Love to travel, love to stay home

P1000965And this house-sit is perfect for that split in my personality. It’s been just over three weeks now that I’ve been back in this tiny house just outside the village of Volissos (see village in banner), on Chios, and most days I don’t venture further than a couple of kilometers, while walking the dogs. This time it’s just me on my own. I worried I would be lonely, craving human contact, craving someone English speaking, but so far, I am entirely, enTIREly content. There has, of course, been contact with friends and family, because this is the age of Skype and Facebook and WhatsApp and other such technological marvels, so there is that. But the only company I have here in person (so to speak) is that of 3 dogs, 11 cats, and 1 Greek-speaking old man.

I have had school to focus on, but I’m not very good at focusing on the things I should be. I have spent a lot of time on the internet following rabbits down holes. Did you know, for example, that scientists have been experimenting with treating Crohn’s disease and multiple sclerosis with intestinal worms? It turns out that the ‘hygiene hypothesis’ – the idea that our immune systems have been thrown off balance by too much cleanliness – has been updated to the ‘old friends hypothesis.’ The story with this being that we’ve removed a bunch of our parasites/microbes that we had in fact had useful working relationships with – hence, of course, the proliferation of pro-biotic products on the grocery store shelves. I learned about this worm-eating business, and many more non-school related tidbits in the past three weeks while avoiding doing what I should have been doing.

I also decided to not drink while I was here. I have sort of stuck to it. I only bought one little half litre bottle of wine once, and drank it over two nights. But Stamatis and I were sitting outside in the sun one day after lunch, and he was saying (in Greek, with gestures – we’ve gotten pretty good at communicating across the language barrier) wouldn’t some wine be nice right now? “Nei”, i agreed, “but we don’t have any. Supermarket?” (which is a grand name for a tiny little shop in the village, but anyway)

Stamatis: “Ohi! (No) and then a lot of Greek, which I think was something to the effect of: “I wouldn’t drink that garbage – I never eat anything that’s not organic and health conscious! That’s why I give you such a hard time whenever you buy any tomatoes or potatoes or oatmeal or whatever from the regular store, rather than the health food store. That’s why I drink soy milk and not regular milk, and eat fish and try to make you eat fish! My body is a temple!” (except when it comes to store-bought cookies or cake or sugary apple-fritter type pastries, and cheap white-flour melba toasts…those are exempt apparently)

Okay, so no wine I guess.

Not so! I was sent off to get a couple of glasses. Turns out, he has a stash of homemade wine, that he made, from the grapes that he grows right here! We had a very pleasant afternoon getting drunk in the sun on this cloudy, pinkish, “organique!”, wine surrounded by cats and dogs, with my computer out, talking about life and death and everything in between (thank you, Google translate). There was even a little concert – Stamatis playing guitar and singing; seven or eight cats, three dogs and one human in the audience. I was tucking myself into bed by 7:30 that evening. The next night, Stamatis brought me to the neighbours’ house for dinner. We brought a litre of his wine and the four of us shared it there. So that’s two nights in a row I fell off the wagon. But it was worth it. Sometimes having a glass of wine or many is just the right thing to do.

The wine - in it's transporting bottle to go to Sofia and Yianni's.

The wine – in its transporting bottle to go to Sofia and Yianni’s.

The maestro, just before I was sent to get the guitar.

The maestro, just before I was sent to get the guitar.


Animals everywhere. You have to watch your step around here.

Animals everywhere. You have to watch your step around here. There are 9 animals in this photo

Evening from the patio

Evening from the patio

Walking the dogs down to the beach is one of the highlights of the day

Walking the dogs down to the beach is one of the highlights of the day

Things we see on our walks: orange and olive trees in fields of yellow flowers.

Things we see on our walks: orange and olive trees in fields of yellow flowers.

A rainy day

A rainy day

Rain coming!

Rain coming!

Another walk photo

Another walk photo

The house from the garden

The house from the garden

Schoolwork, Cheese, or Stare at the Sky?

I have a paper due on Monday. I have 900 words written and 2100 words yet to go, and I’m not terribly impressed with the ones I’ve got so far.  Instead, I just keep wandering into the kitchen and considering food choices. I’m experiencing a strong, consistent craving for cheese these days, so the key question I ask myself while drifting around the kitchen, is “Could this be a vehicle for cheese?”  Favourite choices are: perogies, spaghetti, beans on rice with tomatoes, fried egg on toast – all of which can be buried in a generous layer of grated cheese.  Sometimes I go healthy: salad! (with feta cheese), baked squash! (with parmesan).  My passion for cheese will fade in time, but right now it’s in full, obsessive, flower. Perhaps my body’s trying to fatten itself up a little for the coming winter.  I am happy to oblige.

