That was the experience.
So let’s ground what exactly it is I have been doing here in Greece.
For the last two weeks I have been situated in Crete, Greece’s largest island. My purpose in being here has to do with my involvement with an organization called Learning Enterprises, and here’s the quick and dirty on them:
They are an international non profit that began in 1992 with a mission that revolved around a commitment to volunteerism and cultural acclimation. Adam Tolnay founded the organization following a stay in Hungary during his Sophomore year at Harvard; he noticed while on his trip a demand for English instruction. As he returned home to the US, he found himself inspired to begin an exchange program of sorts. In the following summer of 92′, he and five of his fellow friends spent six weeks in five Hungarian villages teaching English. As result of this first success, the program expanded in order to include more villages in the western part of Romania and more volunteers. Ten years later, LE had grown to include more than forty volunteers and half a dozen countries including Kyrgyzstan, China, and Mexico.
Fast forward to today, and close to 200 volunteer are traveling to a dozen different countries pulling from university’s across the US (and even other parts of the world). And while in the last twenty five years LE has grown exponentially, they have also maintained their core values in their entirety.
There are no program fees or hidden agendas: they run in the name of volunteerism. The countries we visit aren’t necessarily undeveloped or in need, but they’re beautiful nations with some ignored rural areas that boast of art and history, culture… and a need for English. We house with host families and our villages grow to know our organization and invite us back in the years to come cultivating a mutual, symbiotic relationship.
And for the first time in twenty five years, Learning Enterprises has taken on Greece. Thus why I am here.
This year is LE’s pilot run in Greece. What that essentially means is that this is a trial run in order to gauge interest and success. Rather than traveling for several weeks and with several volunteers, only four of us are here for four weeks. We came in knowing little about our surroundings and have spent the better part of the last few weeks figuring things out, but here’s the deal: we began with a three day orientation in Nippos, which is where our program director is permanently situated for the duration of our trip (she actually attends the same University as me which is v cool!) Following orientation, we were all sent to our different host families located in different villages. I found myself in Kalyves which is a beautiful seaside town. I teach two classes a day, M-F : one at 11AM (with about 13 students) and one in the evening (with about 6 or 7 students). In between classes I am free to wander Kalyves, come home, or travel as I please. On the weekends all of us program girls meet in Nippos and either take day trips or wander the local villages.
And that’s about as quick an explanation as I can make. I will make a separate post on my specific teaching experience/ host family situation/ general program thoughts soon.
LE maintains that our experiences are largely in our own hands and so our days all vary.. but with all of that being said, it has been an incredible experience thus far.
Photo Credit: Corbis
So here’s the thing:
- I got dumped.
- In Greece.
- Over a five minute phone call.
- About a week before my twenty first birthday.
While on my period.
And yeah, on paper it sounds pretty bad. In fact, every time I retell the story it sounds a little worse. And I’m angry, and I’m upset, and I’m a tumultuous concoction of emotions because on top of it all, I now have a trip to Italy that we had planned together, to reconfigure alone (after I had initially planned it alone once before)… but despite all of that, I’m also really happy. And here’s why.
Resilience is a virtue I discovered on this trip. And it begins with a blog post I read about a beach in California.
Located in Fort Bragg is a an area dubbed “glass beach,” and it is the definition of mother nature’s resiliency against human destruction. So here’s the story: in 1906 an earthquake in San Francisco caused most of downtown Fort Bragg’s buildings to crumble and dismantle. As devastation spread and debris piled up, rather than burning the remains like they once had, they decided to cast their town’s excess debris into the ocean.
They believed it would wash away; but this was not the case.
Instead, the debris remained in the cove and eventually what this town’s citizens had created was an ocean dump. A hundred or so years later however, tidal waves and the fruition of weathering, aging, sand and saltwater lead to the creation of sea glass through a process known as “hydration.” Now, I won’t get into the specifics… but years of humans dumping garbage into the coastline near the northern part of Fort Bragg ultimately resulted in an abundance of sea glass.
Discarded, unwanted, forgotten garbage… had transformed into a beautiful thing of wonder. Think about that.
Here’s how I’m choosing to form sea glass out of my garbage.
I was, in a way, tossed aside like a piece of garbage. But having been tossed, I am now free to experience this journey all on my own as I see fit.
I have spent almost every day since the age of sixteen in a relationship with one individual or another believing that it brought me happiness. And those relationships did. But arguably, they also brought me sadness. The idea of being alone made me scared, and so I continued to seek companionship. Here’s the thing though, I no longer feel the same way. I have conquered this journey here to Greece all on my own, and in the process I’ve heard from so many individuals that I carry strength, beauty, and worthiness within me.
The last man I was with saw me as garbage (in this given analogy at least.. I don’t really believe he saw me that way), but every other individual I’ve surrounded myself with recently, has seen me as sea glass. And in the end, I think that’s what matters.
Here’s to all you other pieces of sea glass out there. Shine bright, and realize your worth. And if you ever question it, contact me. I’ll be sure to correct your perspective in a heartbeat.
