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"Why do you take pictures all the time, what is it that you like here? Do you like the mountains? Do you think that you'll never find these stones anywhere else? Why are you in a hurry, do you fear the wilderness? At least here if you shout, people on two mountains will hear you; in Athens nobody will hear you shouting if something happens to you".
Beside the river
Sotiris Cholevas from Thermo of Aetoloakarnania wondered why I was running up and down, with my camera in tow, and made fun of me in his own, unique way. He is one of the most lovable people the area because he tells amazing jokes that are intelligent and wise. He has the gift of always thinking positively and even describes the most difficult situations of his life in a funny and sarcastic way.
“In which village were you born?” I asked. "I wasn't born in a village, but in a remote house in a deep gorge beside Evinos River. I was privileged, for I lived and grew up with my seven brothers in the best 'playground' of the world. I never got sick. My parents spanked me at least three times a day because I kept jumping into the river. One winter, when I was one and a half years old, I jumped into the water and drifted 500 meters. I survived only because the cold took my breath away and I didn't swallow any water".
In order to go to school, Sotiris travelled a very long distance every day, in very rough terrains and under adverse weather conditions. "On the road to school, which was in Ano Chrysovitsa, I used to meet 25 children and we would walk the 15 kilometres together. Nothing could pass through this path, no school bus, not even a donkey. I had no shoes back then; I wore shoes for the first time when I went to the army".
Sotiris is a self-taught sculptor and loves nature. His home at Thermo of Aetoloakarnania is full of artistic objects and pots with beautiful flowers. His life is now comfortable, but he never forgets the poverty of his childhood.
"People were so poor, that they used to put ashes on their babies' skin instead of powder. They used to burn a piece of woollen fabric and when the embers cooled down they would grind it with their hands until it was turned to dust and then sprinkled it on the baby’s rash. In order to get rid of freckles and skin abnormalities on their hands and feet, they used to wash themselves with the water that was gathered in the plane tree cavities".
Even today the villages around Thermo are poor and if someone wants to visit them, they have to drive on a narrow road on the edge of the cliff. The roads of Aetoloakarnania and in general the mountains of western Greece, are narrow, sometimes unpaved with many turns.
TEXT-PHOTOS: GEORGE ZAFEIROPOULOS