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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Entry 7: Easter, traditional Greek style

Guess what. I finally realized I could add pictures directly to this blog so I don't have to link to as an image hosting site. You know why I was linking to imgur before? Because I'm so addicted to reddit (a silly social media site that uses imgur) I couldn't think of anything else than to use imgur.

Also warning to those who don't like killing animals for food: this is Easter in Greece where they roast a whole lamb rotating over a fire. I have one video of that included and it grossed me out so much that I would want one of these warnings ahead of time. To see it you have to click on the link so it's easy to avoid.


In the days preceding Easter I stayed with my cousin Dimitri, his wife, their twin babies, and their live-in maid. Grandma also visited daily, helping with the kids as one of them is sick. Here's Penelope!

And her twin brother Yiannis.

Let me pause here and give a description of my family tree. Dimitri is my Dad's second cousin, so his kids Yiannis and Penelope are my third cousins. My Dad's Mom's Mom was was sisters with Dimitri's Dad's Mom. My great-grandmother and little Penelope's great-grandmother were sisters.

How did I find them? Before I left America I visited my Dad's first cousin Manny in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who has lived in Greece for ten years and has extensive knowledge of the family tree. He gave me the contact information of distant cousins in Greece and drew this family tree for me:

Dimitri and his family left Thursday with their live-in maid, so I had their had their house to myself before I left Friday.

Fri 4/10
Six hour bus to Lefkada, the island on the west coast where my family comes from. Cool scenery along the way.

Most surprising were Nazi flags at a toll booth, which the Nazi party Golden Dawn probably used as to hand out pamphlets.

I arrived an hour before sunset and went to their seaside house in the biggest town on the island, also named Lefkada (like how Mexico City is the capital of Mexico, Lefkada is the capital of Lefkada). View of the sea from their house:

While in Lefkada Dimitri stayed with his wife's family in another house while I stayed with Dimitri's brother Christos, his two kids, his mom, and his live-in maid, as well as a few bikes to roam the town with.

Map of Lefkada town

I don't know much about Christianity but I think it was Good Friday, so towards midnight we went to the mainstreet to watch a procession of priests from all the town's churches parade through with coffin like things symbolizing Jesus Christ's death and funeral as the church congregants followed with candels.

Tons of seafood dinner at midnight. This is the start of eating like 2000 calorie meals every few hours for the next five days. It was insane now much food there was, I literally ate enough food to last me a month. And everyone did this like it was no big deal.
Let's see how a panorama picture works if I include it here:
Left to right: My Dad's second cousin Christos, married couple distantly related to me by marriage, Christos' kids Petros and Yiannis, my Dad's second cousin Dimitri and his wife Mina on his right, another distant relative I don't know followed by another, Christos' and Dimitri's mom Marika, another unknown, and finally someone unfortunately got cut off by the camera.

Sat 4/11
Bike ride to sunset. Known for it's windsurfing and beaches, it was super windy as my growing hair blew in my eyes.

At midnight, we gathered outside a church and all held candels, said Christos a nesti (Christ is risen?), and fireworks were launched dangerously close. We didn't even go into a church since my relatives aren't religious, the holiday is just a reason to spend time with family for them.

Dimitri and his wife border the picture, Grandma is in the center, Christos is towards the back with his two kids Yianni (left) and Petros (right). Dimitri's kids are too young and are asleep, and yes Yianni is the name of both Dimitri's son and Christos' son.

The Greek naming tradition works such that every other generation the same names are used for the first born, then the second, and so on. My parents didn't do this for me but if they did I would've been named Speero after my grandfather since I'm the oldest of my siblings. And since my Dad's grandfather was named John my Dad's older brother was also named John.

Given the lack of religiosity among us not many of my relatives actually did the traditional fast of not eating any meat of dairy for the forty days prior to Easter but the break fast dinner was huge anyway. Traditionally, the first meat that's eaten after breaking the fast is a lamb liver soup, which I enjoyed. This dinner was way after midnight by the way, we didn't end until 3 am. While this dinner was exceptionally late it's a cultural standard to eat dinner late in Greece, like towards midnight.

Like my Greek-American Easters we had an egg cracking contest in which we all had an egg to smash against the ends of each other's eggs. The winner was Christos's son Yiannis who saved his egg to use at Easter Sunday dinner the next day. Not that this is tradition but just a clever trick a twelve year old would do. I lost instantly :(

The picture does not do this huge pile of food justice.

Sun 4/12
Left Lefkada at 11 and drove a half hour into the mainland where more distant cousins lived for Easter Dinner (more of a giant lunch at midday). Here's your eye bleach ahead of time: puppies nursing I found in their backyard.

This lamb was maybe fifty meters away from the puppies. No they did not kill it themselves, a professional in the area does that. Video of lamb rotating over fire here:

We were there for a few hours during which I fired a gun into the air, played soccer, and danced to traditional Greek music with distant relatives.
In the late afternoon we drove back to Lefkada, and drove around the west side up through mountains, stopping at the island's monastery with an amazing view.

Went to beach, too cold to swim at this time of year. In the summer my cousins tell me it's very crowded.

