I was bored of life. I had just spent seven years (since leaving Secondary school) being a student and in education, only to be trundling along again in education, running after day-to-day work as a Supply Teacher in Birmingham, UK. All my friends and my boyfriend had graduated and gone so I was spending my time alone in a city where I had lived for four years having the time of my life as a Degree Student (3D Design; Jewellery & silversmithing) and then as a Training Teacher (Art & Design). It was dire.
My Mum’s boyfriend found an ad in the local paper from a girl who had just come back from Greece and was looking for a Teacher to go and replace her. I called up immediately and she told me about the place and the school. It sounded amazing as I had always wanted to live abroad. I was hankering for some adventure.
I called up the Headteacher of the school and we spoke. He told me it was a private school, starting at 3pm and ending at about 8 each evening and on Saturday mornings. He sounded nice and said that I had a very clear and calm voice and when could I start?
I arranged my flight and got my money sorted out. I spoke to Mr Kouros again and he booked me into a hotel in Athens, giving me only a few directions as to where to go after I arrived. My boyfriend was upset, but I couldn’t contain myself, I couldn’t wait to go. It was early October when I landed at Athens Airport, a suitcase of clothes, some basic items such as shampoo and shower gel and a few sets of smart clothes. And my smile.
The hotel was in Omonia Square, which I didn’t know then, was as rough as a badger’s ass. I checked in and all I could hear was beeping off horns, screeching tires and shouting. My room didn’t have a view, well it did, but it was mostly of a brick wall. The whole place was a throwback from the 70s; marble everywhere, dark wood furniture and paneling. The Reception guy was nice to me when I arrived but I never saw him again. The others were stand-offish and clearly bored. I was homesick.
I ventured out that evening as I was starving. I was a strict vegetarian but managed to find a fast food place on a corner of a busy street that sold margarita pizzas. It tasted weird, but I didn’t care. I daren’t venture out too far, being paranoid I’d get lost and not be able to find my way back to the hotel. It probably had a name I couldn’t pronounce so that would have been why. I was petrified to talk to people back then when I was 23.
I had taken three books to read and hid away in my (tiny) room until bed. I showered and couldn’t stop crying. It dawned on me that I was in the biggest city in Greece, didn’t know a soul and didn’t even know where I was going. I had a name: Agrinio. That was it. We didn’t have mobile phones back then in 1996, so I didn’t have a lot of contact with my Mum or boyfriend. They must have been having hernias worrying about me. I did get to call my Mum from the phone in the hotel lobby, but briefly as I didn’t know how much it was going to cost.
A message was waiting for me the next morning at reception. I was on the way out to find some breakfast as I didn’t even realise that it was included in the cost of the room. Mr Kouros had left a message to say I was to remain there another two nights as he was trying to organise somewhere for me to stay in Agrinio. Oh the joy. I spent the next few days doing exactly the same as I had been doing. Sneaking out for food, hiding away in the room and reading, with a lot of tears in between.
My first memories of Greece are not so great. Little did I know that things were about to get a whole lot more bizarre…