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 #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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Year 2 | A Week in Greece #7: COFFEE PRINCE, WEEKLY GOALS, and A LOT OF FOOD

Well, the gig is up.  I couldn’t last more than two seconds in Monday’s temperature check (the first half hour of HD’s Day Program during which time we share what we’ve been doing and feeling) before I blurted out, “I’ve been watching a k-drama nonstop and it’s SOOOO GOOOD” while flinging my face into my hands.  “What’s a k-drama?” everyone asked.  “A TV show made in Korea.”  Everyone stared at me, so I repeated the part about it being SOOOO GOOOD.  “You’re quite strange,” one of them said.  “Ugh, I know,” I replied.

Honestly, Coffee Prince DID eat up a big part of my week, and I would hurry home from work to watch as many new episodes as possible while texting Rosie dramatic reactions to the show’s events.  My roommates would delicately put their heads into my bedroom.  “Are you still watching your favorite show?”  I would look up from my nest of blankets with rabid eyes and hiss, “Yesssss.”  They usually fled before I could update them on the plot development.

One bright spot was Luciana, who was so enthralled by my never-ending passion that she agreed to watch the first episode with me.  “I don’t really like it yet, but it must be good because you won’t shut up about it.”  In return, she insisted I start watching Arrow, but I don’t think it’s quite fair for her to hold me to five seasons when I’m only asking her to watch seventeen episodes.

Guys, it’s so good.  I’m done now, and I tried watching some other shows, but I stopped them all after a couple minutes because nothing in the world was appealing anymore.  Luckily, Rosie found two other people who like k-dramas, and we are going to try to start a weekly k-drama watching club!  (At church today, I ran up to her and said, “Rosiiiie” and gripped her arm as I jumped up and down in excess of emotion.  She laughed in what I think was delight and not fear.)

Four paragraphs later…

Work was pretty normal this week.  We’re settling into a routine, which means our four participants (not on maternity leave) are showing up sometimes on time, and as the Program Coordinator, it is now my job to enforce tardy rules, and I haaaate it.  But on the other hand, I got to start doing Weekly Goal Setting with each participant individually on Friday, and that is the part of the job that was so enticing that I agreed to take the whole thing.

Most of the women know their goals:  stay in Greece, get a good job, support family members in their home country.  With them, all I have to do is help them break those goals into smaller, weekly attainable goals, like learning Greek, figuring out what paperwork is necessary, pursuing new job skills.  One participant is SUPER averse to the very idea of setting goals, because anything in the future terrifies her.  That was my favorite session, because it required dusting off my jujitsu counseling moves.  (Her:  I don’t need to plan.  I trust God every day.  Me:  That’s so great!  I really look forward to seeing you grow to the point where you can trust God not just with your day, but also the coming week, and the coming month, and the coming year!)  It’s fun to help them take control of their lives, to risk wanting something, and the stand beside them as they work toward it.

Pretty much as soon as work ended on Friday, a weekend of FOOD began.  Four of us coworkers went to Cap Cap on Friday afternoon, a coffee shop that has bimonthly themes.  Because of the forthcoming movie, they are now Beauty and the Beast, which meant I drank a Ballroom and ate a Bookworm.  It was nice to hang out with my coworkers outside of work, and that only continued on Saturday.

There was a team of USian men who painted the outside of HD this week (the house, not the office where I was), so Dina and Argyris invited all of us plus them to a fancy restaurant in Rafina.  Whenever US teams come to Greece, I either find myself super proud to be an American or super ashamed.  This group started out embarrassing when their pastor stood up to pray over our food for at least five minutes, and everyone else in the restaurant stopped talking and also the staff turned off the music.  But then they were the best kind of Americans, loud and happy and generous and sharing funny stories.  It immediately felt like we were all old friends.  Because they were from Memphis, I had a lot to talk about, and when they left, Dina assured me that next time they would invite a team of single men.

That segues right into…on Saturday, my new roommate’s mom came to visit.  There was a conference in Athens, and she came to our house afterwards.  While Ellen unpacked her new goodies, her mom and I got into a super serious conversation about singleness.  She said a speaker at the conference had talked about how painful it was to go to dinner parties and see husbands and wives paired across from each other, leaving her with the “extra” seat at the end.  Ellen’s mom said it made her pause, and she was now determined to make sure she mixed up the seating at every party she every throws.  It was all I could do to keep myself from throwing myself at her and hugging her in grateful joy.

On Sunday, I met up with Kendra for coffee to hear about her weeklong adventure in Italy with her fiancée.  We accidentally talked for too long, so we were late to church.  Afterwards I met Haley, Dina, Argyris, and Mark for an extremely fancy work lunch (Haley works with SP).  After far too much food, we took her to see the new offices that SP had financed.  I got home around 5:00 and took a late nap.

It’s nice to be so social.  When I think back to this time last year, I was in the midst of my language-learning mental breakdown.  I was developing social anxiety at the Bible school, hiding in my bed so I could pretend to be asleep if someone were to stop by and invite me to the cafeteria for lunch.  HD was still being renovated, and I was wondering what the hell I was doing living in Greece.  This year?  This year is so much better.

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.