‘When life gives you lemon, make lemonade’ could be the motto describing Androula Matthews’ experience during Melbourne’s back-to-back lockdowns.
Wedding plans for May with her fiancé and their honeymoon to Greece had to be postponed, with the make-up artist being amongst those who haven’t been allowed to return to work for months now, due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“I thought I’m going to use this time and do something good[…] I started pretty much straightaway as soon as they put in the [first] restrictions,” Ms Matthews says, referring to the authoring and illustrating of her debut book ‘A holiday in Greece’.
Missing out on the special European summer getaway, was also a driver for the endeavour.
“I was really looking forward to experiencing that […] And just this sadness I felt for that and missing Greece, made me think that so many people are feeling the way I do right now. So why not share my passion and my excitement with them? And maybe they’ll get some happiness from it too.”
Targeting both beginners learning about Greek language and culture, as well as adult aficionados of the Mediterranean country, the bilingual book is meant to be “a fun and lighthearted guide through a typical summer experience”.
“It goes through all things that are special about a holiday in Greece,” Ms Matthews explains, from “tourist attractions” to the details of everyday life, like “the koulouria sold on the streets” and core cultural elements like the Greek taverns and churches.
“I initially hoped the book would be suitable for ages six and up. But I also had in mind to make suitable it for anyone, including young adults learning Greek or parents reading it to their children, because I think it appeals to them too, can make them feel nostalgic when they read it about their memories in Greece and ultimately feel proud about their culture.
“In that way I think it connects people, which is what I wanted to do.”
She describes the visual experience of “revisiting” the homeland as a way to bring together families and communities during challenging times, with physical travel remaining unattainable for Australians.
The combination of vocabulary with “playful and quite bright” images, Ms Matthews has sketched herself, was a purposeful choice, inspired by her own experiences learning Greek as a kid and missing the visual anchors that facilitate language acquisition.
“I actually remember doing my Greek homework when I was younger and drawing pictures. I think [language learning] needs to have a fun element to it[…] especially for children who need a bit more stimulation.
“I’m personally very visual myself. l learn with pictures and seeing a depiction of something helps me get the emotion, so I think they are really important.”
A second generation Greek Australian, Ms Matthews remembers identifying with her Greek side since really young. But it has only been in recent years that she consciously reconnected with her heritage as an adult.
Publishing her own Greece-themed book, she admits, has been a milestone in this journey of identity rediscovery and a deeply personal undertaking linked to plans of creating a family with her partner.
“I’m taking [language] classes at the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne for the past two and a half years and I guess I never had as much appreciation for my culture and language as I do now.
“Meeting my fiancé as well, who is also Greek-Cypriot, has helped by encouraging me in this.
“We really want our children to feel proud about their heritage. And we want our children to be able to speak the language. So, it’s really important to me to have these values and appreciation of culture passed on to our children.”