It’s been six months, to the day, that we left America. I’ve been trying to figure out what to write about to mark the occasion. Something big. Something fun. Something funny. Something entertaining. But I’ve got nothin’!
But I’m still gong to write. This blog was started as a way for me to communicate with my friends and family–a way to share our experiences so I wouldn’t have to write the same email over and over. Right now, I am sitting on the couch and re-reading some of the entries, and I see how it’s also become a journal for our family. A way to preserve our memories. And I noticed that I have told story after story, but I haven’t shared exactly why we wanted to take this adventure. And I figure now–half way through–might be a good time to answer that question.
There are many reasons. None more important than an another. So in no particular order I start with because I wanted to know how to speak Greek. For whatever the reasons may be, I never learned the language as a child. I wish I had learned it, but I didn’t. In college I was given the opportunity to study abroad my junior year. I had planned to go to England, only to find out they would be starting a program in Greece that year–but not until my spring semester. I dropped the idea of a full year in England in exchange for a semester in Greece. To be Greek and get to study in Greece, and to be taught the language, was an unexpected gift! I anxiously awaited for January of 1991. In December, during finals week, I was told there was a good chance the program would not begin the next semester because of the chance of the (first) Gulf War. Heartbroken, I said good-bye to my dream and hopped on the next plane for England. And unfortunately, I didn’t get to learn Greek in England. Years later I took a night course at a college with my mom and sister. We learned some, but didn’t come away fluent! I moved to Lancaster in 2000, and when Chris asked me what I wanted for my 30th birthday, I said I wanted to learn Greek. I ended up taking private lessons for almost 18 months, until Rea was born. In that time I learned a lot but had no one to speak with on a daily basis. Over the years, most of what I learned disappeared with my pregnancy/baby brain. Between 2007-2011 I returned to Greece four times, and each time I was disappointed and frustrated that I couldn’t communicate. I was also embarrassed when I spoke to people here and found out that so many of them knew English, as well as another language. How had I gotten through life only knowing one language? I knew that if I was just given the opportunity I could learn it. And the one of the best ways, I figured, was to live there. If I was immersed, I’d have no choice but to learn the language. And, just as importantly, I wanted my children to learn Greek. The best time to learn a language is when you are a child. So, if I could give my children that gift, than I wanted to do it.
How’s it working out? The kids are doing AMAZING! They all learn in different ways. Zach knew the least when we arrived, but he surprised us the most. After a few weeks in school, he started speaking entire phrases and sentences in Greek all at once. He didn’t understand the grammar rules or the word order, he just understood the meaning. Elias knew the most when we arrived, so he was able to listen, put it all together, and understand what people were saying and how to answer them. Rea had a nice base, but she is a lot like me. She quickly learned how to understand her friends and what they were trying to say, based on context and hand motions. She just didn’t speak it as readily–but she’s learning faster than she thinks! Just this week she came home to show us an entire story she had written in Greek, all by herself! She was so proud, as she should have been! They all speak with their friends now, and they all–fairly often–correct me when I make mistakes. I am sure that over the next few months their Greek will continue to improve at rapid rates, and by the time we return, they will be somewhat “fluent.”
As for me, well, I guess the saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” applies. This has been the hardest thing that I have ever tried to do. My brain thinks it knows what to say, but for some reason it doesn’t make it from my brain to my mouth. I’m frustrated, but I’m not giving up. I still have six moths to reach my goal!
I mentioned I had been to Greece four times in the recent past. In the summer of 2011, we spent just about three weeks in Ikaria. We did all of the things you’ve read about already. We went to the beaches in the day and to the platia at night. But I felt like a tourist. Even though the village is full of relatives, I didn’t know them. I couldn’t speak the language, and it was a struggle just to order a drink or a souvlaki without my cousin from America or my father by my side. I knew I didn’t like that feeling, and I wanted to feel “part” of this village. My grandmother was raised here and my grandfather three villages away. My father was born here, and this is where my family is from. Many of my American friends, my husband included, know where their ancestors come from, but for the most part have no connection to that part of the past. They are “American.” As I mentioned, being raised Greek Orthodox was a huge part of my upbringing. Connecting to that place completes part of me. And, because my father built this house, I knew that we would be returning to Ikaria for the rest of our lives. And I knew I wanted to belong. I knew I wanted my children to belong. I didn’t want the kids to come back here and feel like I felt–like an outsider. I knew that if we lived in Karavostamo, we all would grow closer to the relatives that live here. I knew that the kids would make friends they would have for life. I imagine that when they are 30 or 40, and they bring their families here, they will go to the platia and see one of their classmates from 2011-2012, and they will be greeted with a smile and a hug. That makes me smile inside.
How are we doing with being part of village? I think we’re doing great with that goal! My father has been here for almost a month, and almost every time he comes home from running an errand, he tells me how he ran into someone who has told him how great it is we are here or how wonderful the children are doing learning their Greek or how they are amazed that we would choose to come live on the island for a year. The point is, people in Ikaria know us. We are all making friends. And, I think, we have created bonds with our relatives that will keep the family connection for another generation.
Living on an island that is only 100 square miles in area, with most of that non-livable space, is a completely different world than living in suburban America. Chris and I wanted the kids to experience life in a different way. To see it from another point of view. To experience another culture, and to hopefully learn to appreciate all that we have been blessed with in America. We live in a house on a road with no name. A road that is no wider than a car. There are only a few stores near by that sell just the basics. No big box stores. No fast food. No ice cream stores. No Chinese restaurants. No pizza shops. No dollar stores selling junk. No malls. There are only 30 kids in the entire school and only three classrooms. There are no movie theaters or bowling alleys, museums or play places. Life is about being satisfied with what you have and enjoying your para, or your family and friends.
How’s that going? It’s a piece of this entire experience that I wish we could bottle and take back with us. I want to live closer to all of my family and cousins. I want to appreciate the people in my life and not feel like I am rushing them out the door in order to get to the next thing on my to-do list. I want to relax and not rush from sporting event to sporting event. I’m afraid that when we go back we’ll end up just like we were before I left. But I am hoping, that I will be able to retain some of this new outlook! I have also loved learning how to live off the land and eat seasonally. And I believe that the kids don’t miss the material things back home. They play outside often, they play together, and they really enjoy the freedom of island life. I am sure they are building sibling bonds that they wouldn’t back home. (As well as probably storing an army of stories in their mind that one day they will pull out to make fun of me. “Remember when we were in Greece and mom told someone she ate the house instead of saying she ate at the house!” )
When we talked about spending a year in Greece, we almost shelved the idea because Chris couldn’t take the year off of work. It was a big decision for us to decide to separate our family for a year, but Chris and I decided that the outcomes would be worth it. We sat at the dining room table and tried to explain to the children why we wanted to do this. They didn’t understand and couldn’t get passed the idea of leaving their friends. I tried to explain it to them in a way that I thought they might understand. I asked them what they do everyday. They go to school. They come home. The go to a sports practice. They eat dinner and do their homework. They go to bed, only to get up and do it all again the following day. It had been the same life for all of us since 2005, when Elias started kindergarten. And for the next 11 years it would continue to be the same. If they missed just one year of school, homework, and sports, they really wouldn’t be missing that much. Six months into it, they do miss their friends. But they’ve made new ones, they’ve begun to master a new (and difficult) language, and they’ve become part of something bigger than themselves. They are part of a village.
I think in six months we’ve accomplished a lot.