Koula, the wife of Christos the shepherd, clambers up the mountain slope
behind her flock of coffeecolored goats and invites me into her one-room-house
just below the Monastery of Prophet Elias. It is a colourful, cozy,
practically arranged place, adorned with icons and a singing canary.
While serving the traditional tray with fresh water, masticha liqueur and a
sweet, Koula talks about her life as a shepherdess on the mountains of
"How I became a shepherdess? Why, all my family is in the trade; I grew up
with it and so it was natural for me to learn all its details by simply
living with it. My mother and father still own a big flock at Palamidas,
and my husband's family comes from the south of the island, from Klimaki. I
always have liked this sort of life, especially the close contact with our
animals and with nature, the freedom of organizing our work ourselves and
of helping each other in the family. The only thing I dislike at times is
being exposed to rough weather and the hard physical labor. But usually I don't
even mind that.
We move to different places on the island according to the seasons, in
order to give our animals the best of care; for example, in the winter we are on
the southern shores, protected from cold winds. Around Easter we stay in the
vicinity of Zourvas, and when the kids are born in October, we live below the
Monastery of Prophet Elias.
Wherever we go, we own or rent a little house and we move there by packing
everything onto our horses, mules and donkeys, including the canary.
We own about 400 goats and 40 rams. The rams stay by themselves on a small,
uninhabited island, Stavronisi, close to Hydra, and are only shipped back
here in May, when it is mating time.
The goats' pregnancy lasts for five months, so the kids are born in October.
They are allowed to drink all of their mothers' milk. Only when some of them
are slaughtered for the holidays at Christmas and Easter, we start milking
the goats and making cheese.
Goats live for about 13 years; the old ones are slaughtered for meat. That
is the butcher's job, but occasionally we slaughter an animal right here for a
Why do we have all brown goats? That's Christos', my husband's, preference:
they are his kind of animals. We love them all and call each one by name.
No, I haven't noticed much change during my lifetime, not up here and not
in the way we do things. Our work has to be done by hand; machines are of no
use to us. We make ends meet, but we don't earn much cash, and the cost of the
ready-made dry food the goats need before giving birth is quite high.
However, since 1982 we have gotten subsidies from the European Community
according to how many animals we own.
It is really a good life up here. My husband and I don't miss the hubbub of
the town, but the young ones do. They leave. Even if my two sons would like
to be shepherds, it is impossible for them to find a wife on Hydra who
would be willing to live up in the mountains and do this kind of work.
So I don't know what's going to happen. Now we are eight shepherds on the
island, all of us getting on in age.
Who is going to take our place?"