On Saturday evening, after a long day of a) meandering through historic, old town Chania, b) hitting the huge, bustling farmers' market, c) navigating our way to Jumbo, the Walmart of Chania, where we shopped necessaries among masses, and d) swinging by the uniform shop for the kids' school... my husband got a call from a Greek man he knows through his work. He and his girlfriend were in the area and wanted to swing by to say hello; were we up for it? We were.
We spent a delightful hour or so with the two, sipping coffee and eating gluten-free chocolate chip cookies that our resident-baker 10-year-old son had made the day before. He's a burly, classically Greek-looking man with stellar English who obligingly translated for his girlfriend (who spoke less English, though she understood perfectly.) They've spent the bulk of their lives in and near Chania and clearly love it. They told us all about the sites we need to see, the caves we need to explore, the foods we need to try.
We talked about Greece and its style and ways, how it differed from other countries. He spoke of the generosity of the Greeks, how offering hospitality to others was critical. A Greek may only have ten euros, he said, but he'd spend those euros feeding his guests and making sure they felt at home. And living "from the heart" was paramount to a Greek. We talked about how Greece differs in its outlook in this from other countries, which can be seen in various ways - even in friction that comes its involvement in the EU.
I loved the spiritual component of our conversation as well. My observation (limited time though I've had to accrue it) is that Greeks carry the age-old reverence that comes with their land and culture for the supernatural. Even those that aren't "religious' by standard terms - weekly church attendance, for example - seem to have an openness and reverence for the divine that you don't typically see in America. Where an average American might be indifferent or skeptical, a Greek might have a posture of wondering or curiosity. Our guests' comments amplified my sense of this. I so enjoyed hearing them talk about Cretan holy sites - the monasteries, the revered saints attached to each, the caves in which miracles are frequently reported. And of course I took notes so we can check them out ourselves.
Upon leaving, amidst parting invitations to come dine with them, our kind friends recommended we get out and and not get "stuck" in the circles of the comfortable and the familiar. Great pointer... and we agree. We're getting out there. In terms of language - my husband's conversational Greek is already pretty impressive; I've been trying to catch up a bit. The kids have begun studying Greek in school - less than we'd like, but at this point we'll take what we can get - and we're trying to use phrases at home and out-and-about when we can. We had our first meal at a Greek restaurant Sunday; the menu was arranged with Greek and English side by side - study tool for me. We ordered octopus (along with some other Greek dishes) and our son relished it. So we're getting there, little by little.
It's all mixed in with trying to Make Our Way Here too. We had a kid sick with a fever this week, a kid who forgot all her multiplication facts over the summer and is thus in tears over math, a kid who's mental repertoire is (on a daily basis) trying to figure out where on the island Pokemon cards might be bought. I feel a desperate need to acquire some rugs to combat the volume and dust in our stone house. All the normal stuff of life, trying to get our household and routine established.
Extracurriculars have become front burner this week too. The kids are home before 3 pm and could use some direction and structure in their afternoons. In terms of organized activities, the options appear to be soccer, basketball, martial arts, ballet, and (far from our house) gymnastics. Our oldest two played soccer in the states, and Monday we checked out the local league as the kids practiced. Soccer is serious business here - they play ten months out of the year, three 1.5-hour practices per week plus Saturday games. You're required to give the league an original birth certificate. They start signing team kids up for the pro's at age 13! This afternoon we're checking out martial arts; after that we'll give basketball a glance if necessary.
In general people have been kind and welcoming, Greek and ex-pat alike. One of the moms at our kids' school, a Greek American who's lived in Chania for years and speaks the language fluently, took me under her wing on Tuesday - brunch downtown, a drive-around of key spots I might need to know. She invited a fellow Bostonian who's been in Chania since March with her husband and sweet infant; she even attended my rival high school, of all things! It was a sweet and refreshing social time. Tomorrow some of the base moms are congregating at the track on base to run and have coffee afterwards, which should be great.
We're at the two week mark. We've made great strides in a short time. I find I have to keep reminding myself of that!
This is post 4 in a series on our family's move to Crete.