Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Surreal Life

Now seems like a good time to update what’s been going on recently. It’s been a little harder to update as of late because I’m in a strange place mentally. I believe I’m experiencing the beginning of culture shock or integration. Next week rounds out one month being across the Atlantic and I find myself having two polar opposite impressions of my stay simultaneously. On the one hand, it feels as if I have been here only a very short time. I honestly feel as if I’ve been here one day, broken up by several naps. Every event, interaction and novelty flows together to create the brilliant tapestry that I know will represent Greece in my mind forever. However, as the newness of my surroundings wears off I begin to feel something different. I feel like this is home now. I feel like I’ve been here forever. I can function in the society, I have no restrictions and long for nothing in the States. I have money and friends with whom I’ve formed unusually strong bonds. The level of trust and disclosure I have with them is unmatched. Since I’m in school (as I always am), it adds another element of normalcy to my everyday life. Sometimes it seems as though Tampa is a dream that I made up and I have awoken in Greece. I just reread that, I know it sounds corny- but it’s the best way I can describe how surreal this experience is. I can’t even fathom being back in the States right now, nor do I want to be. I might as well be on the moon. I’m glad that I did the semester-long program, not the summer. The summer is only four weeks. Which means that as I begin to have these emotions that I’m having now, I would have to go home. I would not be here long enough to see what form they take and what manifests of them. I can feel myself changing, but I cannot put my finger on what or where. I probably won’t know until I have a frame of reference back home.
The past week and a half have been filled with interesting things that I could describe in detail, but somehow I don’t have the capacity to do that right now. We go out every night. Period. It’s as if school is the buffer between sleep and excursion. The work still gets done, surprisingly enough. Don’t ask me how. I just go to class, and realize I’ve actually written the essay that was asked for (and written a phenomenal one at that). LOL. Once again, this is a surreal experience. Tuesday night was fun but a little scary. I generally try to keep it low-key on Monday and Tuesday, but around 11pm everyone decided they wanted to go out. Not clubbing or anywhere noisy. Just out for a little stroll and possible sit down to have a drink. So we walked on the seaside and stopped at a chic bar for an hour or so. I didn’t really feel like drinking, but some had no problem getting smashed on a Tuesday night. Haha! Anyway- the time rounded in on 2am and we decided to head home. Part of our group was inside the bar, part on the patio. So the outside group (including myself) decided to head out first. Shortly after we left, one of our friends had a seizure according to bystanders. She had not been drinking (excessively) and just reported that she felt really dizzy all of the sudden. She was fine when she got back to Panepistimio, but it was nonetheless scary to hear. All is well now.
Yesterday we went to a small taverna where we ate delicious, cheap food and danced all night to Greek music. It was one of the nights that truly made me appreciate my surroundings.

On a side note- I purchased some more DVDs from a Nigerian yesterday. These bootlegs are great. You can’t pass up 5 Euro!

Also, my trips are starting to take their final form. Rome for Easter is a go, I have already booked tickets. The cruise is what I am working on next. It would take us to 3 continents (Egypt, Israel, Turkey, Greek Isles). Looks like the total package will cost $1000-1100. I don’t want to pass it up. I am almost positive I will never be able to go back to Egypt or Israel in my life. We would stop in Cairo and Bethlehem. I am also looking into a trip to the Netherlands with my friend from high school, but I’m awaiting the final word on that.

That’s it for now.

Monday, February 25, 2008

New pictures- Sunday on the town!

I have new pictures up of a mini-adventure I had yesterday. The blog on the end of the week is coming. I have not been able to write as frequently as I would like lately because I'm getting a little but busier with school. Anyway, enjoy the pictures and I will update later!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

One hell of a weekend...

