Categories
Learning

A Long November Weekend

The weekend of 6 – 8 November 1993, on the island of Symi, Greece. Recorded in my diary of the time, when I taught ESOL there. The 8 November is the festival of Archangel Michael of Panormitis. The Greek Orthodox Church states that the miraculous icon of the Archangel Michael on the island of Symi is one of the four miraculous icons of the Archangel in the Dodecanese, Greece.

Saturday dawns and I still feel rough. My fever is running high, my voice is running away and my nose is just running. There’s a teachers’ lunch in Horio but I don’t go, instead I walk the few meters to the Vapori to sit with D for a medicinal drink. She has one, too. Prophylactic reasons. Back to the apartment, I listen to old cassettes to divert myself from unproductive hovering and feeling doom-laden. F comes round to tell me I’m getting better, she’s always right, so I must be. Apparently, my illness will pass by Monday. Have a hideously bad night’s sleep.

Despite this, Sunday comes and I am feeling better. Well, a bit anyway. I then contrive, through hovering-with-intent, to spend the day at a friend’s house. This helps me avoid housework very nicely until 4pm. Then, fed up with mess, I clean and tidy the apartment. In the meantime, even more people have left for the festival at Panormitis and the harbor area is becoming quieter. Further attempts at hovering-with-intent-to-be-invited-in fail miserably but I have a greater reward in going for a walk in excellent company with M and S, two of this year’s teachers. Not for the first time, I thank my lucky stars for this group of good people.

The three-day weekend rolls into Monday, and the harbor’s almost completely closed up as it seems the entire local population have headed off to the monasteries at Panormitis and Michailis. Elpida’s is the only cafe open. My fever has passed, F was (as ever) right. I have lunch with her and D. She’s cooked – it’s a lovely meal, washed down with heart-searching talk and retsina. I sleep soundly for two hours in my newly-cleaned apartment, woken only by a call from a student’s father. Him: Come and collect food. Me: OK. I go. The ‘food’ consists of two bottles of wine, something described as ‘marmalade’, and a lobster. Gotta love gratitude! By the evening, Pachos has re-opened. I go for drinks with S and H over from Lindos for the day’s festivities and we’re joined by some teachers. My Lindian friends are worried for my peace of mind and want me to leave with them. I won’t. I’ll stay. But I am tempted. Really I am. The urge to bolt is never far away.

Categories
Moving

Rock Fever: A Short Story ft. Symi

Once upon a time, there was a young English woman who went to live on the island of Symi for a year. She worked at a brand new English language school as the teacher and manager and lived ‘over the shop’ in the brand new apartment. She had lived there before, in the summer, and so had local friends and knew her way around.

The school opened at the beginning of September and all went well. Registrations were high, students were (by and large) happy and so was she. As the nights drew in, she met others who were on the island for the winter for the first time, too. Friendships grew and fun was had. The work was interesting, if not challenging (unlike some parents’ expectations and resulting behaviour, but that’s a PhD thesis right there) and every day life went on.

As it was long ago and far away, there was no Internet and there were no cell phones (imagine that, children!). Post arrived once a week by boat (unless the sea was up) and she took pleasure in having the letters reach her addressed simply to her first name, Symi, Greece. The phone lines were in short supply but she was lucky enough to have access to one in the school room.

But this young woman was born walking. She had a restless nature and these simple pleasures alone were not enough to contain it, nor were weekends on Rhodes (and the fun one in Athens). The walls began to close in, the animal(istic) noises at night and the burning stares around the harbour (from those who couldn’t read) became oppressive. What to do? The answer came in a phone call. Come to Paros!

She bought a one-way boat ticket and then thought ‘how will this work?’. A good friend (who’s even better now) took her to the doctor with strict instructions to look miserable and say nothing. The three outsiders (none was native to the island) sat in the consulting room and looked at each other, then the young woman cast her eyes down and her friend and the doctor talked over her. It was clear, said the doctor, that the patient was suffering from ‘Rock Fever’ and needed a pass. The usual prescription was for a few days on Rhodes. The patient shook her head miserably (as instructed). ‘Hmmm, this is the worst case I have seen in a while’, he said before signing off on a seven-day pass, sighing, and wishing the patient a safe journey.

Two other good friends (they are better now, too) were taken into confidence and the young woman set off on the high seas (and they were) to Paros. It was a long journey, but never dull, ending in the kind of docking that can only leave a lifelong admiration for the skills of Greek mariners. When told to jump, she jumped and landed safely on the harbour side. There then followed a week wrapped in quilts and tsipouro, with occasional dashes into the kitchen for her to cook nursery food or through the driving wind and rain to the food, company and real fire of a taverna.

As all good things must, this one came to an end. One of the good friends (now better), managed to contact her to say time and the game were up. Fond farewells were said and a dash was made for a light aircraft. The seven-day pass expired, the young woman felt weller and returned to work. Nothing was said, except by the children who said they’d missed her and her drawings (she used to illustrate their note books for them, you see). A rumour grew that she’d been to Paris, but it simply made her laugh and she fed it enough that it became a fact. The seven-day pass from the doctor had worked so well, there was not even a hint of ‘Rock Fever’ to follow and the young woman was able to serve out the rest of her contract calmly.

The End.

First published on axrhodes on 13/07/2013