Sydney, December 2014
Driver: from Somali, mid 40s
My last audit for the year. In 10 days I’m going to India. My heart is light, I feel great and expect some miracles.
My driver is very cheerful and talkative. He started a conversation and introduced himself. His name is Kamal (this is how I heard it), married, 2 kids, wife, Muslim – “not to the extreme” according to him.
– And what about you?
– Oh, just usual stuff, work trip, looking forward to the holidays,I am going overseas.
– So, you will be away for X-mas?
– Yes, just happened this way.
– What is your religion?
– Russian Orthodox, not to the extreme either.
Here my driver became unexpectedly quiet. I was surprised and a bit worried. His cheerfulness diminished for a while.
– Is it in any way like Greek Orthodox?
– Yes, sort of.
(I did not want to go into religious discussion for 2 different reasons: firstly, I always remember my English teachers’ advice that in Australia to avoid any sexual, religious or racial topics in order to not offend or provoke an unexpected reaction; and secondly, I am not very knowledgeable in this area).
I could hear his brain cogs were turning. Finally he said ” A few days ago I had a passenger, an old lady. I picked her up from home, and we stopped at another place on the way, where she got flowers and a large bag. The final destination was Greendale cemetery. She was quiet for a while and I respected her sorrow. After she was mumbling something, constantly opening her bag and talking into it. I was surprised and nervous, because I thought she was mental. I asked her if everything is OK. She said she was explaining to her aunty where we were going and how long before we get there. (What aunty?). I decided to leave it at this. But she continued talking and occasionally lifting her bag to the window. It was so surreal,that I asked her again if she was fine. Then she looked at me, opened her bag and pulled out a small container.
– Here she is. This is my aunty Maria and we are going to visit her husband and my uncle Kosta.
Apparently, her uncle died from a work accident a very long time ago, when her aunty was still in her thirties. He was buried at that cemetery. Following Greek traditions, she had never remarried and brought their two kids up on her own. The aunty (in the container) was also like a mother for my passenger, because her mother died as well. When the aunty died about 10 years ago, they could not get a plot for her next to the husband and decided to organise a cremation. So, since her death my passenger takes the ashes of her beloved aunty to visit her husband three times a year: both their birthdays and Greek Easter. That day it was her birthday. When they come to his stone, my passenger puts the urn on the grave and tells them both an update on what’s happened in the family since their last visit. Afterwards she goes away for a while “to give them some privacy”.
My driver was obviously shaken by this experience and still could not get over that. His main concern was that he was sitting in a car with somebody dead, even technically she was not dead anymore, but cremated.
After listening to this story I had mixed feelings. I thought that it was very touching how an old lady cared about her “expired” (Indian definition of dead) relatives and that she was still respectful.
But then I remembered that one of my ex-colleagues told me about her in-law’s family. My friend is Aussie and she fell in love with a Greek guy. To get married to him she had to be baptised before the wedding – that was a requirement made by his parents. The baptism was arranged in a small church and she was dipped into a kids’ inflatable swimming pool in the middle of Melbourne’s winter. To make it even more sweet, the olive oil was freely poured down her head, and she could not wash it out of her hair for the next couple of weeks. But what wouldn’t she do for the love of her life? So, her in-laws agreed to the wedding, and they were pronounced husband and wife shortly after baptism.
The most bizarre thing happened, when her husband mentioned that they needed to introduce her to his grandfather and some other relatives. She knew for sure that the grandfather died some time ago. However, they went into their backyard and into the garden shed. It was quite dark inside, but she was positive that there was nobody inside. Then her husband said in English, followed by Greek: “Dear Papouli, it’s such a shame that you could not attend my wedding, but I would like you to meet my wife. She is very kind and beautiful, her name is Emily. She is Greek as well, just like you wanted, and she is an engineer”. My friend was positive that her husband had completely lost it and she was very-very scared.
After this speech, he turned a bit too one side and basically repeated the same words, but addressed them to his two uncles and aunty. Finally, Emily could not stand it anymore and she asked “Chris, what is going on? I am so scared”. He said that on the shelf there are the remains of his relatives and it is Greek tradition that he had to introduce his bride/wife to them in a certain order.
She has never visited that shed again, but it was not required from Emily, because she was not a “real” Greek.
After I finished my story, the suspicious driver asked me if we, Russians, have the same tradition to take our dead relatives for a drive or talk to them on a regular basis. I assured him that it’s definitely not the case. Obviously relieved, he started to whistle. Then I told him, that we believe if somebody is whistling in a house it means that person will lose all their money. That alerted my driver and he stopped whistling, obviously counting how many times he has done this in the past and how much money he had lost due to his silly habit.
When I paid and was leaving the taxi, his final words were “Greeks and Russians are very strange people”.
I completely agree.
P.S. After reading this post my friend – real Greek – said that it’s all nonsense and I am being gullible.
Is it? Am I?
Music: Russian Folk – Troika