Unmapped
Issue 9

Warrior woman

By Abbie Sharp

I first met Phainie on a beach in Goa, a powerful, charismatic woman of 69 with red lips and the presence of a passionate warrior.

Phainie Xdyis was born in Athens, the daughter of a diplomat father. “I was different to the average Greek, very daring, because my family were very broad minded. In the 60s I was one of the first of my friends to get my own flat, but many of them were not even allowed to come and visit because I was an unmarried woman living on her own. Greek women at the time had to marry in order to be independent and to get away. Greece wasn’t liberated at all.”

Phainie invested time and effort into literature, film and socialism, observing and laying the foundations for the life she so desired. “My father was working for the foreign office, so my first school was in Morocco, the second in Canberra, Australia. The third for a short time in Egypt and the fourth was in Greece in a private school.”

Although a respected official in a conservative culture, Phainie’s father was encouraging of her desires. “He was the one would tell me to fight for my beliefs. There was one week I became very pensive; I was tired of people judging my way of life and I said to him should I become like all the others? Should I compromise and sacrifice my character? My father gave me a very good answer, saying, “Listen darling, if you don’t want to be called to the police station every day then yes, compromise, be like all the others. Or, you stand up for your beliefs and pay the price.” A week later I made the decision to fight for my rights. Eventually I could because I had the means.”

“An independent women, a warrior, has to work to make her own living. She cannot become independent unless she does this; she can’t set the rules if she doesn’t have the means. She also has to be willing to pay the price to be different. I was often called to police station to be criticized for the way I was living during the Junta when people were frightened. There would be calls to the police about guests at my apartment, most of them flamboyant characters or long-haired artists. I was called to the police because of the kind of clothing I wore. They would give me guidelines on how I should live my life. I was constantly reprimanded.”

Throughout her life Phainie has been through twelve different professions. The first career was accidental, and came to Phainie as a result of dancing every night at the same club with her friends for four years, when she was a student. Her friends finished their exams and graduated; Phainie did not. “I wasn’t the kind,” she explains. The owner of the disco approached her with a job offer, a name no one had heard before - Disc Jockey. After some tuition, Phainie began to flourish as a DJ. “I was a huge success, performing for five consecutive winters. I was paid so handsomely that I could afford to holiday for six months afterwards, paying for my friends and their social lives.”

It was a liberating time for the eclectic young woman from Athens. After dedicating her career to music, the liberation would soon fade as a government radio station recruited Phainie as a DJ. The 1967–74 Junta regime had fallen in Greece and the station was desperate for new blood. For perhaps the first time, Phainie had no choice in this life decision. There was a code of conduct, and rules to be followed.

Her colleagues were people left over from the Junta, wives of military people and the chief of staff was a pro-Junta intelligence official. Speech was censored and there was no room for her specialty of international music. This lack of international music was an opportunity that Phainie would throw herself into: the station’s light orchestra would play a piece and she would produce it and broadcast it.

‘”I was very lucky that there were four incredibly good composers in charge. So I was working with interesting music; not my quite kind of music, but it helped me survive a year in radio.”

“I was always afraid of giving birth, and I always thought a child would be a burden where travel is concerned,” says Phainie on the question of children. “Thank god no children came. I had two abortions, the second when I was 36. I had an instinctive urge to keep the child at that point, because of my age, but I couldn’t keep it because I had a coil contraceptive device and the doctor decided it would be too dangerous. My husband Themos knew I didn’t want children so we were careful; being a gentleman he was careful. At some point he accused me of not having told him about my position on children before marriage, so I said: ‘Themos, you are free to go and find a woman that will bear children for you. I will cry for you, I will be sad, very sad, but I will get over it.’”

      

Full-time wanderer and part-time photographer, Abbie Sharp has too much to see and too much too say. When she is not sharing these two passions, you will find her somewhere in a hammock under a coconut tree.

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