Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Team 69 ( October 2009)

October 4, 2009

Message of the Day: (Apropos – English teachers) All People Smile in the Same Language.

Sunday morning – I was the last volunteer to eat breakfast. Guess the flight made me more tired than I thought it had.

11:00 a.m. - Introductions, including “This is my life” stories. Sam led the discussion on splitting up our group to teach two groups: Hotel Staff and Children from the Community.

Global’s Philosophy of Service discussed. We are servant-learners.

Greek language lesson followed.

Safety and Policies:

· There are earthquakes here nearly every day. We should go to parking area if one occurs.

· Volunteers should go out in pairs during free time.

· Drink bottled water.

· May take photos after third day.

· Do not give personal presents.

After lunch worked on goals of group:

· Servant Learner Goals

· Personal Growth Goals

· Teaching

· Recreation

Characteristics of Team Discussed:

· Flexibility

· Punctuality

· Supportive Care

· Sense of Humor

· Professionalism

· Communicative

· Responsibility

This team has great potential to make it all work out. People are volunteering. Plans were discussed for teaching both groups. Everything seems to be coming together. There is enthusiasm and esprit de corp. All is well. It sprinkled and Noemi saw her first rain in two years. The food served is good and so are the accommodations. The hotel grounds are lovely. We’re going to have fun.


October 5, 2009

Today, after traveling across half the North American continent, the Atlantic Ocean, and two-thirds of the Mediterranean Sea, I found the much heralded Iraklion Museum, home of the greatest collection of Minoan artifacts in the world, all but closed to visitors. The reason: a major renovation of the exhibit halls. True, the institution offered visitors a capsule display of its most famous objects, including the Sun Disk, Ball Jumper, and inscriptions in Linear 13. Nevertheless, I felt a major disappointment at not experiencing the regular and renowned exhibits I had read so much about.

The disappointment inspires today’s motto: MTXE - Mental Toughness, Extra Effort

MTXE was the slogan a former Illinois State University basketball coach (I can’t remember his name) used to inspire his team and motivate them to overcome adversity. MTXE - Mental Toughness, Extra Effort - was inscribed on the team’s uniforms.

After our morning meeting, we headed for a day of sightseeing in Iraklion. Everyone took the city bus. My wife, Deborah, and I disembarked and began our sightseeing with a pass through the city market. We next visited Velizelos Square followed by the Church of St. Titus. A cup of coffee, Greek style, in the church courtyard, and we were off to see the Venetian Fortress at Koule.

On our way back to Velizelos, we encountered the others in our party. We resolved to rendezvous at the Archeological Museum after lunch. Deb and I proceeded to have some terrific sandwiches and fresh orange juice at a downtown bakery.

After lunch came the disappointment at the museum. However, I must admit the temporary exhibit hall was packed with the artifacts that one sees in every textbook touching upon Minoan culture.

We finished our day in the city with a viewing of the great cathedral Ekaterina Square. Back at our headquarters, the Handakas Hotel, we got down to business about 5:00 p.m. Half of our little group worked with a handful of children honing their conversational skills. A Scrabble game seemed to be the highlight of the session - good way of building vocabulary.

With the hotel staff, just two of them, four of us worked. The session was mostly in Greek - translation back and forth - but we developed some rapport. The day closed with glasses of wine all around and a hearty dinner of beans, coleslaw, and cheese with oranges to finish.


October 6, 2009

Message of the Day: Imagination, Knowledge, Curiosity - Imagination is more important than knowledge, but curiosity is the most important of all.

We marched in single file to the buses and jumped on just like native Amoudarians bound for Knossos. We arrived to a first look at open pits and Noemi wanting us to crack open our wine. Reason prevailed, and we convinced her to wait until lunch. The site unfolded and revealed numerous partial structures, rooms, walkways, plumbing systems, and decorative pottery.

As an American where buildings in my country date to just over 200 years, a site like this always amazes me. Sir Arthur Evans’ interpretations, although a bit romantic, sparked my curiosity about what life inside that palace may have been. (Is the phrase “may have been” the pluperfect tense? We’ll have to ask Millie, Ellie, Gabriella, or Nicolas because I suspect they will know.)