In the late afternoon we went to another cafe by another beach, which was very crowded for some reason despite the sweater weather temperatures.
As the sun set we went to Karya, the village of at least the ancestors of my paternal grandmother's family in the center of the island nestled in the mountains and overlooking the valley towards the sea. Christos stopped his car so I could take a picture though I admit I was scared oncomming traffic would knock us over the steep drop down from the sharply curving road.

Graves of Kaklamanis and Ktenas relatives, Christos found for me.

Found other Brocenos graves, ΜΠΟΥΡΣΙΝΟΣ in Greek, but they were not related directly to me to my knowledge. In Greek, to get the "B" sound you combine the "M" and "P" sounds, hence the spelling with the M and then pi. Also men's names end with an "S" sound and women's names end with no "S" hence the sigma at the end of male names.

Found grave of Papa Stathis Ktenas, my grandmother's uncle, a communist priest criminalized by the fascists in the Greek civil war. While famous in Lefkada, which historically has been mostly left leaning politically, I never knew about him until six months ago when my cousin Manny informed me in Cambridge. Here's an article about him in Greek, unfortunately my language capacity doesn't exceed ten Hellenic words.
Translation of the grave's words to English: Fighter of the Greek resistance (against the nazi),  member of the Greek liberation front (organization of local against the nazi)

Afterwards we went to the house some of my ancestors lived in but not inside because nobody is there until the summer.

Some of these relatives that were born and raised here are still alive like Apostolos Kaklamanis, my grandmother's first cousin who was speaker of the parliament for many years. At almost eighty years old he's only semi-retired and still keeps a busy schedule, so it may prove difficult or impossible to meet him. Everybody I looked at in this town I stared into their face for an uncomfortably long time trying to discern a family resemblence, sometimes which worked. I've seen many people here and in Greece who look similar to the Greek side of my family. Consider my grandmother (who died five years ago) compared with her first cousin politician Apostolos Kaklamanis:

It was getting cold out even with the winter coat a friend gave me, so we went to cafe to relax and drink more tea.

After a long day we drove the winding road back to our house by the sea. Christos invited me out to a nearby Cuban bar with some friends of his though I was way too tired and passed out just before midnight.

Mon 4/13
I slept 12 hours this past night, woke up shortly before noon, then took a bike ride around town. Here's a shot of the beach.
Oh yeah this is their backyard.

At around six pm I returned from my bike ride to Christos saying "Eat now so we can get dinner later." Really? I'm still full from last night's dinner!
He then drove me down the east side of Lefkada and saw tiny islands off coast, one of which was once owned by the rich greek guy who married Jackie Kennedy, Aristotle Onassis.
We later got pizza that night, and then ice cream where I tried a special Greek flavor made from the sap of the native mastic tree.

Tue 4/14
I left Lefkada midday, as Christos drove me to the bus station and said farewell.
On the ride back to Athens I heard a Greek language and female vocal version of Nickelback's "this is how you remind me" on the bus before crossing the canal from the Pelopponnese peninsula back to the mainland close to Athens.
View of canal

On the way back to my cousin's house in Athens I visited the Chabad house (Jewish community center that doubled as a restaurant) again, met two Israelis on vacation, and got hummus on the house.

Wed 4/15
Only thing special about this day is that I made more money busking than ever before, over 15 euro for three or four hours of ukulele playing on Ermou street.

Thurs 4/16
Busked for another two hours and made 8 euro during which a young woman listening to me play Green Day's "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" asked me to play it a second time! Apparently I'm good enough for encores now. We chatted a bit and discovered we both struggled with depression as she was on her way to her therapist and I recommended to her as a great way to travel.

At six pm there was a gold mining protest I wanted to go to but instead chose to meet up with Mohanad, the guy I CouchSurfed with in Ramallah, Palestine. He was on his way back from Sweden where he was visiting his ex-wife and daughter who live there as refugees but want to come back to Palestine because the life for immigrants in Sweden is very harsh. In town for just one day I toured him around the city. This was the guy who took me to an Irish pub and then a dance club in the West Bank, so while he wanted to go out and party my more reserved self wanted to relax and chill. I asked him about the recent elections in Israel to which he responded that to him and other Palestinians it doesn't matter who wins the Israeli election, it will be the same for them no matter who wins.
View of Athens from hill close to Acropolis

That night I video chatted with my sister Sophia for her birthday, so she could meet her cousins Dimitri and Mina.

Fri 4/17
Last day with my cousins in Athens before I moved to my friend Garifallia's for the next few days with her and her boyfriend. Mina insisted in feeding me dinner one last time before I left at which point I my stomach had expanded into my left leg. Dimitri drove me to the metro and I arrived at Garifallia's an hour before midnight. Lots of their friends came over that night for hanging out, smoking and drinking.

Sat 4/18
At one o'clock pm I left Garifallia's as she and her boyfriend were still asleep and went to a sustainability festival with Elena, another CS person I never surfed with but wanted to meet anyway since we had similar interests in the environment and political activism. She found her friend Harry at the festival who invited us for vegan lunch at his house. You never turn down vegan meals, they all know how to cook like a badass: mouthwatering mushroom rice, homemade wine and halva, delicious greens and farmer's cheese (he didn't eat the cheese but his son did). Coincidentally Harry happened to be friends with Garifallia, so he called her while we were there but she didn't answer.

