In the evening after the games, they’d all sit around me for a story. Even Stephanos would listen with his mouth open, and he’d already heard the stories. They were out of his books, but I had the ability to remember details and to embellish them. Extract from …But I promised God by Malametaniah Koutsada.
From an early age Malamataniah Koutsada was good at telling stories. After the games on the street in Thessaloniki, the kids would gather round her and she would begin. Now at 80 she is telling her stories to the world through her book … But I Promised God.
Ms Koutsada finally brought to fruition the book she promised she would write a long time ago. She is a pocket rocket. But a gentle one. A short lady who brims with so much life that it is easy to forget how old she is. It is just that she does not take life for granted.
How else can you explain that while still working in a field that most would blanch at, psychiatric nurse at the Adult Acute Psychiatric Unit of a Melbourne Hospital, she still found time to write her life story into a 426-page book?
“I had always loved writing as a child, I even started writing fiction at 16 but the manuscript was lost. The family and life took over and did not think about writing again until I was about 55,” Ms Koutsada told Neos Kosmos.
…But I Promised God, the title of the book, refers to the promise she that she would do something true to herself. In writing the book, she said she would take an unflinching look at all that she had done in her life, good and bad.
“When my first granddaughter was about four years old, my daughter, Miranda, gave me a pamphlet entitled, Grandma, tell me when you were a little girl. I got halfway through the questions and realised that I would need to write more plus I had three other grandchildren, so I started writing the book for all of them,” said Mrs Koutsada.
“I also remembered that my own grandmother told me some things but she did not tell me enough. When I picked up the pen I told myself that ‘I will write my memories and I will try to be honest as I can. If I was to write something, then I would write everything I could or not at all.’ What I have written comes straight from the heart,” she said.
The result was that she took a long, hard look at herself: “I found I was an inadequate mother. I brought my kids the way I was brought up. We only do slightly better than what our parents did. It is the biggest regret of my life.
“I had the courage to confront my children, Miranda and Timothy, and I apologised to them. In reading the book, they understand the choices I made and I have a very good relationship with them.”
It was her daughter who rekindled her desire to write when she put her on to an online writing course. What she wrote impressed the course instructor enough to encourage her to write more.
But the book is more than a confessional or a means to reaching the children.
She finished writing her book three years ago and has since been going through the hard grind of editing and knocking it into shape.
“I wrote much more than is in the book but I had to trim down a lot,” she said of the process.
“I edited it myself and then my friend, Yvonne, looked through it. Finally I got in a professional editor,” she said.
She writes her life story from growing up during the Second World War in Rodia in Central Macedonia, to living as refugees in Thessaloniki during the civil war, while her father was pressganged into joining the leftist insurgents in the mountains.
The trauma of those times is a bitter memory. For Ms Koutsada coming to Australia in 1960 was a release from harsh and hard times. Her education had stopped at primary school and her only qualification was as a dressmaker when she applied to migrate alone to Australia.
“I thought this was a land flowing with milk and honey,” she said of that time. She loved the feeling of space that Australia afforded and the opportunities for work were plentiful.
Both her parents were from families who had come to Greece in the population exchange of 1922. Her mother’s family were the first converts to the Seventh Day Adventist Church so that Mrs Koutsada naturally gravitated to that church when she came to Melbourne.
Although she had started English classes while in Greece, she went to classes arranged by the church and eventually met the man she was to marry the following year.
“It is difficult to understand a language, unless you learn from an English speaker.”
As she became proficient in English, she decided to push on with her education. Her husband, a teacher, took the growing family to Yallourn, then Canberra and New Guinea.
During that time Mrs Koutsada raised the family and put herself through day and night classes to eventually pass Year 12 with day students of a school at Port Moresby. She worked as a clerk in the New Guinea capital. While she enjoyed the freedom earning a wage gave her, she soon realized she was not cut out for a life behind a desk.
In Greece she had dreamed of being a school teacher but had lacked the education and opportunity to followed that dream. Armed with her school leaver’s certificate, she went for her second dream, nursing.
“At 35, I started nursing at Canberra Hospital. It took three years to become a general nurse.”
She then did a year-long course in midwifery but found she did not enjoy it.
When the family returned to Melbourne in 1980, she trained to be a psychiatric nurse and finally found the path that she really enjoyed. And it is work that she has continued but for a break between 1987 and 1992 when she bred dogs for a living.
“I raised pugs, Maltese Poodles, Scottish Terriers but it was more as a hobby,” she said. She had also married a second time and returned to nursing after that marriage broke down in 1992.
“It was not easy balancing writing and work. I would usually for a couple of hours every night.”
“Writing has made me more able to reflect on my life. When I wrote of certain events, I would think: ‘how cruel could I be to someone I love’? Sometimes I would see coincidences in life which have made me realise there is more to the world than what we see before us.
“Writing also has the magic effect of removing anger against someone, you put it all on paper and that is where (the emotion) stays. Writing is a powerful tool,” said Mrs Koutsada.
“The more experiences you have, the easier it is to write. The more you write, the better you are at it.”
… But I Promised God is published by Xilibris and is available on Amazon for $26.95 in paperback and $41.39 hardcover.