Thursday, October 29, 2015


I wrote this post recently on one of the days I describe toward the end of it. It was a difficult day. It got better. The difficult days always get better, or at least give way eventually to better days. I considered not publishing this post. I decided to publish it despite my misgivings because if I don’t, I will be hiding one very important part of my life. I do prefer to focus on the positive. I do not want to pretend like the negative doesn’t exist.

Yesterday we—once again—took steps to ensure that we’re prepared in case a country falls apart around us. No, we aren’t expecting anything to happen. But the life that we have chosen is full of uncertainties, of possibilities both good and bad. One possibility for which we must prepare is that of finding ourselves in the middle of a disaster, natural or man-made.

Our drill yesterday was a familiarization exercise. We were asked to meet at our Neighborhood Assembly Point in order to ensure that we all know where it is. While there, we were given a handout with a list of items to have in our go bags and in our 3-day survival kits at home (in case it takes a while for assistance to reach us in the aftermath of a disaster, which here, most likely would be an earthquake). Finally, we were led to a nearby house where some emergency supplies are stored. We were taken in through the front gate, but not until after we were shown the easiest place to hop the fence. After all, we don’t have keys, and we won’t be able to wait around for someone to bring them if we need them. It was just another reminder that, if a situation develops, we’ll need to be creative and proactive to take care of ourselves, our families, and our neighbors until help can get to us.

Jeff came to the assembly point straight from work, so Alexa and I walked there on our own. On the way, Alexa asked where we were going and why. Jeff and I believe that it’s important to be honest with her, even as we try to shelter her from the worst of what life has to offer, so I told her the truth: We were making sure that we knew how to get to the assembly point, because if there was a problem and we needed to leave the country, we may need to get to the assembly point on our own. Of course she wanted to know what could possibly happen to make us have to leave. So I told her that we may have to leave if there was a big earthquake. She accepted that answer easily enough, after I explained what an earthquake is and gave her a sanitized version of the damage it could do.

Then I did something stupid. I told her that she and I already had been evacuated once, from Egypt. Of course she wanted to know why—why didn’t I think about the fact that she’d want to know why? So then I had to explain the concepts of “revolution” and “too dangerous to stay.” Smart little girl that she is, she picked up on the fact that I hadn’t said that Daddy was evacuated, because he wasn’t, so she wanted to know why he stayed and whether he was safe and why it was safe enough for Daddy but not for us. So we got to discuss the fact that Daddy’s job is critical enough (“Mama, what’s ‘critical?’”) that he stays even when it isn’t safe, and that they make it as safe as they can, but that they can’t protect everyone, so they send away everyone who isn’t critical. (“Mama, how do they protect Daddy?”) And one of the ways they protect the critical people is by bringing in extra Marines. (“Mama, what fighting tools do the Marines use?”) Well, they prefer guns, but they also use knives, and in a pinch, they can use their feet and hands, and there’s no one better at fighting than the Marines—I didn’t feel the need to explain Special Forces just yet—so Daddy was very well protected. (“Do the Marines kill bad guys?”) Well, yes, they do, when they have to. (“So the Marines killed any bad guy who tried to hurt Daddy?”) They would have if they’d needed to. And thus it was settled that Daddy was safe. (I also didn’t feel the need to tell her that the Marines actually are there to protect the classified information and systems, and they’ll do that first, but they’ll protect the people too, if they can.) Then we moved on to where Daddy slept at the embassy, and if they had beds, and where the people slept if there weren’t enough beds …

This conversation, followed by the assembly point meeting, reminded me again of the sacrifices we make to live this life. I don’t often dwell on them, and it’s even less often that I mention them. Quite frankly, that’s not what people want to hear about—I’ve even been told that I don’t sacrifice anything, because I chose this life, as if somehow that makes it impossible for it to involve any sacrifice*—and it also isn’t what I want to dwell on. I prefer to think about, and others prefer to hear about, the adventure, the humor, the lessons learned, the exotic locations visited … but not about the sacrifices that are required in exchange for the opportunities.

I don’t like to think or talk about, and others don’t like to hear about, the difficulty of packing up and moving every two or three years. The heart-wrenching goodbyes. The tears cried by a little girl who didn’t fully understand when she said goodbye that it most likely was forever. The ever-present doubts and fears about whether and how this lifestyle will scar the tender heart of a child who knows no other way. The frustration of, once again, having to apologize to every other person you meet because you’re a guest in their country, but you don’t get language training and therefore can’t even say “hello” in their language.

I don’t talk about the days when I’m just done. Done adjusting to another culture. Done with struggling through another trip to a supermarket that may or may not have what I’m looking for, and even if they do, I may not recognize it because the packaging is so different and the label isn’t in English. Done trying to organize and decorate and turn into home another new-to-me house that I didn’t choose. Done searching out people who can become friends, if I can find the time and energy in the midst of all my other adjustments to put in the work to make it happen before the novelty wears off and I’m no longer new and perceived as someone who needs friends. Done saying goodbye to those friends I worked so hard for and who I may or may not ever see again (embassy friends, possibly or even probably; missionary friends, probably not). Done thinking about evacuations and go bags and shelter-in-place kits and dig-out kits and how much and how to explain any of that to an innocent child who simply trusts me to take care of her. Done putting on a happy face because I’m not supposed to struggle with any of this. There are days when I’m just done with all of it, with this whole lifestyle; days when I think it would be easier to give up and move back home to America**.

I’ve had a lot of those days lately. I always do, during the transitions—when I’m leaving a post, when I’ve just arrived at post. I’m keenly aware of the sacrifices during these times … and especially on the days when I get handouts about go bags and shelter-in-place kits. But I don’t want to think about that, much less write about it.

