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Sara Alexi`s New Novel - The Illegal Gardener

Sara Alexi, born in Oxford, mother of Sophia, wife of Alex, company director, painter, and novel writer. Here Sara shares her experiences of living in Greece and tells us about her new novel `The Illegal Gardener`.
My first visit to Greece was on a spontaneous 'get away' holiday with some college friends. As soon as I had arrived I felt like I had come home... the people, the landscape, the flowers in the spring. When I returned to England on my scheduled flight, the bus from the airport travelled at ten miles an hour in the pouring rain. I got off the bus and went straight to the travel agent's and booked a flight back to Greece for the next day. I have lived in Greece off and on ever since.

I have been an artist all of my life and a psychotherapist for many years, and writing about people and their interactions combines these two interests, I see my novels as paintings with words in which I voice my awe for peoples' adaptability and resilience.

Before this novel I hadn't written anything since I left school, but I felt compelled to write my first book, The Illegal Gardener. I was moved by an illegal immigrant who helped me, for one day, with my garden in Greece, his plight like that of so many. The decision as to who owned the garden and who worked in it decided by our places of birth. Even though I am sure our mothers have loved us both the same our outcomes were already decided. I felt I had to express my feelings on this subject and the general unfairness of the cards we are dealt. Although I only met th e man who inspired the story once I talked to many other illegal immigrants who followed him through the village, and all had something to add to the story.

Living in a different cultural framework has made me re-assess many issues I would not otherwise have given much thought to. I have not been completely accepted as an equal amongst Greeks and I probably never will. One thing that I struggle with in Greece is the attitude to women. Many aspects of living in Greece are wonderful and have enriched my life - my neighbours greet me like a long lost daughter every time I return and I feel loved in my village. Living with and talking to these people has given me a broader outlook on life, increased my compassion and awe of mankind's resilience and allowed me to see there are many ways to approach the same issues if we take the cultural blinkers from our eyes.

I find that Greek culture is far more human than British culture. This is a positive and a negative. The bureaucracy can be frustrating and sometimes the outcome seems to be determined on the whim of the person working that day. But equally, I can remember waiting to have a blood test in a queue of thirty people or more, all needing a great deal more than a quick blood sample, and because I struck up a conversation with the reception girl she took me to the paediatrician who, as she had no work, took my blood immediately. In England the rules are the rules and they seem to come before both common sense and people.

Greece has been kind to me with regards company, I found one of my best friends the first time I visited, and our relationship has continued across continents ever since. I also found my husband who is half English half Greek so yes, I think Greece has been very generous to me.

The more challenging part of moving to Greece has, without doubt, been the language, it is a difficult tongue. The most rewarding part has also come through language as the way things are expressed shows a different way to perceive life's events and I have found this fascinating.

Although we spend time in both England and Greece my home is in Greece and my heart belongs there.

My advice to anyone moving to Greece would be to first learn the language, then learn to bend, bend with the breeze, allow life to dictate more than you ask it to comply and see what Greece can teach you.