Monday, June 10, 2013

Cobblestone, Cretians, and Starbucks

Its no mystery that I'm not a seasoned world traveler. Grabbing the wrong currency out of my wallet several times, ordering the wrong coffee and attempting to understand the train system wrong 3 times in Athens have been just a few of the displays of my experience, or inexperience. The meeting spot of our first day out in Old Chania was at Starbucks, a place we all know and love from back home. I thought it very ironic that our meeting place would be at a Starbucks, but in a way it made me think about the fact that we as humans always revert back to what we know and are comfortable with. I think that the sense of a need for familiarity has changed for many of us on the trip because as we learn to love Crete and its people, we begin to order a Frappe at the local coffee shop rather than hold out until we get to Starbucks. As cliche and symbolic as it may sound, just that action displays to me the profound changes in the way that many of us live from day to day while at home, surrounded by the familiar. But what has continued to surprise me throughout this trip is the decency of the people Ive met. Dealing with a food allergy (or many) while in a foreign country that has a diet consisting mainly of foods I cannot eat, I thought I would be surviving on my tub of protein powder and water. But, little do I know it, the women at the institute caught wind of the problem and come to each meal with a separate dish prepared for me, even down to the dessert. Little things like that have made my day while being here and feeling like the people of Crete genuinely care about our experience here, as its very obvious we're newcomers. Dr. Vamvakas told us in class one day that the people of Alikianos and more generally Crete are a culturally giving people. While amidst an economic crisis, you would imagine that the multiple abandoned homes and storefronts would deter shop and restaurant owners from giving out free food or giving discounts to especially American travelers. But the case is in fact the exact opposite, to the point where some people have begun to feel uncomfortable, like we need to pay back for all that we have received. The generosity instilled in the culture of Crete is definitely an aspect worth reflecting on, in that by gifting to strangers or foreigners, Cretians are displaying a sort of durability and humility during tough times. Its very clear that not every store owner is raking in the big bucks, but as we sat at an empty restaurant we were continually given complimentary drinks and food. As if this gesture is to say, I'm here, I'm worth it and you should experience the best Crete has to offer even if the circumstances arent at their potential.  In lieu of receiving so many discounts and gratis items, I feel that as a group we have changed. Although I didnt know many of my group members before coming on this trip, I feel as if this culture has instilled in each and every one of us a greater appreciation for what we have and for what they are willing to give. I have seen normal college kids turn into hard working adults, in Dr. Vamvakas' orchard where some of us have spent hours working voluntarily as a way of giving back and in that sense genuinely enjoying the heat of the day and looking at our blisters as a sense of accomplishment. Watching classmates get up from the table to clear not only their own, but other's plates and exchanging loving gestures with the women of the institute is definitely a change from how I have seen my peers acting back home. Everyday here is a new and eye opening adventure, I can only hope that we bring back our newest attributes when we get back home.

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