During the spring of 1978 I was on a project assignment in Jubail, Saudi Arabia. I was in phone contact with my family and realized that this was going to be one Easter holiday that we would not celebrate together. I could not leave the job, or fly to Athens to enjoy Pascha with them.
Sundays, including Easter Sunday, were regular work days in Saudi Arabia. On Easter Sunday morning, I had to drive into Dammam to look after some business. When I returned to my car, I noticed a pick-up truck parked close by with the name ‘Archirodon’ printed on the door panel.
I recognized the name. It was that of a Greek international construction contractor that had a sizable project in the eastern province. I walked to the parked pick-up, observed that the driver was a European, assumed that he was Greek, and greeted him. “Xristos Anesti, Christ has arisen,” I called out. To which the driver acknowledged and returned the greeting with “Alithos Anesti, truly He has arisen.”
I was right. He was a Greek.
We began chatting and when I asked how he was planning to celebrate the holiday, he invited me to join his family and others on the pier where their ship was anchored.
Archirodon had established dormitory accommodations aboard their ship for their management personnel. It was a much better arrangement than those provided by other companies for their management staff. They typically provided only bachelor accommodations – which meant a single bedroom with bath in an isolated villa somewhere in town.
Later that day, after work, I drove to the Archirodon pier and introduced myself to the gathering group of expatriot-Greek families. After the traditional Easter greeting with the cracking of red dyed eggs and a round of retsina, I became aware of the familiar aroma of lamb roasting over an open pit. I looked but there was no white hot bed of embers or a roasting lamb anywhere in sight.
My curiosity persisted. I decided to follow my nose. It got me to a long, arched, metal, open-ended enclosure. I took a look into one of the open ends.
There, inside the enclosure, was a long bed of smoking, white hot embers with a dozen equally spaced whole lambs, secured to long iron souvla (spits). Each souvla was cranked round and round by a team of laborers. One team was assigned to each of the lambs and each team member had a turn at the cranking exercise.
I still recall that colorful image – including the Greek fellow supervising the sub-continent laborers. He had attached an industrial size paint brush to the end of a 6 foot long pole and carried a galvanized pail full of marinade. He walked to each roasting station periodically and basted each lamb with a mixture of olive oil, dried oregano, and sage seasoning.
The entire scene was so reminiscent of an Easter Sunday I remembered in the Platia of Levathia, a town in the Peloponnese – a scene which is replicated in hundreds of towns and villages throughout Greece.
Well, it wasn’t quite how I or any expat-Christian in Saudi would have preferred to celebrate Easter Sunday – but, each of us was surrounded by expatriate patriotes that were also separated from their extended families. We each made adjustments. They prepared their traditional holiday food and the atmosphere was filled with kefi, wine, music, song and dance.
I enjoyed the parea and took the opportunity to converse in Greek and to exercise my zeibekiko moves. I danced away my kaimo to my heart's content. I had the musicians play my two favorite heavy zeimbekiko pieces:
‘Sinifiasmemi Kiriaki’ and ‘To telefteo Vrathi mou.’
I made a whole bunch of friends that Easter Sunday, but the following year I was able to celebrate Easter Sunday with my wife and family.
I smile each time I recall the images of that Easter Sunday in Saudi Arabia. What I experienced was a journey of ethnic fulfillment – but unfortunately one that lacked religious significance. Except for the greetings of Christos Anesti and the traditional cracking of the red dyed Easter eggs.