People / by Adrian Joyner

We seem to meet a lot of people here in Greece whose stories make you gulp, whose lives have been affected by events in the wider world, by history.

At a birthday party in the hills above Kardamili recently, I fell into conversation with a grey haired Israeli woman, Ala. We talked about Cyprus and she told me about Palestine, where she had lived for many years in a house built by a millenarian group from Germany in the last century who had come to Palestine to await the day of judgement. Ala’s parents were Polish Jews who fled the Nazi invasion in 1941. They fled east into Russia, and Ala was born near Stalingrad just after the siege ended. On her birth certificate it says, under place of birth: Stalingrad. She and her mother survived to return for a while to Poland. Her father didn’t. Ala feels an abiding gratitude to the Russians.

At another do, where Linda and the band were playing music, I found myself sitting next to a middle aged bloke who was here on holiday with his family. Amir, an Iranian by birth had gone to England from Iran in the 1970s, following his compulsory year of military service in the Iranian army, to do postgraduate work at Manchester University. 

Shortly after his arrival in England, the Iran/Iraq war broke out, a war that was to last twenty years, a war in which he said two million people died. Had he returned to Iran, he would have been sent immediately to the front. Wisely, he stayed away, and married Liz, an Irish born Liverpudlian, and they had two kids. For many years now, Amir has worked for the local authority in Leeds as a civil engineer, supervising the construction of motorway bridges and underpasses around the city.

A few weeks ago, at the end of our annual trip to England, we took a taxi in the early hours of the morning to catch a plane. The Asian cab driver tells us he was born in Uganda. When he was a child, his whole family had been expelled from the country, along with thousands of other Asians, by Idi Amin.

I remember reading reports in the press, in the mid seventies, I guess. At that time many Ugandan businesses were run by Asians. 

Those expelled made new lives for themselves elsewhere in the world, some in England, and now, years later, the tyrannical Amin being long dead, the Ugandan government is asking Asians to return to the country to resume their activities. Our driver’s family ran a quarry in the old days and his brother has already returned to restart the business. He says maybe he will go too, when his son is through university.