Want to play? Want to be my pal?
Among other similarities, Arabs and Greeks share also this one: their perception of this complex feeling/community called friendship. And because families are small in Greece, friendship obtains even more powerful features. It becomes an extension of the family, a kind of substitute with the strength of blood bonds, but without the full-glory-headache of the practicalities that kinship implies (property issues or the fundamental drama of the relationship with parents and siblings as discribed in psychoanalysis). From what I have noticed, and despite appearences, friends there get more intimate. They do not hold hands but they share all tiny details and communicate frequently full reports concerning their most private feelings. They do not have the long kissing ceremonies that I notice almost every morning at work, while crossing the crowded alleys of our Uni, but they drive their partners (girlsfriends, boyfriends, spouses) crazy when the latter realize that the friends know much more than them about the emotional world of their "other half". Recently, I found a nice depiction of this delicate situation at the novel of Vangelis Raptopoulos, Friends. Even in terms of language the words φίλος(friend), φιλί(kiss), originate from the verb φιλώ (love, in classical greek, kiss in modern) and prove this almost erotic atmosphere.
So, the story starts early, the children of the neighborhood, boys and girls, offer the magical spell "do you want us to play together?" "let's be pals". Sometimes, in urbanized areas this may be postponed till school age, but eventually it happens. Easy to propose, but it establishes a contract indefinitely valid... Many questionable doctrines appear to safeguard the connection: "There is nothing like childhood friends", "Only in childhood we obtain true friends" and so on and so forth. Of course, the criteria for a child to choose mates are heavily conditioned: they live close, they are of the same age almost (you see, for a child two or three years of age difference make a huge big issue, and dig a deep gap) and sometimes it has to do with the social circle of parents who can facilitate this relationship or undermine it according to their own judgement.
In reality, I have noticed that early I found this framework tight for me. I did not keep my childhood friends and the very few ones out of them that are currently friends, they became connected again to me because of their objective qualities and affinities in thinking, feeling and behaving. Other than that, I avoid schoolmates, gatherings of alumni, these circumstances that they start and end with the chewing gum brand "Do you remember?". Even my college mates do not mean much to me. Especially the ones we got in fierce friendship during the first two years in college. Meanwhile, I discovered that I made my best friends later, much later even: Usually they are women (I find them clever and with deeper understanding), normally they are older than me, they are opinionated, sometimes politically active. Yesterday I found the text of Areti, a "new" friend now in Spain, on our website, and while reading her ultimate farewell to her neighbour Libertad, I knew why I love her blue eyes that they are both sharp and tender. I could hear her passionate voice breaking at some point. And through her text I saw the details of her daily world she had been talking about, but which I had not been always able to visualize.
I wonder sometimes how my life would have been without Pelagia, Voula, Ala'a, Mikhalis, Ioanna, Birgit. I think I would have jumped out the window long ago :) None of them is a childhood friend.