Year 2 | A Week in Greece #6: NERDY FRIENDS, HD PHOTO SHOOT, and NEW ROOMMATE

Progress at the new offices continued to happen slower than expected, so we decided to have a “Program Lite” week at the house.  This worked out pretty well, since we have a new woman (from Nigeria, 8 months pregnant, our house is now FULL and we’ve already had to turn down someone who wanted to join the program, ack), and it gave her time to adjust.  But this meant coming up with plans last minute and never feeling quite settled, which makes me stressed.  Luckily, I had some really fun friend moments this week, and that helped me survive.

Nerdy Friends

One of the strangest and most wonderful things about my friends in Athens is that they usually share in one of my “shameful obsessions.”  I have cat friends here!  And video game fanatics!  And Korean drama enthusiasts!  The things that used to be “oh, Tricia is the cat/video game/anime friend” has now become “we like this thing.”  It’s so much fun to have people to share these obsessions with.

On Sunday, the Four Cat Ladies went to Danielle’s apartment after church for her birthday celebration choice: a cat movie marathon.  We ordered food and watched a documentary called The Lion in Your Living Room and exclaimed over the cute kittens and said things like, “Oh, that’s why Oscar/Louis/Pepperina/Hans Harrison” does that!”  Then we watched a movie called A Street Cat Named Bob, a true story about a stray cat that saved the life of a drug addict.  Cats are amazing, I truly don’t understand haters.

On Wednesday after 12 Steps, I went out for sushi with Luciana.  I’ve been having a bit of a faith crisis post-US-election, and I opened up to her about it all.  “You know what you need?” she asked.  “WHAT?” I asked desperately.  “Dessert!”  So we got dark chocolate mochi, then walked back to her apartment.  Giorgos was there, so the three of us played Zelda until 11:00 p.m.  It was true gaming joy, with agonizingly frustrating puzzles that had people screaming and then cheering when they finally succeeded.

And on Saturday, I went to Rosie’s apartment to watch Coffee Prince, a Korean comedy about a girl who is mistaken for a boy and winds up working at a coffee shop intentionally run by hot guys.  I LOVE these kinds of ridiculous shows, and found myself saying, “Oh, so he is going to fall in love with her knowing she’s a girl, and HE is going to fall in love with her thinking she’s a boy, right?”  Rosie would respond, “The plot is incredibly obvious, but it is so much fun to see it play out.”  That’s what I love so much about anime and Korean comedies.  The characters are stereotypes (the Arrogant Rich Guy, the Edgy Foreigner, the Dumb Sweet Guy, the Delicate Wallflower, the Guns Blazing Girl) the actions are repeated (“he did the thing where he puts his hand on the wall over her head!!!”) and the plots are incredibly familiar.  But there’s something so pleasing about knowing what’s going to happen and then laughing hysterically when yes, she DID have to hide in the men’s locker room while they were changing because she has to hide the fact that she’s actually a woman.

I realize this is a pretty specific media interest (in the Western world, I would fit right in in the East), which is exactly why it feels so amazing to have Rosie as a friend.  And Luciana and Giorgos as my video games partners.  And Kendra, Rosie, and Danielle as my fellow Cat Moms.  There are few things as comforting as finding people who like the same weird things you do.

HD Photo Shoot

We did a lot of random stuff this week with our participants, but my favorite was on Friday.  My friend Damaris came over to take professional pictures of each of the women.  I knew this was going to be a success when we went upstairs and saw each of the women in their best clothes, makeup on and hair done ON TIME.  We took photos on the roof and in the garden, and it was such a joy to see them open up and show off how amazing they are.

Maybe it seems silly to place value on taking someone’s picture, but these women so rarely get to dress up and feel beautiful while also being safe.  They were getting fancy for themselves.  Damaris is going to print the pictures and give them copies, and nothing is going to us to be used for promotional or fundraising purposes.  This is all for them.

At the end, we were all in the garden, and while one woman was posing extravagantly against a tree and the rest of us were giggling, I put my arm around one woman’s shoulders, and she put her arms around my waist.  It was such a touching moment, and it made me realize how every little moment is a healing opportunity – safe touch, laughter, freedom to choose how sexy or silly you want to pose – and I was overwhelmed by how much I love my job.

