A Modern-Day Suppliant in Greece

by Gonda Van Steen (United States of America)

Making a local connection USA


The day promised to end well. I had handled all the logistical issues and was quietly enjoying my mixed baklava plate on a terrace overlooking the Nafplio Bay. I wondered how to capture just the right picture of a sunset over Bourtzi Island, which was turning the same color and gooeyness as the honey oozing from my now empty plate. I had 15 minutes left before I was to meet the study abroad student group that I was leading, and we would all be heading out by bus for an evening performance in the ancient theater of Epidaurus. We had been reading the classical tragedy in advance: Euripides’ Suppliants. Also, I had told my students about the spectacular theater structure, the actors and the chorus, the costumes, but most of all, about the pristine setting of this theater where, when the lights dim, nothing human-made ever shows and the distance between the 21st century and the 4th century BCE simply vanishes. But until the time of our departure, quiet, except for the noisy Greek bus driver who had almost pushed me off the road when I was walking over to the outdoor café for my well-deserved break. He was now subjecting everyone near him to his tales of tourist encounters—and near-misses, no doubt! With 5 minutes to spare, I thought I’d better check on the arrival of the bus that would take us on the hour-long drive over rural roads from Nafplio to Epidaurus. No bus to be seen. Ten, twenty minutes passed, painfully slowly. Still no bus. By now, my face had turned as dark and looming as the towering Palamidi Castle behind me. I was, I am responsible for transporting 25 people to Epidaurus and I have no budget to order taxis or... Where’s that bus?! Panic. Suddenly, a tourist coach appears, only half-full. I rush up to the driver, only to find out that he is the one who nearly took me out earlier… “Think honey, think baklava,” I tell myself. I politely ask him if he, per chance, has room for another 25 people, given that we’re all likely headed for the same destination. Epidaurus, right? The play performance, right? He looks at me, surprised. Can desperation speak for itself, without words? Are the Suppliants pleading with me now? Or is this a gentle Greek guy, after all, trying to make it up to me? Without much fanfare, Yiorgos says yes! That’s his name. I find out just now. I rush my people onto the bus and off we go. We made it, 15 fashionable minutes late. That is, on time, in this country where the personal is always possible.