Year 2 | A Week in Canada #15: FIRST WEEK OF TRAINING

I’ve been in Vancouver for a week, and I feel amazing! Two of my coworkers got here before me, and it was so fun to see them in a new context. We are at our parent organization for two weeks of training, since two of us have new positions and the third wanted additional training after a year of experience. 

We’re staying at their safe house, and it’s been really cool to see the day-to-day life here. It’s made me really jealous, actually, because the ease with which you can interact when everyone speaks the same language is something you take for granted until you can’t say even the simplest thing without first finding an interpreter. 

From the first training session, their staff picked up on just that: that we are overwhelmed and feeling desperate, so after two hours they said, “What you need is a rest.” We put everything away and they treated us to a fantastic meal downtown. It was at the restaurant that we started to have our best conversations, safe, happy, and protected. 

This continued throughout the week: afternoon trips to Stanley Park, Granville Island, Queen Elizabeth Park, and a whole day reading through material at a restaurant overlooking the sea. It’s so lush here, and spring is kicking in, and I feel restored! I have three pages filled with ideas I want to implement when I return to Athens. It took leaving to have the space to think creatively and excitedly again.

 

We were assigned homework over the weekend, but we stayed up late Friday and got up early Saturday to finish. For what? The most introverted weekend ever. We stayed in our rooms until dinner, then ordered pizza and watched three episodes of Planet Earth. Just what I needed. 

I’m so glad I was able to come here. It’s inspiring to see an organization like ours, but decades old. They are well-organized and established, so crises are familiar and they aren’t hurrying around reacting to things all the time. I hope we can reach that point at HD…and soon!

Year 2| A Week in Greece #13: US TEAM, NEW BABY, MISSION MEETINGS

It’s my last week in Greece according to my 90-day visa, so I’m officially being kicked out of the EU tomorrow.  I’ll be in the States for a bit, then Vancouver for work training, then back in the States waiting for my 2-year visa to be approved!  I expected my last week here to be chaotic, finishing things up, but it is such a nice chaos when I know I am about to step away from the responsibility.

We had a US team visiting us this week at HD.  They connected really quickly with our girls, and it was so amazing to see the hugs and tears and contact exchanges being made at the end of the week.  Teams like this remind me of what I love best about my country:  an “of course we can find a solution” mentality that includes both optimism and hard work.

We ended our work week with another birth!  That’s the third baby born into our program since January, and we have a fourth baby that comes to the Day Program with her mother.  We’re expanding so quickly!  Every day we run into some new situation that we haven’t yet experienced.  It’s crazy to think it’s only been a year since we opened (April 15 is our first anniversary).  None of us thought we would be here in such a short time!  It is such a privilege to get to be a part of the beginning of an organization like HD and see how God grows it.

This week I also had two meetings with my mission organization.  The first was a big dinner on Monday, in which we ate together for the second time in two years and decided we should probably do it more often.  The second was a private coffee with my supervisor, and it was really nice to get to know him and feel like he wanted to get to know me.  I haven’t felt very connected to my mission organization, so these simple times together were so helpful for me.

Oh!  Both of my roommates moved out this week!  Yikes, it’s a sign of how busy things are that I forgot to mention that until now.  It would be sadder if I weren’t leaving myself for a month+, but as it is, it kind of made it easier to pack because I could use the washing machine as often as I needed.

On Thursday, my HD coworkers went out to eat to say goodbye and to toast to a “5 year visa,” and we wound up sharing our love languages and laughing at mixed signals.  Today I dropped Hans Harrison off at the house of one of our HD volunteers.  It was a nightmare getting him into his carrier, but when I let him out at her place, he wandered straight out and went around to everyone for pets!  It made it so much easier to leave him knowing that he was already lounging comfortably.

Then I went out for coffee with my 2nd Church friends.  They all live in the city center, so I used my “I’m leaving” pull to get them to come to my area of Athens.  One of them unexpectedly lent me three seasons of Three Musketeers, so now I know how I’m going to use my free time!  Luciana is going to come over in a bit, maybe to start in on the series, and then it’s off to bed…and an early start for my flight tomorrow!

