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School On A Bike

August 15, 2003 Washington State History Essay, by Anya Eber

I woke to the smell of jasmine and bright patches of sunshine. My old school wake up routine of 6:30 a.m. had stuck and no matter how much I tried to sleep in on the Greek Islands, I couldn't help being up even before the birds. I tiptoed out into the hall and down the rickety youth hostel staircase. It wasn't long before I had reached the shady stone courtyard. Checking to make sure I hadn't by some odd chance gained company, I climbed up into the branches of the center tree, devouring a breakfast of the tree's fruit burden (Italian plums).

I walked toward the green gate that marked the entrance to a maze of cobbled streets and the Greek Island of Rhodes. I paused, mentally discussing the idea of checking my father's watch for the time. I hadn't bothered to wear a watch back in Washington because of all the clocks stationed on almost every surface. Here in Greece there never were any clocks and although I had searched, it seemed no suppliers either. I shook my head. No I decided, here in Greece, time didn't matter, or for that fact, exist. And with that I slipped through the gate and into Rhodes.

As the gate clicked shut behind me I turned wondering which cobbled street to take. Finally deciding on a winding passage with colorful laundry adorning it, I started my adventure. The round cobblestones were very unlike those that I had enjoyed skipping on in Pike Place Market. These were more definite, placed with a deliberation even the odd shaped stones couldn't hide. The rough edges in the street had been worn smooth by the occupants of Rhodes. Back when Saint John's Knights occupied Rhodes the city had dominated all life, and in some ways it still did. Now of course the Greeks had filled into the old stone buildings and made themselves completely at home. I wondered what the Crusaders would have thought about the colorful laundry strung along the alley's arches. Glancing at the only time watch I now had (the sun) I noted that I would probably be the first customer of some Greek baker. I searched the streets for the best smell and to my delight found it not too far away in another street that had no sign.

Stepping into the warm little shop, I viewed the glazed and honeyed donuts, the strange pastries and the raisined breads. I chose a fresh nut bread and watched as the Greek baker carefully wrapped it in a creased brown paper. Holding my purchase, I started for a quiet alley where I sat down in the sun and bit into the invitingly warm bread. Three bites into my breakfast a pair of old men joined me halfway down the alley. Smiling at each other they pulled out a battered old game of backgammon. I watched the two men's brown fingers slip over the board like water, sometimes relenting pieces and other times savagely advancing. I sat entranced, watching, and then I thought about home. Would the men at home spend time on a game? From the men I had seen on the ferry shouting about stocks and politics I had a pretty good guess that this comfortable game would be labeled a waste of time. But was it so important to spend mornings on cell phones? I left with this uncomfortable thought continually nagging at the back of my mind.

The sun had just reached its highest point when I stumbled upon one of the welcome fountains of Rhodes. Dipping my hands below the carved stone lion's head I drank my fill of the cold water and lazily slumped against the marble basin. It was then that I noticed two middle aged women sweeping the terraces of their houses and gossiping about something that seemed to be of no real importance. Watching the twig brooms rush over the floor I thought back to the American mothers. The mothers I knew barely had enough time to conjure up peanut butter and jelly sandwiches before acting as chauffeur to the soccer and swim team games of their children. Although I tried I could not seem to place a single Bainbridge Island mother here in this setting with a twig broom and a dusty deck.

I tried to see what was so different with this setting. Perhaps it was that the brooms seemed to just swirl the dust into different patterns rather than removing it, or maybe it was the fact that the women didn't really care whether or not the dust stayed in the grooves of their wooden decks. For here in this world of friendship, the importance of chores was put aside.

Hearing squeals of excitement from a neighboring street I decided to go and investigate. Rounding a corner I came upon a sight that almost made me laugh outright. A group of two girls and three boys, all around the ages of four and six, were climbing onto a Greek man who had obviously tried to use the doorsteps of his house as a bed. The two girls were sitting on his back and clapping to a song that had no meaning to my ears. The boys, on the other hand, had taken a long grape vine and were winding it around the man's feet.

The youngest girl, hearing my laugh, looked up and gave a startled squeal and toppled off the man's back. The three boys froze midway through tying a knot in the grape vine. Finally the Greek man looked up in the moment of quiet and surprised me by smiling. I thought about all the Bainbridge Island fathers who didn't even have enough time to eat dinner with their families, let alone spend their nap time indulging their kids in a game. Realizing that I might be thought rude if I just stood and stared, I smiled at them all and then walked off.

I walked farther and farther into the maze of Rhodes, searching for the answer to this puzzling world. But no matter how many times I replayed the day's events or tried to place Bainbridge and Greece together into one puzzle, the pieces seemed to slip away as if I were trying to force the wrong key into a locked door. The sounds of Greek housewives bustling around preparing the evening meal wafted almost like future smells along the streets. I was surprised to see that the shadows of Rhodes were lengthening and that night was calmly blanketing Greece in an evening bed of stars.

I arrived in a large open plaza that was full of content Greeks. The clink of china echoed around the candlelit setting. Watching a Greek woman drink her evening coffee out of a spotless china tea cup, I wondered about what made Starbucks' foam cups on-the-go lattes so appealing. Comparing this picturesque plaza with the crowded coffee stands of Bainbridge I wasn't so sure we had the better end of the deal. I cut across the plaza and down a familiar street back to the youth hostel. I leaned against the green gate, this time on the other side. After today's adventure this little gate seemed to be more than just a barrier to two completely different worlds: a world in which life was enjoyed at a slower and more relaxed level and a world in which efficiency and technology was valued. Which world was better? And finally there at the little gate, I realized that neither society was better. They were just different, connected and divided at what seemed as fine a barrier as the green gate.

Last Updated: August 15, 2003

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