Harry joined me that night for a talk about the Zapatistas, the revolutionary leftist political and and militant group based in Chiapas, the southernmost state of Mexico, at Nosotros, an collective bar in Exarchia, the Greek neighborhood famous for its political activism. The speaker was professor and author George Katsiaficas, who had visited Chiapas for several weeks to learn about the movement and came to Nosotros to tell the story. He spoke in English and a Greek translator sat alonside him for the audience. With rapt attention throughout the talk, I learned a lot and was excited the whole time for what these people were accomplishing.

Some highlights: One point he especially wanted to emphasize was that it's not just a bunch of fighters in the jungle like is often considered by foreigners, it's an actual working community that rotates villagers into their government so that everybody gets a chance to participate in decision making in everything from agriculture to healthcare. With a strong sense of community there are five autonomous communities with a central government, symbolic of a shell (Spanish name I forget, not conch but something similar?) that means continuous growth in the indigenous culture. In fact, when George gave a talk there it had to be translated not only into Spanish but also into two other indigenous languages. While there is some currency and market trade there is much democratically distributed throughout the people. 
The importance now is to build the movement slowly and focus on giving to the people rather than urgent revolution as they feel they have plenty of time in their hands since the Mexican government is distracted with other conflicts. Their philosophy is to turn their back to the Mexican government rather than fight it, and it's working.

Some other interesting points: over three hundred European woman have traveled to Chiapas wanting to have Subcommandante Marcos' children.
Second: their government was going to only limit alcohol consumption but the Chiapas women rallied up and demanded an absolute ban on alcohol to prevent domestic abuse, which is in effect so much that some Italians living in Mexico City have got rid of wine from their homes in solidarity.
Another: George said he has asked a 25 year old what his dreams were to which he got as an answer that he was living his dream. His parents had died in the '94 fighting but he survived. At the end of their conversation however George was asked how much a plane ticket to America costs, as if that while he's living a dream there's still something in the back of his mind that craves the American life.
Finally: food there lacks diversity, it's mostly the same daily of corn, tortillas, peppers, beans, and coffee. But the sense of community somehow makes up for it.

Harry left early because there were too many smokers but it was fantastic through the end with a great question and answer session. I befriended the guy I sat next to who also couldn't speak Greek, Nathan, an Australian living in Montreal who also was in the People's Climate March with me and knew about the artist activist collective I volunteered with this past summer, the Beehive Design Collective. He gave me part of his dinner the bar served, we talked a lot after and eventually found a house party at a nearby squat where I met someone who is going to Chiapas in a few weeks and invited me to CouchSurf with them.

Sun 4/19
Went with Garifallia, her boyfriend and another friend to a hill overlooking southeast Athens and then to the sea, which was dirty and chilly but pretty by the water regardless. At dusk we danced and ate at an African festival before finding a bar to stay out late drinking ouzo, which believe it or not was my first time drinking ouzo in Greece despite over a month of time passing here. It's not as popular here as it is among Greek Americans in the States.

Mon 4/20
Busked, made 10 euro after three hours and got slightly sunburnt. Unfortunately it's easier to get noticed in sunlight so there's no shade for street musicians.
As the stars came out that night I walked by an outdoor cafe/bar and a waiter randomly gave me beer on the house. I sat down and started taking to some Welsh speaking Welsh guys on vacation who invited me to visit them in Wales! They bought me another beer and gave me some of their dinner. One of them used to work in Sierra Leone at a British owned iron mine but ebola caused their company to die off. When the ebola virus first started spreading the Sierra Leone government got rid of Facebook to stop media leaks from spreading the news to prevent lost investment. Remember that the Ebola virus was already almost a year into devastating west Africa before the Western media picked it up. So when it hit international news the companies there disintegrated as investors ran away.

Tue 4/21
Got this trimmed down a bit thanks to the wonderful first time haircutting skills of Garifallia and her friend Stellious.
New do (why don't people take mirror selfies from this angle where the cell phone isn't visible?)

That night we watched Into The Wild, which believe it or not was my first time watching it. Before leaving the States a friend of mine made me promise not to do what the main character did in the movie, which I knew about: he went out on his own and died alone in Alaska, and sure of course I won't do that. I would get too lonely, I like having a sense of community too much. Plus, running away from society's problems rather than trying to fix them isn't my style. Nonetheless I did get inspired enough from the movie to randomly video chat with my brother though we didn't have much time to talk.

Notes: I miss reading, or rather having tons of time to read. I miss trees, Vermont, the Appalachians, hiking, camping. Nature is calling.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Entry 6: Journey to Greece

Sunday March 15
My last night in Israel I stayed one more time at the Milk and Honey Hostel, the place I worked at for almost two months in December and January.

While there I met a new hostel volunteer, Stephanie, another Jewish American active in politics who enjoyed my Birthright critique. We talked endlessly about Israeli politics, as she was actively involved in the campaign supporting the labor party, the main opposition to Netanyahu. While she has no doubts that the Israeli labor party is no win for the peace struggle, in her view it's the lesser of two evils, at least better than Netanyahu. Some disagree however, as a Netanyahu win means the horrors of the occupation won't be hidden by the nice guy face of the Labor party.