Lunchtime came, and we were all hungry and ready for our vino. Rob, acting throughout the morning as our able tour guide, consulted “The Book” and led us down the road to another early structure called a Caravansery. We braved oncoming tour buses and motorcyclists riding without holding on as they buttoned their shirts as we walked around curves to find the site. There it was, but the site was closed. Our group rallied, remained flexible, and we enjoyed our lunch while sitting on the old stone steps leading to the closed Caravansery.

We walked back for a last, quick trip around the perimeter of the palace. After, Nancy, Rob and I walked up the steep hill into the town to see the houses above the main road. Bus No. 2 took us back to Iraklion and then No. 6 brought us home.

I kept thinking all day what a nice group we’ve become, and I certainly look forward to more adventures!


October 7, 2009

Message of the Day: Tell me and I’ll forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I’ll understand.

A little fuzzy-headed in the morning after an evening of great food and raki at Petousis (sp?) Restaurant. What started as dinner had soon become a party. My head eventually cleared up though, especially after finding an ATM.

We got together for a ride on the Happy Train up to Rodja. I can’t remember the name of the Monastery, but what a beautiful site it is. And the views from there are unbelievable. We were given the time to take photos and walk around a bit. Besides the photo ops, some of us ate grapes right off the vine. I might never eat fruit from the supermarket again after this. We got on the Happy Train and headed further up the hill to the Village of Rodja. It was picture-book quaint. Just what I thought a little Greek village would look like.

We got back for a lunch of stuffed tomatoes and a salad of lettuce and cabbage. I thought I wouldn’t eat again until at least Friday after eating those, but guess what? I was starving by dinner time and then ate two bowls of lentil soup! After lunch some of us stayed around here, and some took off to the beach.

But back to the “involve me” part. We are getting a lot of enthusiasm from Susana and Irini. They are so cute. We are doing role-playing with them in scenarios regarding hotel registration, etc., and they really try to absorb the information we are trying to give them. We had a new student yesterday, new to us anyway. Her name is Maria, and she has some English so she helped Susana a bit, and today we are getting another student, Paul.

Sam, her children, and the hotel staff are an amazing group of people. They have embraced us, and we have together created a little community right here in the hotel lobby. That’s pretty magical.

I think it’s safe to say we’re involved.


October 8, 2009

Message of the Day: “Don’t you know that we never travel except around the edges of our own soul.” -Kazantzakis

Another day in paradise on the Island of Crete.

After breakfast and our morning meeting, Rob, Deb, Jean, and I headed into Iraklio to visit the Historical Museum of Crete. We took the bus to our usual stop and walked through the market, stopping at the Morosini Fountain to take some pictures. Then we went down the street toward the water and made our way to the museum.

For me, someone who would not pick a museum as a first sightseeing choice, it was a very interesting museum. We spent two hours there before walking to the bus stop to catch the bus to Amnisos. After waiting for about 45 minutes for the bus, we were off. Rob and Deb met a man named Brett on the bus that owned the Taverna Mylos in Amnisos, and he invited us to eat there.

We had a great meal with wine and a special treat of raki and fruit for dessert. We shared a good meal and good company. Deb and I wanted to walk to the beach, so we left Rob and Jean to finish the raki and settle the bill. We walked to the beach, took some pictures, viewed the landscape which was very desert-like. Then we all met at the bus stop and came back.

For our students who are all very smart, we worked on syntax exercises, making two sentences into one sentence, good structure, and had some fun with the kids doing a news report and playing newsmen.

Every day has been busy and fulfilling, and this day was no exception.


October 9, 2009

Message of the Day: Smiles beckon acceptance, words foster understanding.

It is Friday, and we will be meeting for the fifth consecutive day with our students, our group leader, and the hotel staff (as well as their relatives and friends). We are in a happy place on the beautiful Island of Crete.

After our morning meeting, several of the volunteers went to the City Wall in Iraklion. There they also visited the market and viewed the monument for Kazantzakis. We all enjoyed the lunch, after which some of the volunteers headed to the beach, and Robert rented a car. Noemi went to town to buy reward stickers for the adult learners of English (and I must note that the adults practice their English daily at the hotel).

