Interview to Andreas Tselikas, Head of Teaching of the Alexandria Institute
(September 2020 – Chios)
READ THIS ARTICLE IN GREEK: https://www.alexandria-institute.com/el/eftychia/
Eftychia learns Greek after finding her Greek family
During the in-person Greek lessons of the Alexandria Institute in Athens and on the islands of Chios and Paros, we have the opportunity to meet enthusiastic people from all over the world, who are keen on learning Greek in Greece. People who are willing to experience the Greek way of life and to learn more about the Greek culture and heritage.
What we, the teachers of the Alexandria Institute, enjoy most, is that we get in touch with such nice people, each of whom has a unique story to tell us. Well, in 2019, during the summer Greek courses on Chios we met Eftychia, a student with a very Greek name, who was not speaking any Greek… I remember that after hearing her name, I was surprised and of course my next question was “Are you Greek?” After that question, an amazing story unfolded, a true story that everybody needs to hear… a story with an ending full of Eftychia (Eυτυχία*)!
*Eυτυχία means happiness in Greek
AT: Eftychia, welcome to Chios and to the Greek lessons of the Alexandria Institute! Your Greek name gave me the impression that you are from Greece. So, are you from Greece? Where exactly did you grow up?
E: Yes, I was born in Stranoma, which is a mountain village near Nafpaktos, but I was not raised there. When I was 15 days old, I was baptized Eftychia by my family; however, one month later I ended up in the Municipal Orphanage in Athens. My mother was unmarried and my great-grandfather bribed my godmother asking her to take me from her, because I was an embarrassment for the family. Actually, he forced my godmother to take me away as fast as possible, when he had realized that my mother wanted to keep me. Apparently, my mother didn’t want to abandon me.
When my godmother took me to Athens, she took my mother too, on a pretext to give her work. In Athens we stayed at one of my godmother’s relative’s house. One day my godmother took me out of my mother’s arms arguing… “you don’t have a job and you cannot take care of your daughter, so I will take her to an institute. Of course, when you will have enough money, you will be able to go there and take her. I will tell you when it will be the right moment!”
However, my godmother never came back to her relative’s house and as a result, my mother stayed homeless for nine months, going from relative to relative. She was looking for work, but it was hard for a young girl who couldn’t read and write. Finally, she found work in a hospital as a dishwasher and later she ended up working for the Metaxa hospital for about forty years.
ΑΤ: Did your mother ever return to her village?
Ε: Yes, she did. She later got married to a very good man and they went back together to Stranoma in 1986. There, they built their house where my mother still stays.
ΑΤ: How did you get to America?
E: As I mentioned before, I was in the Municipal Orphanage in Athens and when I was eight months old, I was adopted by a couple of American citizens who were living in San Antonio, Texas. My parents were wonderful, very kind, loving and generous and I still miss them every single day. They both passed away; my father in 2015 and my mother in 2017. After their death and as an only child, I got the overwhelming urge to look for my Greek family. Actually, I wanted to find out what my DNA was, if there was someone who looked like me. I have a musical talent and maybe it comes from somebody who is a musician!
ΑΤ: Did you know that you were adopted or was it a secret?
Ε: Yes, I had always known I was adopted from the time I was very small. It had never been a secret in our family. My parents had told me that I have come from Athens (Greece) and my name was Eftychia, yet they never pronounced it properly. In fact, my parents told me what they have been told by the Greek lawyer who had arranged my adoption; that my mother had died in childbirth and that I was a premature baby. Apparently, none of those turned out to be true.
ΑΤ: Did the fact that you were adopted influence your relationship with your American family?
E: Not at all! Everybody treated me just like I was my parents’ biological child. I had a wonderful family in the USA and I never felt something was missing. After my parents’ death, I simply felt all alone again. Besides, most of my aunts and uncles had already passed away. So, I felt like I am an orphan again and once I told my husband “We have two children and as far as I know, they are the only blood relatives I have in the world.”
ΑΤ: How did you get to find your Greek family?
E: I was always saying that finding my family it was a miracle of God, because I had very little information to go on. Actually, I only had the piece of paper from the orphanage, where it was written that my name was Eftychia, I had no parents and I had been adopted by my parents in America. I also had a copy of the plane ticket that I came over with, my Greek baby passport and a validation of my adoption from the State of Texas. And that was it! I really didn’t have anything else to go on! By miraculous circumstances, I came in contact with the son of the priest of the Greek Orthodox church in San Antonio who helped my parents with the adoption. This person took me in touch with Professor Gonda Van Steen, the head of the Greek Department of the University of Florida at that time. Professor Gonda Van Steen was doing research about the adoptions of Greek children to Americans in the 1950s – 1960s. Over 3000 children had been adopted between 1950 and 1960 and a few others before and after this period. Many children were adopted by Greek Americans, but a lot of others by people who were not Greek Americans. At that time, the orphanages stipulated that the foster parents should be mainly Greek Orthodox or at least Christians. My parents were Christians and they had been baptized.
