With a thirst for cross-cultural knowledge, octogenarian Carolyn Gallaher joined her third service program with Global Volunteers in hope to uncover the true heart of Crete. She soon learned she wouldn’t be disappointed. Carolyn was grateful to work on a variety of service projects that put her in direct contact with Greeks of all ages, but teaching one particular adult student was a delight. She didn’t expect, however, that losing her bearings one day would lead her directly to her “special student” and close the gap between cultures; a memory she will cherish forever.
By Carolyn Gallaher
During my time serving in Crete, I had the opportunity to work on several projects – cleaning out a house for resettling refugees, making Christmas cards for the Women’s Association bazaar and teaching conversational English to staff at the hotel where we stay. It was at the latter project site where I got a great deal of insight. On the first evening, I sat next to Susannah, the cook at the hotel Handakas. We bonded instantly, and I soon discovered she knew more English than she let on. Although she was quite shy at first, after working on words, simple sentences, and playing games, she became more confident. I continued working with her throughout my time in Greece.
“There is an ancient saying but a real and honest thought,– Richard Rodgers, “The King and I”
If you become a teacher, by your students you’ll be taught!”
One morning, I decided to explore the local area and visit the village of Gazi, about a 15-minute walk from the hotel. After receiving directions from my Team Leader, Sam, I was eager and ready to go on my first solo adventure in Crete. I set out walking at my slow, relaxed pace, looking for the sign I was assured would point me in the right direction. Directions were to pass two small roads on the left and then climb the hill to Gazi. After recognizing the two streets and not finding the sign, I began to worry. Seeking help, I looked around and a few yards away, around a bend, was a woman in a blue dress happily sweeping. “Excuse me,” I said. The woman turned, and I hear, in a voice of delight, “Carolyn!” It was Susannah!
“Remember the language barrier in the beginning? It wasn’t an issue anymore.”Carolyn Gallaher
Now, people say there are no coincidences! Well, I beg to differ! Susannah was ecstatic to see me and quickly ushered me into her home, graciously treating me to her homemade grape preserve, and offering me a chopped apple and peach. She showed me pictures of her children and grandchildren, showed me around her small, cozy apartment. I learned that her daughter, Sophia, lived in the apartment above. Well, it so happens that we managed to talk about our ages and physical complaints as we both have arthritis and don’t take medication. Then Susannah pulled out her exercise stretch band that’s the same as the one I use in NY! Remember the language barrier in the beginning? It wasn’t an issue anymore. Through mime, smiles, and plenty of laughter, we were communicating! I felt I had already taken up enough of her time and was ready to leave when she stood up suddenly and shouted, “Come!” Susannah linked her arm in mine, and together we walked to Gazi.
Gazi is a lively village; the “Greek” side as the locals call it, compared to neighboring Amoudara, the tourist town. In Gazi, I met her daughter-in-law, Artemis, who owns a children’s clothing shop, then off we went to meet her son, Marios, who owns an upscale sports clothing shop with sizes for teenagers and adults. Marios was open and candid, and it was interesting what I learned about his life so far.
He told me he successfully gained a business degree at a school in Athens. He described his business as having its ups and downs, with his best months being in August and September. That’s when the schools begin, and school clothes needed, and then, of course, Christmas and Easter. I learned that Greek students wear uniforms, and guess what? The uniforms consist of sweatpants and sweatshirts worn by both boys and girls, and like kids everywhere, they all want the top name brands, Adidas, Nike, and Reebok. Marios mentioned, laughing, that parents ask him not to encourage their kids to buy the expensive brands, and I try to show them the less expensive items. “But what can I do?,” he asked chuckling. He explained that most students usually have about three sets, two sets purchased at the beginning of the year, and the third during sales later in the year. While business for his shop may be down, his new online store is doing well. Fortunately, for him, he doesn’t have to pay rent as his mother and father purchased his apartment for him and his family. So with this little extra money, his kids can enjoy ballet, sports, and English lessons. It would be a struggle otherwise, he says.
“ Susannah linked her arm in mine, and together we walked to Gazi.”Carolyn Gallaher
After some brief window shopping and a visit to a Vodafone shop, Susannah and I then stopped for coffee at a café we had passed earlier. It was filled with elderly Greek gentlemen playing cards and backgammon, and drinking Greek coffee and Raki. I eagerly tried to suggest baklava and chocolate-covered small cakes, which I love. But Susannah insisted on the healthier cheese bread with oregano seeds with hot chocolate to drink. It was delightful! Realizing I had forgotten my walking stick at Vodafone, we took a short cut to the main road to retrieve it. After making our final purchases, we walked back down to Susannah’s apartment. She now had to cook for the family, using the herbs she grows in terracotta pots by her front door. We said our goodbyes and I returned to the hotel to prepare for our evening English lesson.
I was on cloud nine. I had so wanted to get to know the “real” people of Crete, and just by chance, I had this opportunity to learn more about Susannah’s life. Plus, I had been blessed by being adopted by a new family. A memory I shall cherish forever!
“Not all who wander are lost.”J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings
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