Joe and I quickly adjusted to our new life, doing what we could to make our stay more comfortable. On day two, when the German girls left, we moved to the upstairs of the Blue House, which felt luxurious compared to the basement we had started in. It had wooden floors and was cleaner, and prior residents had left a number of niceties including some quality sleeping bags, tea candles, and a small table. Joe and I gleeful spent an afternoon playing house, rearranging and fixing and cleaning the room before laying out our belongings. The tea candles became our primary light source, and the space was almost cozy on nights when the cold wind wasn't blowing through.
There was no formal schedule on the farm- we met each day as it came. Volunteers were free to self-assign tasks if a project struck their fancy (like the outdoor oven the German girls built with clay they gathered in the valley), or Daud would come up with tasks. The only constant was how we started each day: we would wake at 6:30, head up to the kitchen for a cup of Greek coffee with Ewan and Daud, then hike to a neighbor's farm to feed his animals (goats, sheep, deer, turkeys, chickens, and geese). The sky changed from grey to yellow to pink while we worked, and by the time we returned to the house, we could sit on the porch to eat breakfast and watch the sun paint the hills with daylight as it crested the mountain behind us. This ritual was one of my favorite parts of farm life, and always left me feeling energized for the rest of the day.
“We’ve been having some trouble with goat attacks,” Daud said when Joe asked what kind of work needed to be done around the farm. We were all in the kitchen, covered in cats and eating cereal for breakfast on day two. “It’s gotten really bad, a daily occurrence at this point. So we have to deal with that,” Daud continued, and Ewan nodded along knowingly. “But today, could you guys take the dogs out for a walk? You can follow the river down the valley and see the rest of the property.” So we walked the dogs and wondered about what the hell a goat attack entailed.
We soon found out that the problem was more of a goat invasion. Samothraki is home to tens of thousands of goats, most of which freely roam around the island because there are no large predators to worry about. Daud has fenced his land, but the fencing, like everything else on the farm, is haphazard and improvised. It was indeed a daily occurrence to go out and find that a group of foreign goats had hopped the fence to get to Daud’s lush meadows. Anyone who spotted invading goats would yell for back up, and everyone would proceed to chase the goats all around the property until they found a way out.
There were a few tasks that we found ourselves working on regularly, including fencing (due to the goat attacks), weeding the gardens, hauling rocks for terraces, and helping a neighbor, Pedro, with his sheep. This last was one of my favorite jobs- two of us would make the 40 minute walk down to the ocean where Pedro grazed his sheep, and help him move the herd to a new field. Pedro and the other shepherds were men of few words, and even fewer English words. In fact, Pedro only knew one English word, “good”, which he managed to use to communicate everything he needed to say to us. He spoke to us the same way he spoke to his sheep: “Shuh!”, “Good!”, “Pame!”, and plenty of big hand gestures. It did the trick.
Early on, I asked Ewan what he did for laundry and showers. He chuckled and said, “I don’t really,” which seemed to be the standard on the farm. Daud once expressed his dislike of deodorant and scented soaps, saying that he preferred when people “smelled natural”. Yet, I never noticed that anyone stank; perhaps they were on to something, or perhaps I adapted to the farm smell on everyone. Joe and I drew the line at not cleaning ourselves; we would go down to the river or use a garden hose to bathe and do laundry every few days, which allowed us to at least keep the dust off, even if we couldn’t always get rid of the deeper layers of dirt. All of the water was fresh spring water, and icy cold- we daydreamed about the hot showers we would take on the mainland.
So the days passed. Life on the farm was a mix of long stretches of peaceful relaxation and moments of chaos. Each day was different, but this pace of life was the same, so the days soon blended together. I would often see Daud sitting on the kitchen porch, just looking out at his land, which he called “watching TV”. Volunteers would often just lay out in the grass on sunny days, or take long walks along the river. Dinner each night was also a slow affair, since it had to be cooked over an open fire; everyone would gather and chat and pet the cats while the food cooked. At one point, I woke up thinking it was a Thursday, only to learn that it was a Sunday- it was that easy to lose track of time. This relaxed pace of life was prevalent throughout the island; stores had irregular hours, often closing for the afternoons and then re-opening in the evenings until 8 or 9 pm (besides the cafe we frequented, which was always open when we went up to town).
It was revealing that Daud and the volunteers could live happily and comfortably without basic conveniences, and a good reminder about what things are really necessary to live a good life. I enjoyed letting myself sink into this lifestyle for a while; it’s empowering to be reminded how little you need to get by, and how many problems you can solve on your own with just the barest resources. Life on the farm was rugged and challenging, but I am grateful for the perspective it provided and will remember it fondly.