Year 2 | A Week in Greece #12: BABIES and WEEKEND DAY TRIPS

Last weekend, one of our women at HD gave birth to a baby boy.  I went to visit them on Tuesday morning with one of our volunteers, and mostly I sat around asking questions like, “Is it weird to think that he used to live inside you?” while the volunteer did actually helpful things like help her breastfeed and tell funny stories of how she’d messed up as a mother.

Another weird workday occurred on Thursday, when a coworker took me to the police station to get fingerprinted.  No, I am not (yet) a Greek felon!  This was the last step toward getting all the paperwork necessary to apply for a volunteer visa when I return to the States next week.

I also did all the case plans and monthly reports and prepared my replacement with as much information and pre-done work as possible.  (12 Steps conversation:  “Man, I put so much value in my competency that I’m working super hard to make sure I leave my replacement well prepared!”  “Yes, but…that is your job.  You should definitely be doing that.”  “Oh, right.”)  The upside of being a good planner is that I think I’ve got things pretty much settled at work, and I can spend this next week just enjoying things.

Speaking of enjoying things…Luciana’s old roommate Mark visited her from Northern Ireland, and she invited me to join them on a weekend extravaganza of day trips.  We went to Mycenae (founded by Perseus, formerly ruled by the Agamemnon that led the war against Troy) and wandered ancient ruins.  There was a museum at the site that held the Mask of Agamemnon, an art history staple that I have seen in many a textbook, and now also with my own eyeballs!

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We drove a bit further to Nafplio.  I accidentally told them that you could either drive to the fortress overlooking the cute town OR walk 857 steps to the top, and once she knew there was an athletic option, Luciana refused to do anything else.  Knowing we were the weak links, Mark and I started walking up while Luciana and Giorgos ran ten minutes to the car and back to drop off our coats, and they STILL caught up with us when we were only halfway up the stairs.  When we got to the top, we discovered that it cost €8 to enter the fortress, so we just walked right back down those 857 steps.  We then walked along the waterfront, so by the time we reached a taverna, we totally earned the right to gorge ourselves on cheese, mushrooms, turkey burgers, chicken, salad, and wine.

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We drove back late, so everyone slept in on Sunday.  Giorgos had to work, which is a tragedy because it was a BEAUTIFUL day.  Luciana took us to Porto Rafti, a seaside town just outside of Athens near the airport.  The water was clear, the sky was so blue, and we bought drinks from a kiosk and sat on rocks jutting out into the sea.  We left one good thing for another when Luciana drove us up a mountain to a newly constructed castle that serves the BEST desserts and overlooks an absolutely stunning view of the Aegean.  I went to the bathroom and walked back out to the porch where we were sitting and had to catch my breathe because I’d forgotten just how amazing our view was.

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It was the sort of day that you imagine life in Greece must be like all the time.  I hope by this time (year 2, week 12), you realize that that is not the case.  But holy cow, do days like these make the culture shock and language learning feel worth it.

 

Year 2 | A Week in Greece #11: BIRTHDAY PT. 2 and WORK BURDENS

On Sunday, I skipped church to meet up with Rosie and cheer on Kendra as she finished the Athens half-marathon.  Sometimes I feel the urge to want to want to be a runner, but that’s only ever as far as it goes.  I was much more excited about the second part, which was when we got lunch at Avocado, a vegan restaurant in the city center.  I was spoiled with pretentious food in Dallas, and I’ve missed it!  Yay for niche markets!

Monday was a loooong day.  After a full work day, I had two hours of Greek lessons, and then I had a Skype meeting with our supervisors/bosses in Vancouver.  I’m starting 12 Steps with them, and it is SO GOOD.  By which I mean, SO HARD, because pretty immediately he got to my core issues “You fear losing your purpose and your safety, and when people threaten those things, you react by either controlling them or more likely, by withdrawing from them.  Why are these coping strategies doing for you?  In what ways are they failing?”  I was left making faces at my webcam, desperately unhappy that I couldn’t come up with pre-packaged answers.  But I think that is exactly why it will be so good for me.

