Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Odyssey

So I'm in Crete. I've been here for a while now. Truthfully, I'm not entirely sure how long I have been here, or how much longer is left. I couldn't tell you the day or the time either- it feels like I have been here for months. I don't think it has anything to do with the seven hour time zone difference. Rather, I find that when every day is 80 degrees of dry sun in a landscape of constant mountains, orchards, and beaches things tend to run together. Driving through this place is like a cheap 80's film chase scene where you know the car isn't actually moving and its just a landscape on a rolling canvas being moved in the background. Anyway, it's wicked pretty and I am notoriously fond of 80's cinema so no complaints.

There's good food too. Like everywhere. If it's not in the kitchen, it's heaped on the dining room table, and if it's not in the dining room it's hanging from a tree outside your window (I'm still not sure where Greek law stands on burgling fruit but seriously I'm like the blackberry bandit out here. If that's wrong I don't want to be right). But I digress, souflaki pita is quickly becoming my favorite thing I have ever eaten. Here I was led to believe that only Americans would put french fries inside a sandwich- turns out the Greeks have been doing it for 2500 years. See, I'm learning too.

On an academic note, the classes are different here. Rather than confine lessons into 50 minute blocks 3 times a week, the experience here is drawn out into 2 hour daily marathon sessions. The result is sheer exhaustion, but an ultimately far more fruitful understanding of the concepts of geopolitics and statecraft in a certainly more global sense. The extra time allows for- occasionally heated- discussion and debate on truly sensitive issues that deserve far much attention and fleshing out than Emmanuel's domestic regiment allows.

Something should be said of the volunteers at the institute. These are a special and an innately kind and generous bunch. Welcoming is not a strong enough word. Helpful doesn't do them justice. Gracious is an understatement. It's actually overbearing at first how absolutely selfless these women are, and to what extent they are willing to go to ensure your comfort. It is an admirable quality to be so hospitable to strangers, much less a bunch of obnoxious college kids from half a world away and I am inspired by how accommodating they have been day in and day out, and with a smile at every turn. What began as overbearing has slowly morphed into guilt as I can't shake the feeling that I owe these people and this institute so much between there tireless cooking and cleaning.

It should be noted that I historically despise traveling. It's a hassle, it's tiring, there's a language barrier, the idea of being a stranger to someone on a cultural level is angst-inducing to me. I once went to France for 3 weeks and even with a solid understanding of the language upon returning to the United States I collapsed to the ground and vowed to never leave my glorious nation ever again (it should also be noted that I have a flair for hyperbole). Crete has been something of a revelation however. Either this place is perfect or I have changed. I suspect it's a bit of both. This island, this culture, is something that needs to be experienced rather than taught. You can't get the sense of a civilization millenniums older than your own and the culture that breeds in the modern world by reading it in a text book. It's altogether different than anywhere I have ever been. While I often find myself missing home and I doubt that will ever change, unlike France I have the sense that I will not be collapsing to the ground upon my return; this is a trip that has proven to be thoroughly worthwhile.

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