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Akrivi (Voula) Hiotaki / Full biography

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Akrivi reflects on the challenges and opportunities of multiple migration journeys that involved returning to Crete, coming back to NZ and migrating again to Australia and shares observations of life in these two countries and their different Greek communities.

Akrivi Hiotaki, also known as Voula Misirlaki lives in Sydney, Australia where this interview took place. Akrivi talks about her birthplace in Vouva Sfakia, in Crete, her parents’ occupations (her father was a farmer), her siblings, and the limited job opportunities for women in her village. She mentions how her village has developed over the years, with the establishment of hotels and restaurants. Akrivi also shares some memories from her childhood during the war, including interactions with German soldiers and the hiding of food and weapons.

Akrivi shares memories of growing up in a village in post-war Crete, including their experiences at school, the challenges they faced, and the limited educational opportunities available. The conversation also touches on the importance of education for finding employment and the decisions some individuals made to leave the village in search of better opportunities elsewhere.

Akrivi reflects that despite the general poverty, she had a happy childhood and always had enough food. She recalls her mother preserving meat and cheese without a refrigerator. She reminisced on how they used to spend their evenings, with storytelling and playing games like hopscotch. Akrivi later moved to Chania at the age of 13 and learned sewing. She lived with her oldest brother and took care of him by cleaning and cooking. Akrivi expresses her love for her siblings and the special bond she shares with her oldest brother. The conversation touches upon gender roles and how times have changed. She talks about her sisters’ marriages, the absence of dowries in her village, and her own reluctance to marry a wealthy man due to personality differences.

Akrivi eventually left Chania and went to New Zealand through a program that offered opportunities for young people to work in hospitals. Akrivi recalls her initial desire to leave her village and her experiences of leaving Crete and adjusting to life in New Zealand. She reflects on her previous life, her family, and the reasons behind her desire for something better, as well as the support provided by the NZ government, and the training she received before starting work. She mentions that she was the only one from her village to go to New Zealand, while her siblings remained in Crete. The conversation also touches on Akrivi’s innocence and lack of knowledge about certain aspects of life, which she learned later from her sister.

Akrivi talks about her experiences traveling to New Zealand and expresses her love for flying as well as the challenges she faced during the journey. She mentions staying in Sydney briefly before continuing to New Zealand. She travelled with two girls, including Theano Phountoulaki. She remembers the difficulties they encountered with the New Zealand accent and language. Akrivi describes her time in Whanganui, where she stayed with a Greek family and worked at the hospital’s dining room and expresses gratitude for the kindness and patience of the people she met there. Akrivi shares her experiences working in New Zealand. Eventually, she moved to Wellington and worked at the hospital’s laundry, but had to leave due to the noise affecting her hearing. She mentions her difficulties with her ears and her unsuccessful attempt to transfer to a different department at the hospital.

She subsequently got job at a fish shop owned by her nephew in Wellington which she eventually left to take up a job at a military base in Shelly Bay, where she served as a waitress in the officers’ dining room. She lived in a small room with two other friends during this time. The interview touches on various topics, including her limited free time, lack of knowledge about entertainment places in New Zealand. She was not particularly concerned about the food and adapted easily to different cuisines.

Akrivi talks about how she met her husband who she met through a mutual friend, Rita, who lived in Athens. They initially met in New Zealand, where the brother of her husband had brought him over. They started going out as a group with friends, going to movies and picnics. Akrivi mentions that they decided to live together after a few months, which was considered unusual at the time. They had a civil wedding and later a religious wedding when Akrivi was three months pregnant. The conversation also touches on societal views on living together before marriage and her personal experiences.

Akrivi also talks about her return to Greece, her family members, their move back to New Zealand, and their subsequent decision to move to Australia. She talks about the challenges they faced when they returned to Greece, including financial difficulties and problems with her husband’s family. They eventually returned to New Zealand, where they faced financial struggles but managed to make a living. Later, they decided to move to Australia to be closer to their children. Akrivi mentions their work in cleaning jobs and briefly owning a fish shop, which they had to close due to competition. The conversation also touches on Akrivi’s husband falling ill and her decision to stop working to take care of him.

Akrivi reflects on her experiences living in New Zealand compared to their current life in Sydney. She mentions that life in New Zealand was easier due to its smaller size, but they prefer their current location because they find Greek things more easily and their children have better job opportunities there. Akrivi’s children work as a painter, in a factory, and in electronics. Despite living near a Greek community in Sydney, Akrivi and their children do not frequently attend Greek events or mix with Greeks. She regularly attends the Greek Church though.

Akrivi expresses mixed feelings about living in New Zealand and Greece, but ultimately prefers New Zealand due to their memories and connections there. Akrivi’s siblings have different experiences, with one brother not liking New Zealand and returning to Greece, while another brother and his family are happy in New Zealand. Akrivi reflects on their life and expresses contentment, mentioning that their life in New Zealand felt like a dream and they miss it. Akrivi’s daughter, who is married to an Italian, prefers living in Australia for more opportunities. The conversation touches on the desire for bigger and better things, the excitement of living in a city, and the challenges of moving between different places.

Akrivi touches on the differences between the Greek communities in New Zealand and Australia. She mentions that in Australia, Greeks tend to stick to their own close-knit groups and are less likely to invite outsiders into their homes. They also find it difficult to trust others easily. In contrast, Akrivi describes the Greek community in New Zealand as more welcoming and friendly, where people would stop and chat with each other and offer help. She also shares her experiences with Muslims and mentions that it is important to greet others in order to receive respect in return. She further compares Australians and New Zealanders, stating that New Zealanders are kinder and less selfish.  Akrivi also mentions staying in touch with her friends from Greece who were also in Wellington.