My last few hours I said goodbye to Milk and Honey staff when I suddenly remembered I still had the key to my friend's place in Jerusalem, so had to rush to deliver her key to her parents' place in Tel Aviv. Luckily some friendly Israelis helped me find the place and gave me money for the bus as well as a lecture on why I should make Aliyah and marry a Jew. I'm not sure if the free bus ride was worth suffering through that talk.

On the way to the airport I met Alberto, a Spanish-German guy trying to bike around the world who paid for my train ticket to the airport as I had little money. We ended up sitting next to each other on the two hour flight to Athens! After landing at nine at night Alberto and I took the train into the city and instantly started talking to a Greek woman who invited us to dinner the day after the next, which unfortunately neither of us could make it because I went with my relatives instead.

Alberto went to his hostel and I met my CouchSurfing host Dimitri. His one room apartment on top of a building in the south of Athens can see the mountains overlooking the city, and welcomed me to a comfy couch and crunchy paximadi.

Monday 3/16
I toured Athens, mostly the Acropolis, Parthenon, and its museum. Honestly it was underwhelming, Greeks openly admit that I should go to Italy for the ancient architecture instead. Later that night I watched Annabelle, some horror film with my CS host Dimitri. I hate horror films, and my sweaty hands from my nerves affirmed that.

Tue 3/17
There's a neighborhood in Athens known for it's rich political history and vibrant anarchism, Exarchia with a public square that hosts parties every weekend and a market once a month. I never saw this happen but supposedly if police try to enter some parts of this neighborhood they will get molotovs thrown at them from the rooftops. Curious, I went to Exarchia Square to hang out with my ukulele, (any instrument can easily make you new friends) and met a self-proclaimed anarchist Syrian refugee named Sam. We talked for a while and he bought me a beer as I played ukulele for the others around him, and met some other refugees. Towards the evening, there suddenly poured tons and tons of people all wearing black out of a cafe in the corner of the Square. Sam and I wandered over and I met a Bookchin inspired anarchist who explained to me what was going on: they were preparing for a demonstration and march in solidarity for the political prisoners going through hunger strikes. I ended up joining them as well as thousands of others dressed in black in Monastiraki Square. Sticking out like a sore thumb in my blue sweater and ukulele, I wandered around talking to people to get a feel for what was about to happen. It took an hour to finally begin marching but when we did they yelled chants in Greek and asked me not to take pictures of their faces because of security culture, they don't want the police to find out who they are. Check out my blurry video in which you can't see much but you can at least hear the Greek chants. Here are two articles of the event, one from an anarchist perspective and one from the mainstream. In a fortuitous display of events the march just happened to end at Syntagma square at 8 pm, which is the exact time and place where I had arranged to meet my relatives for the first time for dinner. They were late due to the march but it was fun getting an escort there. It was only after I left the demonstration that the fires and clashes with police erupted, which were far away from me and my relatives' dinner.

Before leaving America six months ago I met with Manny, my Dad's cousin in Cambridge to learn about my relatives in Greece who I hoped to meet. Manny gave me their contact information, so I emailed them to explain who I was, hoping to meet them in person. Christos and Dimitris Kaklamanis are brothers with another sister who couldn't make it there, my Dad's second cousins. My great-grandmother is their grandmother's sister.  They bought me dinner and I showed them the family tree Manny made for me as well as pictures of my family, and I learned about my relatives in Greece and told them about my travels in the Middle East.

Wed 3/18
I left my CS host Dimitris (note: very common name in Greece, I'm referring to my CouchSurfing host here, not my cousin) Wednesday night to take the six hour night train to Thessaloniki, the cheapest train ride I could find. With the lights on constantly and no room to stretch out, I barely slept but at least I got plenty of reading done.

Thurs 3/19
Early Thursday morning at the train station, my new CS host Vasiliki, or Billy, came to get me to take me to his home where he lived with his brother, both attending a local university.

Fri 3/20
Today for the first time I tried busking, the word for performing on the street as a street entertainer. I still wasn't coordinated enough to sing and play ukulele at the same time but I played almost all day, practicing my heart out. The very first person to give me money was a little girl who handed me a few cents. All together I made maybe a couple euros over five hours but it was worth it. Playing ukulele simply makes me happy, as it's music and I'm used to playing piano whenever I want at home and missed playing so much. I really don't care if I don't make money as the act of playing it relieves stress on it's own.

That night Vasiliki and his friends took me to a bar where plenty of wine was drank and Greek music played, and we all ended up going to the home of one of his friends' friends to hang out until maybe four in the morning.