Bringing it down a bit, but that day was also a lesson in A Man Ruins Everything by Thinking He’s Funny but is Actually a Jerk.  While taking pictures on the roof, a guy from the building next door called from his balcony, “Which one is the prettiest?”  Luckily, the woman getting her picture taken only spoke Greek and didn’t understand, but I was ENRAGED.  This is patriarchal idiocy at it’s core: the idea that women being pretty and happy is for a man’s enjoyment.  He took a beautiful, fun thing and made it a dirty competition.  UGH.  Less of this in the world, please!!

New Roommate

On Friday, Ellen from Canada moved into my apartment!  She and Olga are sharing a room,  and so far, I think it’s going to be a good household.  I really like having people around, and I love seeing other people’s things filling spaces in the bathroom.  But this only works for me with certain people, and both Olga and Ellen are independent, friendly, introverted women.  I don’t feel the need to care of them (thank God), and I know I can peace out and go to my room and they will understand.

It’s nice to have another American in the house, though I’m very jealous that Justin Trudeau is her leader and not mine.  Already Ellen and I have had some great conversations about being outsiders in Greece (she lived here for a year a couple years ago), and she’s a life coach who is going to work with an anti-trafficking organization, so we will have plenty in common to talk about.

A Greek, a USian, a Canadian, and a cat share an apartment in Athens.  We could star in a sitcom, though it would mostly show us reading books and talking about how we want to change the world.

Everything Ends

The other day I listened to a playlist for the first time in two years.  It’s the playlist I made when I nannied Anju and Ketan, full of songs we would sing to while driving to all of their extracurricular events.

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Some are obvious kid’s songs, like all of my favorite Disney ballads.  But our real favorites were pop songs that were current at the time, especially Imagine Dragons and Bastille.  I still remember turning around in my seat to high-five Ketan when he mastered singing “Flaws” with a British accent.

One of the songs that came up was “Everything Ends” from A Very Potter Senior Year, because yes, I did introduce my pre-teen charges to the amazing world of the sometimes inappropriate, always hilarious college production of Harry Potter musicals.  This particular song is from the end of their third musical, and it’s doubly upsetting because it’s about Harry using the resurrection stone to see his dead friends and family one last time AND it’s about the cast acknowledging that Darren Criss’s life has taken him away from Starkid.  I’ll put the video here if you want to cry a little.

[Start at 6:08 for the song]

The lyrics hit me, listening to a playlist from my past, thinking about my Dallas life and all the people I’ve said goodbye to, and hello to, in just two years.

Harry:  How do I make things go back to how they used to be?
Snape:  That’s just it, Harry.  You can’t.

Group Singing:  You can’t hold on to what’s gone.
Don’t try to fix it, just move on.
Only then, you’ll see the world all brand new.

And I felt…really great.  I tend to cling to the past, to hoard memories and wish for things to be as they were.  But there’s something so peaceful about saying, “Yes, the past WAS great, but so is the present, and so will the future be.”  I don’t get to sing with Anju and Ketan in the car anymore.  But this week I got to paint fingernails and watch Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights with women who have been trafficked.

Life isn’t about holding onto things or trying to recapture experiences.  You’ve got to move on, and see the world all brand new.

A Political Fanfiction

by Elizabeth and Tricia

Justin and Angela, the ultimate buddy cop duo, team up to defeat international spy Vlad Poutine.

Starring 

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Justin Trudeau as Justin

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Angela Merkel as Angela

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Joe Biden as Joe

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Barack Obama as Barry

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The Hemsworth brothers as Chris and Liam

and Trumbledorf as himself


Justin and Angela stumbled down the boulevard.  Justin pushed this wavy hair back, causing a surfer fifty feet away to fall off his board.  Angela’s hair was immaculate, despite her having just run ten miles over rocky terrain.  “There!” she said, pointing ahead.

She had seen the giant sign for “Frozen Joe’s,” Hawaii’s best-selling ice cream stand.  The man leaning over the counter of the ice cream shop was the spitting image of the giant face on the sign: same Ray-Bans, same cheeky smile.  The sign didn’t include the highlighter yellow tank top that the real man was wearing today.  Against all odds, it made his teeth appear even whiter.

“What can I get you?” Joe asked.  “Vanilla?  Strawberry?”

Justin leaned against the counter, and Angela rolled her eyes at him.  “I was thinking something more along the lines of…mint chocolate chip.”