Today started off well. Before I recap last weekend, I'm going to take a short detour into today's circus act known as public transportation. As of late, I've been trying to get "in sync" with the weather patterns, but to no avail. The Greek climate is violent and dramatic. Saturday it snowed (more on that later). So when I burst outside my apartment expecting the cold wind to whip me in the face, I was pleasantly suprised. Today it is almost 60 degrees outside. Nothing makes sense. However, I was slightly annoyed because in my attempt to stay one step ahead of Zeus, I had donned warm clothing and a skull cap. Now I was just hot and I was waiting for the bus what seemed an interminable period. When Human-Sardine-Box # 58 rolled up I had the fleeting notion that maybe we could economize some space if we cremated everybody over 60. Or perhaps just the children. I know, it's sick. I'm working on my issues. Alas, I jammed my body into the mosh and left my soul on the curb (to save space). The bus seems to stop every half mile, yet nobody (read: no body) gets off. Instead every stop is an additional surge of 3 people at each one of the 3 doors that brings me exponentially closer to my neighbors. I was smashed against the folding doors with such pressure that when they creaked open for the next surge half of my body exploded into the open air of the street as I gripped the ceiling handles like an ape in the jungle. Eventually, so many people got on the bus that I had to get off in order to let them on and then scurry back in before I got left behind. Occasionally the door that I exited became full and I had to run the length of the bus in order to hurl myself into another opening that was less crowded (or atleast filled with smaller people). By the time I finally got to school I was achey in places I hadn't even touched and I was stressed out. That was my ride to class. Gotta love Greece!

The weekend was fantastic. Friday my friends and I found ourselves at a rather large taverna in the center of town. There are endless possibilites for food and drink in the city. I know that I could eat or drink somewhere different everyday while I'm here and not revisit any of the same places. We really stumbled onto a great deal. The resturant was only 9 Euro per person for unlimitied food and drink. We had chicken, pork, beef, shrimp and well as several different varieties of salads, vegetables and potatoes. We had 3 different types of bread and as a group of about 15 people, we probably consumed 8 liters of wine. It was a great night. The price was so low because during the weekend rival resturants compete for tourist dollars. We literally had someone rush up to us on the street and usher us into the resturant promising rockbottom prices. Initially they charged 12 E/person (which is still VERY fair)- yet in true european style we were able to bargain them down to 9 euro. By the end of the meal the waiters were sitting with us (much more drunk than any one of us, ha!). While we were there we met up with a group of students from Spain and Germany who were studying at the other university, Aristotle University. As the night unfolded we combined our tables and broke into song. Banging glasses, breaking some dishes and pounding the table to the chorus of Bob Marley's "One Love". It was hysterically fun. Like something out of a movie.

Saturday was equally as intriguing. Initially, Byron and I had solicited one of our Greek friends Besi (short for Elisabeth) to take us to the movies. Sure you can do that anywhere, but I figured it would be a nice change of pace. She arrived at the door banging frantically screaming about the cold. I thought she was just being sensitive, but when I opened the door the winter wind penetrated through my thin cotton T-shirt and I felt the icey hands of the elements gripping my neck and face. As I stood in the paraysis of shock, snow billowed into my face and danced on my lips where it was immediatley melted by the steam from my nose. I was terrified. Must I remind you that I'm from Florida? None-the-less, Bessie was decked out so to speak. The skirt with stockings, the stylish European-cut coat and the contrasting scarf. I thought to myself "this is no time for fashion, I'm freaking freezing". So Byron and I put on layers, several layers. I had jeans, my green hoodie, covered with my red Team Klemczewski jacket and a beanie cap. Not high fashion, but definitley high heat. As we ventured to the theater (on foot of course) the snow dissapated and we stopped into some bakeries on the way. Just to gander. When we finally got to the theater, we were informed that the movie was sold out. Very strange. You don't typically think an American movie (we went to see Sweeny Todd) in it's 2nd month would be sold out in Greece. Oh well. We decided to stop into a resturant to get some food. As we walked to the strip, each resturant appeared to have vacancy- yet the "bouncer" at the door informed us that they were in fact full for the night. This happened three times until we decided to stop into a favorite bar of ours called Seaside, where we were able to sample wine, cheese and fruit. We must have talked for about two hours when Besi informed us that the reason we did not get into the movies or the resturants was because we were not dresses nicely enough! I was astonished! She made the point that in Greece (and all of Europe), businesses are just as concerned with attracting "beautiful" people to their establishments than they are about making money. Thus the reason you typically don't see too many Greeks underdressed. You must always overdress. This was like a cultural slap in the face and I thought it was very interesting and funny. At least we know for next time. After we were done at Seaside, Besi (who is half Albanian) invited us to a party that some of her Albanian friends were having to celebrate the liberation of Kosovo. When we got there, I was at first hesitant to talk (being that there was alot of Albanian flying around). But eventually I loosened up and got into some pretty interesting conversation. I met one Kosovo Albanian named Jeton (pronounced YEH-TON) and he made a toast "To Kosovo and Barack Obama". I was suprised to hear that he followed American politics so closely and when I asked him about it he said: "My friend, America equals the world". It was a heavy statement, but lately I've been wondering if it is in fact true. Could it be? I think it would be quite arrogant to assume so. Nonetheless, everybody at the party seemed to be counting down the days and crossing their fingers to go to the States. Very interesting. He seemed to think that America was the ticket to complete freedom. Is he right? Cleary the "American Dream" lives on, even if it is currently a dream deferred. Interesting stuff. Sunday and Monday can be summed up in two words: Slow, Unevetful.

