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.

ABRUPT SHIFT

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 #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.

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).

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.

Year 2 | A Week in Greece #3: BACK TO GREEK and a VISITING TEAM

Greek Lessons Part 2

fullsizerenderI re-started my Greek lessons this week!  It turns out that taking five weeks off from all things Greek (by returning to the United States) was very necessary for my brain.  And amazingly, I don’t think I lost any of my vocabulary or grammar!  I’m really grateful for Evangelia – she’s giving me lessons for free twice a week as her way of supporting HD.  And this year, HD paid for my textbook, so I have my own to write in (previously we were all sharing a book and had to write answers in a notebook, which just…didn’t work in my brain very well?).

All this is really great, because I’m using my Greek more to talk with the Greek-speaking participants at HD.  I stayed late with two of them on Friday, and the three of us managed to communicate for over an hour.  Not in anything resembling an intelligent conversation, but we got along and laughed and knew well enough what the other was trying to say.  I know I will eventually reach another plateau of “UGH GREEK,” but I plan to enjoy this period as long as possible.

Visiting Team

img_5276We had a team from the States come to HD for the week to teach us how to knit.  I spent the first day doing it wrong and hating it, and then the second day realizing my mistake and thinking “THIS IS SO EASY (compared to what I was doing).”  I love our Celebration Weeks when we get to hang out with the participants on equal footing – M and D latched onto knitting quickly and left me in the dust, which I think is a valuable thing for them to experience (and me, too).

I was thinking a lot about the nature of the teams that come to us, though.  Our participants are becoming more diverse – three different countries, three different languages, two different races, two different age levels – but our staff and volunteers are pretty universally white, educated, middle- or upper-class women.  I wonder how helpful it is for our women to see privilege, privilege, privilege all the time.

But then…how else is someone going to come volunteer with us if they aren’t privileged?  Not everyone can take a week off of work and afford to fly to Greece.  I don’t think there is an easy answer here, but it’s something I want to keep thinking about.

Friends

I didn’t do a lot socially this week – I worked late a couple nights, and I was especially drained from being Happy and Hospitable for our team.  Rosie came over one night, and we discovered a mutual interest in anime and Korean dramas.  She said she wanted to read something fluffy, and I hesitantly offered, “Have you tried…fanfiction?” and she said, “Oh, yes, of course,” and I leaped for joy.  Nerdy kindred spirits.

Speaking of nerdy kindred spirits, I went over to Luciana and Giorgos’s another evening to play Zelda: Twilight Princess.  We passed the controller between us, all taking turns and pointing out suggestions to each other, and it was so fun!

This will come into play more next week, but…I’m going to Romania!  Luciana and I were trying to go to Bredvoort (Netherlands) but tickets were too expensive.  I half-heartedly checked Ryanair for cheap tickets to anywhere and noticed €20 tickets (each way) to Bucharest.  “Do you want to go?” I asked Luciana and Olga.  They immediately wrote back yes, and I bought our tickets.  Within 30 minutes, I’d made weekend plans to visit Romania with two friends!  This is exactly the sort of European lifestyle I want.