Year 2 | A Week in the United States #17: SEATTLE, PEORIA, and DALLAS

I’ve been all over the country this week!  Last Friday, my brother met me in Vancouver, and we had dinner with my Greek coworkers and Canadian trainers. Then we drove across the border, and I spent the weekend in Seattle with him and his partner. We did some touristy things on Saturday, like touring fancy houseboats, drinking bubble tea (my one request), and going to Vidiot, a bar with free video games. On Sunday we had a lazier day, culminating in Thai takeout and streaming Logan. I left Monday, but the short weekend didn’t feel too short because they will be in Peoria in a couple weeks. 

I spent two days in Peoria, one mostly at the library and the second ending  with a talk about HD at my church. 

On Thursday, I drove to Dallas! It’s a 12 hour drive plus stops, and I had been looking forward to this trip since I arrived in the US a month ago. I love long car trips, especially alone. It takes about four hours before my brain is willing to slow down and shut up, and then I got some serious mental vegging in. Lovely. 

I’m staying with the family I nannied for while getting my Master’s, and I’m reminded just how lucky I am to have employers who turned into family. We stayed up the first night talking about their vacation to New Zealand and then Hamilton, proving that even while apart our interests are the same. 

When I woke up on Friday, everyone was gone for work/school, but they had left breakfast and a key for me. I went out for lunch with my old counseling coworkers, then sold some books at Half Price, and got back to the house when the kids got off school. Sanjay, Anju, and Ketan and I got dinner together before meeting Chrisette at the movie theater to see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.

Today, I’m being lazy. We all went out for lunch together, and then the kids and I played LEGO Star Wars. Tonight I’ll go out for dinner with my favorite professor and his wife. 

It’s all so great! Too great! I’m loving being back in the States, and it’s so comforting to know I have such a huge support system all around the country. It’s also so much fun to hang out with Anju and Ketan again, and to know that even when years pass between our hanging out, we can fall back into old rhythms immediately. And driving! It’s so intoxicating to have the freedom to go where I want, when I want, whether that means to a store or another state. And driving down Dallas roads does things to my heart. 

I do love this city – I’ve got a lot of good memories here!

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 THE UNITED STATES #14: Resting with Friends and Books

Last Sunday I flew back to the United States because my 90-day visa is up, and tomorrow, I fly to Vancouver for two weeks of work training.  That left me with six days of laziness, which were more needed than I realized.  It is so nice to take a brain break from work stress and living-in-another-country-stress.

I wonder if I’ll ever feel as comfortable in Greece as I do in the United States.  Everything is so much easier here – not just because the US values customer service, but because I know exactly where to go to get something I need, and I can read everything, and I know that if someone stops me with a problem, I can communicate well enough to fix it.  Honestly, I don’t think I’ll ever be as comfortable in Greece as I am here, but I hope the reading and communication aspects will steadily get better.

It’s also nice to have an easy social circle.  I’ve had lunches and dinners and ice creams with friends and family.  I’ve run into people unexpectedly while doing other things.  Peoria is just a tiny bit smaller than Athens, so that is a thing that can happen here.

My first stop while home was to the library – both because they are former coworkers that I always enjoy seeing, and because of FREE BOOKS.  I took home an armful and read four of them in five days.  I was hoping for a solid one-a-day, but I also powered through the first season of Legends of Tomorrow, so the failure is acceptable.  I also watched Beauty and the Beast twice more in theaters.  It is such a joy to go to a theater that isn’t an hour away from my home.

Tomorrow is Easter, which means church and then lunch with my family.  In the late afternoon, I head back to the airport to go to Vancouver.  I expect that training will be pretty exhausting, but I’m hoping to counterbalance that with some Asian food and at least one hike in a forest.

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!

What to Do with Privilege?

A sweet coworker gave me a Temporary Goodbye Card today, and its cover read, “I will bless you, and you will be a blessing,” which is taken from Genesis 12:2.  It resonated with me because it touched on something I often feel – guilt about my privilege.

There’s the fundamental guilt I feel about working at a recovery program for women who have been sexually exploited and trafficked.  They’ve been through hell on earth, and that is something I have never experienced.  I can easily lose myself in a spiraling trail of “why not me”s, so I usually avoid the mental topic altogether.

There’s also the daily guilt I feel when I go on weekend trips or go out to a fancy coffee shop.  I have a hard time with self-care, no matter how obvious it is to me that other people should prioritize it.  Why do I deserve to go to Bucharest for the weekend?  Why should I have any extra spending money at all?

It’s very easy for me to believe in the truth of the martyr’s complex.  The only way I can serve God is through suffering, or so I thought for many years.  But this verse in Genesis touches on something more nuanced:  Sometimes God blesses us so that we have the strength, energy, and ability to bless others.

I’m a big baby, unfortunately, and the smallest life misstep can make me fall off the mental ledge, doubting every decision I’ve ever made.  In a lot of ways, I feel like God leads me gently, offering me just enough of the things I find lovely and restorative so that I won’t go crazy.

It’s worth mentioning that the person God is talking to in that verse is Abram.  Sure, Abram was blessed immeasurably, but this is also the guy who was told to leave his hometown forever, who lived without children for most of his life and endured the social scorn of that, who  was tested and failed regularly.  His life was definitely not perfect.

Mine isn’t either.  I love traveling, but giving up the dream of living in my hometown and doing the normal marriage and babies thing with my friends is pretty gut-wrenching.  I don’t know if I’ll even get to the do the abnormal marriage and babies thing, and having a home that could change drastically visa to visa is not my idea of security.

But despite that, I have no doubt that I’m blessed.  I’m privileged.  I’m a white, middle-class, able-bodied, educated woman with many people who love me, and many more who give me their hard-earned money so that I can live in Greece and work with women who have endured the worst life has thrown at them.  I’m so grateful that God has blessed me, because if he hadn’t?  I wouldn’t be here.  And because he has blessed me, I can be a blessing to the women I work with and serve.

So with that in mind, I’m going to start looking eagerly for more blessings.  I want to be full, so that I can fill others.

 

Are You a Cat or a Dog?

A roommate conversation at the dinner table:

Me:  I just read an article about how there are five cat personalities, and Hans Harrison is definitely a “human cat” because he loves snuggles and invading personal space.

Roommate #1:  A guy was telling me today about how men are dogs and women are cats.

Me:  Okay, but there are five cat personalities, so, gender binaries are restrictive.

Roommate #1:  He said that men fall in love very quickly, and women are more hesitant.  They evaluate a guy before liking him.

Me:  No, that guy is totally wrong!  It’s not a man/woman thing, it’s just a personality thing.  Think of all the girls who see a guy and fall head over heels in love with him.

Roommate #2:  I evaluate.  It takes me a long time to decide if I like a guy or not.  Don’t you?

Me:  No!  It doesn’t happen very often, but when I do fall in love with a guy, I go from meeting him to realizing we are soulmates within 24 hours.

Roommate #2:  Okay, but don’t you like it when men pursue you and convince you to give them a chance?

Me:  NO.  That is a huge turnoff.

Roommate #1:  Huh.

Me:  Oh no.  Am I the DOG in the house with three cats??  That is so unfair!

Roommate #2:  HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

Me:  Or maybe it just means that I am attracted to cats!

Roommate #1:  HAHAHAHAHA.

Me:  No, not like, cats, but like you, but not like you

Roommate #2:  We are learning a lot about each other.

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.