I have class now, more to come so stay tuned.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

New pictures up

Just a quick update- new pictures!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Some semi-sophisticated banter

It’s 2:39 AM here, but I’m wide-awake. I’m alert. I’m restless. Life has been going on like “normal” lately- but I find that “normal” is a fluid concept these days. I expect the unexpected- therefore surprise is the norm. For example, on Tuesday there was a bus strike. That’s right, public transportation stopped. Highly inconvenient having to hail a cab (due to the significant price difference)- but still, Thessaloniki makes due. I’ve come to find that most of the major public service providers go on strike a few times a month here. In the ten days that I’ve been here I have already seen a taxi strike, a bus strike and a police strike. The unions alert the press of the date they will be on strike weeks in advance and the press releases the information to the public in a calendar format. Way to plan your month! However, the strikes here aren’t designed to devastate an industry like some American strikes (see the current WGA strike). The strikes here are meant to highlight employee rights and raise awareness of grievances. Once these issues have been addressed, it’s back to work. Hellenic society is based on ancient values of collectivism, not the individualism of the modern era. Greeks realize that by ceasing to work, they hurt many around them- thus they try to keep things relatively succinct. The primary assumption behind protest is that everybody should have a voice. It is not based solely on receiving extra compensation or benefits. I guess this philosophy makes sense in the land that is essentially the birthplace of democracy.

Everybody has been picked on at least once in their life. It’s inevitable. Maybe you were smaller than someone; maybe you were a “geek”. Maybe you were bad at sports or you were just disliked for no reason. Either way, it’s happened. And when you came into the house downtrodden and dirty from sometimes quite literal mudslinging, what did your parents say? “People only tease you out of jealously. If they don’t like you, you have something that they want.”
I never believed that crap. I always thought it was a load of BS- a euphemism meant to appease me in a situation that had no right answer. I operated under the assumption that some people are just viscous regardless of motive. However, I’ve recently been able to draw a real-life parallel that has allowed me to examine more thoroughly the idea that hatred is fueled by jealousy. It’s no secret that Americans abroad are viewed as arrogant, overconfident and materialistic. It’s a fact that we get a bad rap for being greedy and manipulative. Why is this? Is it because we really are all these negative characteristics that people describe us as? Or is this broad generalization of American culture linked to envy in some way? In the short time that I’ve been here, I have met people from all over the world: Greeks, Albanians, Bulgarians, Poles and Nigerians. They of course ask me if I’m from America, and when I say yes they proceed to tell me how lucky I am. They tell me that they wish they could live in America. They express an interest in my stories about home and seem willing to do generally anything to get into the states. And this phenomenon can be seen on a worldwide basis. Mexican citizens jump fences, hide in trucks and stow away on ships to get into the US. Cubans paddle to the shores of Florida in tiny Styrofoam boats that often capsize and are usually turned away jut to have a shot at living in the States. It seems like many easily criticize the “American Way”, yet many want to live the fabled “American Dream”. If people are willing to die to come to the US, there most be some virtue they see that they can’t find elsewhere. Of course my view is biased based on my nationality, the time I have spent in the states and the media I have been exposed to- however I can’t help but get the impression that America is envied, especially since I have gathered corroborating evidence overseas. Of course, not everybody wants to live in the US and undoubtedly millions of people are happy in their country. But maybe, just maybe some of the hatred for the US is fueled by jealousy. It’s just a thought.