My other schoolwork-avoiding activity is to go outside and stare at the sky and the sea. This is a very pleasant activity – perhaps even more wonderful than eating cheese.  Thanks to the changing seasons, the weather has been putting on all kinds of shows. The wind show, the rain show, the leaves-changing show, the amazing sunset colour show, and so on. Morning, afternoon, or evening, I can’t stop taking photos of all this prettiness.

Prettiness is the wrong word though, because sometimes it’s dark and foreboding, and sometimes it’s just so much bigger and more dramatic than ‘pretty’.  It makes your heart feel full and your limbs feel like they’re shot through with some kind of electrical joy (I don’t know how else to describe that feeling – if someone else does, please tell me. I was going to put tingly, but tingly sounds too close to numbness, and it’s the opposite of that).  Sometimes I put the pictures on facebook or email them to people.  I feel like I want to drag the rest of the world over to see, but of course, wherever on earth you are, there’s beauty all around, so everyone has access to their own versions and may not feel particularly interested in mine… All the same, here are some photos:

Ship heading out into the strait on a windy day

Ship heading East towards, Vancouver (?) perhaps, on today’s windy morning

Can you believe the colour of the sky here? It’s real! Look at the sliver of pale blue on the right to verify…

Forgive the blurs – the rain had started falling on me (and the camera)

Strange spiderweb, picked out by the moisture in the air on a foggy day two weeks ago.

Walking along the ocean on the same foggy day

Good night ❤

On making impractical life choices – a personal specialty

This is something I seem to excel at on a grand scale. On a small scale I tend to be quite practical: buy the cheap car, use a hot water bottle to keep toasty rather than heat a whole room, go to bed at a reasonable hour, stop eating when full and so on. On the large scale of life choices, I have no common sense at all. I won’t go into my imprudent choices of romantic partners, or my silly, mistaken ideas about what was a good course of action in terms of career and post-secondary education (with the exception of now; I think I have finally made a good choice education-wise), but trust me when I tell you, my track record in these two arenas is deeply flawed. I could write a what-not-to-do book based on sound (im)practical experiences. 

My most recent foolishness on a grand scale is to book a trip to Greece to house-sit. The reason this is not sensible is financial.  I am a student, at the beginning of my student-hood, with 19 months ahead of me, and negligible income. But I tell myself it’ll all work out somehow. When this woman who I house sat for before on Chios asked me if I’d be willing to come back this January, I hemmed and hawed for week or two. The thought of cozying up in that little house, 5 minutes from the Aegean, olive trees outside the windows, wood-stove burning away, cup of tea in hand… How could I resist? Also, I can be mind-numbingly sentimental and prone to falling head-over-heels for most 4-legged, fur-adorned creatures, and with 7 cats and 3 dogs, well, I will be in a kind of swooning heaven. 

So, with fond memories, not yet 5 months old, of drinking my morning coffee in the garden under an olive tree, with cats and dogs gradually congregating around me and a loud, bossy, but sweet, grandfatherly Greek man wandering about tending his plants, appearing periodically with gifts of fruits to be eaten and ordering me around in Greek, I went online and bought my ticket back to Chios. 

The Aegean and the west side of the island

Big fancy Greek Orthodox church in the next village along. You can actually see it from Volissos, perched way up on a mountain… The island is littered in churches, but unlike this one, most are very small affairs, the size of a single car garage, but much prettier.

our temporary farm animals. The cats used to tear around in the field, getting underhoof, chasing each other, chasing bugs, but the horses and the goat took it all in stride

Castle ruins at the top of Volissos village

The dogs, tucked in for the night. It turned out we were famous (and I suspect in a ridiculous rather than admired way) on the island – word had even reached Chios town – for this business of putting the dogs to bed at night.

Mom, in one of the many fields of daisies blanketing hillsides in the spring.

Sofia and Yiannis. Doesn’t this sight just make you want to put on the kettle for a cup of tea and cozy up with a book?

The Olympics, Butterflies and Trying to Learn Life Lessons

Look how happy they are! The worked hard for this, because they are focused. Unlike some people…

So, the Olympics, eh? I’m a sucker for them. Natually ungifted in all things athletic, I am in awe of those who are. I can only watch a little bit each day – the stress and emotional turmoil would exhaust me otherwise. I cry at the joy on the faces of the winners, and I cry at the disappointment for those who don’t win. And of course, I get excessively wound up by the suspense while the event itself is going on. You can see how that would get tiring. 

