Three Questions.

Who are you?

I’ve been re-reading my diaries over the past two months, with a view to travelling light. I’m moving on again and want to carry memories, not evidence. I’m at the end of the last millennium in this task – and that’s where I am stopping for now. The 2000+ text will travel with me – I need that hard copy for a while. Over the years, my handwriting changed – I experimented a bit, broke bones, pre-cell-phone-drunk-texted, tried different media, wrote on the move – but I can still hear my voice on the page. I listen and recognise familiar tones from a distance, through remembered tears and laughter. It’s me alright, but it’s not who I am. Not now.

What are you?

Damascus was my second foreign posting. I chose it with my heart not my head. My interviewer presented me with a list of vacancies, ones she judged suitable for my skill set. All other locations were sold to me with animated, attractive descriptions – perfect for career development, ideal for those who enjoy outdoor recreation (she knew me well), opportunities to learn new skills, lowest staff turnover in the network. Damascus was still and silent. She didn’t know me that well. I asked about the job. There was a moment’s pause and a flicker of anxiety before she replied: ‘They need someone with your qualifications and experience’. That was it. When I arrived, I heard all she hadn’t said and felt the full impact of the pause in that workplace. Yet, I knew my decision wouldn’t have been any different. I had wanted to want to be there. The people of the city showed me why. They took me in: ‘What are you?’ they asked. They understood we all must be something. Now, I understand.

Where are you?

I move often and migrate at (almost) regular intervals so, from time to time, I receive texts, calls or emails asking ‘Where are you?’ A friend sent one such recently and I replied with one of my ‘in transit’ messages; giving date of departure, route out, date of arrival and destination. You see, I’m neither here nor there. Here, unrelenting waves of refugees and political rhetoric have washed over the national psyche so extensively that I believe the country no longer recognises itself in this uneasy stasis. I catch glimpses of my Greece when I’m off-guard, but it’s not where I am. Not now.


Tuesday 23 November 1993

(This is taken from the journal I kept when I was the English teacher on Symi aka ‘The Rock’. To afford privacy, I have removed people’s names).

Bright skies give way to thunder, hail and rainstorms. The street by the school becomes a river and the side stairs to my apartment a stream, as hail bounces then floats away. Just in time, I rescue a cassette of music left for me at the gate – miraculously, it is undamaged and I listen to it while waiting for the storm to abate. A phone call – do I like the music? Yes, I do. There’s a funeral for a fisherman’s mother and the dark, somber day, with threads of light and patches of sunshine, seems appropriate somehow. She died on his name day, yesterday. I choose not to go to the funeral and instead, in a brief dry spell after lunch, go for a thoughtful, quiet walk with a good friend and her dog. The Nissos Kalymnos made it in this morning and there’s almost a party atmosphere as people emerge from winter hiding into the sunshine, while it lasts. Over-confident, I outstay the sunshine and the heavens open while I’m out. I take refuge in the doorway of the Ionian Bank. There’s a group of us, sheltering in different doorways, all caught out by the rain – we shout to each other and laugh. Oddly, we’re able to shout things we wouldn’t normally even say to each other – careless of others and convention. It’s cathartic. We agree, loudly, that we’re mavericks, before one of the men shouts over that I look like a cowgirl and that’s why he and his wife entrusted their children into my care at the school. In the absence of an alternative, I take this as a compliment (being a cowgirl was, after all, my second choice of what-I-wanted-to-do-when-I-grew-up, after being a Lost Boy was ruled out by my kind, but insistent, father). I do make a mental note to watch his children more carefully in future, though. Back at school, teaching was OK, though early turnout was low because of the weather. During the afternoon, various people jump in through the door to dodge rain and hailstones. The children take it all in their stride and classes continue uninterrupted, though in a slightly giddy Noah’s Ark-type way. Various phone calls in the breaks between classes to check I’m OK – the weather reports having traveled beyond The Rock. After school, I walk to Elpida’s for company, a drink and something to eat. There’s a female Greek teacher on the island; tall, slim and pretty – she’s flavour of the year. She’s not at the cafe, a group of her admirers are. I become an agony aunt as they all clamour for advice on how to win her over. I give it my best shot, but this wears me out by 11pm, so I leave. On the way back, I stare into the now clear night sky and see a shooting star.

Weather report: sun, warm, torrential rain, hail, bright, rain, storm, (funeral), rainbow, clear, damp, dark. Good night.

Published on axrhodes on 23/11/2013