Wednesday was an interesting night. We all wanted to go out to this reggae bar, but I wasn’t drinking. Before hand, my friends decided they wanted to “pre-game” which means to basically arrive at said location already semi-drunk. Their beverage of choice: cheap white wine. Bad choice I thought, but whatever. So we arrived at the bar, talked, played some cards- had a good time. But by the time we got back to the apartment, my roommate was so sick he could barely move. He spent the whole night throwing up. I hate to say I told you so. Tonight we are going out again for Valentine’s Day. It’s entirely possible to go out every night here. The classes are so ridiculously easy and slow paced I feel like I’m in 9th grade again.

A little update on my voice- it’s back! I would say 85%, but that’s good enough to scream “Help!”, “Rape”, or “Pickpocket”- so I’m happy. Today I went to the φαρμακείο (pharmacy) to conquer this cough/runny nose because it’s gotten a little worse. My general policy on sickness is to always get medication within the first 48 hours. I know, I’m a wuss. Yes I know my immune system is probably weaker for it- but here’s my philosophy: if there’s a medicine that can fix my problem now, I’m going to use it. If I can feel better now, why shouldn’t I? So any way, I headed up to the pharmacy armed with phrases from my Greek phrasebook such as “it hurts here” and “cough”, but by the time I got there I had completely forgotten everything. One big blank. So I relied on the tried and true standard: “Milate Agglika?” (Do you speak English). Thankfully the pharmacist did and I described my symptoms- nasal drainage, light cough etc. Then she proceeded to write me a prescription on the spot and give me prescription antibiotics and nasal spray! That’s right, walk in, cough, get prescription drugs and walk out. This is definitely not America.

I’d like to say one final thing. I’ve come to realize how non-homogenous America really is. It’s not like that here. There isn’t a spectrum of colors and cultures here. Maybe in the university (as many universities have)- but in general the country is one big Hellenic race. It’s strange.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Back to school, the bus fiasco and how I lost my voice.....

Well let’s recap the last few days:

Sunday was a pretty decent day- I finally felt “at home” here in Greece, or at least at home ENOUGH. Pretty uneventful as everyone was pretty tired from the non-stop partying the week before. Nonetheless, we still decided to go out Sunday night. Not everybody’s heart was in it, but we felt like we should since it was the last day we could go out without worrying about homework. We went to a club called “Velvet”. Very Americanized- it looks like somewhere in Tampa or Miami the only difference was the people. It was pretty loud, but still fun and we went home relatively early by our own standards (2 am, ha!). Then we had to go through the joy of hailing a cab again- but this time we were wise to it. The cabbie did not speak English, but luckily for my friends, I’m a genius. I spoke like it was my native tongue and got us home without a hitch. After he dropped us off, we stopped at a local bakery and got crepes. I had chicken, cheese and veggies in mine. The combination of the chicken and the cheese with the mildly sweet, thin pita makes the crepe delicious. The texture is doughy, yet crunchy at the same time. When I got home I passed out. I had school at noon the next day (Monday).

Monday came so fast. I literally got in my bed, blinked and got up. I went into this day knowing that it was going to be a challenge simply because I had never ridden public transportation yet. A taxi is one thing- but navigating a bus route when you can’t read the signs or understand the intercom is tricky. The first thing that I noticed when I got up was that I couldn’t speak. That’s right, my voice was completely gone. As the sun crept over the shade, I opened my mouth to say a few obscene words and nothing came out. Just a raspy, wispy semblance of a voice. I tired to curse in English, I tried to curse in Greek. Still nothing. On top of that, my throat felt like it had been burned with a blowtorch overnight. No other symptoms, just those. My self diagnosis is this- the combination of the cold weather, the wind, the massive smoke inhalation, the screaming at the clubs and the late nights have done me in. Still don’t have my voice back as of today. But hey- talking is overrated. So we (meaning myself and 10 others) scurried out to the bus stop about ½ a mile away. Just getting to the stops is a near death experience, but I digress. All we knew is that we were going to Anatolia (the name of the larger campus which contains ACT). But we didn’t know which bus to take and they were driving by at lighting speed. There are 3 doors on the right side of the bus- the front, middle and back. The doors spring open for 7 seconds and people exchange places rapidly- some dashing onto the street and others cramming into the bus. From a bird’s eye it must look like a swirling ant mound. As the busses drove by we had to quickly scan the destinations which were flashing across the grainy screen in orange, pixilated Greek font. Luckily we spotted “Ανατολία” on bus 58 and recognized it to be “Anatolia”- we crammed on and held tight packed like pimentos in a Greek olive.

