Saturday, August 6, 2011

Our Top Ten Service Team Experiences

We celebrated and packed tonight. And we also reflected on the highlights of this experience. Here are our favorites.

1. The bachelor party. How many other teams have been lucky enough to make the guest list at a Greek bachelor party? Um, none. We danced, learned to toast (“Yia Mas!”) ate lamb cooked three different ways, and were completely embraced by Greek hospitality.

2. Greek salad. We learned that you eat it with every meal, and that the block on top of the lettuce and tomatoes really is feta cheese.

3. Greek soccer. So there we were, having a nice, quiet meal at Petousis,, down the street. Suddenly, the place exploded in a restaurant-wide unison cheer: Heraklion had just scored a point against another Greek soccer team. Pandemonium ruled—as does Greek soccer.

4. Raki. Distilled from leftover grapes, shots of this drink are what foreigners call “firewater. “ The locals claim it can be used medicinally. Right.

5. Sam and her children. We guess that not every service programs includes not only a fabulous team leader, but also that leader’s fabulous children, who translate, teach the volunteers to dance, help them shop, and join them for pizza. Thank you, Millie, Lia, Gabriella, Antony, and Alice!

6. The Handakas Hotel and its family. It’s not quite right to call it a hotel. It’s more like a town square, where the locals gather to talk, play cards, and watch the news. Then, they make dinner for their guests. And breakfast the next morning.

7. The taxi strike. OK, it was a bother. We had to drag our luggage around. But protest like this isn’t unusual in Greece. Protest signs are everywhere and about everything. It’s best not to take the media coverage too seriously. By the time we left, the strike had been “suspended” until September.

8. Dancing. Everyone dances the traditional Greek dances. Kids learn them about the time they learn to walk, and then do them with everyone else at parties, weddings, and end-of-school celebrations. We learned these dances, too. Sort of. Everyone welcomed us to the circle, though, and we got points for trying.

9. Day trips. We’ll file this under team bonding., as we remember the weekend jaunts to the ancient ruins of the palace of Knossos and to the dramatic island of Santorini.

10. The kids. They’re noisy, smart, funny, and serious about being bilingual. They are challenging and competitive. They tease and hug. They have boundless energy. And they all dance

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Flexibility, Flexibility

When we first got here, Sam told us we would need to be “flexible.” Now we know what she meant: “Think like a Slinky with a good heart and a sense of humor.”

This is because, as much as we might prepare, tomorrow will most likely look nothing at all like today. This is summer camp for these kids, after all, and their schedules, motivation, and temperaments are as variable as ours. Last week we had 14 fifth- and sixth-graders; today we had 3. And these included the very best student in the class, who volunteered to “translate for the others,” to the most challenged, who said, with his head in his hand, “I cannot do.”

Luckily, we knew enough by now to table the synonym worksheet and the Bingo game we had planned. Instead, we gave our star student—and her sidekick—a few challenging Wordsearch puzzles while we worked with our struggling student on basic nouns and verbs. Regular school teachers should be so lucky.

I’m not sure how our volunteers did this in the pre-Internet days. We are saved daily by quick access to online worksheets, word games, conversation starters, and teaching ideas. What did people do when they couldn’t Google “ESL?”

On the other hand, our most successful activity so far was our own inspiration: a scavenger hunt. Would these kids think it was fun to go scouring the school grounds to find out what was hidden in the corner by the teachers’ office or how much Nestea costs in the school store? Whoa. We have succumbed to their pleas and will do it again tomorrow. And that will be our last day. For now.

Monday, August 1, 2011

On Distance

“You must go to Santorini!” Before we left home, almost all of us heard this. So yesterday, we took the two-hour-plus boat ride to this dramatic island. It not only may have inspired the tales of Atlantis, but also stole the show in the more recent The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.

Santorini is a fantasy island: whitewashed buildings all trimmed in blue, labyrinth streets, and 400 churches crowded with holy icons, all stacked on sheer vertical cliffs that rise as high as 1,000 feet above sea level. It is also stacked with tourists; there is very little wriggle room. The only space smaller than the distance between sunscreen-slathered tourists was the six-inch distance between our bus going up the hill and the other bus coming down.

Santorini was lovely, for sure, but it is not this Greece that drew us here. Back at the hotel Sunday night—exhausted and trying hard not to be cranky—we felt like we were coming home. After all, we danced at the party here Friday night, we know how to get around town on buses that don’t say “tour” on the side, and when we dragged into school today, it felt exactly like Monday morning. Even the kids were droopier than usual. It’s a long way between Santorini and Saint Martina School.