(Say “smattering” and “tidbit” out loud. …Are you doing it? I’m serious. …There! Wasn’t that fun? …Are you saying it a second time? Couldn’t resist, could you? Thought so. Good.)
On Americans in Thessaloniki:
There are tons! On top of the five of us who are here at the American Farm School, there are 6 interns at Anatolia College, as well as one other Fulbrighter at Aristotle University. Though I want to make Greek friends my own age too, it is certainly nice to have other Americans to decompress with.
On big hair:
I’ve got it. It’s even more of a beast here than it was when I was living in Oregon!
I was on my way home from Athens and had only made it to the metro stop from my hotel. I had my little rolling suitcase with me and I went to use a ticket machine to buy the special 6-euro ticket to the airport. Well, when I selected the airport ticket, it had a little diagram at the bottom that showed big red x’s through the pictures of bills, but not through the pictures of coins. I took this to mean that the machine was currently only taking coins. However, I didn’t have any 2-euro or even 1-euro coins. I only had 10- and 20-cent pieces. But I had a lot of them, so I thought it would be okay.
So there I am, loading all my 10- and 20-cent pieces into the machine, when I realize a line has begun to form behind me. The person immediately behind me is a portly, curmudgeonly gentleman who is tapping his foot. I started to hurry. I had probably put around 30 or 40 coins into the machine when an error message popped up, saying that the machine had reached its capacity for coins and that I should push cancel and restart.
Right as I hit the “cancel” button, I realized that, of course, all of my 40-some coins were about to come crashing down into the little dish. And sure enough, they did. The noise was so loud that everyone at all of the machines stopped to look, and the multitude of coins was such that a few actually spilled onto the floor. As if this wasn’t bad enough, I now had to sheepishly scoop all the coins into my little change purse, roll my suitcase behind me and go to the man at the ticket window, who had, of course, seen the whole catastrophe unfold. (However, I was laughing by the time I got there, and he took this as a sign that it was okay if he chuckled a little bit too.)
Mine is coming in just 10 days!!!
Having taken a taxi into the city on my first trip to the Thessaloniki Fulbright office, I found the right street and the right number, but when I went in there were no offices; I found only three tiny doors on the left side of the room, a set of stairs, and a very bored-looking older gentleman sitting behind a desk. I gingerly stepped up in front of him, discreetly cleared my throat after it became clear that he was not inclined to look up from his Sudoku, and said, “Er… Fulbright?” He scowled, pointed to one of the doors, and said, “Three.” I looked at the door. I looked at the guy. I had no idea what he was talking about. Finally it occurred to me that there might possibly be an elevator behind the door. Sure enough, I opened the door and a tiny elevator carriage was behind it. I got in, closed the door, and pushed “3.” The elevator began creaking its way upward. I waited. Eventually, the “3” button went out, and the elevator kept going upward. It stopped at level 5, where a pleasant-looking old man opened the door. He seemed surprised to see me, but got in and pushed “0.” I pushed “3” again. And again, the “3” went out and the elevator went all the way to the ground floor. The nice old man opened the door and went out, while I stood there blankly until the desk attendant looked up and saw me still in the elevator. “BAH!” he exclaimed. “Three, three, THREE!” I tried to gesture that I had no idea what was going on. He made another exasperated noise and actually got in the elevator with me. He waited until the exact moment we had reached the third floor, and then quickly opened the door—the elevator stopped just long enough for me to step out, make sure my skirt wasn’t in the door and yell a quick “Efharisto!” (“Thank you!”) to the man as he shut the door again. (I’ve taken the stairs every time I’ve been to the office since.)
I’m very thankful for mine. My friends back home have sent a flood of e-mails, blog comments and other correspondence, and my friends here aren’t just friends; they’re lifelines. Living abroad is one giant roller coaster, and friends help you learn to ride it gracefully. I’m learning a lot from my friends here, and enjoying the ridiculousness that comes in between! Thanks to everyone for your support and guidance; you mean the world to me and I’m very grateful for each and every one of you.
I love it here. I really do. I’ve only been here a month and seen only its two biggest cities and one island, but I love the culture, the people, the food and the history I’ve encountered so much that I already feel a deep connection to this place and its inhabitants. I’m really looking forward to adding more and more depth to that connection over the next eight months.
On hot water:
Today, I took the first hot shower I’ve had in a week and a half. I don’t mind cold showers so much, but with the rainy weather we’ve had it’s not exactly ideal. We’re supposed to get hot water in our dorm within a few days; today I actually went to another dorm to shower! Showering in hot water is absolutely something we take for granted in the States. I couldn’t believe how good mine felt today; taking cold showers for a week and a half puts things into perspective pretty quickly.
On Istanbul was Constantinople:
Dear They Might Be Giants: It’s definitely Constantinople here. I accidentally called it Istanbul in front of the president of AFS, which is a big faux-pas. It’s not as bad as Macedonia vs. FYROM (detailed below), but it’s definitely one of those things one should learn when visiting here; it shows Greek people (who know that we call it Istanbul in America) that we respect their traditions.
