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Saturday, May 9, 2015

Entry 8: Six months

Wed 4/22

Thurs 4/23
Left Garifallia's to head to my next CS host in Volos, a port city on my way to Skiathos, an island I'll volunteer at for a few weeks. After staying up late the previous night writing my blog and procrastinating, I got to the train station at 11am, bought a night train ticket for that night, and walked away immediately regretting that decision. After busking for a couple hours I realized I really, really wanted to try hitchhiking in Greece instead of taking the exhausting night train again so I said to myself, "Fuck it, I'm gonna return this ticket and get a refund." They could only pay me back 90% of the 18 euro ticket but that was fine for me. I bought the next ticket to Oinofyta, a suburb of Athens easier to hitchhike out of for four euro and then jumped on board.

Some nice people helped me when I had to switch trains and told me which stop to get off at, and when I did I had to walk 2km to the on ramp for the highway but hitched a ride halfway there at around 4:30pm thanks to an Albanian guy. Then it took me another half hour to find the next guy, a Romanian with the tips of his fingers cut off from his furniture making work who has a wife and kids here in Greece. He drove me out of his way to a rest stop on the national highway by 6pm where I tried hitchhiking some more. And tried. And tried. And no one came. I had to spend the night there, unpacked my sleeping pad and silk sleep cover to sleep inside the 24/7 cafe. The workers kindly gave me some seasoned bread and pastries, way too many than necessary, and tea for dinner. Greek hospitality isn't as widespread and constant as Palestinian hospitality but when it happens you are overwhelmed with food. Absolute truck loads of it that can sustain you for a week. I'm sure some of this bread will go moldy before I eat it, or perhaps I'll share it with someone else when I get to my CS host in Volos.

Despite the noise of TV European league basketball and cheering, I slept right away when my head hit my sweater turned pillow. At midnight however I awoke to a thunderous yelling, and jolted up to see what was the matter. Expecting the worse that could happen at a rest stop at this time of the night it was just a few excited fans hyper-focused on their blaring basketball game. I guess they're as enthusiastic about their sports teams as many Americans are.

Laughing and relieved at the situation I fell back to my spot in the dark corner of the room under a table and tried to fall asleep again but this time with great difficulty. I definitely remember dreaming in the early hours, as I dreamt of people I haven't seen since I left America. In fact, several times I was caught in that paralyzed state where I'm half-dreaming and half-awake, and I tried moving to avoid the dream's events but couldn't as I found myself paralyzed under the table. It pales in comparison to the night terrors I had as a kid so it wasn't too scary, in retrospect I find it rather interesting.

Fri 4/24
Perhaps it was because of this, the noise and fluorescent lighting that eventually my brain just gave up trying to sleep and I could only relax with my eyes closed until my growling stomach demanded breakfast at 6:30am. Thanks to plenty of bread the staff gave me the prior night I had a gooey, sweet cheesy, flaky cake as well as olive bread before hitting the road. Before 8am another Albanian picked me up and drove me all the way to a rest stop outside Lamia, 2/3rds of the way from Athens to Volos, where I thumb this into my iPhone's notes with Goody's wifi, a Greek burger fast-food chain. All of my rides so far could barely speak English so there wasn't much conversation unfortunately.

After waiting two hours with no ride I resorted to asking the nearby gas station for cardboard and a marker to make a Βόλος/Volos sign, which worked quickly to catch a car from an English speaking Greek who told me I was in a bad spot for picking up rides. He dumped me off two minutes down the road at a more convenient location where I easily hitched with an English speaking Greek couple on their way to Volos, the last ride I needed. They liked me enough to invite me for drinks and appetizers on them at their favorite cafe/bar in the city with their friend, who then drove me to my next CS host, Christina. Still tipsy from the drinks I updated this diary on my new couch.

After borrowing Christina's bike to tour around Volos, I found a memorial to the Jews who died in the holocaust, checked my map and discovered the synagogue was just a block away, so why not check it out. They gave me dinner and I stayed until services started at 9:30pm where I met an elderly man who as a child was smuggled under a boat deck to escape the Nazis from Greece to Turkey where they were welcomed because his family had Turkish citizenship but were living in Greece. His family had lived in Anatolia (Modern Turkey) since the Spanish Inquisition as the Ottoman Empire welcomed the Jews when they were kicked out of Spain, and as many Sephardic Jews did and still do he also spoke their dialect of Spanish.