Joe reached beneath the counter and pulled out an AK-47.  Impossibly, his smile grew wider.  “I know someone who’s been waiting to see you.”

 

The speedboat crashed over the crest of a wave, jolting Justin into the man standing behind the steering wheel.  Justin glanced at his partner to make sure she was okay.  Angela was calmly eating her mojito-flavored ice cream cone.  She paused and fired two shots off the back of the boat, ducking for cover when the KGB agents behind them returned fire.

Over the noise, Justin shouted, “I never thought we’d reunite under these conditions.”

Barry grinned.  It seemed like he’d aged backward in the time since they’d last met.  Hawaii looked good on him, Justin thought.

“Really?” Barry asked.  “This is exactly how I imagined it.”

They shared a small smile, but Angela had no time for them.  She tossed the last of her cone over the side, put her gun on safety, and strode toward them.  “We need to hurry.  According to our last transmission, Chris and Liam are tied up at the Volcanoes National Park’s visitor’s center, and I’ll never hear the end of it if I don’t save them before Trumbledorf starts showing them his Instagram feed of ‘things that are orange.’”

Fin


Happy Valentine’s Day!

Year 2 | A Week in Greece #5: WORK WEIRDNESSES

After an exciting but restful weekend in Bucharest, I came back to a chaotic week in Athens.

On Monday, we tried to begin having Day Program classes at our new offices.  This meant starting with a couple hours of new rules and a lot of questions about the rules.  Mostly we talked about tardiness and absences, and this is still a topic I feel conflicted about.

Our program is meant to model a school or work environment, and we want to hold participants to similar standards so that when they seek employment elsewhere, they will be used to the routine of being on time for things.  But we have participants from diverse cultures, and I think this is at least partially responsible for the serial tardiness of some of the women.  I don’t know how much my desire to enforce timeliness is for their benefit or if it is for my own cultural comfort.

But other than that, it was really nice having classes in a new space!  Or at least, it was on Monday and Tuesday.  By the end of Tuesday, more and more workers were arriving to finish air conditioning installations, wall dividers, etc, and it was becoming increasingly ridiculous to try to be vulnerable or thoughtful with all the chaos around us.  We cancelled classes for the rest of the week, but planned a special event on Friday.

It was almost disastrous, and I was SO pissed, because I told the women a fake time to show up, knowing that they would be late.  Still, I wound up standing at the metro station for half an hour, at which point I decided to go on without them.  I met up with the two people who were meeting us downtown and found out that THEN, the women were leaving the house.  They met us one hour and fifteen minutes after our scheduled appointment time, and as I mentioned, I was PISSED.  I am generally a pretty laid back person, but apparently time issues have their claws sunk deep in me.

But then they showed up, and…they were all dressed up!  They’d done their hair and put on makeup.  They were wearing nice clothes and jewelry.  The baby was outfitted with everything he could possibly need.  And I realized – this was a really special event for them.  It was a chance to get out of the house, to explore the city while feeling safe, to be TOURISTS and just enjoy life for a while.  My annoyance drifted away as I became consumed with love for them, which is like, the whole point of everything.

We spent a couple hours at the Acropolis Museum.  Two of the women only speak Spanish, so we mostly pointed at statues and imitated their poses, laughed at each other, and then got told off by tour guides.  We had to stop a lot because two of the women are pregnant, and the new mother got increasingly terrified because she kept static shocking people and she thought she would hurt her baby.  A quick phone call to our Spanish interpreter prevented her from going home early, and I just kind of…loved my job?  The weird things that happen!  Never a dull moment!

We got coffee and sat around in the sun together for awhile before heading home.  On the metro, I was acutely aware of the fact that I, a white person, was hanging out with three black women.  There aren’t a lot of black people in Athens, and I wondered how people saw me, and then I thought, oh God, this is only a tiny taste of what they must think and feel at all times.  How exhausting to be a minority, always conscious of being “other” and wondering if that will cause you trouble or harm.