*Sea Glass Beach still exists, however much of the sea glass has been taken by visitors. The beach itself/ park are also beautiful by the looks of it, however.
Well, in a thrilling turn of events my life has once more shifted course. I’ve debated what my next move should be over the last few hours, but ultimately come to decide that doing nothing is my final one.
The last post I made was for a person that I thought I cared deeply for. As it turns out, said person was by no means on the same page as me, and had no problem ending our relationship over a short lived trans-continental phone call where, mind you, they did not even have the courtesy to officially say they were ending our relationship, or really give a concrete explanation for as to why and why now. But let us leave that in that in the past.
I am fairly certain he won’t bother reading this, and I am also committed to maintaining an air of honesty and reality on this blog… so here’s to the fairly public demise of my relationship. (This is in truth why I am refraining from deleting my last post, although I am curious as to whether he read that one before ending it.)
Post break up phone call, I felt my head spinning as I ran through my options for what move to make next. On one hand, the sun was setting and it was optimal time to go for a swim. On the other, I was in close proximity to several tavernas and bars, optimal for consuming a regrettable amount of tequila sunrises.
Instead, I more sensibly called one of the volunteers from my program who I’d grown close to and vented. Following that initial release of emotion, I messaged three people: my brother, and two of the Greek friends I’d made here.
Doing so turned out to be a wonderful decision. I won’t dive into details, but here is what we established:
I am turning twenty one in nine days. I will be single, and I will be on the opposite side of the world from everything I know.. but will maintain one thing, and that is that I am blessed.
I am in Greece. I am traveling. I have a wonderful group of friends at home. And I have made a wonderful set of friends here in Greece. I have a trip to Italy after I finish my time here. I have the opportunity to volunteer with incredibly sweet children on a daily basis. I have a family that will care for me when I am in need. I have an education, and an institution that is helping me pursue it further. I have my health in good standing. I have a home I can return to. And I have myself, and my mind, and my body, and my spirit.
And I, regardless of this rather unfortunately timed and inconvenient turn of events, have been blessed. And that is what I am choosing to focus on as I move forward with my life.
*Friends who happen to read this, please refrain from feeling pity. I am happy, and I have talked about it enough. I am ready to move forward and forget.
*My ‘Adventure List’ tab has been updated with more specific areas I have traveled to! Check it out. 🙂
My days routinely begin at nine, but I usually wake early at six longing for you.
As I prepare to begin my days alone, I think back to the ones where we once did so together and smile. St Michaels comes to mind and an instant sense of peace washes over me. Those few days were as close to bliss as I can describe.
The Sunday’s I now spend on the beach are reminiscent of the Sunday’s we first spent together. Those days were defined by breakfast in bed and secrets shared over tastee diner meals… I’d trade every beach on this island and every cocktail I’ve had for another stack of toast and cup of coffee with you.
As I lay on the beach covered by the cool shade of an umbrella, a tinge of red catches my eye and my whole body shoots up engaged. It is not you, of course, but I am reminded of your hair and your face and your smile and mostly your kind eyes, as this stranger walks away. As they set off down the beach, my mind sets off to think… if only it had been you here.
As I make my way to the school house I teach in, the hand of a stranger brushes again me and I remember the last time your fingers laced through mine; it was early — so early you were barely awake, and probably cannot recall being woken up — but I still remember how much I wanted to remain next to you in that moment. If I close my eyes now, I still feel the longing I felt so deeply then.
As my students recite the seasons in class, I feel tears prick my eyes as they croon out ‘snow’. They question its existence as I explain that it is a magical experience not to be questioned. “Snow coats the world around you, and creates a cocoon of bliss.” They stare blankly as I stare back in a daze. “Snow,” I say more simply, “is love.” They continue to peer questioningly as a slideshow of moments careen through my cavernous mind.
To the boy I left at home… don’t ever believe that you were left behind. I say that, because you never really left me in my mind.
Every day I spend in this magnificent country, I am reminded of the magnificence I found at home with you.
I miss you dearly.
Today, I had the opportunity to take my own.
It was there that I experienced the sensation of falling in love, again; this time with a place, and a deep sense of being.
Tequila Sunrises, endless boutiques, incredible pasta, never ending conversation, and a celebration of like minded people meeting, and enjoying each other’s company.
Chania was everything I wanted it to be, and so much more. It’s also where I will be celebrating my twenty first year of life (in just about a week).
There will be a more though out post made about this day, because it is one I will hold dearly in me, but for now I leave you with this: content, is the most sought after sensation.
I am a happy human.
I am a happy human when surrounded by other happy humans.
I am wine drunk.
I believe I have found happiness as of recent because I have been surrounded by those who have also found it.
Similarly, when touched by another’s upset, I have also felt that. Is that what it means to be an empath? I do not consider myself an empath. I would consider myself a little drunk though.
*Note: Greek baptisms are not traditional Catholic baptisms. There is much wine. And much dance. In that order.
“Mom, Dad, Ayya,
*Ayya is brother in Sinhalese
I have heard about the incident in France. I am so saddened to hear about the loss of so many innocent lives yet again.
