Comfort Zone - Part I

One thing I’ve learned over the years from writing about my personal experiences is that often the most important details or profound moments take time and distance to realize. Over the next couple of months I’ll be sharing experiences that have pushed me out of my comfort zone and in many cases, forced me to grow whether I understood it at the time or not.

Greece - October 2013

The sun was beginning to set as I waited to board a bus in Thessaloniki after nearly 20 hours of traveling to Greece. I was nervous. I was pretty sure I’d found the right bus, but I couldn’t be certain. No one at the station seemed to speak English and the Greek alphabet was making the town names difficult to decipher. I approached one of the passengers standing near the bus.

“Arnea?” I asked, pointing at the bus. He shrugged.

I scanned the crowd until I saw a grandmotherly figure. She seemed nice—like someone who would take me in and feed me dolmas and souvlaki if I happened to be on the wrong bus and needed a place to stay in rural Greece. I asked her if the bus went to Arnea. She nodded. I smiled and stood next to her.

I was headed to a small town called Arnea in the Halkidiki region of northern Greece. Charlie had already arrived a few weeks prior and was settling into his job at the local mine.

I was a mixed bag of emotions. On the one hand, I was thrilled to embark on this new adventure—to see Charlie and the town that could very well become our new long term home—but I was also scared. We’d said goodbye to our friends and family, to the places that had become so familiar, to Daisy (at least until I figured out how to get her over here). We were headed to a town where we had very little chance of ever being able to communicate with people in their language. 

Once on the bus I began to relax. I pushed these thoughts out of my mind and focused on the view from the window. I watched the houses and buildings pop up with less frequency as we exited the city and made our way into the countryside. Large groups of beehives dotted the hills.  Olive trees. Tin-roofed goat barns. Roadside shrines. Glimpses of the Aegean Sea. 

The driver called out the first stop. What did he just say? I couldn’t even tell what letter it started with. The same with the next. And the next.

It was getting darker, and I started to notice that most of these stops weren’t even inside the towns. They were remote wooden shelters on the side of the road. The panic began to creep in. How would I even know when to get off the bus if I couldn’t understand the driver? My cellphone only worked with WiFi. How would Charlie find me? My thoughts continued to go in dangerous directions for the next twenty minutes as my mind conjured up the worst possible scenarios.

Then I felt a hand on my arm. I turned to see the kind face of the grandmother sitting next to me—the one who I was banking on for shelter if (when! cried my worried mind) I ended up stranded on this rural road. She smiled and said something in Greek, then pointed to herself. I had no way of knowing what she said, but I knew she meant that she would let me know when to get off. She patted my arm again then went back to reading her book. I can only imagine what my face must have looked like for her to reach out to me like that.

I took a deep breath and told myself to chill out. It was going to be okay. And it was. The bus pulled into Arnea 30 minutes later and she touched my arm again. She waved to me from the window of the bus as it pulled away.

In the cobbled plaza lit by dim street lamps, I sat on a bench waiting for Charlie. A few minutes later I saw his familiar tall outline walking towards me. I made it.