On Tuesday, I had my second birthday party!  Luciana was out of town over the weekend for Beauty and the Beast/food, so she and Giorgos threw me a littler party at their apartment.  My two gifts were champagne and lemoncello, and combined with ordered pizza and homemade tiramisu, we had QUITE the extravagant evening.  Especially when they revealed their Super Mario World setup and we played video games to celebrate my birth.  Perfect!

On Wednesday, I did some hard work things, and then crashed at our weekly K-Drama Club.  I’m so happy that this is actually a consistent thing!  I’m realizing more and more why k-dramas are so wonderful for me at this time of life in particular.  I’m pretty stressed most of the time, so watching a show in a foreign language with silly or emotionally heightened plots is just the sort of disconnect from reality that I need.

Let’s talk about that stress, yeah?  So on Friday, Anthi and I had a meeting with a woman who wants to attend our Day Program.  We talked before and were prepared to tell her no, we can’t really offer that to her now, but after she shared her story, we both were just heart puddles.  We wound up offering a week trial so we can see how seriously she will commit to the program, but here’s the thing.  THIS IS TOO MUCH RESPONSIBILITY.

Last year, when people asked if working with women who had been trafficked was difficult, the true answer was, “Not really.”  Life sucks, and I was content to sit with people in their suckiness.  But now that I’m the Program Coordinator, I’m making decisions.  I’m not just sitting with people…I’m telling people where they can sit and for how long.  Is that metaphor falling apart?  What I mean practically is, the stakes are too high!  Should I enforce punctuality rules, even if that annoys women so much that they leave the program?  How can I be the one to decide whether or not a woman can join our recovery program or not??  I’m just a baby!  Why is everyone treating me like an adult?

I’m looking forward to returning to America for training/visa renewal.  I’m starting to feel the burden of the job too much, and I think it will be very good for me to see that HD will continue just fine without me.  I’m useful and necessary, but I’m not God.

In that same vein, I was purposefully as lazy as possible today (Saturday).  It’s the only day all month that I had zero plans, and the eagerness with which I anticipated staying in my pajamas was honestly ridiculous.  But it was SO GOOD.  I finished a book, I played through an entire computer game (The Silent Age – a really creative puzzle game!), and I had a deep conversation with my roommate over food that we ordered online so that we could avoid a phone conversation.  Now I’m blogging with a cat on my lap!  Self-Care Complete.

 

Year 2| A Week in Greece #10: I TURNED 29!

I had a pretty amazing week, mostly because I gave myself a lot of downtime to socially recover.  I mean, I think I did, but when I look back on my calendar, I realize that I had a GEM work dinner on Monday, Greek lessons and K-Drama Club on Tuesday, and went to Cap Cap with Ellen, Olga, and Luciana on Wednesday.  Honestly, I think the biggest rejuvenator was Thursday, which was one of the BEST days I’ve had at HD yet.  All of our participants were present, plus two interpreters, and I used my (failed) argument with my landlord over an electricity bill to be the example for my anger management class.  We acted out the scenario according to various ways NOT to handle conflict, and we were cracking up with laughter throughout most of the lesson.  It was such a great way to see our individual anger issues with grace and humor while also seeing how counterproductive they are (“How did you feel when she interrupted you?” “Like I wasn’t ever going to help her with her bill, and maybe I was going to kick her out of her apartment too.”  “So interrupting…?” “Does NOT work.”)

But the real highlight of the week was my birthday on Saturday!

Ellen and I were going to start the day by getting manicures, but since we hadn’t thought to make an appointment, we wound up getting tea instead, discussing effective activism and the benefits and costs of labeling mental disorders.  Real light birthday fare!  My serious side was satisfied, which meant it was time to go to the movie theater to see Beauty and the Beast.

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Short story:  it was SO GOOD.  This movie created all of the feelings that Disney inspires at its best.  It made me believe that with courage and sacrifice, a world of magical adventures is possible, and that with love, the ugly and the ordinary can be transformed.

