The explosion made me jump a foot in the air. I turned around to a face full of acrid, gunpowder-scented smoke and a man with grin on his face like a five-year-old and a homemade rocket in his hand.
Another explosion to my left. This time, an actual five-year-old with a homemade rocket in his hand.
A third rocket careened away from the thousands being launched, headed straight towards me, and hit the ground at my feet, where it burst into flames.
Welcome to Greece, the land of pork products, once-garishly-painted statues, and lax laws about explosives. More specifically, welcome to Chios, a small Greek island about 45 minutes off the coast of Turkey by ferry and home to Rouketopolemos (literally “Rocket-War”).
About two weeks ago, a few other Fulbrighters and I took a hop over to Chios to watch the spectacle of Rouketopolemos, the island’s Easter tradition. Each year at Easter, two rival churches in the town of Vrontados pummel each other with more than 50,000 homemade rockets, while people are inside at the Easter vigil. People not associated with the two churches have also taken it upon themselves to set off homemade rockets and fireworks during the event. Because when isn’t a drunk adult, a small child, and faulty explosives a foolproof combination?
My friends and I didn’t make it inside the church for the service; instead, we watched the fiery spectacle, which dates back to the Ottoman Era, from above.
But fire hazards and hundreds-year-old grudge matches are not all Chios has to offer. Most of our weekend was spent indulging in all the island had to offer — bacon, non-Efes beer, mustard on my hamburger, beautiful Orthodox churches, pork products, gloriously sunny beaches, crystal-clear water, and did I mention bacon?