The waitress brings out a tray held leisurely at her side to the table I’m sitting at out in the sunshine on the porch of the cafe. She’s probably about 50 years old and has her hair pulled into a ponytail and is waiting tables in sweatpants, which gives permission to the patrons to be at ease in the establishment. I smile as she lowers the cappuccino she’s just made for me to the table. “It’s perfect,” I say, smiling at her. “LIKE YOU!” she calls back to me in her thick Greek accent. I crack a smile, trying to stay composed, but ultimately erupt into laughter and end up tilting my head back as I can’t contain myself. This statement is clearly too much for me to process. She joins me, laughing simply because it’s contagious, not because she really understands why I’m laughing. As we’re chuckling, I realize we’re literally laughing at my imperfections, and that just makes me laugh more, in the complete joy of being okay with brokenness.
It’s a little after eight in the morning on the island of Leros, Greece and I’m sitting on a bench just off the side of a one-lane road on a far, sparsely used piece of the island. I’m sipping on a coffee and eating some bread I just picked up at a local shop. The little town of Lakki isn’t bustling yet, as it’s the weekend, so I was able to slip in and out without much fuss. I feel tired, my body still adjusting to the new day, and the fact that I went to bed late and rose early.
It’s been a week since my arrival, my return, to Leros and I’ve settled in nicely–something that always comes as a surprise to me, although I should really stop doubting my ability to “drop in” somewhere new. In the magical way that time does, it has kept the world spinning for the last 7 days and all of a sudden I’m no longer a stranger to this place.
When the ferry docked at four-thirty in the morning last Saturday morning, I found my way off of the dock and meandered to the parking lot where I found the familiar old beat-up car, affectionately called the “P.O.S.” (Piece of Shit), that is owned by the organization I’m working for. I climbed in, started it up with a roar of the old engine, and drove off to the house I’m staying at. As I parked the car and found my way to the room I was told I would be sleeping in, I tip-toed into the building and crawled onto the couch in the same room as two sleeping strangers. This is one of the many amusing pieces to volunteer life here on Leros.
When I woke up in the morning, my new roommates and I became acquainted and, throughout the day, I met every other member of the team as they emerged from their individual apartments. After a week of work now, and getting to mingle with everyone throughout the different workweek tasks and apartment life, I can easily see how this is going to be an enjoyable experience again.
As was the case the last time I was here, and always is on this island with this job, the team of volunteers is the very definition of transient. People come and go on a weekly basis; the team is always changing. I don’t think I went more than ten days during my first trip here without some sort of shakeup happening with the people I work and live with. My return has been no exception. After just 7 days on the ground, two people have already left and one new person has already joined the team, with four new people expected in the coming week and a handful expected to make their exists throughout the month of December.
I’m awake at 8 in the morning on a Saturday after having been out until 3am because one of the two people who left was my roommate, who needed a lift to the airport on the other side of the island this morning. The drive takes about 20 minutes, and his flight required him to arrive about thirty minutes before take off (you gotta love small island living). As I hugged my new British pal goodbye and got back into the car, I debated driving straight back to the apartment and joining the rest of my team who would obviously still be sleeping for a few hours, but I opted instead to grab a coffee and sit on the side of the road.
I’m watching peacefully as the waves are lapping up onto the shore, gently washing over the rocks. The coastline in front of me is worth studying, and the uniqueness of the shape of Leros. I keep shutting my eyes as the morning sun is too bright to tolerate, and boy am I filled with gratitude. This is exactly where I’ve been wanting to be since March. And, better yet, this is exactly where I want to be right now. There’s no better feeling than that. After a summer separated from this place, it finally feels like my soul has caught back up with my body. 😉
After an hour or so sitting by the sea, I drove back to the apartment and began to clean up from the night before. My other roommate was still sleeping, so I closed the door to the bedroom and began to collect the cans and rubbish left around the kitchen before starting on the dishes. Before heading out for the evening yesterday, my apartment hosted a dinner gathering for everyone, despite us having to be shoulder-to-shoulder with one another in our tiny kitchen. As I was washing the dishes, I stared out the window at the cliffside that the house I get to occupy is built up against. The rocks emerging from the earth at the top of the slope are a unique shade of brown, not the standard gray-color the rest of the mountaintops around the island seem to be colored. There are some red flowers in bloom on the edge of the driveway and the clambering of bells from around the necks of the goats up in the mountains echo down the slopes and into the open windows of the apartment. I felt more gratitude. As I continued cleaning, my roommate woke up and greeted me before getting in the shower and a few other volunteers were starting to buzz around the complex, searching other apartments for specific cooking equipment to make more elaborate breakfasts than the weekdays allow. One girl walked by with her towel in hand, clearly heading down to the water to take a morning polar-plunge. It feels a bit like a family, especially as people drop in and out to borrow bottles of water or cooking pots.
The evening before, after hosting the beginning of the evening in our apartment, we all piled into one of the vans we use to shuttle refugees around the island and drove off to the islands exclusive bowling alley. We piled 12 people into a three row van, five in the middle seat, and four in the back. Having never been to the bowling alley before, I was blown away that it even existed on this island. It looked like a bowling alley and hangout area from anywhere else in the world, it didn’t feel like Leros inside. But, sure enough, tucked just off of one of the main roads, there was a bowling alley, equipped with four lanes, a bar, pool tables, a small eating area, and a couple of other small arcade games. With team members coming and going so frequently, it’s often difficult to have some sort of a sendoff for everyone, but with my roommate leaving conveniently on Saturday morning, everyone was up for going out on Friday night to celebrate him, and just let lose in general.
I had forgotten how much fun bowling can be when you’re with a group of people and just being goofy. Having met up with a few other volunteers from the team who were already out for the evening, there were 14 of us in total so we split up into two teams of 7. We divided ourselves up based on the languages we speak. People who can speak German were on one team, and the remainder of us who do not speak German were on the other team. This made for a funny little rivalry between the two groups. A few hours later, after many laughs and a boatload of sarcasm, the team seemed to have bonded even closer. I was so happy to be a part of that. I drove the crew home at 3am since I was sober. When we cleared out of the place, the “party” left with us as our group of 14 made up about 75% of the patrons left at the bowling alley and bar.
This is all how I find myself here, on this lovely early Saturday afternoon, sitting on the veranda of my apartment in Greece. Saturdays are our only days off, so it’s especially appreciated that it’s sunny and the weather is calm. Last Saturday, the day of my arrival, it was a downright monsoon and the whole island seemed to be flooding. This is much more relaxing and will allow us to rest for the upcoming week which will suddenly be upon us.
As always, I hope to post more of these misadventures in the days ahead. With an entire week of work now “in the books” for me, I’ll be falling into a more regular pace here from Sunday to Friday and will be able to write a bit more about what I’m doing this time around at the Hub.
Until next time.