But, man alive, do I admire them all! The focus they have had, throwing themselves at their sport of choice – the hours, the months, the years. I want to be more like that. This is one of my many personal flaws – lack of long-term focus. A self-defeating tendancy to get distracted by the next interesting, shiny new question and wander off track.  

It’s only recently that I’ve realized that distractability is something that, while it can serve a person for awhile perhaps, is also something that has led, in my case at least, to a somewhat scattered way of living. Not that I regret my life up until now. I don’t, but I think I’ve been like a kid in a field of butterflies, and whichever one flies in front of my face, I follow, and then another one crosses my path and I set off after that one. Maybe I need to pick one butterfly and follow it whereever it goes. Become an expert on one butterfly, rather than a novice on 20 butterflies. 

I read an article last night that referred to this man’s idea that you can’t hear an answer until you’ve made a receptive space in your mind for it by asking the question. Not a new idea – we’ve all heard that you can’t teach someone who doesn’t want to be taught, or that there’s no point in giving advice to someone who hasn’t asked for it: a waste of your breath and an irritation to the receiver of said advice. But I rather like this new way of putting it – I picture a little docking station in the brain being created  and the answer sliding into place like a spaceship. (I swear I have not been watching Star Trek lately, I don’t know why a spaceship. I guess I just couldn’t come up with anything else that would provide that satisfying locking-in sound that spaceships in movies make when they park.)

So, now that I’ve thrown the Olympics, butterflies and spaceships of the brain out there, I guess my question is, how do you find the right balance between being focused and still being open to new roads in life? Or maybe you can’t? Maybe you just have to choose. And maybe I’m considering making a different choice for a while. 

On Weddings and some insight into the advisability of Career counseling

I recently attended the wedding of my brother. It was lovely, and he and his new wife looked beautiful and thrilled with their new status as a married couple. So that was all good. But it also led me to some thoughts on how different personalities gravitate to different life choices. In particular, it was while we were all posing for the family photos that I realized why I’ve never felt any desire to play the role of bride (aside from a fundamental lack of ability to commit to a stable, settled down life). During the family photo shoot in the reception tent, while my brother and his new wife, and several of my other family members were hamming it up for the camera, as per the photographer’s request, “Okay, just be silly guys! Just give me some crazy poses!” I was busy fighting all my instincts, which were on red alert, frantically urging me to run for the nearest door. At one point, all the guests were brought over from their tables to blow bubbles at us while the photographer snapped away. This was like a nightmare come to life for me. I don’t remember what I did. I certainly wasn’t pulling off any silly poses. Likely, I just plastered an awkward smile on my face and froze. I really can’t recall through the haze of panic. I guess I’ll see when the photos come out.

Anyway, here’s how I see the role of bride: on the wedding day, she is princess. This means she gets to dress up. Okay, I can get on board with that. I love dressing up. But from there, as far as I’m concerned, it goes downhill. Everyone’s supposed to be admiring and focusing on her. This is a significant problem. I don’t cope well with being the center of attention and never have. On my fifth birthday out at a restaurant, the waiters and waitresses did that usual rigamarole where they come over to the table with a cake and candles and sing happy birthday. I can still feel the shock of betrayal when I realized they were coming to our table, looking at me, and my mother wasn’t going to shoo them away. Nope. She was actually smiling at me. I was horrified. I did the only thing I could think of under the circumstances. I slid under the table and stayed there until they went away. You know how big emotional life traumas are burned into your memory? That’s how that one is for me.

All of this makes me wonder, what possessed me to go into teaching? You can see the conflict: a shy and reserved personality vs. a job that requires standing in front of groups of people. Not a match. I think in my own mind, I just glossed over that whole aspect of it. Was so excited at the prospect of new countries, new cultures, and a doorway in to talk to and hear from these new, interesting people, that I figured I’d just get used to the uncomfortable bit where I have to stand at the front of the classroom. And indeed, I have, for the most part, and people are as interesting as I thought they would be, but those first 10 or 15 minutes with a new class are still unpleasantly nerve-jangling for me.

Have you ever wondered how suited you really are to the job you’ve chosen? And if you know you’ve found the perfect vocation, how did you do that?

Here is a photo of some clematis in my friend’s yard.


