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My New Best Friend in Kea

Matt, Kea, GreeceAs you may have noticed I am pretty happy. After 8 days in Athens I am on the island of Kea sitting at Rolando's Restaurant at one in the afternoon while Andrea and a cleaning woman madly rid the house of all the dust and dead insects that flew in last summer and were sealed in when we left for the winter. When we arrived besides the bugs we found we had no electricity. The fuse box was put in last year and everything looked as normal as a fuse box can look to someone who rarely looks at them. Since the village electrician lives across the street I knocked on the door and asked if he could come and see if something was wrong or were we just missing a master switch somewhere else in the house. He would not come. "You hired someone else to put in the box. Let him come." My immediate reaction was to be angry because Andrea's father had hired someone else when there was a perfectly good electrician across the street. But why blame anyone? Here was an electrician who one minute before was vigorously shaking my hand, smiling and welcoming me back to Greece and now was refusing to even look at our box to help us avoid spending the night in a filthy house with no electricity.

Of course the electrician who did the job and lived way out in the country was not answering his cell phone and even if he had he would have just told us he couldn't come until tomorrow and probably not shown up until the day after that which by then we would be long gone. So like any foreigner who lives in Kea who doesn't know how to solve a problem, I went to ask Rolando who came to the house and noticed that the switch on the meter outside the house had been turned off. Problem solved in five seconds. The box was four feet across the road from my electrician neighbor's door. All he would have had to do was walk over and look at it and we would have been friends for life. Now there will be tension between us forever and who knows where it will end? The layout of the village with its narrow streets barely wide enough for two donkeys to pass each other make it impossible to avoid your neighbors like you can in the states where people walk from their front door to their cars and drive away without seeing or speaking to anyone they are at war with. From my house in Kea I can hear my neighbor when he boils water for coffee or tea in the morning and even hear the sound of the clothespins when his wife hangs out the laundry on the roof. When you live in a small Greek village the last thing you want is an enemy and because someone in my family had hired my neighbors competitor I now have one even though I am the one who wanted to hire him in the first place.

Rolando and AndreaBut wait. This is Greece and that means the situation has to be more complicated than it looks and not necessarily in a bad way (though usually it is).Rolando's intervention had been witnessed by my electrician neighbor and suddenly this small event has major implications. Because Rolando is building a house in Otzias, and our neighbor is one of two electricians who has placed a bid to wire it. Now he is worried that he has put the job in jeopardy and not flicking the little switch on my electric box will cost him over four thousand euros. That is because my neighbors lovely wife, who works in the town hall, has just OK'd the license for Rolando's restaurant which now enables him to have a grill and make paidaikia and steaks. (Not that he couldn't before but at least now he can do it legally.) So in the Greek game of I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine, naturally it was expected that Rolando would accept the bid in gratitude for the license. But Rolando is furious that my neighbor would not help me and has pretty much decided that he will go with the other electrician. So an hour later we are sitting at Rolando's and the electrician comes in with his estimate and Rolando coldly tells him to leave it on the table and he will look at it later. As it turns out the bid is twice as much as the other guy's so he would have rejected it anyway but since my neighbor does not know that, suddenly he realizes he is in a crisis of his own making just for not flicking the little switch.

Rolando's PaidaikiaIn the meantime my family is eager to counterattack which usually means making nasty comments that my neighbor can hear when he walks by. But I tell them to be mature and just smile and act normal and things will work out. Our neighbor is a good guy and he just had a faulty reaction to the situation. Who can blame him? If I sold tomatoes and my next door neighbor bought his tomatoes from some guy in the next village I would have an attitude too.

But it is also because I know what will happen next. For unbeknownst to my good neighbor, his son, a very talented mathematician with few prospects in Greece, is my friend on Facebook and last year I had introduced him to another friend who is a famous Greek mathematician who is the professor of a very well known southern university, and they are now discussing the possibility of the young man coming to the USA to do graduate work. So I can only imagine the reaction of my neighbor's wife when her husband told her how he had refused to help us turn on our electricity. So now in his mind not only has he lost the Rolando job, but he has destroyed his son's opportunity to make a better life for himself in America and possibly make major discoveries in the world of mathematics. Suddenly the act of not helping me by showing me the little switch is endangering the march of civilization. Probably his wife will divorce him and his children will move far away and never speak to him again. Just because he had an opportunity to be nice and wasn't.

So the next night when he came to Rolando's and was told that his bid was not accepted, I smiled and said hello when he walked over to our table and apologized. He did more than apologize. He told me I was his friend for life. I assured him that it was no big deal and then asked him when his son was coming to the island and if he knew we were friends on Facebook. He said he knew and wanted to thank me for everything and that there was a possibility his son was going to America and if there was anything I needed to just ask.

So in the end it all worked out. We have electricity. We can eat paidakia at Rolando's legally. Rolando can now use the cheaper electrician even though the expensive guy's wife helped him get the license. I have a new friend for life. And he is an electrician.

Now I need to make friends with a plumber.

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