“Wow. Two months to the day!” That is what Elias said at dinner tonight when he asked me the date. And then he followed that comment up with, “And only 10 more to go!” I’ve been well aware that our two month “anniversary” was coming up. And aware that it’s been over four weeks that we’ve been here on our own. We’ve done a great job, and I can say that there has only been an occasional moment of sadness here or there. For the most part we smile daily.
There are plenty of moments, though, that are tough–not sad, just tough. Mostly when I realize I miss things. But I’m surprised at what I miss. It’s easy to think that I’d miss material things…like my bed and my pillow. Or that I’d miss parts of my daily life, like the gym or volunteering at the school. And it goes without saying I miss Chris–I do–almost hourly. But really, with the exception of “people,” I could really live without the things I was so familiar with and accustomed to at home. What I miss the most, more than anything, is language.
You probably don’t realize how much small talk you do on a daily basis, but since living here, I’ve realized that it is everywhere…at the bank, the grocery store, the school, the gym, walking past someone on the street, or checking out at a store. Now there’s just an awkward silence when I’m standing at a cash register. I want to be able to ask the cashier, “Busy day?” or “Are you glad it’s quiet on the island now?” I hear the customers in front of me doing it, and there’s usually a little laughter. And I just stand there and stare. I wish I knew what they said so I could interject or add to the conversation. There’s no small talk when I am in the platia or around other adults. People can ask me how it’s going, and I can ask them the same, but that’s where the conversation ends. There’s no discussion about the weather, their kids, or the Steelers. The other day I saw a toddler wandering off, and her father kept having to jump up and chase her to make sure she was safe. All I wanted to say was, “Gosh, I remember those days! You can never sit for more than a minute and having a conversation is next to impossible.” But all I could do was watch him and smile. I’m silent a lot now. I’ve learned that “small talk” isn’t that small after all!
I also miss absent-mindedly listening and know what is going on. Do you realize how much eavesdropping you do when you are out and about? Without thinking about it, you hear (and understand) all of the conversations that go on around you. Maybe you are taking a walk and someone has their windows open. You can hear their television and know they are watching a rerun of Friends, or you hear their conversation about work and can tell they had a bad day. At the playground you know that the kids are playing hide-and-go-seek without having to stop and watch what they are doing. You know what someone thinks about the dress they are trying on in the changing room next to you. In none of those situations are you trying to be nosey. It all just registers in that amazing brain of yours.
At home, I didn’t watch a lot of television, but I usually put the television on in the morning when I was making breakfast and packing lunches. I’d go about my business, and I’d hear the “news.” Even if I was having a conversation with one of the kids, I could “multi-task” and know if there was a story of interest coming up so that I could give it my attention. It also happens when the radio is on in the car. No one really “listens” to the commercials, but somehow, your brain understands what is being said and sorts it into the “useless information” part of the brain. Now, when background noise is on, it just gives me a headache. My brain doesn’t know what to do with the quick speaking foreign language that is being rattled off. Most of the time I drive in silence, and we never just turn on the tv.
And sight-reading. Gosh I miss sight-reading! After you are done reading this blog and you go about your day, pay attention to how much of the written word you actually take in without actually “reading” or thinking of it as “reading.” You’ll glance at a billboard and know what it says. You’ll look at the cereal box and know how many vitamins and minerals it has or if it’s made from whole grains. You’ll walk past a newspaper and take in the headlines without a second thought. You read people’s’ shirts and laugh if they are funny. There’s a notice posted on the bathroom door at the gym or on the door to the lunch room and as you walk by you’ll know what is being announced. That’s sight-reading. And every time I see the written word here, I think of the of the saying, “It’s all Greek to me!”
After two months, that’s what I miss. I feel like I am walking around inside of a giant bubble, and I feel very isolated. I know that there are people out there. I can see them, and I can hear them. But I can’t touch them.
The good news is that I still have 10 months to improve my Greek. Maybe before I leave, I will be able to have a simple conversation with the teachers at the school!