Brenda found a lovely shaded spot to sit where she wrote postcards and later prepared material for today’s lesson with the teenagers who would arrive at 5:00 p.m. They are interested, involved students, and it is a pleasure working with them.

Our lesson consisted of synonym development, including a crossword puzzle based on basic synonyms, presented by Deb. We transitioned to having the students use given introductory phrases and clauses in complete sentences. The students created three differently worded sentences using the given phrase/clause. The focus is English syntax.

The adult group was fully engaged in role-playing hotel-oriented dialogues.

After the lessons, we enjoyed dinner (soup, salad, cheese, fruit), and then Sam held our evening meeting. This night, she explained for us basic Cretan customs, including the process from engagement to marriage, funerals, name days, holidays, etc.

The information was interesting and useful and helped broaden our understanding of the wonderful people with whom we interact each day.


October 10, 2009

“It’s a good thing there’s three of us.”

That quote started the adventure Jeanne, Nancy, and I had in Santorini. We got up early today, had our breakfast, and went off to catch the ferry, the Flying Cat 4. The ride there was very nice. A gentleman sitting next to me named Mike started a conversation by asking if my final destination was Santorini. During our chat, he suggested we visit Kamari because it would be less crowded and souvenirs would be less expensive. Apparently, he spends a lot of time in Greece. I though he was a native, and it turns out he’s from Sweden! Imagine my surprise.

When we got to Santorini, we looked around for some indication that there was someone to take us to the Olympia Hotel. We asked around, and one of the gentlemen said he’d take us. He takes Jeanne’s bag and goes off with it. That’s when Nancy said the now famous quote - “It’s a good thing there’s three of us.” That gentleman was the first of a couple of characters we encountered. We waited a few minutes, then the driver, Artemis (character number two) asked us to follow him, and he drove us to the hotel. What a beautiful little property. George, the manager, was very nice and welcoming. The room was very nice and had a view of the White Dome in the center of Fira, the town. We put our things down, and off we went. We took a bus for the equivalent of about a quarter mile, and we were there. We could have walked to the center of town!

What is the deal with those change/ticket guys on the bus? (The rest of the characters) Once you get to the destination, they literally start pushing you out the door. And don’t ask them a question! I had to remind Nancy that they had not taken our conversational English classes yet so their English was limited. She asked one of them if there were three seats for us, and he ripped off three tickets, charged her for them, we gave her our coins, he took the coins... It eventually worked itself out, but it was quite confusing.

What a beautiful town Fira is. We walked around for a bit and had lunch at a café overlooking the water. I can’t begin to count how many times my breath was taken away by the views. We bought a couple of things, then enjoyed a good, light lunch of sandwiches and soon were working our way to the bus station for the bus to Oia. Mike had recommended and I’d read how the best sunsets can be seen from there, but really, can there be a bad place to see the sunset when you’re in Greece?

We got to Oia and there were more breathtaking views. We walked around taking many, many photos, bought art and souvenirs, and found the Pelekanos Restaurant, a place high enough to see the sunset without our view being obstructed. We ordered a bottle of wine, white, and had a delicious dinner of salad and pasta while listening to Andrea Bocelli, watching the sun set, and Nancy saying a nice toast. Another magical moment in Greece.

We then walked back to where the buses were and took one back to Fira. We decided to walk back to the hotel from the bus station that time. Turns out it’s three stops from the hotel. After a long day, it was a bit of a walk, but we made it. I have to give my appreciation here to Jeanne. She is quite the trooper considering she’d had knee surgery two months ago. She kept up with us every step without complaint. I want to be just like her when I grow up. Nancy and I went to the lobby for a nightcap, and that ended a perfect Saturday in Santorini.


October 11, 2009

Today we got up early, had a good breakfast at the hotel, and off we went to Kamari. What a great little town. It is on the east end of the island and has a really great beach side promenade. We walked around, shopped, took photos, and signed up for a tour of Ancient Thira. That sounded like a treat, especially the part where we got to go up the zig-zag roads all the way up. Not for the queasy, that’s for sure!

