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  • Writer's picturePippa


It’s been a few months since I last posted to this blog so it’s time for some catch-up. After my three month volunteer teaching placement in Athens, I returned to Canada for the summer months and immediately felt there was a huge hole in my life. I guessed it was a combination of the routine provided by a regular “work” assignment, the daily socialization factor of interacting with both students and colleagues and this feeling that I wasn’t doing anything important. Well sure, I was planting up the vegetable garden and baking bread, turning up punctually at dragon boat practices, seeing friends, doing a bit of sewing and reading but there was a restlessness despite having planned out my return to Athens.

In late April, I answered a call for volunteers at a new community lunch programme in my neighbourhood and started helping there on a weekly basis. Not every project that needs volunteers in order to function is going to create a sense of fulfillment in the person who responds to the call. I think you need to feel you are making a contribution to whatever it is you are spending your time doing. Kind of like making a donation to a charity; we donate to the causes we believe in. Time is money, after all. But I felt like I could help positively when I stepped into the church hall and met the very capable organizer. One of the bonuses always in volunteering  is the other people helping with you, the kindred spirits and the like-minded souls. By the end of October when I stopped working at the Thursday lunch programme, I’d made new friends and if I was out for a walk locally or riding a bus somewhere else, I’d often recognize patrons I’d met over lunch at the church and we’d exchange a nod or a smile in passing. These are the little steps that build community.

Halfway through the summer when I discovered my dragon boat team was not participating at the Victoria Dragon boat Festival (we compete at the Vancouver Island event later on.), I decided to volunteer my services. I spent a sunny afternoon down on the docks loading and unloading paddlers into dragon boats. A great opportunity to see a festival from another perspective, chitchat with paddler friends from over the years and meet new ones from all around the west coast of North America minus the stress of wondering if there's a medal at the end of the day.

Now I’m back in Athens but it took some time getting here because I spent 6 weeks on Crete as a way of figuring out where it is I want to hang my hat in the world. Last year at this time I wondered if I could exchange my island in the Pacific Northwest with an island in the Mediterranean, i.e. up-sticks and move. Over the months I gave it all a great deal of thought but eventually concluded that it might not be in my interest. Besides, it’s a lot of work moving house. Moving across oceans and continents is its own exercise in logistics; I know because I've done it twice already. Nevertheless, I wanted to see for myself how Crete’s two biggest cities feel out of season so I started off in Chania at the western end of the island.

Chania is a jewel with its Venetian port and layers of history and culture spanning millennia:  the ancient Minoans and Greeks;  the Romans followed by the Byzantine era; the Venetian conquest, Ottoman rule and the turbulent decades of Greek then Cretan independence.  It’s all there as you meander through the narrow streets around the Old Port with its iconic Egyptian lighthouse keeping vigilant watch. Fishermen sit out on the cobblestone harbour with their fishing lines, the occasional cyclist wheels their way along the seafront grateful for the out-of-season emptiness, a few locals gather in the cafes. Very pretty but too quiet I decided after three weeks.

On to Heraklion to the east; Crete’s largest urban centre and Greece’s 4th largest. It has two hospitals so this makes it a good place for an older person to relocate to because more healthcare is immediately available.  Despite sharing a similar history to Chania, Heraklion was severely bombed during World War 2 and is still being rebuilt. Renovations are expensive and younger people are moving away from Crete and Greece to seek their fortunes in other parts of the European Union. Mind you, Heraklion was buzzing over the Christmas period when I was there but that’s because Greeks join their families for the holidays.  

During my stay there I was introduced to a recently arrived refugee woman and our subsequent conversations sowed some seeds for a possible project that would let me spend my winters on Crete while returning to Victoria for the summers. Watch this space!

It’s the start of a new term and classes have taken off at the Habibi Center here in Athens. I’m teaching two literacy classes. One group began studying English last autumn and is continuing with me. The second class is basic literacy where the students might have had some sporadic formal education in their home countries until war and violence forced them to leave. I’m glad I can be part of their new experience of learning. It’s great to be back!

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