Home Full bios Evangelia Nionaki (Ikonomaki) / Full biography

Evangelia Nionaki (Ikonomaki) / Full biography


Evangelia shares her aspirations to pursue higher education that led to get a university degree in New Zealand, missing family, returning to Crete and the challenge of not fitting in either place.

Evangelia was born in Kasteli Fournes, Merabelo in Crete right at the end of the war in 1944. She talks about her family and her father’s occupation as a carpenter who worked hard to provide for the family, often building schools and churches. She mentions how her father visited New Zealand and was amazed by the infrastructure there. Evangelia talks about her mother’s weaving on a loom, the village’s abundance of looms, and the production of knitwear. She mentions that her mother sold the woven items for money.

The interview touches on the resilience and resourcefulness of Greek families during that time. During the war, her father helped the English, New Zealanders, and Australians as part of the resistance. He risked his life and had a special permit to keep a gun. Despite the hardships during the war, Evangelia’s family managed to survive with the support of their extended family. Her family had access to food and resources, unlike her husband’s family in Lemnos. She talks about how the village interacted with the Germans during the war, with Evangelia sharing a story about her brother receiving chocolates from a German soldier. She mentions that the villagers only killed one German soldier and that the villagers generally had a friendly relationship with them and that Germans, unlike other parts of the island, did not destroy houses or taking food in their region. Evangelia mentions an incident where a villager tried to take a German soldier’s gun but was caught and killed. The conversation then shifts to how Evangelia’s father helped the Allies by delivering messages and providing support.

 Evangelia talks about her primary school days, including a celebration where she sang a song for her mother, who couldn’t attend. She also reflects on the corruption and lack of access to healthcare during that time. The interview delves into her experiences working during summers and after school, helping her family with various tasks. Evangelia mentions her transition to high school and the financial challenges she faced.  Evangelia explains that it was unusual for girls to go to high school in her village due to financial constraints. However, her family prioritized education, and her siblings also attended school.

Evangelia expresses bitterness about her own educational journey, as she was unable to attend teacher’s college due to financial limitations.  Despite not being able to become a teacher, Evangelia had a strong desire to study and was a good student. She also discusses corruption and nepotism in the education system, which further hindered her chances of attending teacher’s college. Evangelia expressed her unhappiness about not being able to pursue her desired career path. She eventually decided to go to New Zealand to pursue other opportunities. She mentions her dreams of a better life and her decision to go to New Zealand. She mentions a training program in Athens before leaving for New Zealand.

Evangelia discusses her experiences and thoughts during her journey from Greece to New Zealand. She initially went to New Zealand to earn money and help her father, sending some of her earnings back home. She did not have thoughts of marriage or settling down at that time. She just wanted to study and improve her life. She describes her last day in Greece, where a teacher’s tears made her question her decision to leave. Her mother, though reluctant, supported her decision.

When she arrived in New Zealand, she traveled to Wellington and then took a train to Hamilton. Only two Greeks, including Evangelia, got off at Hamilton, while others continued to Auckland. Evangelia’s first impression of New Zealand was foggy and a bit scary, but she adjusted. She and the other girl stayed in a hotel in Hamilton and started working the next day. Evangelia worked in the hotel, making sandwiches and cleaning the dining room. She also mentions her first pay and how she bought a chocolate with it and ger contentment with earning money and feeling useful. 

The interview touches on the importance of communication and learning English, as well as the challenges of being in a new country. She mentions meeting other Greeks in Hamilton and feeling homesick during Christmas. The conversation also briefly mentions living in a flat and working at the Midland Hotel.  Evangelia shares her experiences working as a waitress, singing, and celebrating birthdays at the hotel.

She struggled with the language barrier but eventually started understanding English within a year. She attended night school to improve her language skills as she aspired to go to university and pursue opportunities for personal happiness. She shares her struggles with language barriers and financial difficulties while studying at Waikato University. She talks about the Worker’s Education Association (WEA) running night classes and how she didn’t have to pay for them.

Evangelia also shares her understanding of relationships and marriage. The conversation touches on cultural expectations and experiences related to menstruation. She reflects on her life in New Zealand, her financial independence, and her meeting with her future husband.

Evangelia shares her decision to return to Crete from New Zealand. She initially went to New Zealand to find a job and live there but eventually felt homesick and decided to go back to Crete. She struggled to find a job and was frustrated with how people were treated in New Zealand compared to Greeks. Eventually, she got married to Nick, which made her family happy. She shares how she felt about getting married when she initially didn’t want to, but she eventually decided to settle down and start a family. The conversation also touches on their married life and the dynamics of their relationship.

Evangelia expresses how having children made her feel fulfilled and complete as a person. She also talks about the importance of family and the emptiness she felt when she initially moved to New Zealand without her family. Evangelia mentions her father and sister visiting her in New Zealand, and the challenges she faced in bringing them over. She reflects on her decision to stay in New Zealand despite the difficulties she encountered, primarily due to the corruption she perceived in Greece. The interview also touches upon the limitations and lack of opportunities in Greece at the time of her migration compared to New Zealand. Evangelia shares her experiences of coming back and forth between Greece and New Zealand, her struggles to find employment in Greece, and the financial challenges she faced.  Evangelia talks about her decision to open a shop in Auckland with her husband to secure their future and provide stability for their family.

Evangelia shares her experiences with the Greek community in New Zealand and her feelings of not fully belonging in either Greece or New Zealand. She discusses her interactions with Greeks in Auckland, feeling like a foreigner in both countries, and her children’s experiences. She also shares a story about her attempt to buy land in her grandfather’s village in Crete and the challenges she faced as an outsider.

Evangelia expresses her desire to build in her village and shares her family’s division of a house. She mentions missing her grandchildren in New Zealand. She recalls watching children at a shopping center and reflects on the importance of family in life. Evangelia discusses the suffering she witnessed in New Zealand. She talks about a close-knit community in Howick and attending funeral services. Evangelia acknowledges that people have different worries in different places.

Evangelia explains that she never settled in New Zealand permanently and always wanted to be with her family. She reflects on how living in New Zealand made her a better person and gave her the freedom to pursue her interests. She also expresses her desire to help others and her scepticism towards institutions. The interview touches on various topics, including politics, education, and bureaucracy.

Evangelia wanted her children to be happy and advised them not to worry too much about money. She encouraged them to enjoy life while saving a little extra, but not to overwork themselves. She emphasized that money is not everything. Evangelia mentions that her daughter has settled well in Crete and enjoys the security of her family.