We thought it would be like Knossos up there, where it would plateau and we could walk around, but no. It involved hiking up steep steps, up and up and up. Jeanne stayed behind under a shaded pergola and waited for us. There’s no way we would have even let her try that hike. It was very hot and very steep in places. Nancy and I took a break to eat an orange under a tree. I dropped some seeds in the hope that I may return to find an orange tree growing there. If any of you get there before me, it’s in front of the center part of the Ancient City, by the Agora, you know, the ancient shopping mall.

The climbing wouldn’t’ have been bad if we knew what we were looking at. The only thing that looked like anything was the Early Christian Basilica. We would have been able to tell what it was without the sign, but that was about it. Rob, we wished you’d been there to guide us. We had less than an hour, so we went as far as we could, took some photos, and worked our way back down with ten minutes to spare.

Back by the beach, we walked a bit and decided on lunch at the Café Classico. We each had a salad - Nancy had the tuna, and Jeanne and I had the salmon. The salmon salad had smoked salmon, radicchio, orange cubes (slices), capers, lola, and rocket - a lettuce and other greens, respectively. I made friends with one of the cats by feeding her smoked salmon, and Jeanne made friends with the waiter, Robert, chatting with him about his being from Poland. He gave us ice cream for dessert, free of charge. We had mango, strawberry, and what tasted like vanilla ice cream with Oreo cookies. Thank you, Jeanne.

We then went to the bus stop and back to the Olympia Hotel. George was there to welcome us and ask about our day. We sat for a bit then Artemis took us to the port. That was an adventure - driving on the wrong side of the road to pass a car, passing a couple of donkeys, hairpin turns, and going through a stop sign. Apparently, that was only a suggestion. However, seeing water on both sides while sitting in a moving car was a treat.

It was good to be back in Iraklio, but I have to be honest and say I could have stayed there another two days. From beginning to end it was a great weekend.

Jeanne and Nancy, thank you for making my first time in Santorini an unforgettable experience.


October 12, 2009

Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family; whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.

We are in a unique situation for Americans because we have the privilege of spending two weeks sharing the living room peopled with a lively, friendly family from Crete. This family, as well as the extended family, of Demetrius and Susanna let us be a part of them that shows us what life in Crete is really all about. As I find myself getting, sometimes, frankly panicky that I might “miss” seeing parts of the Paradise I find myself in, I must remember that all of Crete is right here in this living room. I’m grateful to them for sharing so much and making us a part of their lives for these two weeks.

After an amazing weekend of touring much of Crete with Rob, I struck out again with the women of our group for Agio Pelagia, Fodele, and Rethymno. We drove westward with only a short bit of confusion finding the correct entrance for our destination. Agio Pelagia gave Nancy her first challenge with driving the switchback roads of Crete that lead to the sea. With only a bit of hesitation and uncertainty in how to proceed she soon gained confidence and was careening around curves faster than the natives. In the back seat, Brenda, Noemi, and I clutched each other fearing for our lives a couple of times. (Just kidding.) Jean proved to be an excellent navigator, one even Rob would appreciate. (He’s a tough critic of navigators.)

We moved on west to Fodele in hopes of touring the pottery factory. Much to our disappointment, the factory closes on Mondays. Noemi was perhaps the most disappointed because she was very much looking forward to seeing this site. She rallied along with the rest of us, and we enjoyed our stroll down the village street talking with the rather assertive shopkeepers who encouraged us to purchase their wares. And some of us did. Brenda is now the proud owner of a handmade beautiful, woven top. This town also was home to an El Greco Museum and a small church. Jeanne, who is an El Greco fan, sat through the video twice!

It was then time to tour Rethymno, so we headed out of town and down the expressway further west. Rethymno turned out to be a bustling port town with a very nice beach. We were, by then, hungry and stopped at one of the restaurants facing the water for a hearty lunch, some beer, and wine. Another good day in Crete. We walked through the old town section purchasing small mementos for people back home and felt encouraged and happy by our camaraderie. We all expressed how hard it will be for us when this experience ends.

