Living in Greece, Personal, Weekly Series

A Week in Greece #10: New Friends, Clean Monday, and My 28th Birthday!

My Greek classes downtown are over, the friends I made there have scattered to other cities and countries, and my visitors are all gone.  This week has felt a little like starting over again, settling into a life in Pikermi.  I’m making friends, but (especially at the beginning of the week) I was kind of mad about it?  Mad that I have to start over, even though everyone I’m hanging out with is lovely.  I could go into a lot of detail about the emotional side of all this, but…that would take up an entire blog post, and that’s not what A Week in Greece is for!

Last Saturday at 8:30 p.m., Argyris called and said, “This is not a drill!  I will pick you up in fifty minutes!”

“Okay??” I said, glancing down at the pajamas I had already changed into.  I hurried to look like a human being again, then met Argyris, Dina, and Mark in the parking lot.  We picked up Erik along the way, but Argyris refused to tell us where we were going, only that it was a late birthday present for Dina.  We wound up going to an old Oriental Express train that’s been converted into a restaurant.  A live band played jazz versions of old movie songs, and it was really lovely.

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On Sunday, Dina and Argyris went away, so Mark took me to church with some other girls from the school.  It was nice to get to know them a little better, and then we all went out for burgers after the service.  I shouldn’t have eaten one, because at 2:00 I went to Anthi’s house to meet her friends and eat a feast prepared by her chef mother.  Next weekend I’m going to a conference retreat with all these girls, so Anthi thought it’d be good for me to meet them before we go.

On Monday, everyone from the school went to Dina and Argyris’s house to celebrate Clean Monday.  Wikipedia’ing that would probably be more informative, but basically, Clean Monday is an Ash Wednesday equivalent.  After a carnival weekend, Clean Monday marks the beginning of 40 days of fasting before Easter (which is obviously later in Greece than it is in the US).  For reasons I still don’t quite understand, we did the opposite of fast – eating an enormous amount of meat and food.

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I continued to eat leftovers from Clean Monday every day for the rest of the week, since I went to their house every day to work on fundraising with Dina as well as start Greek lessons with her.  It’s nice to review, and it’s nice for her to know my skill level so that she can push me to practice more.  It’s also nice because she doesn’t push me quite as much as my Greek teacher, so I don’t feel constantly overwhelmed anymore.

But the big thing this week was – my birthday!!  Initially, I thought this was the worst time to have a birthday here.  My ideal celebration is to have a lot of people who I feel comfortable with tell me they love me over and over again.  But most of the people I feel comfortable with are gone!  I still had that impulse to have a big party, but that was causing me a lot of anxiety, so finally I decided to scale way back and just hang out with the people I’m closest to, and it was SO GREAT.

My three birthday goals were: beauty, food, and nature.  I got a manicure in the morning (for 13 €!), thus feeling splurge-y and beautiful.  I’d arranged to get lunch with Anthi somewhere near the school, but when we met up in the parking lot, she said, “I was thinking we should go somewhere near the sea, is that okay?”  I said, “YES,” so we went to Rafina and walked along the port before finding a restaurant that overlooks the sea.  We ate fried cheese, fried zucchini, and Hawaiian pizza.  Birds ate bread from our bread basket.  Anthi and I talked about HD and friendships and psychology, and I LOVE HER.  I crave friendships where I can be totally myself, dumb and smart and silly and serious and self-deprecating and prideful, and Anthi just gets me.  It was hugely comforting and encouraging.

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We got back to the school around 5:00, so I bought myself a nice coffee and then happily scrolled through Facebook birthday wishes.  At 8:00 I met up with Ioanna, Olympia, Olga, and Natasha to go to Doukato, a country pub nearby.  We are the old single women at a school full of 18-year-olds, and I had SO much fun eating and drinking with them, talking about singleness and travel and laughing a lot.

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We got back to the school around midnight, and before I went to bed Irini stopped by my room.  She’s a girl I’ve connected with at the school, and on Clean Monday she said, “You’re going to be 28???”  I said, “Yeah, how old are you?”  “18.”  “You’re only 18???”

Anyway, Irini stopped by and said, “I’m going to say some things, and please don’t start saying ‘awww’.  Just listen.”  And then she said a whole bunch of really sweet things, and it went a long way toward making me feel at home at the school and with the students here.  I don’t like feeling different from people, so living at a school without being a student has been hard.  But the amount of love given to me on my birthday was really encouraging.  I’m an introverted me-time monster, but people like me anyway!  That’s a really great lesson to learn.

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