Friday, December 30, 2016

Christmas houses

Saturday & Sunday in December, 2016.

Oh the weather outside is frightful,
But the fiiire is sooo delightful...

...I sang.. in the absence of above mentioned fire, as I was squeezing my bike in the elevator on that chilly Saturday morning. This was our weekend to promote the Youth Center on the main square of the city. As I parked my bike near the colourful line of so-called „Christmas houses“ on the square, I glanced around hoping to see a crowd but instead everything was still peaceful. Volunteers who were setting up the place welcomed me with smiling faces that could warm up the coldest winder day and soon I had a pair of antlers on my head (which I enjoyed very much, to be honest).

A variety of colourful fabric was spread out on the table and soon there were more or less recognizable shapes of animals cut out, stuffed with even more fabric and came to life as they got their little round eyes. The other side of the table was filled with paper. Children cut out shapes of their hands on which they wrote their wishes and attached them on the side of our house to form a christmas tree. (At some point during the next day the „branches“ just got wild and the tree lost its shape as it had to accommodate soo many wonderful wishes!) A small table on the side was reserved for face-painting. I'm still having a hard time believing that nothing had spilled during those two days., at least not that I have seen.

Saturday passed peacefully, we were able to talk with people in a more relaxed manner and I don't think anyone felt especially tired at the end of the event. Sunday was a completely different story. The sun was out, as were all the people in Kalamata, it seemed. We started a bit later but the christmas spirit was more evident than ever. Hot cups of coffee were handed around as Santa's little helpers (as someone called us) set up the place. It felt like people were instantly attracted by our colourful carol-singing antler-adorned bunch. Our hands were full as children crowded around the tables. At first it was fun and sweet but soon I was drawing a snowflake on one child's face, another was trying to tell me what he wants in greek, two on the side arguing who gets to go first, a bunch behind me pushing me from the back... Still, it was impossible to get annoyed with those smiling little faces around. 

As my shift reached its end long ago, I hurried home, barely able to cycle through the crowd (on the bike path, yes, because, Greece), the sun still high. And thus, our busy christmassy weekend was reaching its end.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Magic of Welsh Poetry: A Child’s Christmas in Wales

One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six...

These enchanting words are the opening lines of a long poem titled “A Child’s Christmas in Wales”.  The poem was written in 1952 by Dylan Thomas, a famous Welsh poet.  Dylan Thomas grew up in a small city called Swansea, in the Southern part of Wales, in the United Kingdom.  It tells the story a Christmas in the past from the perspective of a young boy. The festive time is remembered in a romantic way, as full of life and magic.
The poem is known all over Wales and the UK and has been used in schools, theatre plays, stories and even short animations.  The poem tells the story of one night where there is a fire in a neighbour’s house. This is followed by a boy telling another boy about his memories of old Christmases. Images of snow, the sea, wolves and bears, singing and music, smells and tastes are all conjured up. Local characters come in and events unfold, family members interact and presents are unwrapped.

It is popular because it shows us a Christmas from another time, a Christmas that is simpler and different to the one we celebrate today.  Dylan Thomas was born in 1914. So if some of these ideas come from a festive period he remembered as a boy, they would have been happening nearly 100 years ago. In the story we hear about sitting in front of the fire, drinking parsnip wine (parsnip is a root vegetable common in the UK) and about uncles singing and playing the fiddle (the fiddle is an instrument similar to the violin).

For many people in the UK this is very different to the way we experience Christmas now. Today Christmas is often orientated around buying many presents, consuming a lot of food and alcohol and watching television.  Of course these are all enjoyable things! However they are not so similar to the old-fashioned, simpler Christmases that our grandparents would have appreciated.
On the other hand, many people enjoy the poem because we can see the links between the “older” Christmas traditions and the same traditions that are celebrated now. For example, we still spend time together as a family, we still play games, eat turkey at dinner and exchange presents.

Another reason for the poem’s popularity is that it is written from the point of view of a child, and this is why there is a sense of magic. Christmas for a child is always unique and this feeling really comes across in the poem.