Well, this day was winding down, and we headed back to our Handakas Family knowing everyone would be there waiting for their English classes. Sam’s children continue to surprise both Brenda and me with not only their English skills, but their general level of knowledge and their cooperative spirit. We are all lucky to be included in this family, if only for these two weeks. The night time atmosphere is full of fun, conversation, good food - happy family times together.


October 13, 2009

I noticed as I looked about the room that today’s English lessons presented an especially diverse and colorful scene. I sat with Maria poring over a Greek cookbook. She commented on the recipes, gave me some of her own, and offered various and sundry kitchen tips.

Nancy perched next to me, glued to a chess board with Nico. He instructed her in the intricacies of tournament chess. Brenda seemed to be all over the place. I saw her out beyond the swimming pool conducting a very private lesson. Later she was conversing with the students seated around a table in the hotel lobby. Deborah talked with Paul and Dimitrie together, and later on helped Paul one-on-one with vocabulary. Noemi and Jean taught phrases to Susana and Irini. All four bubbled with good humor.

Our “truth” for the day came to mind. “In teaching you cannot see the fruit of a day’s work. It is invisible and remains so for maybe twenty years.” Jacques Burzan (?)

As for today’s tourism, the team split up. Nancy, Jean, and Brenda hit the road and drove to Agio Nikolaos. They made intermediate stops at Malia and an exhibit of DaVinci just east of Iraklion.

Deborah, Noemi, and I took the bus to Skalani and the Boutari Winery. I have enjoyed some Boutari wine in Chicago but never so much as the Fantaxometocho and Skalani we sampled in the tasting room. We bought a bottle of Fantaxometocho and made about an hour’s work of it as we gazed out at the beautiful landscape. A fine lunch in a Skalani taverna capped our outing. Our lunch included a rabbit stewed in onions, the village specialty.

We returned to the hotel in time for a short nap before getting to work with our students.


October 14, 2009

Poem, author unknown

Laugh a little - sing a little

As you go your way!

Work a little, play a little

Do this every day!

Give a little - take a little

Never mind a frown.

Make your smile a welcome thing

All around the town!

Laugh a little - love a little

Skies are always blue!

Every cloud has silver linings,

But it’s up to you!

After a usual breakfast and our journal/business catch-up, Rob, Deborah, Nancy, and I took off on an adventure. Noemi and Brenda elected to stay home, do laundry and catch up on everything.

Rob, our American driver, was acquiring the mind of a Greek motorist behind the wheel. (Read: He wasn’t afraid to pass large vehicles.) Deborah, Nancy, and I were the navigation committee. We traveled easterly on a four-lane highway past the airport and soon turned south towards the fertile mountain plateau of Lasithi. We explored the village of Andou, the ancestral home of Sam’s husband. Took pictures of a Greek gentleman in front of his store. He thought we were Germans. Then to the town of Krasi with the famous plane tree aged over 2000 years. At Apmi Café Nancy and Deborah enjoyed freddos, small Greek coffee for Rob.

Our first monastery was Monastery Agios in Kraustallenin. Lovely. Although this region is noted for windmills, we only saw one that was working. Still windmills were photo stops. The ascent to the plateau was a white knuckle one with acute “Z” turns every fifty feet. The scenery was beautiful. The olive trees growing at the highest of heights. They appeared as large rounded scoops of pistachio ice cream from a distance.

Lunch was the billboard special at Kri Kri - Souvlaki with potatoes, Greek salad, tzatziki, and rosé wine. Souvlaki was beef on a spit. We ordered a second pitcher of wine. It was good! Our waiter’s name was Pericles. I think he was disappointed that we didn’t stay for coffee. There were many heavy-laden fruit trees in this area.

The Monastery of the Virgin Mary (Kena) was our last stop. This building is dedicated to the Birth of the Virgin. It is one of the most holy monasteries of Crete. The architecture is Byzantine, and it was built from the 9th to the 12th centuries. A new section had a plaque labeled “2004.” It was originally fully frescoed with beautiful scenes of the life of Christ and the Virgin. These frescoes were executed by a competent Cretan painter in the 12th century.

