy scout to the orphans of eastern Macedonia. Traveling from village to village over a wide area he was bringing good cheer and new hope to these young people who were facing, for the first time, the hard struggle of a competitive existence. This energetic chap with the friendly smile was well qualified to develop for us a sound program of village recreation. Although not a native of the country he knew Macedonia—its people, its customs, its traditions, and its social needs. And he was young. Originally Feodore, a Russian refugee several years earlier, he had adopted the Anglo-Saxon equivalent of Theodore. Theodore's friends soon helped him further to westernize his name, and when I first met him in June 1928 he was introduced to me as Mr. Theodore Pays, recreational leader, Drama area of Near East Relief.

Soon after reaching Constantinople in 1919 after fleeing before the on-coming Bolsheviks from his home on the Black Sea, Theodore sought and found work with Near East Relief. Here, in the same Turkish capital from which were issued the devastating orders that resulted in so many thousands of widows and orphans, was located the general headquarters of all the American relief and orphanage activities of the Near East. Furthermore, there were quartered in this very city eight or ten thousand of these Greek and Armenian orphans. In those days the tremendous business of dispensing relief on a gigantic scale was in full swing. Theodore succeeded, with little difficulty, in securing a position with this far-flung American organization. He was assigned almost immediately to the Sultan's palace where in one quarter of the spacious grounds were housed a thousand of these unfortunate waifs. Here, in his typically versatile way, he cheerfully solved his own uncertain status by entertaining the children, supervising their dormitories, and assisting the director in the purchase of supplies. When merchants or tradesmen presented their bills to the man at the door they were told that "Theodore pays." It was not long before someone picked up this constantly recurring phrase and the obliging young man submitted, forthwith, to the call of Theodore Pays. Thus easily and conveniently did his colleague solve for themselves the difficult problem of pronouncing and of spelling a Russian name. When Theodore, in common with thousands of other post-war refugees, had his status fixed by the Nansen Commission at Geneva, his passport identified him as Theodore Pays, White Russian, year of birth 1900, native of Sevastopol.

In 1922 volunteers were needed to escort one thousand orphans to the childless homes and beckoning fields of hospitable Greece, and Theodore went along. An old freight boat, complete with crew and provisions, was chartered for the purpose. With nurses quickly sea-sick, doctors non-existent, and scores of ailing children to care for, Theodore jumped to the rescue with his boy scout experience and his ever present first-aid kit. His patients responded most obligingly to his skillful ministrations. The captain complained of stomach trouble. Theodore diagnosed his case and prescribed a remedy. It worked. A council was held with the result that passengers and crew unanimously agreed that Mr. Pays must be accorded the protection and the privileges of a practicing physician. Thereupon the old tub was removed from the bathroom and Theodore was transferred from his place on the floor to a cot in his own private stateroom. Theodore's facilities for adding to the comfort of traveling companions have increased with the years. From his amazing traveling kit, his resourceful mind, and his many official friends who turn up everywhere at the most opportune times, he produces unexpected help in the most isolated spots. Established eventually in Eastern Macedonia, Theodore was assigned to the task of meeting the recreational and social needs of widely scattered orphans sent out to the homes, the fields, and the shops of this region.

I later discovered in my educational efforts that these rural people of Macedonia—both native and refugee, youth and adult —had their own special types of leisure time activities. Some of these were picturesque and invigorating; others were time-consuming and debasing. There was little of an upbuilding or uplifting nature such as one sometimes finds in certain peasant communities of Central Europe. This condition may have been due to the recent and frequent upheavals in the lives of these people. Local dramatics, community sings, village orchestras, small reading rooms, to say nothing of our country spelling bees, corn husking contests, and church socials, were, for the most part, entirely unknown. The chief social centers were the church, of which there was always one in a village, and the coffee house, usually numbering more.