Dust storm and mortar attacks

One colleague, most appropriately geared up for the weather

This morning, I woke up at 5:00, looked out the window at the full daylight, and decided to go back to bed for an hour. We don’t have to be ready to leave till 6:55, so no need to rush into the waking world, right? I woke an hour later to the taste of dust in my mouth and a strange orange light coming through the blinds. Orange! I opened the door, and the world was orange and thick with dust. I’ve never seen an orange dust storm before. I don’t know if it was the angle of the sun, or the colour of the sand. I think it may have been the latter. It got into everything. My room, that I though was so well sealed was coated in it. The air conditioning filter I cleaned last week was filled with it again. My hair was like straw after a couple of hours.

There was some uncertainty about whether we’d be going to school because of the safety issue. Apparently attacks are more likely during a time like that, with the low visibility, for obvious reasons, and for teaching, we go from the relative safety of our base to the more dangerous Iraqi side. It was decided that we would go. So, slowly, carefully through a hazy orange world, we drove over there in our little convoy. Instead of the usual 6 hour teaching day, or 4.5 hour day on a Thursday, it became a 1.5 hour day. We were just beginning class, a bit late, when all the privates were hauled back out for a meeting for an hour, and then we were all sent home early a little while after that. During their meeting, I could see them standing out in the thick, windy dust, and when they came back in, they were all coated in it, eyebrows, eyelashes, and hair covered in pale dust, making them look oddly like very young men who were prematurely graying.

The school under normal circumstances.

The school, morning of the sandstorm.

So, after that short day, we headed home early – back home before noon! One of the teachers, who smokes and is asthmatic, and not so young, was really suffering from it all day, so in the evening, he and I went to the clinic. I had to go as well, for a sore toe (it sounds minor I know – but standing for hours makes it not so minor.) On our way back, we stopped at the coffee shop and bumped into a couple of colleagues outside. While we were standing there talking, the siren sounded, and then the ‘Giant Voice’ in the sky, “Incoming, Incoming. Take cover…” and we all dashed over behind the nearest T-wall, till we heard a couple of booms, and after a minute or so of quiet, we came out. That was the second attack I’ve experienced since coming here. In the first one, I was sitting in my CHU (containerized housing unit), on my bed with my computer on my lap, when the siren started sounding. I didn’t realize what it was at first, and I was looking at my computer, going, “what? Are you overheating?” I picked it up and held it up to my ear. Hm. And then the loudspeaker began, and I realized what it was, and wondered, “now what am I supposed to do again? Do I get on the ground, even inside, here in my CHU?” Turns out, yes, I was supposed to. And then you wait for the All Clear signal. And then everyone calls in on their walkie talkie or makes a showing for Accountability. The whole thing’s begun and finished within 15 minutes.

Some lovely local t-wall, just beside my CHU.

Anyway, it all makes me realize how sheltered and safe I’ve been lucky enough to be all my life. And even now– I have chosen to come here, knowing it was a war zone, and I am being pretty well protected and well compensated for the danger. But so many people, in this country and in others, have had war brought to them, with no choice offered, with no T-wall barriers set up to protect them, with no warning systems to alert them, and no financial compensation offered them for the danger… quite the contrary.

And I also feel incredibly lucky, looking around the region, with its recent uprisings, to have been born in a country with a fairly accountable governing system, where my own government isn’t likely to shoot me in the streets, or torture me in prison if I should openly disagree with it. And I’m amazed by the bravery of the people in the streets these days of Syria, Bahrain, Yemen and so on…who have protested, unarmed, peacefully, and risked and sometimes paid with their lives to simply get good, fair and representative government. When I merely hear a siren indicating there’s a slight possibility I might get hurt, I can be found tucked behind the nearest thick, cement T-wall. Now, of course, I have no ideological reason for doing anything other than that, but if I did, I don’t know that I could face guns down, and worse, even for such obviously fair and right reasons as so many Arab countries’ citizens are these recent days. I certainly have huge respect for their struggle, and I hope that these days of protest eventually lead to the fairness and good government and freedom from oppression that they’re seeking.  We are so lucky in Canada. We can keep an eye on our government, and loudly complain when we don’t like something, and they will listen, if enough of us are loud enough, and if they don’t, we can send them on their way at the next election. And all at no risk to life or limb. All we have to do is pay a bit of attention to what they’re up to. So anyway, I’m just feeling keenly aware today of my good fortune in terms of place of birth.

The dust has all settled now, so I’m going to go have a shower and clean house.