March 20, 2011

Student Blog by Rachel Lyda: Under the Grecian Sun

In the land of ancient ruins, crystal blue waters, delectable cuisine and vivacious people--Athens possesses enough charm to pave the city streets. Upon arrival to Athens on a sunny, Saturday afternoon, my first impression could not be anything but described as both completely surreal..and terrifying! Still remaining a bit disoriented and sluggish from the flight and bus ride, my 3 other colleagues and myself stumbled through cobblestone streets with luggage in tow in the midst of unpredictable and unruly Greek drivers. We quickly discovered that crosswalks are far from a safe zone, but rather an elusive interchange of running for your life and following the native Greek's example of survival.

Walking past the ruins of the Temple of Zeus with the Acropolis in sight, we fumbled our way through the center of Athens with the help of a map to eventually guide us to our hostel despite the confusing and obscurely marked streets.  After wandering around for a considerable amount of time, the arrival at our hostel which was well worth the journey. We were told by the manager that all dorm rooms were full; so they were upgrading us to an apartment for no charge! With excitement and anticipation we lugged our baggage up a narrow, spiral staircase and opened our door to reveal a quaint and charming interior, complete with a leather couch, TV, coffee table, small kitchen, and a decent sized bathroom and bedroom! Already, even though we had touched down in Greece only a few hours before, we felt extremely blessed.

The next day, after walking around for quite awhile through the bustle of town and through the flea market, we decided to take the train to Piraeas Port, which is where the majority of the cruise ships depart for the Greek islands. Taking us about 20 minutes to get there, and it then being around 5 hours since breakfast, we were starving! We strolled the sidewalks along the waterfront in search of some authentic cuisine and came upon a little hole in the wall, family owned restaurant. I ordered the chicken portion of a gyro and got much more than I expected! Tons of shredded chicken was piled on top of lettuce, tomatoes and pita bread, not to mention a delicious sauce! I barely finished half and conveniently took the rest home to save for dinner! It was absolutely delectable!

After arriving back home in Athens, we walked around the Historical Gardens as the sun was setting behind the Temple of Zeus. It was quite a sight to behold! It wasn't long until I gave into my lingering temptation to pick an orange from one of the numerous orange trees. I ended up with a sour, acidic mouth and sticky fingers. Not a smart choice. We then walked home to our apartment and planned our trip to the beach. The anticipation of blue water and 60+ degree water excited me so much, I even wore my swimsuit to bed.

A definite highlight of the trip was when we volunteered at this ministry called Love Meals, which is an organization run by a woman named Sophie and her husband for refugees fleeing mainly Muslim countries after converting to Christianity. Sophie and her co-workers provide a meal for the refugees, a shower, and offer whatever clothes they have donated to those who need it. I had arranged this opportunity beforehand, but had little direction to where we were supposed to go, or who to talk to. After taking nearly 40 minutes to find where this place was, we entered a semi-rundown building that was a little questionable. Once we made it up to where I was told to go, there were a lot of refugees waiting for dinner outside the doors, and no sign of someone who spoke English. We waited around for about 10 minutes, a little confused and frustrated about not knowing what to do. Before we knew it, a man came out from the back room and invited us back there. Barely speaking any English, he introduced us to Sophie and instantly, she emanated the most warm and hospitable smile, grabbed our hands and told us how happy she was that we came to help out! All of my prior nerves disappeared and we were put to work folding towels. After we were finished we were served this interesting and strong coffee drink, and a sack dinner of yogurt, sandwich, chips and an apple. We listened and observed the pastor giving the message in Greek from the upstairs balcony and though we couldn't understand anything, it was amazing to witness this ministry in Greece unfold before our eyes. It was such a blessing to be there, in the presence of fellow believers! After the service was over we helped stack all the chairs, fold tables and mop the floor. I could tell Sophie, her husband and their co-workers were very thankful to have us there with them, even though we didn't do that much! Through broken English translated by a co-worker, Sophie invited us to church on Sunday, but when she found out we were leaving Friday, she immediately asked if we had a safe place to stay and knew how to get there. We had known these people for only a few hours, yet they were being extremely accommodating and genuinely kind. It was a huge blessing to all of us, and it was sad to leave with hugs and kisses from Sophie, knowing we couldn't spend more time with them, but knowing we would never forget the experience we shared with them.

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