In the dull monotony of a hard and drab existence the Orthodox church presents to the peasant mind the exciting color of good pageantry. The weekly worship and the occasional Saints' day service, conducted as it is in ancient Greek, might seem to convey but little to the illiterate peasant. The villager, however, knows this ritual by heart. As a child he participated in the various religious ceremonies and his own children are enjoying these same experiences. From this background, from the stories told at home, from the teaching of the Bible in the secular day schools, the most ignorant peasant develops a knowledge of the Bible that is quite unexpected. Standing in the crowded quarters of the church (one always stands during the Orthodox service) amid the chanting of the priest and the psalming of the lay reader, he is on intimate terms with the saints. The Father in his ceremonial robes is to him a personal representative of God, and in no way related to the priest who walks through the streets, or works in his fields on week days. Seldom does it occur to the childish mentality of the peasant to relate his religious interests to his own or the priest's moral standards. It is quite sufficient for him to be transported, for a time, from the drab existence of his daily life to another, more colorful world.

Then, too, the opportunity to meet in a group with his neighbors means much. The Sunday service starts early and lasts long. Old people and babies are the first to attend, very often proceeding to the meeting place soon after dawn. Village leaders and the church council follow. Later one sees the marriageable girls and the young men, both dressed in their best, marching through the streets and lining up on either side of the congregation. Returning later to the open air of the church yard the women carry on an intimate conversation regarding the most suitable matches to be negotiated and the latest babies to arrive. The men take stock of their crops, the weather, and the political situation. Lacking most of the more commonly accepted forms of diversion they, especially the women, find in the church, the opera, the moving picture theater, the lodge, and the sewing circle all rolled into one.

The coffee house is another important social center for the male population of the village. It is, in fact, an institution—the Eastern version of the corner saloon or the country grocery store. Here gather the men, each according to his political affiliations. Until 1936, when all party lines were supposedly eliminated, no member of the Venizelos party would think of sitting for his coffee or his ouzo in a royalist "Kafenion." On Sundays, holidays, and throughout most of the winter week days, these clubs are the busy centers of all leisure time activity of which there is considerable. On sunny days the crowd overflows with its tables and chairs into the dusty or still muddy street. On cold rainy days the visitors are confined inside the tiny shop with doors and windows tightly closed.

One enters the dimly lighted quarters, made darker still by the clouds of bluish cigarette smoke, to be greeted by the odor of unwashed bodies and the penetrating smell of anise from the numerous glasses of ouzo,—a highly alcoholic drink distilled from grapes and flavored with anise. The sharp crack of the wooden chromes against the sides of the shallow playing board is now and again heard as several groups engage in their two-man game of trictrac. From another quarter comes the slap, slap of cards as intent players, with hands raised high, throw down their covering aces in characteristic Greek fashion. Unpainted wooden tables spotted black with countless cigarette burns cover the uneven dirt floor. On the smoke stained plastered walls hang a few ancient advertisements of the Singer sewing machine, outdated models of the popular Ford, pictures of farm implements, and a calendar of the Agricultural Bank. Across one corner of the room the proprietor dispenses his hot Turkish coffee from the small charcoal fire and the locally made ouzo from a bottle fitted with a long tapering tin snout.

For the women the sunny side of a building, on warm spring days when they are not busy in the fields, serves as a convenient meeting place. Here and there throughout the village one sees such groups quietly exchanging bits of gossip, while the spindle whirls and their skillful fingers feed down the twisting wool.

Every Greek village has its own patron Saint, very often deriving its name from this source. Once a year this particular saint's day must be celebrated and this is the occasion for a full holiday and much merrymaking. Peasants from distant villages come over to enjoy the occasion—some by wagon, others on donkey back, and not a few on foot. The gathering crowd assembles on the school grounds, in the church yard, or perhaps by the side of a stream. The men and older women go at once to the church to participate in the service and light candles to the Saint of the day. Busy wives and young people attend to this obligation somewhat later after they have spread out their lunches and placed babies on blankets in crudely-made hammocks. Those who wish may supplement their own meager lunches by purchasing bits of meat from the freshly killed sheep roasted on a turning spit over a hot charcoal fire. Everyone inspects the cheap trinkets at the rough counters hurriedly erected by traveling traders. Some of the men patronize much too freely the open air coffee shop and by mid-afternoon a very considerable group are in a state of vociferous hilarity.