ΑΤ: How did you, finally, find your family in Greece?
E: Professor Van Steen had come up with the orphanage I came from through her research. Fortunately, it still has an archive and provides an application in order to ask for your records. She gave me the form, she filled it out for me in Greek, because at that time I knew zero Greek and then we sent it to the orphanage. Six weeks later I got my records…
Professor Van Steen told me beforehand not to expect much. She had tried this procedure with other persons and I believe that the only thing they had gotten, was just a half page of information; what day did you come, how much did you weigh, what clothes did you wear. And I said “Oh, that’ll be more than I know now!” Actually, when I got my records there were nine pages of documents and a letter from the orphanage explaining those documents, all written in Greek. At that moment, I made a really bad joke to my husband “it’s all Greek to me!”
Immediately, I send the documents to Professor Van Steen who translated them. The documents gave us enough information about my mother and the village I was from! My birth certificate was registered in Nafpaktos and that was totally new to me, because my parents had never been given a Greek birth certificate for me. The one that I have, is from the State of Texas and claims that I was born in Athens of Greece, which I know now it is untrue.
When Professor Van Steen had all this information, she was here in Greece for her research about the adoptees. She came in contact with Angeliki Nikolaou, who works at Volos Municipality Archives. Together, they got in contact with a man from the Municipality of Pilini, where Stranoma belongs to administratively. They gave him information about me telling him that I was looking for my biological mother, Charikleia Noula who lives in Stranoma. The man told them that he knew Kostas Noulas, the president of Stranoma and he would just drive over to the village to ask Kostas in person. And that’s what he did! He drove over to the village and asked Kostas Noulas who turned to be my cousin! “Oh my god! She must be Eftychia, Charikleia’s lost daughter looking for her!” Kostas said. Obviously, everybody knew about me, it had not been a secret. Later, I found out that they have been looking for me for twenty years.
ΑΤ: It was probably a big scandal the way the adoptions were arranged at that time. How they were actually organized?
E: In the early ‘60s a lot of children went very quickly not only to America, but also to the Netherlands; about 600 children ended up in the Netherlands. So, during that time, roughly 4000 adoptees left Greece. Unfortunately, a lot of people made money from the adoptions…many lawyers, many orphanage directors, probably people of the government, even nurses. If the adoptions were illegal, they were at least irregular, like mine. In my case, the papers from the orphanage that my parents had been given, included conflicting information concerning my biological parents. According to those papers I am of unknown parents but according to my records from the orphanage, which I have now, I am the eligible daughter of Charikleia Noula from Stranoma.
Later, I found out that lawyer in Athens who handled my adoption was a friend of the Greek priest in San Antonio – they were classmates at the University. Also, his office was only two blocks from the orphanage and he only did adoptions, I suppose solely to make money. So, he was trying to do as many adoptions as possible and he wanted to send the children abroad quickly. During that time, it was better to declare that the child had no family, whether it was correct or not, because the orphanage could take over immediate guardianship of that child and consequently could make the decisions regarding that child.
Certainly, there are many legal adoptions but there are some illegal and a lot of irregular with conflicting or false papers, like mine, where are several forgeries of my mother’s signature… Definitely, she had never signed my adoption’s papers.
ΑΤ: When did you meet your biological mother for the first time and how was that moment?
E: I met my mother three years ago, in June, for the first time. I travelled with my daughter, Heather and I was nervous during the trip to Greece. I got almost physically sick on the plane since I didn’t know what to expect. I remember that I had not wanted to meet my family at the airport, but they insisted on coming there. Well, I was in the same clothes for 24 hours and I would rather have taken a shower and be pretty before I meet my mother. (laughs)
At the airport I met my mother, my cousin Vassilis, my mother’s sister Georgia with her husband Kostas and their grandson George. George was speaking English and without him we had been getting in big trouble, since nobody else was speaking English very well!
I was worried before I meet them… I was worried about feeling awkward or weird…I was thinking whether we are going to feel like family… Finally, I shouldn’t have been worried, since I never felt strange! In America they say “blood knows blood” and I think that’s probably true in a lot of ways. We felt immediately like family.
ΑΤ: Did you speak any Greek, when you met your mother for the first time?
E: No, I didn’t speak Greek at all! The only word I knew was “Opa!” (laughs)
ΑΤ: And now? Do you speak Greek?
E: I speak a little Greek. I began trying to learn Greek by my family even in the first week I met them! They were using many words over and over again and I was asking all the time “what does this word mean?” I was amazed I was able to read many signs in Greek, because I knew the Greek letters from science, since I have a degree in biology. Afterwards, for a while, I got help by a Greek woman, who was not really a teacher, but she was tutoring me when I was staying in Athens. I learned a lot of words, a lot of phrases but I couldn’t put them all together.