Long story:  it was SO GOOD.  I giggled througout scenes, I gasped in delight at the slight changes (“G-A-S-T…I think there’s another T…I’m just realizing I’m illiterate and have never spelled it out loud before…”), and I watched with tears in my eyes as the story I know so well was played out in front of my eyes exactly as I remembered it…only bigger and bolder and NEW.  Disney was cashing in on nostalgia, and I don’t care.  They can take all my money.

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After the lights came up, I clapped out “It. Was. So. Good.” multiple times at my friends, and yay!  I now have friends in Greece who are familiar enough with my obsessiveness that they allowed me to spend most of our mall wanderings elucidating my theory that Gaston is a perfect character for young girls to see…because he is the embodiment of toxic masculinity that initially looks charming and buffoonish but, when its pride is struck, quickly turns violently aggressive.  More light birthday fare!

We headed downtown for dinner on a rooftop garden.  Several more people joined us, and we got meat platters and salads and wine to pass around, all while sitting beneath the lighted Acropolis.  After we ate too much food, the introverts scattered, leaving me and the extroverts to head through Monastiraki to Da Vinci, my favorite ice cream shop in Athens. We ate and talked until late, at which point I headed home to enjoy the USian well-wishes on Facebook.

This was everything I love in a birthday – I forced friends from different parts of my life to hang out together, I had profound and silly conversations, I ate a lot of good things, and I felt…at home.  These friends are real friends.  I feel comfortable with them, and that oft-repeated refrain this time last year (“No one really knows me – I have to hide the silliest parts of myself!”) is now officially retired.

That said:  BEAUTY AND THE BEAST WAS SO GOOD.  Go watch it!

Year 2 | A Week in Greece #9: K-DRAMA CLUB and HD WEEKEND RETREAT

I am only JUST feeling human again after cuddling with my cat for the past couple hours.  It has been such a crazy couple weeks, especially because my (very fun) trip to Thessaloniki last weekend gave me no time to rest before another crazy week.

The hardest part about being the Program Coordinator at HD is that now all the conflict comes to me.  I’m the one making decisions for the Day Program now, which means that those who don’t like my decisions come to tell me so.  Which, like, for a healthy human, is no big deal.  But I have a little baby heart that assumes everyone is just waiting to hate me, so when three different people came to tell me “we need to talk,” I almost died.  Well, what I really did was whine and complain to a dear friend “why can’t everyone be happy with everything I do always so I can be secure in their love and admiration???”, and then I sucked it up and kept going.

It really wasn’t even a big deal.  I am privileged to work with wonderful people who preface their complaints with “I might be blowing this out of proportion because I am stressed, but…” and coworkers who defend me and seek to understand me.  But still, I’m physically repulsed by conflict, and it’s hard going.  I’m glad for it – I want to get more comfortable with conflict – but knowing it will be better in the future doesn’t fully take away the sting of fear in the present.

I’m so glad I have this job only this year, after I built up friends and a support system.  On Tuesday night I went to Rosie’s for our first K-Drama club…four people in attendance to watch a new series together!  Nerds unite!  And on Thursday, after a stressful and long day at work, Luciana made us soup and then we watched the final episode of Coffee Prince!  I love that she wound up loving the show, and I love even more that it inspired her to research the current political climate of North and South Korea.  I have the coolest friends.

On Friday, we didn’t have classes so that we could prepare for a baby shower we threw for two of our participants who are due to give birth within the next month.  It was a really sweet time, though sad in a way.  Baby showers are meant to be shared with family, and these women have only known us for two months.  But that’s kind of what we’re about at HD:  taking ugly situations and making something beautiful anyway.

I came home to a party at my house, and I sat and kind of participated for as long as I deemed socially acceptable.  But it didn’t help my introvert batteries when I woke up early on Saturday to join the other HD staff on our first weekend retreat.  I took three naps throughout the day (always a good sign that my body is craving the sweet release of…no people) and avoided group activities in favor of staying in my room to read.