Sat 3/21
I busked for just a half hour with Vasiliki, who is an excellent musician who made twenty euros after four hours of playing while I wandered off to meet another friend I met online at a cafe.
At ten pm I walked to Vasiliki's friend's house to meet him and his friends there, with lots of music, dancing, baklava, paximadi, and rakomelo, a very strong alcohol mixed with honey that stung my eyes when it touched my lips. Surprisingly, ouzo, the licorice flavored alcoholic drink commonly associated with Greece isn't very popular in Greece. Vasiliki played greek music almost the whole time with his bouzouki, a Greek styled guitar, and sang with the music in Greek as I danced along and they all laughed at my dancing. Oh and I ate so much paximadi, which they covered with a tasty salsa drenched in olive oil I was full for days.

Sun 3/22
I met Nathan, who Vasiliki also hosted from CouchSurfing for that night. Also Jewish, he left America two years ago after he hated his job and has been traveling since, now does copy editing from his mini laptop as he travels for work. He bought me a pork gyro, which had ketchup and mustard on it -- very surprising to me as I expected only tzatziki.
That night I went to my new CS host Fereshteh, an Iranian student of an Italian university currently on Erasmus student exchange at Aristotle University in Thessaloniki. The whole time I stayed with her I pretended I was an Erasmus student to get into the university's cafeteria for free but shitty meals.

Mon 3/23
Nathan joined Fereshteh and I for lunch at the cafeteria and then Nathan and I tried looking for museums to explore, however they were closed as it was Monday. We also discovered that the Jewish cemetery where Nathan's great-grandfather is buried was destroyed by the Nazis and Aristotle University was built on top of it. So we just hung out in a cafe as he worked while I did emails and planning.
Nathan and I had dinner at uni then went on a bus to a party Fereshteh suggested, running into her on bus. It was a Erasmus student party at a bar/dance club, with games too like a "famous couples name tag match game", if you found your match you both got a free shot, which I did. Some very drunk person got loud and angry at me for having a Bill Clinton name tag even though I didn't have a choice but thankfully I found nicer people to talk with, like another traveler who was visiting Greece from Turkey.

Tue 3/24

Wed 3/25
The past two days poured lots of rain in Thessaloniki, so that meant lots of conversation with Fereshteh about each other's cultures. One of these nights I ate an entire jar of olives for dinner as I walked along the boardwalk, feeling the breeze of the Mediterranean.

Thurs 3/26
Took the night train from Thessaloniki to Athens, met Syrian and Palestinian refugees, showed them my pics of Palestine and tried talking to them in Arabic and what little English they knew. One of them kept trying to speak Arabic to me no matter how much I didn't understand a word of what he said.

Fri 3/27
Arriving early in the morning to Athens, I ate a jar of snails I found in a market for breakfast, escargot drenched in olive oil. Later on I felt fine, thankful for the protein.
I met my CS host Vaios and his girlfriend Stella who had an odd fascination for America with pictures of my homeland all over their house. They have visited a couple times and plan to go again so I promised to host them when I return to America and serve them pancakes with maple syrup. Stella is from Cyprus, and she taught me much about Cypriot history like that they still have their own extant language in addition to Greek.

Sat 3/28
A few months ago I asked the anarchist subreddit, /r/anarchism if anyone in Greece would like to tour me around, host me, or at least get coffee to talk about the situation in Greece. Someone responded and I finally met this guy today, though he was sick and couldn't hang out long we got coffee and he toured me to a university known for the uprising in the 70's during the dictatorship, which is still occupied.

Sun 3/29
Busked with ukulele and made over 4 euro, so technically this means I'm a professional ukulele player now, right? Anyone want to recommend songs to play? So far my list, in order of how well I know them and how much I play them, includes "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, "Hot and Cold" by Katy Perry, "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" by Green Day, "Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen, "In My Mind" by Amanda Palmer, "Let It Be" by the Beatles, "No Rain" by Blind Melon. I figure a good mix of traditional and pop could net me the best income but I so far only have three songs memorized and I need sheet music for the rest, so I keep it at my feet as I play.

Mon 3/30

Tue 3/31
Left Vaios and Stella
Busked, made 4.10
Got my cell phone charger back from CS host Dimitri since I left it there when I went to Thessaloniki. He bought me coffee and a pick for my ukulele as I was developing a blister on my thumb from strumming my ukulele.
Later that day I met Garifallia, who's name means I think means flower or chrysanthemum in Greek. She took me up one of the big hills (mountains for an East-coaster like me) of Athens to see the sunset, and on the way down we played basketball with invisible ball at a court we found until a kid felt sorry for us and gave us a real ball.
As night came I went to my new CS host Chris, an aircraft engineer in the Greek military who says "dude" more than most Americans and served me popcorn and beer for dinner.

Wed 4/1
Went with Chris to the Olympic stadium with his girlfriend, an immigrant from Nigeria. As I saw the Olympic pool my inner child burst in glee -- this is where Michael Phelps won his six gold medals in 2004. Unfortunately I couldn't go in but perhaps I'll find a way to pretend I'm friends with Phelps.

Thurs 4/2

Fri 4/3
Fantastic view of Acropolis at night (see pic) from a nearby hill in Thessio, a neighborhood/area of Athens.