I left early to find Christina and her friends at a local bar/cafe.

One of her friends is also distantly related to Apostolos Kaklamanis, my grandmother's famous Greek politician cousin, which in a way makes us very distantly related.

Christina's a really cool urban planning student, lots of similar interests like activism and leftist politics.

Sat 4/25
Busked for over four hours on the boardwalk of Volos, made a record breaking almost thirty euro. I only stopped because after playing Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah for the zillionth time a guy in his house-boat across from me called out:
"Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah! [yelling in Greek]" then upon realizing I couldn't understand, "Four hours of playing over and over again please go somewhere else!"
Fine with me but if you had a problem you should've mentioned it earlier. As I packed up and started counting and sorting my coins a younger guy from the same boat walked over and handed me a two euro coin. Thank you. "Paragallo," *your welcome*.

At this point I have three songs memorized, and four more I can play well with sheet music at my feet. The awkward fingering of Blind Melon's "No Rain" has finally gotten easier.

After an authentic Greek yogurt dinner, I joined Christina to a midnight outdoor queer dance party she helped organize at her university. Not unlike most parties I've been to, loud pop music, booze, and strobe lights flooded the thousand person venue. I met Christina's friends and other students like Kostas, another CouchSurfing host who I messaged, many of whom...

Sun 4/26
...  coincidentally found me busking on the seaside walkway the next day. I chatted long with Christina about many shared interests of political views and activism, travels and hitchhiking, and especially Israel and Palestine, which she had a particular fascination for.

Mon 4/27
I left Christina's before she awoke for a ferry ride to Skiathos, an island where I'll spend the next few weeks volunteering. The boat officials wouldn't accept the half-off student discount I bought online but thankfully let me on without paying the full price with a warning not to do it again. Views of the sea, nearby mainland and islands faded in and out with the morning haze as Hellenic mountains appeared for brief hellos only to disappear moments later. Contrasted with such surrounding scenes my two and a half hour boat ride's population within included seasonal workers reclining on the sofas, junk food snack bars, fluttering moths, several TVs playing what looked like a live action Dragonball Z, and a full parking garage in the lower decks that could fit several 18-wheelers.

Soon after arriving at Skiathos I met Stephen who took me to Joyce 'n Fun, the play lounge/day care he owns with his partner Elektra. They have one adorable and energetic five year old, Joyce. I'm volunteering with this family cooking them meals, walking their dog, and occasionally helping out at the daycare. They're very nice and chill people but very disorganized. They're house was a mess as if they've been waiting for me to come and clean it for them. They had no food stocked yet wanted me to cook for them. I didn't know one of them was vegan until hours after I got here (nothing wrong with that, I just like being prepared). I asked for a schedule and they mumbled off and couldn't give me one. They had piles of dishes as if they hadn't washed anything but for days expecting me to come soon and wash everything for them.

Pretty island though and the kids are fun, probably a dozen coming in and out throughout the day. Except for one asshole who hits the others.

Tue 4/28

Wed 4/29
Chasing kids is a question of zone defense or one-on-one defense.

Thurs 4/30

Fri 5/1
Walked their dog into a house of cats and then a chicken coop. She fucking killed a chicken.

Sat 5/2

Sun 5/3

Mon 5/4

Tue 5/5

Wed 5/6

Thurs 5/7

The past several days have been a blur. Another chicken died thanks to their dog, thousands of steps have been hiked along the island's hills, and many sunsets watched over the water.

My first experience of utter chaos turned out to simply be the island's culture. Stephan and Elektra are super chill and nice, and didn't seem to mind that I only cooked for them once, a huge pot of lentils over saturated with olive oil.

Fri 5/8
After finishing a jar of peanut butter for lunch I left Skiathos after just a week and a half with them and took a boat back to Christina's in Volos.

Sat 5/9
It's been six months since I left America. Christina, me, and another CouchSurfer went to a rooftile and brickworks museum in Volos, touring its once industrial past. While it could've been boring our lovely conversation about Nazi's in Greece made it fun. Did you know that half of every Greek policeman votes for Golden Dawn, their Nazi party?

Notes: Whenever I ask places to fill up my water bottle when I'm on the go they assume I want hot water. Why? I have no idea. And this has been the case since I left America six months ago. In fact, my first day in Europe during a layover in Belgium on my way to Israel a airport worker filled my bottle with boiling hot water only to have it fall all at his feet.