An itinerant gypsy band with two or three skin drums, a native flute, and a one-stringed violin supply oriental music in characteristic minor keys. Many of the group dances, which vary considerably with the locality or the origin of the people, quickly form and are very picturesque. Groups of men and women numbering twenty or thirty form a large solid ring by placing arms over shoulders. Catching the rhythm of the constantly repeated minor notes in the short refrain of the band the group sways in unison with the music. The feet of the dancers are lifted to form difficult steps not easily imitated by the amateur. With every change in step the circle turns slowly to the right. And so the dance continues until one wonders how the participants can possibly stand the physical strain. In the midst of the dance two men, slightly intoxicated perhaps, break away from the circle and, proceeding quickly to the center with left arms locked and right hands raised high over their heads, perform a much more active and often a very intricate step.

In the late afternoon with fretful babies crying, mothers weary, and a few of the men somewhat the worse for the holy day, the villagers straggle homeward. A Saint has been honored and liis anniversary suitably celebrated.

Not only do most villages have Saints' day, from which they may or may not derive their names, but it is the common practice for individuals to be named after well known saints. The celebration of one's name-day is an event. In fact in Greece one seldom celebrates his birthday, but always his name-day. American women residing in this country are quick to adopt the practice. So important a custom is this that there is issued every year a special calendar listing the names of the saints and the dates on which they are celebrated. One consults this calendar very carefully and notes on what day his friend John, or a business acquaintance called Paul, is to celebrate his name-day. On that occasion he sends him a card, or if it is at all possible to do so, pays a visit to his home.

One is always expected to remain at home, at least for the evening, on his name-day. His friends drop in one by one, or by twos and threes, and after a few words of greeting are served with a sweet, then a small glass of cognac, and finally coffee. In a peasant home such refreshments may be limited to the cognac or possibly an ouzo. The guest raises his glass, says "chroma pola (many years)" and with one swallow drains its contents. Strong men not accustomed to the local brew have been observed to shed tears and almost sweat blood in downing the drink. The sweet, which is usually served first, presents something of a problem to one unaccustomed to the ritual. The wife or a daughter appears from the kitchen bearing a tray on which are several tumblers of water corresponding to the number of guests. Across the top of each glass a spoon rests precariously. There is also a small plate filled with conserve made of orange peels, cherries or sweet-scented rose petals. Selecting one of the spoons from its perch on the glass each guest in turn helps himself to a generous portion of the conserve which he puts in his mouth. Then picking up his tumbler of water he raises it as for a toast, bows to his host and drinks a good portion. He then places the spoon in the glass and returns both to the tray. The first time I encountered this little ritual I was fortunate enough to be the guest of honor and therefore was served first. Had it not been for a good Greek friend who was quick to perceive my dilemma I might still be debating just how to proceed.

School children exercise their active, though sometimes undernourished and malarial stricken bodies in their own original and resourceful ways. Their normal play life grows quite naturally out of their primitive environment. Many of their games are found upon investigation to bear a close similarity to those played by our own country children. Nearly everywhere "marbles" is played, except in this instance small pebbles are used. Some of these little chaps become as expert in shooting pebbles of varying weights as American boys are in handling real marbles. Circles made in the hard earth with pointed sticks provide the marking for a replica of hop, skip and jump. A natural equivalent of "Fox and Geese" is found in "Geese and the Wolf." A rather complicated variation of "Pom-pom-pull-away" is "Little Slaves." Another game which is quite logical for this region is called "The Shepherds," a variation of "Duck on the Rock." A pyramid of stones takes the place of a flock of sheep. A shepherd stands near by to guard his flock. At a distance four or five boys try in turn to knock down the pile and thus scatter the sheep while the guarding shepherd returns them to the fold (the pile) before being tagged.

The schoolmaster or mistress thoroughly fatigued from the nerve-racking task of instructing seventy-five to one hundred youngsters seldom supervises the play activities of his charges during their frequent and often protracted recess periods. A visitor is frequently the opportunity for excusing the school to play in the yard while the master talks and smokes with his guest.