Sat 4/4
Busked for an hour in Thessio and made two euro, met another ukulele player and played with her for a bit.
That night I went to a synagogue (see pic, outside and inside) in Athens for Passover (Jewish holiday), which has 24/7 armed guards outside as Antisemitism is rampant in a country in which the Nazi party Golden Dawn has 5-10% of the vote. It was a Sephardic synagogue that split men to the bottom floor and women to the top, with barely anyone in attendance. After the service they invited me to the Chabad House (sort of a Jewish community center) that doubles as a Sephardi (Spanish Jews) cuisine restaurant for the Passover Seder (pics, one and two). Despite the lack of matzah balls, the Mediterranean flavors impressed me over the top as I ate my heart out. It was at this Seder that I met yet another guy from Silver Spring, a town just ten minutes away from my hometown. If you've following my blog you would know that I've met several people from Silver Spring in my travels already, so this pushed the freaky coincidence meter over the top and spilled over the Seder plate. He was in his sixties, on vacation visiting his son if I remember correctly, traveling to Turkey and Israel as well as Greece. I asked him if he could take some stuff of mine with him home but unfortunately he couldn't because he over-packed too. At least he was ok with his picture on the internet with my crazy hair!

Sun 4/5
Left CS Chris
While waiting to meet my relatives for dinner, I used the restaruant's wifi to FaceTime with my friend from home Carl as a test to see if FaceTime would work. It just so happened to be my Dad's birthday today, and so I had this idea to FaceTime with him as a birthday present while I had dinner with my relatives, who are my Dad's second cousins. Though the noise of the restaurant posed difficulty hearing, we passed my phone around for us all to talk with him, and my Mom, cat and dog also said hello from Scaggsville, Maryland. At the restaurant with me was not only Christos and Dimitiris Kaklamanis again but also their sister Dimitra and their mother Marika. Dimitra's daughter, my third cousin Marianna, would have shown up but she was sick. Of course, I was so distracted I forgot to take a picture of this get together but I'm sure there will be lots of pictures when I'm with them for Easter.
That night I went with my second cousin once-removed Dimitri to stay with him until Easter. He and his wife live at the foot of a mountain (legit mountain, not a hill) on the edge of Athens with their two baby twins and a maid who helps with the twins as one of them is chronically sick and won't eat.

Mon 4/6
I'm thinking of teaching English as a second language (TESL) as a way to travel and work, so I'm looking into various certification courses that could get me such a job. The Certification in English Language Teaching for Adults (CELTA) is one such qualification administered by Cambridge University in England, which is a governing body for centers all over the world.  To taste the waters to see if it's right for me I found such a school in Athens, and went in to learn about it and take the pre-exam at the center. Twenty minutes into the exam without having done anything, I realized that the full-time one month long course would be a massive mistake, as my level of ADHD cannot possibly handle such intensity. I used up the 90 minutes allotted for this pre-exam staring into the wall, my mind wandering, and messaging some friends to vent about my lack of focus. There is another option for me however, a part-time semester long course that would be much easier for someone like me without much time-management ability. Unfortunately these longer, more relaxed courses don't start start until this Fall, which may screw up my plans to be in Paris Nov/Dec for the UN Climate Conference. Or perhaps I'll stay in Greece until then and try to get Greek citizenship/passport as I wait to take the part-time course in Athens this Fall.

Tue 4/7
For now, busking is my source of income and I continue to practice. I recorded myself for you all to hear: please enjoy and know that I've only been playing a little over a month, so I'm still learning. Feel free to critique, be blunt and honest! Should I stop singing and try playing harmonica with ukulele instead with one of those neck stands that let me play ukulele and harmonica at the same time? I don't know how to play harmonica but I have one with me.

Garifallia found me playing ukulala and we ate spanikopita together, unfortunately without cheese because the religious tradition says no animals products in the forty days before Easter and some bakeries and restaurants follow this rule.

This weekend I will go with my relatives to Lefkada, the island my family comes from, for Easter as we will roast lamb, play Greek music, and visit Karya, the village in Lefkada of my ancestors.

And hopefully I'll post my next blog entry much sooner!

Entry 5: CouchSurfing and Hitchhiking in Israel


Holy cow eveything that's happened since my last blog update has been a wild ride, almost constantly moving place to place thanks to tons of CouchSurfing and Hitchhiking.

This blog post won't be as literarily styled as my last, as there's way too much to talk about and I want to spend more time expiring Greece than editing. Perhaps in the future I will come back and revise it after its posted publicly, so keep in touch.

The way I do my blogs is that I keep a diary in my iPhone's notes of brief words and phrases of each day's events to jog my memory. Later on when I finally sit down to write my blog I expand on each of these notes, fixing spelling and grammar, adding detail, better language, fancy metaphors and the like. Expanding on my notes like this takes a lot of time, and I simply haven't had many large chunks of time available in the past month. ...ok, that's not completely true as I still struggle with internet addiction so lots of this free time is spent browsing reddit. But I did (and still do) have planning to do for Greece and Northern Europe this summer.

By the way, I'm considering going to the UK this summer, I'm thinking Scotland, because it's out of the Schengen Area: a group of countries in Europe where those from outside of it can only be in the Schengen for up to 90 days. After those 90 days you must spend 90 days out of the Schengen before coming back in.

So I need a schedule that allows me to visit France during November and December for the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, helping with organizing the protests there. The UN hasn't done shit about climate change, so we're there to protest that and start changing the system ourselves. But that's a story for next year.

Sun Feb 1
Arrive at Hostel in Ramallah

Mon Feb 2
Uh, this day was blank in my notes as are some others, so I'm just going to skip over them.

Tue Feb 3

Did you know there's a Krusty Krab in Ramallah? Yes, that restaurant from SpongeBob SquarePants caters to patrons of the West Bank. Hardly anyone was there though because the food sucks when tasty falafel and lamb are all around.

That night I went to a yoga class in Ramallah with an Australian aid worker, who has spent much of his time in Gaza, and James, an English guy traveling around the Middle East. It was a typical yoga class, full of Westernized appropriations of Indian culture, attended mostly by Palestinian women. It was very relaxing, and during the meditation part at the end my mind was bouncing off the walls, as I couldn't focus on the instructor's voice at all.

That night I met a Palestinian veterinarian atheist Richard Dawkins fan from Hebron invited me to his place, though I never did. We talked about atheism, and our experiences of being an atheist in each of our own cultures. I've never felt persecution for my beliefs whereas he has.

Wed Feb 4

The Hostel in Ramallah has activities everyday, and today's was a hike. We saw Tel Aviv from the top of a castle upon a high hill, as well as a nearby settlement.

Thurs Feb 5

Fri Feb 6

Today's activity at the hostel was a "political tour," which meant visiting and participating if desired in one of the weekly demonstrations that take place in Bil'in, a town near Ramallah. I met Roi, a Tel Aviv Israeli Jew of Anarchists Against the Wall who comes to demonstrations every other week.

The Palestinians march as close to the apartheid wall as they can with the ultimate goal of tearing it down. On the opposing side are the Israeli military blocking the Palestinians from advancing, mostly by launching tear gas in a high arc to land amidst the protestors. Occasionally the IDF will fire rubber bullets and even more dangerous weaponds like projectile tear gas canisters, which are designed to penitence buildings to spread tear gas within closed walls. There's a monument erected for Besem, someone who was killed when one of these projectiles hit him in the chest.

Toward the end of the protest the IDF advanced very rapidly, and we all retreated rapidly in response. Tear gas landed in front me as I was walking quickly away from approaching IDF, I felt tear gas for the first time. Despite how little gas was around me it stung pretty badly.

Sat Feb 7

I had to leave the West Bank back to Jerusalem because of visa complications. A bus took me from Ramallah to the checkpoint, and when I got off the bus I was pretty confused. What exactly was I supposed to do at this checkpoint? Where do I go? It was very crowded, with lots of lines and gates everywhere. Fortunately a Palestinian noticed my confusion and gave me free taxi ride, as he bought a taxi for himself to go to another, easier checkpoint at which I didn't even have to show my passport.

He dropped me off on the outskirts of Jerusalem and I still had ways to go, so I turned around and stuck out my arm to hitchhike and immediately found a ride. That never happened to me before but it was pretty cool finding a ride so quickly in a city.

He dropped me off at the Old City from which I easily walked to Abraham Hostel, where I ran into James, who I met at the Hostel in Ramallah.
I met yet another Birthrighter at the hostel, one of the many I've ran into.
My friend Zoe took me to an underground (literally and figuratively) death metal show, lots of loud noises with no rhythm. Not my style but it was fun knowing that exists in Jerusalem.

Sun Feb 8

Mon Feb 9

The Israelis must be very proud of Kafka's judaism because they stole every bit of his nightmarish bureaucratic themes. My appointment at the office for Ministry of the Interior in Jerusalem ended with them claiming that I needed the original copy of my birth certificate in order to extend my visa. Fuck getting that mailed here, there's no way I'm going to travel around the world with that in my possession. But they said I could stay until I get berth cert even though my visa expired the following day, so I figured they don't care that much anyway so I can spend as long as I want here with an expired visa just because I'm Jewish, so I left Jerusalem for Ramallah. Only once I got there I realized that having an expired visa in the West Bank is not smart because there's checkpoints everywhere. While my white and Jewish privilege can get me pretty far, there may be that one time they decide to examine my visa and give me trouble. So I need to get out of the country and come back.

Tue Feb 10

Left the Hostel in Ramallah, dropped a book my CS host Mohanad loaned to me off at Ramallah Cafe, took a bus to Jeru, found my Mexican phd researcher friend on bus, went to Citadel Hostel a her just to charge my phone, left to try hitchhiking to Eilat, people said I was in wrong spot, took tram to other spot without paying for tram, got busted for not paying, but screw that I'm not gonna pay the over 100 shekel fine. Got lost in Jerusalem. Made it to Abraham Hostel. Found James White again. Eavesdropped on a Jerusalem LGBT club member who mentioned free pizza, went there for the pizza, went to CS host and stayed the night there.

Wed Feb 11
Stressed about visa situation but friends got me to relax.

Thurs Feb 12
Bus ride to Eilat. Someone gave me a free ticket that would've cost me 80 shekels ($20)
Went to wrong border, too late for border crossing, which closed at 8pm. Camped on beach

FrI Feb 13
Charged phone got water at local Eilat bar, met Israeli who worked at Towson Mall selling Israeli products. She's been to that now closed Falafel shop in Maple Lawn.
Went to Border crossing. At that point I was three days over my visa, this border cared about that more than the Ministry of the Interior did, gave me a strict talking to but let me go.

Taxi to Aqaba because they don't allow walking to there.
Met CS host Ibrihim, talk with him at cafe, he's Palestinian, his family left Palestine in '45 by *choice*, that is: they chose to leave because they were farmers and had no match against the military. This destroys the black and white thinking of whether Palestinians left because they chose to or because they were kicked out, and paints a more complicated picture. Yes, some Palestinians left by choice but it was because they had no other choice, it was face the British/Israeli military or leave.
Met Mutaz Teto, studies accounting at works at bus station. Gave me the rest of his dinner. Drove me and his work buddy on a ten minute business run. No idea what was happening but got milk and oreo cookies.
Ibrihim bought me falafel for dinner as we watched Training Day.

Sat Feb 14
Left Ibrihim's, crossed border crossing, Israel gave me one month instead of the usual three because I had overstayed my visa three days and I only spent one day in Jordan. I'm Jewish and have family in Israel, which might have been a factor in them letting me back in Israel.
Found Liran on CouchSurfing. Hitchhike there with old couple who drove me straight there. Met German girl and Araik from Russia. Went to pool bar, Liran's friend harassed German.

Sun Feb 15
Liran asked me for massage. Creepy.

Mon Feb 16
Left Liran's and hitchhiked with Araik to Mitzpe Ramon. Three different rides, noon to five.
Saw Makhtesh Ramon, a huge canyon. Very pretty.
Visited hostel, met Simon from France. Met Noam our CS host, his two cats, two kids, and a homophobic woman surfer from Russia.

Tue Feb 17
Left Noam's for Beer Sheva, said goodbye to Araik.
Got to Beer Sheva and met up with James White who I had met in Ramallah and coincidentally in Jerusalem too.
Surfed with Nataly and her two American-Israeli flatmates, one of whom went to a house party with a NOLS Amazon buddy. Went to awesome music jamming session with her friends.

Wed Feb 18
Left with James to hitchhike for Ein Gedi. This was the first time I headed for a place without a secure host in place before hand. Hitchhiked with an awesome guy who fed us lunch and connected us with a host in Arad on the way to the Dead Sea, stayed night with them.
Check out my friend James' blog entry of these events!

Thurs Feb 19
It was supposed to snow in Jeru and flood roads on way to Jeru, so James and I did a day trip to hot springs in Dead Sea.
Luckily, hitched with a geologist on way there who told us about the terrain.
Another hitchhike ride was the third person I met from Silver Spring (a town very close to my home town in Maryland) in one month in Israel. Very friendly, fed us pizza during car ride. Drove to far but no big deal, hitched back to find hot springs. They were hot. Now I smell like sulfur despite rinsing off in the Dead Sea and taking a shower.

Fri Feb 20
Hitchhiked with James from Arad to Beer Sheva. Got to out host Aaron Zalcman who wasn't there but his flatmate Micah was. Went to dinner with Moshe, another CS guy in the city.

Sat 21
Spent day planning for Greece
CouchSurfed w Aaron Zalcman

Sun 22
More planning for Greece.
Bakery w a friend, went to Asham Hazman, a cool bar/music scene. Made campfire, had beer, roasted sweet potatoes in tin foil in the fire.

CouchSurfed w Moshe

Tue 24
Hung out w friend in middle of the day shopping for Purim costumes
CouchSurfed w Moshe

CouchSurfed w Ram, a student at Ben Gurion Uni

Left Ram's to hitchhike to Tel Aviv. First time I got picked up by a truck.
Arrived at Milk and Honey Hostel, stayed night there

Did lots of emails, aka surfed reddit.

Sat Feb 28

Sun March 1
Still at Milk and Honey hostel
CouchSurf w friend from All That's Left, Jewish activist group against the occupation, she gave me free ukulele! Very, very happy about the ukulele.

Mon March 2
Stayed w Tomair Friedman.
I met this guy summer 2011 at Landmark College. I was a tour guide and he was a prospective student I gave a tour too. He never went to Landmark but we stayed fb friends since.
He saw I was in Israel and messaged me saying he lives there. We tried for a while to meet up then it finally become convenient.
Played basketball and watched Walking Dead. 

Tue March 3
Train back to Milk and Honey
Hitchhike to Jeru
Stay with friend

Wed March 4
Get stuff from Ari, a guy from america visiting Israel that my Mom and Dad gave a phone charger, power cord, harmonica, etc. to give to me as more supplies for Greece.

Through the end of Israel, stayed with friends and prepared for Greece.

Last day, one more night at Milk and Honey hostel.

Forgot to give key back to my friend, so I had to rush to do that before my flight.

Flight to Greece, met Alberto on the train and flight there, spanish-German traveling around the world.

End notes:

I often say to myself "Holy fuck what the Hell am I doing," as I travel, wondering why and how I'm actually going to survive. But I say this less and less as I'm continuously amazed at the hospitality of strangers.