On my job:
Teaching is going splendidly. I’m halfway through my first week of teaching the full load I will be for the rest of the year, and I’m really loving it!! I had steeled myself for a very rough year after that first session, but am now realizing that that morning was incredibly difficult as compared with what I’ll be doing in the classroom for the rest of the year. (Though, of course, there will be bad days and really tough challenges along the way! Wouldn’t be worthwhile without them.) First of all, I’m very rarely going to be left with a big group of students on my own anymore; and second, the students I’m working with in the classroom from here on out are relatively advanced in English (I interact with all students in the dining hall and extracurricular activities, but I’ve been assigned to the advanced classes so that I can teach whole lessons and they’ll at least have a clue what I’m talking about!). Here’s what I’ll be doing. At the American Farm School, I’ve got 10 hours of classes to go to. I go in and assist (sometimes this entails going around and helping students with their work, sometimes it’s being the final judge of whether or not a sentence or phrase sounds right, sometimes it’s challenging That Kid Who Really Doesn’t Want to Do the Word Search to a word search-off to see who can finish first… he’s not That Kid anymore!) on a daily basis, and every now and then, will be given a topic on which to prepare a full lesson to teach. At the Hellenic College, by contrast, I will be mostly holding “extra hours,” or slots of time between their lessons where students can come in and practice for their very important standardized English proficiency exams. I’m mostly working on the speaking portion with them. Today, I ran two practice tests with two very sweet sets of girls and it went extremely well. The test essentially involves assessing a set of options, presenting the advantages and disadvantages of each, coming to a consensus and defending your choice. The girls did very well (I was very impressed), but we worked on arguing around the weaknesses of the option you chose. All in all, I think this will be a very nice balance; lots of time in the classroom and lots of time one-on-one or in small groups. I’m quite pleased with the way things are working out, and I look forward to going into classes every day!
My research is in full swing and I’m currently tackling The Greek Passion. This is the first of the books I’ll be reading this year in chronological order; after this, it’s Freedom or Death, The Saviors of God, The Last Temptation of Christ, At the Palaces of Knossos, a reference work about Crete by Barry Unsworth and Kazantzakis’s famous Report to Greco. As for The Greek Passion, I’m really enjoying it! This is sort of surprising to me, because so much of it is biblical and, though I find the stories fascinating, I know next to nothing about the Bible. In this story, a small village is putting on a production of the Passion, and takes it so seriously that they cast the roles a year in advance. Over the course of the year, the actors’ lives begin to resemble those of the biblical figures they’re portraying (you can imagine that, whether the actor was religious or not, the pressure of playing Christ would be pretty intense!). It’s really interesting and, thus far, I’m finding it fits with my research! This is always good!
The following is a list of items that have become luxuries to me since arriving:
- Of course, as explained above, hot water
- Fruit other than apples (the school cafeteria always has apples but rarely anything else)
- Riding in cars instead of buses
- Sidewalks (Thessaloniki is very urban, but the area around the Farm School is not–when walking it’s mostly on the side of the road)
- Automatic laundry machines (I have access only to washers at the moment, and they’re washers that take over 2 hours per load)
- Full nights of sleep, as in the ones when I don’t have to break up Bulgarian guitar sing-alongs at 4 in the morning.
On Mt. Olympus:
We might be going this weekend!! It all depends on the weather; it’s been so rainy & cold & gross out that it may not happen. But if it’s even relatively nice out, the interns and I (plus one of the residence life staff members, who very kindly offered to take us) will be hiking up on Saturday, staying on the summit overnight, and hiking back down on Sunday. I really, really hope the weather holds up!
On not having electricity in the morning:
This has happened a few times because the electricity for my dorm is currently from a generator, and I’m surprised by how much of a problem it is. Being a very adaptable, driven person, I hadn’t anticipated how difficult it would be to wake up without artificial light. When it’s dark in the morning and you don’t have the ability to turn on a light, it’s really hard to wake up enough to get out of bed. And once you’re awake enough to get that far, you’ve got the added challenges of getting dressed and washed in the dark (the cold shower in the dark was a new low). I also can’t make my coffee without electricity, which only adds to the problem!
On official names of countries:
They’re relative. The biggie here is Macedonia vs. FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia). From what I understand, the country we call Macedonia is called FYROM (pronounced fee-rom) by Greeks because the region of Greece I live in has been called Macedonia for a very, very long time. People from this region of Greece say they are from Macedonia. So when their neighbors to the north were renamed Macedonia, Greeks saw it as an insult. It would be horribly offensive if I were to call this country Macedonia in front of a Greek. Conversely, I shouldn’t call it FYROM to any of the students from there who live in my dorm. It’s something I haven’t messed up yet, but I have this horrible feeling I’m going to blow it at some point.