On the walk to the bus, we purchased tickets at a περίπτερο (or kiosk) for 50 Euro cents. But when we got on the bus everything was so quick and there was nobody checking out tickets. It made me wonder if we could in fact just ride for free and get away with it. What a silly American idea. Luckily, I saw there was a ticket puncher in the corner of the bus and I stamped my first Greek bus pass with pride. My roomie on the other hand decided to be slick and keep his ticket unstamped. Things were kosher until about 8 minutes into the ride when two ticket regulators (who appeared out of nowhere) confronted him about his unmarked ticket and started berating him in a flurry of what I’m guessing were not nice words. I let him take it for a little while because it was funny, then I stepped in and explained that it was his first bus ride and he didn’t speak Greek. They relented. Finally we arrived at Anatolia, pushed the stop button and were all too happy to get off the hell bus. The downside about Greece’s healthy eating is the fact that they can fit 3 million people on one bus.

I stumbled into class at 12 on the dot, but then I realized the professor was on Greek time (not all that different from CP time). She was 15 minutes late. That’s the cool thing about Greece. Time is more fluid- not static and definitive. 12pm can mean anywhere from 11:45 – 1:00. It has give and leeway. The pace of Thessaloniki is much slower than Chicago or New York, even though it is a major metropolitan city (the 3-5pm siestas for example). I took 2 classes yesterday- Greek ethnography and Greek Language II (which became increasingly hard as my voice got worse and worse). Now I’m getting ready for class at 3:30 and I’m heading up to the gym to finally check it out. I really am missing training. I’ve lost some weight and I’m looking a little smaller/flatter. Not much muscle loss, I have visably leaned out. But I’m trying to gain weight right now, so that’s going in the wrong direction. I’m still having difficulty with the sleeping patterns. Primarily because I am in need of at least 10-11 hours of sleep lately. I assume my body is still adjusting and whatnot- but when you sleep for so long you waste the day. It’s 1 pm now and I’ve just eaten breakfast. More updates as they become available- hope I can talk today.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Slow saturday

Nothing of note today. Since I went to sleep around 6 am this morning I didn't wake up until the day was over (3pm). But I did go to the mall to buy a Greek cell phone. I didn't really want to, but it's pretty much a necessity in order to talk with other people in the program and make emergency calls that don't cost $70. Of course everybody is going out again tonight but I'm not. I have some reading to get done and a thesis to think about. Since everybody usually leaves around 11pm, we won't get in until at least 4- which is OK sometimes, just not every night. And also, I've had something to drink every night here and while I haven't gotten drunk, I just don't want to drink every night. It's not a good habit. I want to be up early so that I can check out that gym tomorrow. Everything is closed on sundays in greece- but I atleast want to find it again. I haven't seen it since the first day.

I did learn some interesting Greek curse words today, and then I saw them in action on the street when a biker almost got SMASHED by a huge bus. I also saw the Greek version of flipping the bird- which uses 5 fingers. Interesting. The cars travel so fast here, and the vehicle (not the pedestrian) has the right of way. Another thing I learned is that you have to be aggressive when flagging down a taxi. They won't actually stop for you. You literally have to jut out in front of them, bang them on the hood and open the door. My friends and I realized this after standing in various spots with our hands up. Then I used my brilliant Greek skills to relay our destination and pay the fare:

Me: Signomei, Katalavenitei Agglika? (excuse me, do you understand english?)

Cabby: Oxi, Katalevenitei Ellinika? (No, do you understand Greek?)

Me: Neh, ligo. Then milow, alla katalaveno. (Yes, a little. I don't speak it but I understand)

Cabby: Endaxi (OK)

Me: Theloume Cosmos Mall ( We want the Cosmos mall)

Him: blah blah blah in greek for 10 minutes

Me: Nod, smile.

We pull up to the mall:

Me: Stamata etho para kalo (Stop here please)

Cabby: Neh (yes)

Me: Poso Kanei (how much?)