That changed last summer, when I came to the the Alexandria Institute for two weeks! On Chios I had two weeks of an intensive Greek language course which was great, and a lot of things began to make sense! I had a great time during the Greek lessons and I was extremely happy, because, to be honest, I was getting really tired of my family who were always saying “That’s the Greek way, Eftychia!” when I was asking them to explain me words or phrases. So, I was thinking “What is the Greek way?” (laughs)
After the Greek lessons on Chios, I continued Greek language online courses with Chara of The Alexandria Institute, which is very helpful and I am still getting more and more confident. I read, write and understand Greek much better than I speak, but I am getting there! This summer, unfortunately, I couldn’t come for the two weeks lessons, but only for a couple of days for which I am excited and really happy to see you again!
ΑΤ: The pleasure is ours and we are very happy that we have you with us for your Greek studies. And now? Do you speak Greek with your family?
E: Yes, I do speak Greek with my family. Besides, either my mother or the elders don’t speak any English. Now, I understand a lot of what they say and I can communicate in Greek without so much help. In fact, I speak a lot better, when I am forced to speak. Additionally, in a lot of places I go driving in Greece, people don’t speak English, so I usually manage to communicate without any English speakers being around.
ΑΤ: After being reconnected with your family in Greece, what has been changed in your life?
E: Well, no one calls me by my American name which is Linda Carrol. (laughs) Far from the beginning everybody called me Eftychia and even my husband most of the times calls me Eftychia. Actually, I really had to spend some time becoming Eftychia, considering that I was separated from my family for 59 years… I didn’t speak any Greek and I didn’t know much about Greek culture and heritage. Greek food I did know because I was going to Greek festivals. (laughs)
From the first moment I set foot on Greek soil, I just couldn’t stay away and I have been coming to Greece every other month! By virtue of the fact that I am a dual citizen, I can travel to Greece and that’s has been a great blessing. So, this is my 22nd trip to Greece! The only thing that stopped me it was Covid-19 which affected everything and everybody, of course.
ΑΤ: Eftychia, you are the founder of “TheEftychiaProject”. Tell me, what is this project about?
E: After I found my family, I felt like I wanted every adoptee that was searching for their family to find it and to feel the love and the φιλοξενία, which means hospitality in Greece. I wanted them to re-connect with the culture, the heritage, the language, all those things that they had been deprived of. Some of them were raised by Greek Americans and they had the opportunity to come to Greece and to be in contact with the Greek culture and Greek people. On the contrary, the rest of us, wasn’t really exposed to Greece and we had no idea of the Greek spirit. In America you can find only some Greek communities but most of us weren’t raised around one of those communities. So, I was wondering if I could help somebody in some way.
So, In April of 2019 we founded TheEftychiaProject, a nonprofit 501 C3 public charity, depended on offered donations and we have a board of directors that makes the decisions. Basically, our mission is to provide assistance and support not only to the Greek adoptees, but also to the Greek families searching for the children they have lost. Recently, we found out that there are many of them. They turn to us because we do have people who read, speak or understand Greek and they have a way to interface the adoptees with their families in case some of their stories match, even though sometimes the date of birth changes for a few days or a few months. Last year, we reunited seven of them with their families and we’re hoping that soon we will have at least two or three more. Once you find a way to contact the family, then you should wait to make sure you are going to get a response. You never know…But the vast majority of both families and adoptees are equally eager to find each other. Until now, we are more than happy that the project is going well!
We also started a new phase of collecting DNA from families searching for their lost children to see if we can match them with the adoptees’ and consequently if we can bring them together. Recently, TA NEA, a Greek newspaper, published an article about “TheEftychiaProject” featuring stories of four people who were looking for their families. Two of them managed to find their families thanks to these stories after the collection of their DNA. So, I was thinking…´´ I come to Greece very often and I love travelling around and visiting new places so, why don´t we start collecting DNA from families searching for their children?΄΄ We bought some DNA kits ourselves to begin with and then people started to donate them to us. We carried out 12 DNA collections during my last trip. We also carried out 12 DNA collections last month and this is what we keep doing.
We also have a site and a facebook page where we post stories of adoptees or families who are looking for each other. In addition, we post stories of people who have found their families so that other people know that there is still hope! You never know when and from where the next clue will come. Sometimes it’s just a piece of a puzzle that you need to complete. We also post interesting things about Greece!
ΑΤ: I wish you all the best and good luck to your project!
E: Thank you so much, Andrea! My best wishes for the The Alexandria Institute, too. I will certainly be back here next summer for the two-weeks course!
Eftychia’s story has gone viral! You can find more info about Eftychia Linda Carrol Trotter and TheEftychiaPoject below: