I’m in Ioannina, Greece now (pronounced “Yah-Nee-Nah” by the locals). I woke up this morning a little confused about what I was doing here, but at the same time, lying in bed and “coming to”, I felt like I was where I was supposed to be. The bed felt like mine, for some reason, even though I’ve never been to this building, let alone the town or this area of the country.
I’ve just left Athens after a week of playing the role of tour guide for my mother and three of her friends who came to visit me. They spent three days on Leros with me first, and then on Tuesday, we all flew over to Athens together.
I can say with certainty that I enjoyed my time showing some of my fellow Americans around my stomping grounds on the island and then doing my best to navigate the largest Greek city in the world with them even though I’ve spent less than a month there in total. I knew that having them over here would require me to look at the country, my life, and the general situation with the refugees with new eyes, and that’s what happened. There are so many things that go unnoticed to me on a daily basis as I tend to have my head down and stick to the grind of teaching and volunteering. But there is a lot to see in this country, especially on the island. It’s a history buffs paradise, I would assume, the way that World War II remnants seem to popup everywhere, from shipwrecks in the port, to bunkers tucked quietly away in the sides of the hills. There’s a lot of history on Leros.
Heading to Athens with my squad of visitors was also a trip because I haven’t really stopped working in the last three months, even though it comes recommended that volunteers take breaks every six weeks or so. So, flying away from the island was my first chance to step away from thinking about refugees all of the time. Of course, this isn’t the case, but it’s a nice thought. I am certain now about how I decompress. When I take breaks or vacations from my routine, I’m not a person that likes to fill those days ‘off’ with lots of things. If I’m going to take time away from my normal life, it’s better for me if it’s time to decompress. Whereas running around and showing Americans Athens is really fun, I didn’t find myself recharging the way that I hoped I would. In fact, I found myself looking forward to returning to my regular routine, in an effort to catch up on rest and relaxation.
The last time I was on Leros, one of my favorite people was one of the refugees from Syria who had been stuck in the camp on the island for more than two years. In the time that passed between my two tenures on Leros, he was granted asylum and moved off of the island and into the north of Greece. I’m staying with him now, in Ioannina. The two of us have been trying to figure out a way to see one another again, but Ioannina and Leros are no less than a million miles apart, so it’s taken some strategizing. It was looking as though J may be able to make his way down to Athens at some point during my time there this week, but he wasn’t able to take off time from work. I just kind of realized two days ago that my being in Athens meant that we were already half way to each other, and since the weekend was approaching, he wouldn’t need to work. And I was finished playing tour guide anyway, so I booked a bus ticket. It was a long ride, I could see that from the map, but I couldn’t foresee another chance to see him in the near future, so I just booked the ticket and hopped on. I had a map pulled up on my phone which showed me exactly where I was for the entire journey. The ride took a little less than six hours, and I watched as we cruised across the southern peninsula of Greece before crossing into the north and meandering toward Ioannina. The views were spectacular for the first two hours, then the sun set, so there wasn’t much to see anymore. I could tell though, even in the dark, that the number of mountains was increasing significantly, and the moonlight lit up the snow on the tops of the hills. Snow—something I hadn’t seen so far this winter.
Now I’m here, in Ioannina. The race to get here was so abrupt and happened so quickly that it almost doesn’t seem real. My friend, J, has felt so out of reach all of these months, and now he’s right next to me, almost the same as when I left him. But now, he’s a free man with a job and a life that he’s building.
It’s funny to be here with him on such short notice because he wasn’t really able to prepare for me. He’s living in a three bedroom home by himself, as all of his roommates have moved on and he’s suppose to be moving on to a new apartment, too. But things haven’t quite panned out for him yet, so his landlord continues allowing him to stay here by himself. There isn’t anything in this apartment though, which I find amusing. It’s a total bachelor pad. No food, empty bedrooms with just mattresses and bed frames remaining, and the heat isn’t really on (just a money saving endeavor). I wrapped myself last night in all the blankets we could scrounge together and slept in a sweatshirt and was perfectly comfortable, but it’s interesting to be looking out the window now at a snow-capped mountain. This isn’t weather that I’m used to, but I am still in the same country, so it’s worth noting that winter is indeed happening somewhere, just not the island I spend all of my time on.
I’m in the north of Greece now. Even just the brief walk from the bus station to the center of town was eye-opening in the dark last night, so I’m looking forward to my friend rising from his slumber and the two of us getting this day started. There’s always so much more to see in this world.