By Sunday, though, I was feeling more sociable, and the sunny weather highlighting some really stunning scenery only helped.  We all went to a cave of lakes, strolled through gnarly trees and saw sheep and dogs and swans.  We ate fresh trout (it was delicious despite having a head) and drank coffee and did things together that wasn’t work.  It was a really nice time, but I was still very excited to get home to my bed and my cat.  Here’s hoping six hours of introvert time will get me through the next week!

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Year 2 | A Week in Greece #8: A LOT OF LUCIANA and THESSALONIKI

This week was EXHAUSTING.  By the end of the week I felt like I’d worked double, which is weird because the week actually started with a holiday!

Clean Monday is the Greek start of Lent.  My roommates and I got the traditional bread and halva to eat for breakfast, and then we went out to the fancy park coffee shop because our stolen wifi isn’t working.  It was a lovely lazy day, and the end of my peace.

The reason work was so crazy was because of a really good thing:  we’re all finally officially moved into the new offices.  This means there are people around all the time, which is SO GREAT, but it also means there are people around to give you more tasks to complete.  We had a staff meeting on Wednesday that went on forever – tensions were high and there were five million things to address because we’ve been in separate places for so long.  Plus I’m feeling stressed because it’s only one month until I have to leave Athens (no visa progress) and I’m trying to prepare the Day Program for every eventuality.

I got through the week by hanging out with Luciana literally every day.  On Tuesday, we took a long late lunch, then got sweets at a bakery.  While sitting outside, a man next to us said, “Is that an American accent?  Do you mind if I ask how you feel about your recent election?”  He was a (married) Welsh guy who’d lived in the States for a bit, and we three had a half hour long conversation about politics.  Flash forward to my weekend with a Greek and an Englishwoman where we also talked about politics.  I really like living in Europe.  The US is so geographically isolated that it’s easy to selfishly think only of ourselves.  But living here in a jumble of neighboring countries, people are so politically aware of not only their own country’s positions, but of others’.  I like it a lot.

Back to Luciana.  On Wednesday we stayed super late at work, then finally went back to my place where I cut her hair and we watched another episode of Coffee Prince (NOPE, I’m still not done talking about this Korean drama).

On Thursday, we had our Graduation Ceremony at HD.  I’m in charge of them now, so I was Happy and Excited and Welcoming of All Our Guests!  I was absolutely exhausted by the end of it, and I didn’t want to go home because one of my roommates was hosting a Bible study and I didn’t want to say hello to any more strangers.  Luciana invited me to her place, and Giorgos immediately said, “What’s wrong with you?” when he saw me.  “I’m introverted out,” I said, and he nodded in understanding and fed me an omelette.  “I know you will understand this as a compliment,” I told them both, “but I feel alone with you guys.  Thank you!”  Luciana then suggested we start watching another episode of Coffee Prince, half to see some emotion in my eyes, and half because she was starting to fall in love with it.

On Friday, we had a big HD board meeting that went on forever, and afterwards Giorgos had to stay in the office working on techie stuff, so Luciana and I watched another two episodes of Coffee Prince until 11:30 p.m.  I am so happy that she is as big a nerd as I am.

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On Saturday morning, Anthi and Rosie and I fled to Thessaloniki!  We spent the whole weekend walking in the sunshine by the sea and eating bougatsa and souvlaki.  We all were similarly interested in being lazy, so we only went to one (very nice) museum in the White Tower.  Otherwise we just wandered and ate!

Rosie imposed a really great rule that if we talked about work-related topics for more than five minutes, she would cut us off and ask us a random question.  These ranged from “If you could introduce any animal into Athens, what would it be?” (Answers:  panda bears, koalas, and lemurs) to “If you had to kill off 90% of the world’s population, how would you choose who to kill?” (Rosie:  You’re really into the dark questions, Tricia.)

I had a wonderful time with them both, and almost as soon as we got there, we were planning our next trip.  But not seriously, because I’m leaving soon, and I don’t know when I’ll get to come back!  *weeping*

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