That was a lot of work stuff, but I did manage to have some fun this week too.  I went out with Olga and Haley (an American who works with Samaritan’s Purse) to Little Kook on Monday.  Olga and I had some prime roommate bonding, such as one Complaining Night and another Wine and Cheese and Jane Austen Movie Night.  And on Friday, three women from the Bible School came over for, well, another Wine and Cheese Night.  Today is Saturday, and I’ve been lazy while waiting for laundry to finish.  Tonight I’m going out to an Iranian restaurant for Danielle’s birthday, and the celebrations will continue tomorrow after church when we all watch a bunch of cat movies to celebrate the thing that bonds us all together (besides being ex-pats in Greece).

My Visa Problems are Annoying but Not Life-Threatening

I am still working on getting the paperwork necessary to apply for a two-year visa in Greece.  I have been working on this since November, and we are still pretty much in step 1 (ask the Greek ministry to approve my organization as one that can request a volunteer).  That is a LONG time to be waiting, and as my 90-day tourist visa gets ever closer to finishing, my stress level increases and I am ever more likely to go on barely comprehensible rants.

But my perspective has shifted recently.

The thing is, if I’m not allowed to return to Athens in April, what will happen?

  • HD will have to find someone to cover all the work that I do.
  • I will have to find someone to take care of my Greek cat for an indefinite amount of time.
  • I will have to figure out what to do with rent and roommates and all my possessions.
  • I will have to explain to my donors why I have had to pause the work that they are paying me to do.
  • I will be sad about leaving the life and work that I love.

But also?  I have family and friends all across the United States who I know will take me into their homes.  I know I could find a job in the States as a librarian or nanny if the waiting goes on for a month or more.

The women at HD do not have that option.

We currently have three (soon to be four) women in our program who are refugees in Greece.  They are each pregnant, or newly a mother, and they all want to stay in Greece with the longterm goal of finding a job and making enough money that they can send it home to family or even better, finding a way to bring their family here.

They are also in the middle of a legal headache, trying to get paperwork approved so that they can continue to live in this country.  We are the same…except that if they never get a visa, then they face the possibility of being sent back to a homeland of poverty and in one woman’s case, an abusive family.  They risk re-entering the desperate world of trafficking if they trust the wrong person.  They are confronted with the reality that in order to feed their soon-to-be-born child, one of the most feasible options available to them is voluntary prostitution.

Their lives are so limited, and in comparison, mine is limitless.

I’m grateful for all of my privilege.  I wouldn’t give it up, even if I could.  But now that I am more aware of this new aspect of my white, American, educated, middle-class privilege, I’m going to try to stop complaining quite so much.  I mean, I still will sometimes, because I’m selfish and anxious.

But I have a new awareness that the worst of my problems essentially amounts to a vacation that I didn’t ask for.  So for today, I’m grateful that my problems are only an annoyance, and not something life-threatening.

Year 2 | A Week in Greece #4: MOVING OFFICES AND BUCHAREST

This week was FULL.

Moving Offices

When I arrived at work on Monday, I discovered that we had received a new participant over the weekend, bringing our total number up to six (in a three bedroom house)!  It was now clearer than ever that we needed to move our offices into our new rented building so that we could convert our current office space into two new bedrooms.  We’re also building a dividing wall in the living room to create a third bedroom.

All of this means that the week was chaos.  We packed up everything and moved it to our new space.  But because we’re moving so quickly, the phone lines aren’t working yet in the new office.  That means that our desks are in one space and our wifi is in another (a 25 minute walk between them, too, so the commute is not simple).  Only the Day Program (that’s me and the two other facilitators) will be working out of the new space next week, and we tried to plan ahead for everything we might need that would require Internet access.

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Speaking of the Day Program, this week felt like I really came into my new role as the coordinator.  I did the intake forms with our newest participant, in which she shares her story (we only ask our participants to relive their trauma once – after the initial forms, they can share or not share the details of what they have gone through at their own discretion).  I also had to do a re-entry interview with a participant who returned to us last week.  And there are several fiscal year reports to do and program rules that I am responsible for creating and enforcing, and ah!  It feels like a lot!

I didn’t quite realize the difference between being a facilitator and being the program coordinator.  Last year, when I had a concern or an idea, I could tell the coordinator and let her decide what to do and when to do it.  Now I’m that person, and while I quite like the position, I feel very drained at the end of a busy day.

Bucharest, Romania

Luckily, there is travel!  Olga and Luciana and I went to Bucharest this weekend.  All of us like to explore new places, but more than that, we share a NEED for travel.  For whatever reason, there is a direct link between my physical and mental presences.  When I am in Athens, I feel responsible for work-related things, past and future.  But when I physically leave, I am able to leave the mental worries behind too.