Even so, I am still in Greece, alive and well. There is no reason for you to worry for my safety.
I miss you everyday.
There is reason. But there is also reason for me to worry for them.
The longer I spend here in Greece, the more I begin to believe in the perspective the locals have bestowed into me here: everyday is precious, and a new day is no longer gauranteed.
Let those around you know you care for them at every moment you can. And always exercise safety and caution. But more simply, just live.
Reasons I have neglected my blog since my departure:
I have been too busy living to sit and write.
Reasons I began my blog:
To write down and remember my experiences.
In an unforeseen turn of events, this trip has become my most adventurous one to date. The last seven (possibly eight?) days have been a blur of beaches, lakes, hikes, bars, and conversation. I have seen so much, I have experienced so much, I have heard so much, and I have felt, so so much.
I feel so incredibly lucky to have fallen into this program. I feel so blessed to have met the individuals I have met. I feel so humbled by my surroundings. And I feel so happy in my skin.
It sounds silly to express it out loud, but even as I type this out I believe in it more.. my perspective on life has changed to reflect the notion that each day is a beautiful, precious experience that demands celebration and credence.
I have been inhaling the Cretan the air too strongly; perhaps swallowing the sea water too heartily.
I will say this: I have made a few friends over the last few days and spent considerable amounts of time with them; arguably, the better parts of each day. In the process of learning the silly details of their lives though, I have also learned their struggles and heard bits and pieces of their very honest stories. And in turn, I have been captivated by their understanding of suffering and more importantly, success.
I have fallen in love with their persistent belief in the magic of each day.
So here is to living. And to the blog posts I may not have written, but the moments I have felt and celebrated any way.
The essence of travel lives within the locals you meet.I firmly believe in that statement as direct result of my experience last summer (which let me just say, left me euphorically happy for the better part of my summer). And today, I began that journey here.
My day began so oddly and I woke up and experienced panic and fear through a haze like I haven’t in so long. But that all seemed to dissipated as I began to teach my first class of the day. My students were incredible and I fell in love with each one of them. Their desire to learn, their spirits, and their smiles uplifted my heavy heart. And it left me with one thought: no matter how this program ends, I will carry their happy faces with me, in me, forever. I will never forget the joy they’ve brought me in three short days.
With that being said, post- teaching my day was left relatively unplanned. But what went on to happen can only be described as a genuine experience with friendship.
Another volunteer from a neighboring village decided to come over to mine (which, I should mention is ON the beach) and hang out. She also managed to convince her host brother to come along today, who was very nice. We traveled (basically two steps) and settled down on beach chairs close to the water. And then it began.
My friend’s host brother had invited a few of his really good friends and what would ensue over the next few hours was free flow, endless conversation. We spent the entire evening discussing things ranging from our basic day to day lifestyles to our interests and hobbies, religion and politics.. before deciding to jump off of a small cliff near our beach.
*Note, I learned how to swim three days before I left for Greece, in four hours, with two friends.
*Note, I am terrified of being in the water.
*Note, I jumped in anyway.
But what I remember from that entire ordeal was less the fact that I got into the water, and more so the fact that these friends that we had just made were so incredibly kind and aware of my fear. They urged and pushed me to confront it, but they also offered me so much support and encouragement for having the gall to do so. And so I did. And it felt incredible.
In the process, they taught me a phrase I know I will carry along with me forever.
*Note, I am sucker for phrases or words that exist in one language but not in others.
Now, I have absolutely no idea how to spell this properly, but the Greek word they taught me as I confronted this small cliff and more feet of water than I’d like to admit, was pronounced as “cigarre” pronounced like cigaratte but with an “ay” sound at the end and an emphasis on the “ci” part” like “SEH gar ay”.. if that makes any sense. The word, as they described it, meant life, living, chance, and risk in search of happiness.
I found happiness in that moment, and that is what we screamed as I swam through the depths of the ocean area were jumping into.
The day continued as did our adventures with our new friends. We grabbed beers on the beach and it was here that they taught us another word. Think Spanish dish, “paella” and that’s how it’s pronounced, but what an “r” added in: so “parea”. As they described it, parea is friendship and community. And it’s what they said as they refused to let my friend and I pay for our beers. We had become part of their “parea”.
*Note to myself: Find proper spelling of said words.
We ate gyros as we walked the street back to my apartment and that’s about as Greek as it gets.
We said our goodbyes later in the day after they walked us to my afternoon class, but by a chance of fate, met them once more later in the evening.
My friend and I were fairly exhausted after our evening class, but had been invited to a festival in my village featuring traditional Crete music and dance. As it goes, when invited by your family it’s rather insulting to refuse, so we begrudgingly went along. It was here that we re-met our new friends, our “parea”.
*Note, they wanted to cliff dive again.
*Note, I almost said yes.
*Note to self: Hone in on this adventurous soul more. Let it lend yourself to exploring the depths of your soul and willpower.
And that was today. It is now close to 1AM and as I sit here absolutely exhausted, I know in the months that follow I will remember today, and the new words I have learned.