Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Geia Sas (“Hello” in Greek)!

Christina Folkes
February 4, 2013
Pierce in Athens 2013

Geia Sas (“Hello” in Greek)!
Today was the beginning to our second week into our Grecian adventure. The smells, sights, feelings, and topics touched upon alone in this one day have been unlike anything I have experienced while living in America. We began our day rushed and hectic in order to get to our Greek class at the Hellenic American University on time. Although our Greek teacher tells us we can be about ten minutes late, we feel as though we should probably make it on time either way. Waking up here is never an easy thing in the morning me for I feel that the cars, trucks, mopeds, barking dogs, and talking pedestrians is sort of a lull back to sleep. In the beginning of this trip, all of these things kept me up at night for hours. I would lie there wishing there was a muzzle to just stop all of the commotion around me. The sounds of the city have never seemed so loud before. Finally I made it out of bed after Hayley begged me to get up, since we only have about twenty minutes before class. We all rushed out the door and made it to the classroom just in the nick of time. The walk to school is such a blur to me since we were walking so quickly. In order to avoid tripping every other step down these ridged sidewalks, it is almost necessary to keep your head down during the whole walk. Unlike the concrete sidewalks we are used to in America, here we are used to seeing yellow jagged square tiles. From what I’ve been informed, the jagged lines are for people who are blind who need to walk down the streets. I also have found that they must be used as an assistant for walking downhill, as many of the streets are a downhill drop or an uphill leg workout. After our three hour Greek language class, everyone was ready to begin their days. Today was officially our first day experience the Athenian trolley and bus system. I can’t say we pulled it off too well since we got on the wrong bus, got off at the right stop to go in the correct direction, and finally we waited an extra thirty minutes at a new bus stop, only to find out that we could have gotten on one thirty minutes prior. In order to get around the city effectively, it has been completely necessary to ask as many people on the street corners as possible. Our walks to get from point A to point B consist of different sights and scents. The mixing smells of cigarettes, gasoline, pastries, and roasting chestnuts filled our nostrils daily while walking down the streets. The sound of buzzing cars zooming by, barking stray dogs everywhere you turn, and beggars hounding everyone for some extra change are only a few of the things surrounding us on our daily walks. As we arrived directly in front of the Archaeological Museum straight off of the trolley, we had some time to spare, giving us enough time to grab a bite to eat in a bakery across the street. Some options were ham and cheese sandwiches in a sub roll, buttered croissants, a delicious flakey pastry called Bougatsa, and an endless array of coffees and drinks. After enjoying a moment to ourselves before an excursion through the museum, we waited on the street corner, watching the motorcyclists’ slowly run the red lights without even second guessing themselves. Finally we made it across the street safely, although it is often quite nerve-wracking. It takes some patience and that little side of daredevil in you in order to cross these streets properly. As a group we waited on the front steps of the museum to finally go inside to see what this building had to offer us. The walkway up to the entrance seemed to be made up of complete white marble and was filled with ionic columns; similar to what you would picture in your mind when you think of classic Grecian pillars. We walked through the silenced museum with only the sound of Ioanna’s voice explaining what every few statue or artifact was. She explained in such detail that it was painting pictures through our minds as she spoke. I had imagined in my mind a time where the men worked their hardest to achieve physical definition in order to fight in the battles, while the women stayed home and took over the household duties, while wearing luxurious outfits encrusted with golden trimmings, showing their wealth. This was also a time where someone’s death was taken very seriously. If someone who had come from a wealthy family had died, their tombstone would be elaborately made to show their physical features, along with a slave in the corner. Every little detail made it very obvious that the person who had died was more important than everyone else in the carvings. After traveling back in time with Ioanna throughout the museum, it made me realize how amazing my heritage truly is. Being able to study in Greece, where my mother is from, has been a dream come true. Then being able to see the background to everything around me has been even better. Daily I am reminded of the true beauty that Greece has to offer me. I feel as though I have a different appreciation for the different artifacts, sights, language barrier, and scents around me. I have grown up knowing the history of Greece but being able to actually see it and experience it in person is completely surreal and serene.  After opening my eyes to a whole new Grecian world, we were on a mission to find our way back to the apartment. We studied a map of Athens but found it very difficult to find where we were in comparison to the places we were used to walking. Finally we made it back after finding out that there was a much quicker way to go back home. Although it may have been longer, I feel as though it made the experience of finding our way that much better. Back home I find that we are so used to traveling everywhere with a GPS giving us every twist and turn and mileage and the amount of time it would take to get anywhere we could possibly imagine. Here we have barely been able to access Internet, making us disconnected from the world we are so used to living in. I must say it is an awesome feeling to not be held down by technology every minute of the day. Once we made it back home to our apartment, we had some time to relax and catch up on things we had been hoping to do for a few days. A few of the girls and myself had been planning on discovering the closest Post Office. The majority of locals that we asked could either not understand what we were asking, or they just had no idea where one would be. So many thoughts traced our minds, thinking that maybe mailing things just was not as big of a thing here. While scurrying through the packed sidewalks full of people, we made several stops in order to ask as many people where the nearest Post Office was. Finally one young man at a kiosk on the side of the road was able to point us in the right direction. We walked, stopped, continued on our way, looked around, and walked some more in order to find where we were trying to go. During one of those stops, we looked to the other side of the street only to find a protest taking place. There were hundreds of people all crowded into such a small space, chanting things in Greek, leaving us wondering and confused as to what was going on. We did the normal touristy thing by taking pictures of what was going on around us. We had only hoped that no one would run across the street and hurt us for disrespecting what they were doing. Unlike the news we see in America on the riots going on in Greece, these people seemed to be very peaceful. They were not out to hurt anyone or to begin an actual riot, causing harm to pedestrians and people around them. These large groups of people were surrounded by policemen, who just seemed to be talking with some people in the crowd. I have learned that it is illegal to protest unless you get the permission from the government beforehand. After standing there watching this group for a few minutes, I realized that we did not have much to worry about; the only thing to worry about at that moment was the potential of pick-pocketers sniping things out of our pockets without even realizing that it ever happened. We then began to walk ahead only to find the post office directly in front of us. I tried to scrap together some Greek in order to communicate with the woman at the front desk, which was not only difficult, but also confusing since I did not know much of the vocabulary. In the end, we figured it out properly. These are the types of things that make studying abroad such an interesting journey. If everything were given to us so easily, this experience would just be one big vacation. Every day, we are faced with challenges, which we must figure out on our own, only making this experience a once in a lifetime opportunity. 

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