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So we went to Bucharest for €40 roundtrip, stayed in a cute little hostel downtown, and explored!  The three of us have wonderfully similar travel philosophies (heavy on the coffee shops, bookstores, and silly pictures), which made for a really fun weekend.  It was an especially amazing time to visit Bucharest, because there were hundreds of thousands of protesters flooding the city.  The Romanian government tried to pass a law that would make government corruption legal, but after four days of peaceful protests, it looks like the law won’t be passed!  It feels really cool to have witnessed a historic event like that.

We returned already planning our next trip, so I think that solidifies our weekend as a success.  I feel rested, excited, and ready to go back to work.  I love this life of working hard at something that feels important, and then playing hard by visiting new countries and experiencing new cultures.

What I Read | JANUARY 2017

In January, I left my beloved library behind in the States, which was very sad.  But I also returned to twelve new books that I bought at a Christmas bazaar before leaving Athens last year, so it all balanced out (not really, twelve books does not equal infinite library access).

51t0npdw14l-_sy344_bo1204203200_We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This tiny book is adapted from a TedX Talk, and boy is it effective.  I mean, I guess she was preaching to the choir, but I found her balance of personal anecdotes and academic research very persuasive.  I would love to know if someone who is not a feminist could read this and come away unmoved.

hpHarry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Everyone already knows how awesome this book is, but do you know how amazing the illustrated edition is?  It has the full text printed like a children’s fairy tale book, and just holding the heavy thing in my hands made the whole story feel important and magical in an really evocative way.  The artwork is stunning, both familiar and unique.  I was especially impressed with how the kids looked like actual 11-year-olds.  I cannot wait to see what they do once they publish the fourth book in this format – will it come in two pieces or require a forklift?

the-geography-of-genius-9781451691658_hr1The Geography of Genius by Eric Weiner

This book combines three of my favorite things:  travel, history, and sociology.  Weiner visits several cities that were the birthplace of geniuses.  Some are obvious, like ancient Athens or Florence during the Renaissance.  Others I was unaware of, like Edinburgh and Hangzhou.  The whole journey is in pursuit of what creates genius, abolishing myths (the lone genius) and positing new theories (genius requires diversity, disorder, and discernment).

scrappy-little-nobody-9781501117206_lgScrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick

The simplest recommendation is this:  if you like Anna Kendrick, you will like this book.  It sounds like her (especially if, like me, you listen to her read the audiobook version), both very funny and often insightful.  It is vaguely interesting as a child actor story, but that’s not its real purpose.  Instead, she’s doing what she does best:  entertaining us with stories.

27362503It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover

WOW.  This book was recommended to me by a librarian friend, and it completely blew me away.  It’s all about breaking the cycle of abuse, but instead of being maudlin or overly dramatic, Hoover gives us the “best” case scenario and challenges us to empathize with people on all sides of the situation.  It felt incredibly weird to occasionally root for the abuser, but that’s the power of her storytelling capabilities.  And the ending was just beautiful.

51jqqolltjl-_sx329_bo1204203200_Talking As Fast As I Can by Lauren Graham

Once again, if you like Lorelai Gilmore – I mean Lauren Graham – then you will like this book.  And once again, I recommend you listen to the audiobook, which Graham reads herself.  I really admired that she knows her audience; she spent a little time on her childhood, but the bulk of the material lies in describing her experiences working on Gilmore Girls (and to a lesser extent Parenthood).  Her joy and gratitude are so evident, and it makes the book a delightful thing to experience.

51vf1u6wpfl-_sx326_bo1204203200_The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell

I’m a full-fledged socialist now!  Russell’s description of being a British ex-pat in Denmark for one year totally converted me to the benefits of paying 50% taxes.  But seriously, her memoir/non-fiction story is really fun to read…just start saving for that plane ticket, because she’s hella convincing.

1618The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Although this is a great book written from the perspective of a teenager with Asperger’s, I never quite connected with it because it was not what I expected.  I thought I was reading a mystery, but that ends quite quickly, and I found the true story far less interesting.  Still, it’s a great piece for those who want a glimpse into inner workings of someone with Asperger’s, especially in making obvious just how much WORK every action and reaction is.