Cabby: Pente evro kai ikosi lepta (5 euro and 20 cents)

Me: etho einai theka, ehete pesta (here is 10, do you have change?)

Cabby: Neh, etho (yes, here)

Me: Kala! Afgaristo poli querieh. Yassas. (Great, thanks very much sir. Bye)

I've only been here a week, but it's getting easier.

Last day of orientation

3rd and final day of orientation today (Friday)- we journeyed to the tombs of the Macedon kings. There were three tombs and the entire excavation site was encased in a modern museum so that once inside the building, we were viewing the actual tombs not just the artifacts within it. Original frescoes had been restored with precision and the whitewashed stone columns were still in place- standing strong after thousands of years. Of the three, Phillip II had the largest and most ornate tomb. Much like Egyptian lore, Greeks believed that when someone made a journey to the afterlife, they needed all their essential earthly possessions. The tomb is actually arranged as a house with two chambers. The first being the living quarters and the rear chamber being the burial site with the ashes of the deceased and other personal effects. The tombs were originally covered below 40 feet of dirt, forming a large hill structure called a tumulus. The mound has two purposes- 1.) to mark the burial site of prestigious figures and 2.) to protect the site from intruders. Even so, tomb raiders have desecrated several tombs throughout Greece. In order to enter the tomb the thieves go in through the roof through a special stone called the keystone. It’s the only stone (and smallest) that can be removed from the roof without damaging the integrity of the structure and caving in the entire structure. Phillip’s tomb is the only tomb to be discovered untouched in 1977. To know what you are physically in the presence of ancient warrior-kings is a rush. To touch the stones they touched, to view their armor, to know that Alexander the Great once buried his father here before returning to his campaigns in Asia puts you in a mental time machine. This museum is not just a collection of artifacts. It is the burial site and actual tomb. Great leaders of antiquity stepped foot here. I took a small rock from the tomb- no doubt thousands of years old. Don’t tell! Of course no video/photography was permitted in the museum- it’s something that has to be seen and felt anyway.
After that we went out to lunch- the last lunch courtesy of ACT for the entire program to enjoy. Salad, light pasta, pork with potatoes and a rich cake to finish. The food was good as usual. On the way back to the apartment, the buses took us on an extensive tour of the city. We saw the great walls erected in 300 BC to keep the Ottoman empire out of Macedonia and ornate Byzantine churches. Certainly breathtaking. Then we went back to the apartments to rest up- we knew we were going out again tonight. Around 11pm we went to a bar called “Seaside” in the heart of Thessaloniki and is literally adjacent to the magnificent waterfront. The moonlight reflected an eerie, calming glaze over the water that shimmered across the surface. The coolest part was that we were so close to the sea, yet there were no walls or guard rails. One could jump right in. I elected not to. LOL. I had one beer- that’s it. One thing that bothers me immensely is the apparent dependency some people have on alcohol to have a good time. People are drinking 5-6 shots before we even leave the house and then starting all over again when we get to the bar. It’s insane. I hate drunk people- it’s really unattractive. If you’re drunk I think it’s a sign of weakness. It means that you can’t control the drink, the drink controls you. Also, I like to know what’s going on. After that we went to this three-story club. It just sucked. No room to dance, poor music, felt like a sardine being crushed with creepy Greek guys. So glad I didn’t pay for that. Couldn’t ger my groove on. Although I must admit, Thursday really spoiled me. It was one of the best times of my life- the dancing was great- but not every night can be like that.
The weekend looks promising. I’m going to find that gym that I saw again and hopefully I can get some headway on the reading for my USF class and my Honors thesis. I’m plan to write on the infamous “self-fulfilling prophecy” it’s link to self sabotage and tie it together using theories from psychology as well as interpersonal/internal communication theories. I need to finish my 2-5 page prospectus by the end of the month. Monday I start real classes (I haven’t been to class since December 13th!).
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my first week and look forward to the months to come. One thing that really made the transition easier for me was finding someone very similar to myself. I have always been raised to be “color-blind” but the truth is that’s always been impossible for me being of mixed race. It’s one thing to be with my close friends and family- with them race truly is a non-issue. But in social scenarios it’s a big issue. I’ve found since elementary that whether you like it or not, you are either with the majority or you are with “everybody else”- in most cases the majority has been white. I’ve always been more comfortable with Blacks and Hispanics in social situations. It’s just a vibe or a feeling. It has nothing to do with dislike of other races. It has more to do with the comfort of mutual understanding coming from a fellow minority. If I’m in a social situation with all white people whom I don’t know well, I can have universal appeal without a doubt- but at the same time I feel like an outsider. I feel like a “token”. I’m sure everybody has felt like this to a certain extent. Also, Blacks are a rarity in Greece. Like a delicacy or commodity- you don’t see many of them (and if you do, they are selling CDs- go figure). I’m even more comfortable around Black or Hispanic girls. I find it easier to flirt and get along with them. Anyway, what it boils down to is that I am one of three black men in the entire program (and 2 girls) out of over 100 students. One in particular is mixed just like me, looks just like me, has similar experiences/attitudes towards life, identical tastes in music and women. It’s very comforting to have someone that you can relate to when A.) you are in a country where you can’t even read the signs and B.) You are the minority in a large group. All in all the first week is exceeding expectations.

