Αθήνα (Athens) Text 2

After setting back in to the rhythm of school in Athens, Kevin headed to Tinos island to go bouldering while I continued to work. I began to feel increasingly ill, but chalked it up to catching what a student had when I was on duty (as I was the staff member they spoke to closely about it). I took an antigen test for COVID-19, obtained a negative result, and worked through it. At TGS I’m ostensibly in charge of the THINK Local program, which in the case of Athens was largely planned out ahead of time for me. Feeling sick, I took another negative COVID-19 test and headed to the American Community School of Athens to meet with the head of school and various teachers in charge of the two programs we would join – Κοινονώς and Youth-to-Youth. 

A word about these programs. In Botswana, I took students to the neighboring village for Youth-to-Youth. In Mexico, I arranged for us to work with the local group of interpreters and intercultural promoters to learn Zapoteco and experience the inaccesibilty of justice due to lack of language. In the UAE, I arranged a day of museum visits in Sharjah specifically pointed towards contemplation of the layered, conflicting, and conflated identities ascribed to and championed by Emiratis. In Greece, our program centered around the joint refugee and economic crises. Youth-to-Youth is a Saturday program (dormant now for two years due to the pandemic) which brings unaccompanied minors to ACS to make friends while learning English, Greek, computers, and physical education. Our students, with their many languages, could be an immense help here, specifically with Dari, Urdu, Arabic, and French. Κοινονώς, on the other hand is a program (similarly dormant) meant to provide assistance to the homeless in Athens. The team brings snacks and clothing to the homeless in Athens late in the evening. 

After taking the students to their AP exam room, I went to the library and slept until my meeting, exhausted and feeling sick. I met with the the teachers and school head, then rested until the students finished their exams and took them back. I was on duty that night and fumbled through the rest of my duties, barely having the strength to wake up in time to take the students to ACS the following morning for the first session of Youth-to-Youth after taking a third negative COVID-19 antigen test. I did not accompany the students in, and luckily Sophie, a teacher from the other cohort, accompanied me and looked after the kids while I rested in the school nurse’s office. Hearing me cough, no fever, but clearly getting worse, the nurse sent me home. I scraped through another night of duty, then went home on Sunday morning, canceling my original plans to meet Kevin on Tinos. When I woke up, I headed to our recommended clinic, doing the entire visit in Greek. The reception sent me outside to a small kiosk for a COVID-19 test. To the everyone’s surprise (mine most of all), it was positive. I took a taxi home, told Kevin, and lay down. Kevin went straight to the clinic, having felt off the last days, and tested positive as well.

COVID-19 was not gentle with us. Nor has it been particularly severe. It simply lingers. Neither of us developed a fever, nor did our cough become anything terribly worrisome. I even worked remotely through most of it, sleeping much of the intervening time away. But the exhaustion – even after six full days of quarantine, walking up Filopappou hill completely tanked us. I’m glad we tried, though, as we sat and listened to two hours of polyphonic singing, by chance choosing the International Day of Polyphonic Singing for our little sojourn. This was a magical evening. A rotation of amateur singers – mostly quartets and quintets – sang one song at a time on the ancient fortification near the Pnika, the center of Athenian Democracy, steps away from the Bema where Pericles addressed his people. Behind the singers rose the Acropolis at golden hour. With no camera to record the night, I drew feverishly (the only fever I’d have on account of COVID-19, I suppose), sending the drawings later to the leaders of the group.

Recovery remained difficult for the following days. I happily tested negative the night before Qianqian arrived to join us in Athens, but my energy level just wasn’t there. As such, my remaining weeks in Athens were marked by struggling through work, eating meals out with Kevin and Qianqian until Kevin returned home, and general collapse and sleep otherwise. As in Dubai, I’d go to work early in the morning, before QQ awoke, work all day at the various offices, walk home slowly over the hill to return while QQ started her work day. I’d collapse until dinner, do Duolingo, and repeat. This left no time and energy at all to see Athens properly. Every remaining day off I spent mostly in bed attempting to recover. 

The last weeks of term were filled with students wrapping up projects and preparing for showcase and symposium. I ended up taking a student to the clinic, now familiar with the procedure there, and had a long, memorable conversation with our taxi driver about humanity, immigration, money, and decency through heavy traffic on the way back to offices. I ran the symposium selection process, and helped Sam with setting up the band for the day of. Symposium felt quite like a TED talk – replete with a large foam stand for the word THINK in all caps to the left of the stage – self-aggrandizing, self-congratulatory, and overly dramatic. I wore my khandoura to Graduation and napped after the ceremony on a couch. I never felt completely present, despite the farewells to some excellent students.

Only in the last week did I have the time to visit the archaeological sites of Athens. I was determined to see all the AP Art History works present in the area, as somehow I feel that I will eventually return to teaching that curriculum one day. I spread out my visits to one per day, sadly unaccompanied by QQ as she needed to work during the time I was off. The end of my time in Athens played out he way I’d hoped the entire term would, with a balance of work, sightseeing, cooking, and eating out. 

The sites were as magnificent as I’d imagined, with many very lightly visited (the exception being the Acropolis, where I had a nasty encounter with the park docents, one of whom rudely told me off for taking a photograph of zebra with a book on the Parthenon Frieze, saying that no photographs of objects were permitted, only selfies, singling me out for some reason, ushering me along towards the exit when many others were still behind me and in other areas, even when I spoke to them in Greek. A sour taste. The Kerameikos ruins and the Ancient Agora, on the other hand, were largely empty when I visited, so I sat for a while at each site, drawing and sitting to enjoy the relative quiet. I visited both the National Archaeological and Acropolis museums twice, yet felt that I left with much left unstudied. This trip to Greece felt quite incomplete. I’m glad that I’ll be returning next year.

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