Older boys and young men have little recreation of an organized nature to occupy their leisure time. In the evenings a favorite practice is to stroll up and down the main streets or about the public square in groups of threes and fours, while eying with furtive glances the few young ladies who may be promenading with their mothers or older sisters. Football is highly honored, but seldom played. A few of the larger towns have their football teams. In the smaller communities one usually finds several old and much used balls which the boys kick around somewhat after the manner of an unorganized hockey game. Not infrequently a village is reported to have an athletic club organized by a group of young men to promote football matches. Investigation usually discloses the fact that the Greek tendency to engage in politics had, at the outset, infected this club with the result that the boys could not agree on their choice of officers and the organization soon disintegrated.

Such, in brief, was the social and play life of these people whom Theodore Pays was now expected to serve. It was his responsibility to develop a program truly re-creational in nature and properly adapted to the environment of his region. There were picturesque but dying traditions to preserve, unwholesome social conditions that might well be improved, and important gaps to be filled in. The opportunity presented for contributing something of value to this aspect of village life, combined with our unreadiness to attempt, as yet, other important activities made recreation quite logical as our second approach. With our young agriculturalists to supplement the personal efforts of Pays and to serve as his field assistants, it seemed to me that he should be able to conduct an effective program.

It was decided that Theodore should devote his main efforts, in the beginning, to a consideration of some of the cultural needs of his charges, while, at the same time, encouraging and assisting the agricultural leaders to continue their athletic activities. We were looking for something that might tend to counteract, to a degree and for a few individuals, the more degenerative aspects of the Kafenion. Undoubtedly the coffee house filled an important social need in a primitive society, but not the whole need. Certainly it contributed rather little to the intellectual development of its patrons.

As we considered various possibilities it seemed to me that a small reading room and community center offered the best solution to our search for a workable scheme. A tour of the fifty-four villages, which now constituted our demonstration area, further emphasized the need of such an addition to village life. It was found that newspapers were quite common but that good books seldom were available. At the same time this survey brought to light surprising interest on the part of the peasants in filling this gap in their lives. A policy was formulated to guide our procedure. Any community desiring such a center must become a partner in the venture. As a definite expression of this partnership it must provide the room and the necessary tables and chairs. Pays would attend to the rest.

Haralambos Zoulomoglou, our young and active agriculturalist of the Drama area, requested that the experiment be tried out in one of his villages. He suggested Kyrghia. The local authorities were approached and the response was immediate and enthusiastic. They were keen to have such a place. Pays named his conditions and they readily agreed. A large Kafenion attached to the community office was offered. Pays spent a month collecting suitable books and periodicals, decorating the room, and putting the place into shape. On November 16, 1930, our first reading room was dedicated in the approved Orthodox fashion. An important milestone was thus passed in our developing program and history made in Macedonian village improvement.

Kyrghia, with a predominately refugee population, is the central village of a little community of five or six smaller settlements. Located at the northeastern edge of the plain of Phillipi, it is not far from the spot where the Apostle Paul baptized Lydia and with his preaching brought hope of better things to a  struggling people. Tobacco of high quality is grown in this section, but like all tobacco producing areas of Macedonia the economic situation is rather unstable. At one moment prosperity  reigns; at the next starvation holds the people in its deadening grip. In 1930, following several years of fairly good prices, the  tobacco industry was entering a period of depression which was gradually to become most acute.

Set in an open space at the southern edge of the town, with a small yard in front and a spacious garden at the rear, was a large two-story building which housed the community council. Symbol of more prosperous days, this solid structure had been erected by the village fathers to provide quarters for the mayor, the secretary, and the land settlement work. These offices occupied the second floor, while below at the right of the entrance was a large storage space, and at the left a good sized coffee house.

This spacious, well lighted, cement-floored Kafenion, which Kyrghia now turned over to us, was hardly typical of the type of room we would ordinarily have to be contented with. But it seemed that if Pays could do something with this he would, perhaps, be able better to transform a more difficult place. The council appropriated, out of its limited budget, 7,500 drachmae (at that time about $100.00), to cover their share of the project. With $40.00 they refunded to the coffee house proprietor a year's rent which he had already advanced, and with $50.00 they purchased all of his equipment, including thirteen small tables, thirty-four chairs, a stove, a large oil lamp, and all of his cups and his glassware. The remaining $10.00 was devoted to replacing broken windowpanes and white-washing the walls.

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