A Greek Christmas

Christmas is still such a strange concept to me. As a child, I would have never imagined myself being away from the people that I love most on this particular holiday, but adulthood has proven to be more complicated than my little self ever could have imagined. Not only have a spent more than half of my Christmases in my twenties away from home, but I’ve done it from the other side of the globe, on different continents, five different times. This year is no different, I’m more than five thousand miles away from the Christmas tree inside of my mother’s living room.

With Christmas break now in full swing, our school remained shut down for students, but the work for those of us volunteering is more intense than ever. The entire place currently looks like a construction site as four of the rooms are now partially painted and all of the furniture that is usually placed ever so lovingly around the building is now strewn about and covered with tarps. There’s dust everywhere, and people passing in and out throughout the day. With our second day now concluded, I’m beginning to see that, at some point in time, there will be a light at the end of the tunnel. The task of painting the entire building was daunting at first thought, but now that I’m seeing the commitment of everyone, I have faith in our abilities.

The best part of the past two days hasn’t been the work of the volunteers, but the work of the refugees. With not much going on in their lives, many of them have popped in to help us with the work that we are doing, and they’re really, really resourceful. Refugees are just ordinary people, so when they show up to Europe, they need to apply for asylum and sit still for a long time while they’re being processed, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t have lives coming together prior to having to flee their countries. Therefore, even though we’re just painting and doing some light construction, we have professional electrical engineers and contractors working with us to get the job done. And man, let me tell you, they sure know what they are doing.

Both today and yesterday, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day felt nothing like any other holiday season that I’ve experienced in my life, but it didn’t matter. We have a task at hand and a limited amount of time to complete it, so we work. Most of the residents come from Muslim countries, so Christmas has no significance to them beyond it being a day that forces their school and all of the shops in town to close down.

I like the idea of repainting most of the school during these two weeks off. It’s the only point in the entire year when Echo is closed, so it’s the one chance to get any sort of big project completed. I think this time around, the Hub is getting a much needed facelift. For me, I’m hoping a fresh coat of paint helps to invigorate me for 2019.

All of the shops and stores are closed for the 25th and 26th, so we planned ahead for our painting and got twice as much paint as was recommended, just to make sure we had enough to complete our project. We’re painting the school three different colors: white, blue and a sandy brown. We ran out of blue paint already today, and the sandy brown color we ordered registers on the wall as more of a mucus-green color. We opted out of painting with this color and are now just trying to paint everything we can that needs to be white. We have to wait until Thursday to get the other colors we need in order to complete what we’ve started. This is standard on this island though, if you want something, you better make sure you have whatever you need before the place turns into a ghost town. Thankfully, one of the coffee places remained open and had a delivery guy working, so our mid-day slump was reinvigorated with a latte delivery.

Around six in the evening, we called it quits for Day 2 and headed home to shower. At 8:00, all eight of us were invited over to the lead teacher of the Hub’s house for Christmas dinner. It was a nice, simple get-together with all of the local volunteers on the island and a handful of other locals. The food was particularly Greek, with numerous vegetarian options. It was a room filled with the endless exchange of both the English and Greek languages, all of the Leros misfits who didn’t have anywhere else to be for the holiday.

 A team photo taken of the Echo volunteers two weeks before Christmas.

If time allowed, I wanted to visit my friend this evening after dinner, but by the time the meal wrapped, it was after midnight. He works at the local music cafe/coffee joint where we volunteers spend a lot of our free time. He and I have become close in the time that I’ve been on this island, and I spent Christmas Eve with him in the cafe last night, just hanging out and talking. The rest of my team was home in bed when I decided to drive back into town to be with him. The cafe was completely empty, so we just hung around together, but I liked being with someone that I care about on Christmas Eve. He seemed to feel the same way too since he had to be at work and his five-year-old was at home without him. It’s a good example of making your own family as you go in this world, especially when your blood family is nowhere to be found.

So, that’s a wrap on Christmas Day, but the Christmas season will press on here for another week or so. I’m off to bed now as it’s late and Day 3 of painting will commence in the morning.

Merry Christmas!

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