A special painting entitled Virgin and Child is on the church’s iconastasis. It was executed by an unknown Cretan painter in the 18th century. This Holy image is considered to be one of the most miraculous on the island. It had been held by the Turks for several centuries. When returned, it came with its original chain. This chain is said to heal health problems if it is wrapped around the affected area. There were four older nuns who seemed to be in charge.

We arrived home around 4:00 p.m. We rested before our 5:00 p.m. classes. Brenda and Deborah worked with the children, Nancy continued learning the ABC’s of competitive chess, Noemi conversed with Maria for combined Greek and English classes. Rob and I worked with Susana, Irini, and Paul on problems sometimes encountered by the hotel staff. Alice (age 5) joined in the games with Paul and Noemi.

The dinner/dancing program in the mountains was aborted because of a threatened storm so we went back to Petousis for a delicious dinner.

There was dancing after dinner. Sam and Millie do a professional Greek dance. Deborah and Nancy are no “slouches” either!

It was another fulfilling day. We have a good team and a great caring leader. All of our students, young and older, are our special joy. It’s camaraderie. It’s fun. It’s love.


October 15, 2009

Quote: If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.

After a shaking start for the day, the day started with bright sunshine and warm weather, just like the 12 preceding days on the Island of Crete. We started with our morning meeting and journal reading after which Rob, Deb, Jeanne, Noemi and I started out on our mountain journey in the car. After taking a little time to map out a route, we were off.

Our first stop was Arolithos, a traditional Greek village and hotel that is made up as a tourist attraction. It is where we would have gone the night before for our Greek dinner and dance show had it not been for a storm in the mountains. It was a beautiful place, and I think we all enjoyed it. Our next stop was Tylissos where there was a beautiful church, olive tree groves, and an ancient archeological site that we couldn’t find.

Back on the road, we weaved our way up the mountains with very rocky cliffs and rocks above our head. Our next destination was Gonyes where we stopped on the crest of a hill to take photos of the valley below. We all noticed on the wall below the church the letters “KKE” with a hammer and sickle which represent the Communist party. We were wondering about it. Nicos told us that the Communist party got a small percentage of the vote in the recent elections. At Gonyes we stopped for Greek coffee which Noemi said was the best she had had in Crete. Then on to Anogeia which Sam had told us was the vendetta town, and we all noticed that all the highway signs in the area were full of bullet holes. We went on down the hill now through the towns of Axos and Perama then up to the new highway 75 and back to the hotel around 2:00 p.m.

After lunch, I had no takers to join me for one last swim in the Cretan Sea. The water was wonderful, and it was great to unwind in a peaceful place. Then back to the hotel to work with our students.

Nicos kept me very busy with the chess tournament. Everyone else was very engaged with their students. Rob introduced tongue twisters to Antony, and it was fun actually that Antony was able to do them. It seems to me that all the volunteers have worked very hard to help the students learn and have fun activities. Also the students are working very hard and are willing learners. I am wondering who is learning more - students or volunteers.

As our teaching session came to an end, I started noticing lightning coming from what I think was northeast. We had a real thunder shower and we lost electricity temporarily. It was our first rain since being here for 12 days. After a wonderful dinner of Moussaka, I think it was an early night for most of us.

Every day a new adventure. We have all come together as a group. I have made new friends since being here, friends that I will miss very much when I go home.


October 16, 2009

Our journey ends but with the building of a new bridge of international understanding.

We began our day with a leisurely breakfast and conversation, after which Sam conducted our morning meeting. Sadness about leaving Crete tomorrow is palpable. I will go to Amoudara today, an easy walk, while the more athletically capable will walk the hills of Gazi.

There is a strong wind today, as there was two weeks ago when the previous group of Global Volunteers was preparing to leave. It’s as though an ancient Greek myth has been reborn for the volunteers to usher them back to the States, the wind at their backs for a smooth and speedy trip.

The group spent the afternoon packing, then relaxing. A few took siestas. Soon the students will be here. After instruction, we will all participate in a farewell party. It will be bittersweet.

Our experience with the people here in Crete has been nearly magical. We will leave with fond memories of the students, the adults, the hotel staff, and the colorful towns we visited. We hope our contributions involving conversational English and American traditions have been as rewarding to the participants as their contributions have been to Global Volunteers.