*Lastly- I’m trying not to judge- it’s my new year’s resolution. But there are people here who I don’t like and I can’t help it. I hate fake smiles, fake laughs and sneaky punks. I hate aggressively annoying/arrogant pricks. Hope I didn’t just describe myself. Hope it doesn’t come to blows. More on that later as the plot develops.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Friday Feb 8th 2:25am

A lot has happened in the past few days. So much in fact that I feel as if I’ve been here for a whole month, not 4 days. The biggest adaptation I’m having to make is realizing that this is not a weekend trip or a short vacation. I actually have to live here and to a certain extent, I have to adjust to the Greek culture in order to survive. The people that I’m with are great and I believe this is because we are all here with a common goal- exploration. Those who study abroad have a certain adventurous spirit and creative mentality which is the reason that we’ve decided to branch out. On Wednesday orientation started and I came back to the crashing realization that I’m still in school, which frankly sucks. I don’t start actual classes until next Monday (I’m taking Greek II, Anthropology and International Relations along with my 2 internet classes at USF).
Wednesday after orientation ACT (American College of Thessaloniki) took the whole program of 100+ students out to lunch to eat local cuisine. The first thing I noticed was the place setting. What a small plate! Probably 1/3 of the size of a typical American dinner plate. The courses were served family style and there were no less than 4 courses of vegetables to begin with. Different types of salad meant to fill you up before the main course of chicken/lamb. The dessert was a delicious cinnamon cake- but by the end we were too full to eat the whole thing. I have yet to see an obese or even overweight Greek- their eating habits are superb. On the downside EVERYBODY smokes. I’m probably going to get second hand cancer here.
The city is alive and bustling but definitely different than America. The cars don’t stop for you, little old ladies shove you and the national nap time is 3pm to 5pm, so don’t expect to get service anywhere- the Greeks are SLEEPING! LOL. On the other hand, like I mentioned before- everybody is so nice and willing to help if you show them that you are willing to learn a little Greek. Just basic respect.
Yesterday we went to the Cosmos Mediterranean mall. This thing is huge- only 2 years old. Every store conceivable from IKEA to Macy’s- but everything is in GREEK! DOH! Lot’s of interesting people and things. My roommate and I even met two WNBA players. Pretty sick man! Today was the second day of orientation- more boring explanations, but some interesting lessons in Greek dancing which I used at the club tonight. Once again, ACT took us out. This time to the club. They bussed us out and paid for an open bar for over 100 people! What university do you know that buys an open bar for their students. I’m not a big drinker- it’s not my thing. I had a beer and some tequila. I was just buzzed, but others were getting completely smashed. I guess that’s to be expected with an open bar. There is so much going on that I can’t even remember half of what’s happening and the pictures that I take don’t do any of the sights justice. The Anatolia campus is located on a mountain and when you climb it to enter the school you can see the green/brown peaks of Greece splitting the fog, simultaneously blurry yet breathtakingly clear. What and awesome sight!
Tomorrow we are taking a field trip to Vergina located in northern Greece, it’s the burial site of the kings of Macedon including Phillip II, Father of Alexander the Great. Should be awesome. I’ll take pictures. Much more happened but I can’t remember. Until next time!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

I'm here- where's the OUZO???