“Pame!” means “Let’s go!” It was one of the first new words I learned when I arrived; the kids say it all the time, and the teachers say it to the kids, and you even hear it during instrumental sections of songs. It’s a really fun word to say (pronounced pah-may) and is my new favorite foreign catchphrase!
On questions the kids have asked me:
My favorites thus far have been, “Are you from California?”, “Is your hair natural?” (I’ve gotten that a lot), “Do you watch the NBA? Do you like Kobe??”, and “How far is it to New York from Montana?” (it takes about 5-6 hours to drive to Athens from here, which spans most of the country).
It’s delicious. I didn’t expect I’d like it, but I honestly can’t taste too much difference between it and regular wine. If you’re unfamiliar, retsina is the famous Greek wine made with resin. I’ve heard that it was developed because, back in the days when cities in Greece were getting sacked, the raiding party would throw resin in the city’s wine supply to ruin it—but Greeks eventually grew to actually like the taste!
1) OHHHHHHHHMIGAWD. I could seriously eat spanekopita til I puke. I had made it in the States before, but I had no idea of the joys of real spanekopita. I feel like a Greek version of Popeye because I eat it so much!! 2) I ordered it in Greek at a bakery the other day! Now, I had “ordered” in Greek before by saying, “Parakalo [please]… spanekopita?” and holding up two fingers to indicate that I wanted two pieces. But this time I told my favorite worker at the bakery near the school that I wanted to try ordering in Greek, and managed to get out “Παρακαλώ, θελώ να δίο σπανεκοπίτα κε μία τιροπιτα.” (“Parakalo, thelo na thio spanekopita ke mia tiropita,” or “Please, I would like two spinach pies and one cheese pie.”) I asked how I did and he said it was perfect! This is a big deal because I even managed to get the correct version of “one” for the gender of the following word. Hurray!
I feel like I’ve experienced a fairly wide range of specimens on the spectrum of international toilets; from trying to figure out what on earth a bidet was for on my first trip to Europe as a teenager to being shown to a hole in the ground in Morocco, I’m fairly accustomed to toilets that differ from the standard American model. Most toilets in Greece that I’ve seen (though keep in mind I’ve only been in larger cities thus far) are pretty similar to ours, with two big exceptions: 1) The flusher. It could be anywhere, the little bugger. It could be a chain you have to yank with all your might, or a tiny button on the pipe leading from the toilet to the ceiling, or a lever you actually have to pull upward… it’s kind of like a game! Find the Flusher! Ooh ooh pick me pick me! 2) You cannot flush toilet paper down the toilet here. Their pipes are much smaller than ours and you could cause a major plumbing incident if you do. They ask that you throw it away when you’re done, into small trash cans next to every toilet.
On the United Nations:
I’d better learn more about it, because I’m helping with Model United Nations at both AFS and the Hellenic College! There’s no Speech & Debate at either school, so I’ve been asked to help with MUN instead. This is fine, but it does mean I need to brush up on my politics and current events…
On Vince Vaughn:
“Dodgeball” never gets old. I’m so glad I brought American movies with me. I didn’t bring any to Marseille, and I’m happy I went without for my first living-abroad experience, but I’m definitely happy to have them here! The sense of humor in any given place is always different, and sometimes jokes on TV or even in person here just don’t seem that funny. It’s really nice to be able to curl up and watch something that’s funny in a familiar way every now and then!
On white t-shirts:
They’re boring! So we taught the kids how to tie-dye. A good time was had by all. I had a tough time uploading the pictures here, but you can find them on my facebook page!
Guilty as charged, and I hope it never ends.
Are you reading this at work right now? (It’s ok, I won’t tell.) If so, you probably haven’t gotten up & stretched in a while. Take this opportunity to do so! It’s amazing what even just a few minutes of stretching can do, let alone a whole yoga sesh. In the recent yucky rain, I haven’t much felt like running… but there aren’t yoga classes readily accessible in my current situation. So I found yoga podcasts online that are somewhat like a real class… but I really can’t stand the dippy, woo-woo voices of some of the “teachers” on the podcasts. But never fear! There’s a solution! I like doing yoga to music, so here’s what I did; and if you aren’t familiar enough with yoga to just do it on your own without a guide, and have GarageBand or something similar, I highly recommend it! I listened to the podcast and wrote down the order of the poses and roughly how long each pose should be held for. Then, I found songs that would remind me of each position (as in “Morning Crescent” by Belle & Sebastian for crescent lunge, “Down Down Down” by Tom Waits for down dog, “Beautiful Child” by Rufus Wainwright for child’s pose, etc) and mixed a track that goes back and forth between each song according to the order of the poses. It’s great because you can pick your own music, not have to stop & look at a sheet or anything to know what pose comes next, and have it timed so you know you’re holding each pose for the amount of time you want to hold it for. I know this is complicated, but it’s the sort of thing I go to the trouble of doing, and was well worth it! I’ll use it again and again.
I’ve met someone whose father is from the same village as the real Zorba!! I can’t believe my luck. He’s offered to take me sometime this year! More details to follow.