Late last night I woke up to a woman staring into my face. I didn’t fully comprehend where I was at, or what was happening for a second. And then she starts having a full conversation with me, full of emotions and subtexts and gravity and lightness. She goes to the bathroom about 10 minutes into an intense conversation, and I fall back fast asleep again.
This morning I heard my roommate getting ready, and I sleep through it all. I finally wake up, and it’s 10 am. Not only have I missed breakfast, but I have missed the opening plenary start began at 9! I get dressed, and think to myself, what am I doing here? Am I ever going to get to participate in this conference?
I walk down to the lobby, because I don’t know where to meet my AFS group, and I don’t know which rooms the different break out sessions are in. I pour myself a cup of coffee, and stand in line to talk to the receptionist.
A woman in front of me introduces herself to someone, adding that she is from Kansas. I interrupt, and ask her where in Kansas.
“Manhattan, Kansas,” she explains, making sure I understand it’s not Manhattan, New York.
“I’m from there!” I say.
She asks me what my name is, and she tells me her name. I tell her that I know her son, we went to highschool together. And she tells me about the foreign exchange students her family hosted while I was in highschool, and I know them as well.
My brother actually knows their family really well, and filmed a movie scene in their home.
She is a professor at K-State university, and is actually conducting research on study abroad students- the effect it has on families that host them, and their families back home. I ask her if I could help her out in any way with that project, and she said she would love to have me be a part of her research team. She said I would have to go through some confidentiality and other trainings, and then I could help her transcribe interviews.
She was late to the conference, and was just checking into the hotel. If i hadn’t slept in, I never would have met her.
I find where the trainings are being held, and sit myself down for a day of learning about volunteer development. I meet a lot of people consisting mostly of middle aged women. Over lunch, I sit next to two women from Minneapolis and a woman from Goodland, KS sits down next to me by chance. We talk about schools, the election, travels.
The afternoon is full of more trainings, which are less compelling as the minutes go on. Around 5:30 we are done with training, and head to dinner. After dinner, I go up to my room and relax, and then I’m headed out to explore downtown by 6:30.
While waiting for the hotel shuttle to take me to the light rail station, I run into Caroline and Caroline, two middle aged women who are roommates at the hotel. They are from Iowa and Michigan. They tell me they are going to the Greek festival, and I say I might tag along with them. I say this mostly because I want to have someone else to wait in the dark at the light rail station with. But they keep talking to me, and soon we are friends. So I end up going to the Greek festival with them.
Arriving at the Greek festival, we are confronted with delicious smells and foods being served. All kinds of food- a vast variety of Greek specialties. The line is very long though, so we head over toward the live music, and watch Greek youth dancing to traditional music in traditional clothing. After a while, we head over to the Greek Orthodox church next to the festival. Walking inside, the smell of incense fills the air, and a Greek American hands us fliers that explain the meaning of things around the church. I know most of it because it is very similar to a Catholic church, but much more old fashioned looking and beautiful architecture. Lots of gold.
Toward the front of the church, Caroline, the kind of person who engages everyone about everything, asks the priest about the stained glass windows.
The priest is a young guy about my age, with a beard, intelligent mind and calming voice. He answers Caroline’s many questions, and she wanders off.
I ask him, newly inspired by Caroline’s care free connections with anyone and everyone she runs into, what the difference between Catholic and Greek Orthodox church is. I tell him that I see a lot of similarities, but I’ve always wondered what the differences were.
He asks me how long I’ve got, and the other Caroline and I laugh.
Then he begins to tell us some history, and some Greek Orthodox theology. I am surprised to learn that Greek Orthodox is not more conservative than Catholics, though it would seem to be the case from the mere appearance of the old fashioned church.
Greek Orthodox priests are allowed to marry, as long as they do it before they are ordained. Also, he lets us know that the word priest is a Greek word, and originally just meant someone who was a role model in the community, or an elder who those looked up to. Later, these role models became church leaders, and thus the word priest. There is also a difference with Mary, and the way they view her and the way Jesus was born. And also, they do not believe that people inherit original sin individually. They believe that individuals are born into the systems of the world of sin, but are not directly accountable for anything they haven’t personally done.
On the lightrail back, we talked about cultures. One of the Caroline’s daughters just got back from studying abroad in Singapore, and she discovered that chewing gum is illegal in the country. Also, the punishment for that, and other crimes in the country, was public flogging with a wet noodle.
The other Caroline is hosting an Egyptian study abroad student, and told us about Egyptian culture and customs, and also about the fact that Egypt is in the process of moving Cairo.
At the end of the light rail, a woman from the hotel picks us up on a bus. She opened up to us with a few opportune questions from Caroline, and told us how she worked full time helping homeless people and traveling the US speaking to children with addicted parents, this was just her overnight job. She told us what a problem addiction was in Baltimore, along with homelessness and mental illness. We got off the bus and didn’t really know how to walk away from that conversation.
Now I’m in my room again. And I’m going to read a Franzen novel, and then hopefully get up earlier tomorrow.