For me, I love this poem because I also grew up by the sea in Wales. When I read it it makes me feel close to my home and to the countryside. It reminds me of the specialness of being a child during the festive season, when everything seems magical.

--- So if you’re interested check out this wonderful poem! You can find it online here:

Monday, October 17, 2016

Little Vietnam in Greece

When I was picturing my first week in Greece I did not imagine that I’d be sitting in an apartment, tucking into homemade Vietnamese soup and daydreaming about Ho Chi Minh City. However yesterday that was exactly how I spent my evening.

As a volunteer with K. A. N. E. I have been lucky enough to meet Thanh Vy, who works for SJ Vietnam (Solidarités Jeunesses Vietnam), an international youth NGO (Non-Governmental Organisation). Vy has spent the last two weeks job shadowing at K. A. N. E. – learning about the organisation, sharing information, ideas and good practice.

Vy very kindly invited me and another guest over to her apartment that she is staying in to sample some Vietnamese cuisine. Vy’s hometown is Quang Nam Province (near Da Nang City) and this is where the food comes from.

Below are some photographs and descriptions of the delicious chicken noodle soup we ate.

Here you can see the chicken, onions, pepper, chili, turmeric. The onions, chili and fresh turmeric are chopped, mashed together with oil and then added to chopped chicken. They are left to marinate for 15 minutes before cooking.

Vy cooking the onion chili chicken mixture. This is fried in oil and then tossed with chopsticks in the pan. The mixture is then turned into a soup by adding a little water and cooking it some more.

The noodles are cooked in a pan with water. Usually rice noodles are used but we made do with egg noodles this time.

Salad. The salad is eaten with the soup. It is usually made up of lettuce, coriander, banana flower and lime (we used some local tomatoes and gave it a Mediterranean twist!). The lettuce leaves are washed two or three times with care.

The chicken bones are used as well, they are cooked in a pan to make a flavoursome broth. This water is then added to the chicken mixture.

“Oi ngon qua!” as they say in Vietnam – yummy! A delicious combination of warm soup and refreshing salad.
In Vietnam annatto seed oil and fish sauce, garlic and chili mashed are added at the end to season the dish. 

After eating we drank some rice wine made by Vy’s mother! This is made using sticky rice and yeast over the course of a couple of months.

I also learned my first few facts about Vietnam. Hanoi is the capital but
Ho Chi Minh City is the biggest city.

Some people tend to live in apartments or modern buildings but in the province Vy hails from they 

only have traditional Vietnamese houses. In fact it is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The most important fact I learnt, however, was that Vietnames people are incredibly kind and hospitable!


Monday, October 10, 2016


         It was a lovely day in October, the sun was shining above the palm trees of Kalamata and many would say it was still summer (but not the Greeks, the 24  ͦC sea is too cold for them). Our lovely Dutch volunteer Rosa had just turned 18 and everyone knew that we would mark it on that day. However, she did not expect some plans that were secretly being devised in the apartments... cakes, cookies, drinks, a present, a birthday card... all were being cleverly prepared between our scheduled meetings that day.
As the sun set and our meeting came to an end, all of the EVS volunteers gathered in the apartment. When the last lines on the birthday card were written, the candles on the cake were lit and the lights went out. A strapping young fellow brought in the cake, the cook himself - Oskar. Of course, one cake was not enough so we had two! Look at that happiness on her face!

A job well done indeed.
Singing followed (because, what is a birthday party without singing?). Rosa heard „happy birthday“ in not less than seven languages – english, french, dutch, spanish, german, croatian and even moroccan! How crazily wonderful is that! :D The candles were blown out and we hope that her wish will come true! Then a pair of brave volunteers equipped with sharp knives carefully cut through the scrumptious layers of cake. Look at those steady hands:

Soon, Rosa opened her present and read the card, such sweet moments... Everyone had mouths full of cake and drinks started coming. Apart from that, we had a box of amazing cookies that were probably the biggest cookies I've ever seen! Sadly, we're lacking a picture of them as your reporter was not quick enough, but hopefully she will have another opportunity for that. The time came to put away the camera away and enjoy. We had a lovely time talking and hanging out late into the night...