Get ready for a long post. This picks up where I left off- the flight.

Let me first start off by saying British Airways is the most comfortable ride I've ever flown on and the staff bends over backwards to make you comfortable. As soon as I stepped on the plane, I was amazed by the massive size of the Boeing 777. 3 rows and 4 cabins- I was in coach of course. The First Class cabin literally had recliners. Each seat on the plane was equipped with a TV that had what was essentially TiVo. 20 channels. There was also a GPS that allowed me to see exactly where I was, the speed (top speed on the trip was in excess of 700 mph), time at the origin and destination, ETA, distance and other cool flight related information. Anyway- that flight was about 7-8 hours but I didn't sleep. Combination of nerves, excitement and the fact that I was literally travelling forward in time. Your body can sense that stuff. I arrived at London Gatwick around 8am Monday morning (2 am Eastern) and was elated to find that the Giants had won the Superbowl. Wish I would have seen that.
Now I went off to security- which was laughable. You have to understand- there is no TSA in anywhere except America- that's a homeland security thing. In London they just swiped me down and sent me through. Once I got on the flight (another, smaller BA plane) I was able to catch a few Z's- but it was only 4 hours so I didn't get to make up for lost time. As I flew in over Greece, I could see the beautiful terrain change. Lush water, looming snow-capped mountains and rocky terrain. Very mediterranean. When I touched down, I have to say it was a little chillier than I expected. We're probably looking at low to mid 50's here. That's all well and good, because I have jackets right? WRONG!
I was waiting at the conveyor belt and the typical fear set in. One bag, two bag, where's the third bag???!!!! WHERE'S THE THIRD BAG!!!??? Come to find out it was left behind in London! Beautiful! But luckily it was the most non-essential bag. It had all my supplements, weightlifting stuff and my jackets. I still have all my clothes and money- the most important stuff. The other suitcase will be here weds.
So I collected all my bags minus one and headed to the apartment. Let me just tell you, Greek is a hard language to read, and since I don't know much vocab I'm basically taking in thousands of letters a minute while only comprehending 2% of what I'm reading. It's very unsettling. But that 2% makes all the difference, trust me. On the ride in I passed tons of shops and residences. Thessaloniki is a young, urban enviroment with all the ammenitites, but it's harder to find them when you can't read signs! LOL- I did see a MET-RX store on the way though. The apartment is nice, relatively spacious with a balcony overlooking the streets (pictured above to the left). My roomate is awesome- lots in common. The building is set up similar to a Manhattan flat on the outside with a spiral staircase on the inside that leads to individual rooms. Walking around yesterday and today I was able to find basic essentials. Grocery store, gym, babershop. My ability to have basic conversation puts me lightyears ahead of my group. My training is behind right now. Today I woke up a 430 PM due to the jet lag- which is actually 10 am eastern (my average time). It makes sense- my body is still in shock. All in all I've proabably had 3-4 meals while I've been here consisting of either gyros, souvlaki or ouzo. LOL. Man, that ouzo is no joke. I only had what.....half a shot and it almost knocked me out. I'm just not a big drinker. So when I get my supps tomorrow and start school I can get into a routine and back into the gym. It won't be hard to gain weight here...the carbs are everywhere. But any type of meat is expensive as all hell. The American dollar is crap here- the Euro destroys it. At Sam's I can get 10lb of chicken for $30. Here I can get less than a lb for about $12. Uggh! Anyway- I'll post some pics and update the rest later.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Ready to go

Got the visa yesterday. I guess it was worth the wait. It has 47 colors, 10 different embossments and had 10 languages. It's a Schengen visa, which allows me access to all the "Schengen" countries including greece, italy, spain, germany, the netherlands. Basically all of the EU except the UK. If I didn't have the visa, when I leave Greece for travels I wouldn't be permitted back into the country. Anyway- I have it now, so I leave Sunday at 12pm. It takes 2 hrs to get to Orlando, then I'll get there in time for the recommended 3 hr early arrival time for international flight. I fly out to London and 6pm, then from London to Thessaloniki, Greece and will arrive there Monday afternoon. I'm getting pretty pumped!