Much better to talk about the adventure, and the funny stories, and the exotic locations. Much better to talk about the adjustments after the fact, when I can talk about lessons learned, skills developed, and strength revealed. Much better to talk about anything.

Anything but the sacrifices.

*The Free Dictionary has several definitions of the verb “sacrifice,” but the most appropriate in this context is the second: “to give up (one thing) for another thing considered to be of greater value.” This definition does not say that one thing is taken by force. It says that one thing is given up, which implies that sacrifices are voluntary; they are choices. So I’m well aware that the person who told me that I don’t make sacrifices because I chose this life doesn’t understand the literal meaning of the word “sacrifice.” I’m also well aware that I did choose this life, including these sacrifices, which is why I don’t often talk much about them.

**On my rational days, I recognize that moving back to America would be easier in some ways, but not in all, and that I would have to give up the things about this life that I love. I’m really not willing to do that just yet … but there are some days when I forget.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Eretria Village Resort

Over the last few weeks, we have had the blessing of reconnecting—in person, even!—with friends whom we have not seen in over 5 years. These friends were traveling for business, and they had arranged their flights so they could stop in Athens to visit us. Even better, their overnight layover in Athens was only on their way out; on their way back to their home, they needed to stop for a week of work right here in Greece. Afterward, they intended to spend a couple of days relaxing at a resort just 90 minutes away from Athens, where they invited us to join them.

Accordingly, one Saturday morning, we made the trip from Athens to Eretria Village Resort, on Evia Island. The room was basic but comfortable. There was a queen (or maybe king) size bed, as well as a twin size daybed/sofa. There weren’t a whole lot of drawers in the vanity area, but there was a typical-for-Europe built-in closet that had more than enough storage space. The bathroom was clean, and although there were no drawers, there was plenty of counter space. All the floors were tile, and there was a patio on our ground-level unit; the ones upstairs had balconies.

After we unpacked, it was time to head to lunch, a buffet that included soup, salads, various meats, and vegetables. The whole time, Alexa begged to go back to the room, put on her swimsuit, and get in the pool. We told her she could do that later, but first we wanted to walk around the resort and see what was there.

Just outside the main building, which housed the dining room, a bar, several conference rooms, and a few guest rooms, the main pool sprawled. It definitely was the centerpiece of the resort. The pool was a rough rectangle, with a large island in the middle. There were two bridges to the island, as well as two “feet wet” wading walls, for lack of a better term. These short walls allowed maybe two inches of water to pass over them, and they separated a full-sized deep swimming pool from the much more shallow “playing” pool, which made up the other three sides of the rectangle. We loved the design, which was beautiful and practical. Alexa could stand and play in most of the pool without worry about accidentally stepping over into water that was too deep for her.

We had been told that there were two additional pools at the resort, so we decided to find them. One was beside the beach, so we headed that way first.

We walked down beautiful paths to a tunnel that took us under the highway and to the beach.

We walked out on a short pier, from which we could see a longer pier that we just as easily could have walked out on. We saw the mainland across the narrow channel ahead of us.

We turned around and saw the resort’s beach area behind us.

Then we walked back to shore for a closer look at the beach.

There was another beach area that was just as lovely.

Then we found the beach side pool

and a cool wall beside it.

Seriously, I don't know why I was so fascinated with this wall and its windows and door, but I was utterly enthralled.

We passed by the playground but didn’t stop—Alexa was begging to go back to “the first pool” to swim.

We walked back along the picturesque path,

found a sweet little chapel,

and caught a glimpse of the third pool (but didn't take a picture of it).

Then we gave in to Alexa’s oft-repeated desire to change into swimsuits. I couldn't resist taking a picture of the pretty little scene that greeted me every time I opened our door, though:

After changing, we (well, Jeff and Alexa) braved the cold waters of the huge, lovely pool outside the main building.

After some time in the pool, when we grownups couldn't stand the chill any longer, we went back to the room for hot showers and dry clothes. Then our friend invited us on a drive up the mountain to see the view. We happily accepted.

We stopped at a beautiful little church nestled near the top of the mountain.

The exterior door was secured against the wind, but unlocked. We took that as an invitation to go in and light a candle. Apparently casual visitors were not so welcome in the sanctuary, which was locked up tight.

We marveled at the cool patterns of the branches growing at the cliff's edge. These branches grew up for a little way, then quickly curved back down and extended below their roots.

After we left the church, we drove up a partially-paved road to an electrical tower at the mountain's peak. From there, we had a clear view of the resort-strewn waterfront area.

On our way down, we had a clear view of the less populated, uncommercialized, beautiful interior of the island.

We also found some goats that utterly enthralled Alexa.

Finally, we drove through the small town of Evia on our way back to the resort, which is located between the villages of Evia and Eretria. I loved the picturesque little dock area.

After our drive, we relaxed at the resort for a little while longer before dinner with our friends. We found a cute little sitting area,

and Alexa made friends with one of the resort's permanent residents.

Dinner was served on Greek time (in other words, late), so we went back to our room pretty much right after dinner. The next day was a full day of breakfast, swimming, lunch, and the drive back to Athens. We were joined for one last evening with our friends before they headed home Monday. 

Our time at the resort was a wonderful way to relax after a few weeks of settling in to Athens and before a hectic time of accepting delivery of and unpacking our shipment from Kosovo. Eretria Village Resort is classified as a 4-star resort (with one 3-star hotel on the premises as well). I think it falls a little short of the 4-star mark, but it's still a beautiful and relaxing weekend getaway. I expect that we'll visit again.