Authors: Rebecca Hall
Tags: #travel, #Contemporary, #greek, #rebecca hall, #greece, #girl
This book is a combination of facts and embellishment about a period of my life in Greece. While the events are based on fact, some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved, and some parts have been semi-fictionalized to varying degrees for various purposes.
Copyright © Girl Gone Greek by Rebecca Hall, 2015
All rights reserved.
This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Editor: Perry Iles
Artist: Simon Avery
Interior Book Design: Natascha Maria
Printed by CreateSpace
Available in paperback and Kindle versions
First Printing 2015, ISBN 978-1512251883
For my dad
I gazed at the wall, gritting my teeth. My sister Kirsty was in town on a visit.
“Let’s face it Rachel,” she said, “being the youngest you always did have to be that bit different. At least I’ve had children and secured a serious job.” She tapped me on the knee, “Mark my words, I’ve got ten years on you, and the way you’re carrying on is unsustainable.” She settled back in her chair with a smug grin.
“Don’t forget you’ve got a divorce now, too,” I shrugged, dipping a Digestive into my tea. We’d never really seen eye-to-eye, my sister and me.
“Well, you managed to last out a whole degree course in your thirties,” Kirsty said. She got up and strolled across the kitchen to switch on the kettle, either failing to hear or choosing to ignore my comment, “and we never thought you’d finish that, just like so many of your other fanciful ideas. I guess why not do a TEFL course?” She shook her head, “It’s just the sort of thing you
I exchanged a look with Dad, who was busy preparing dinner for us. Even in his 70s, he loved to try new things, and cooking was one of them.
“It would be nice if you could offer some support instead of finding fault all the time,” I suggested. “You’ve always been the naysayer of this family, Kirsty, especially when it comes to me.”
Leaning against the kitchen counter, she smirked. “Ha! Well, what do you expect, Rachel? You were the only one to fail your Eleven Plus exam at primary school. Looking back, that should’ve been an indication of how you’d continue through life. And what about the time you were one of two people in your class, out of how many—
thirty, wasn’t it?—to get the lowest grade in your Maths GCSE. Is it any wonder I can’t take you seriously?”
“I volunteered with young kids in Sri Lanka and Cambodia,” I hated myself at that moment for allowing her to drag me to the point where I felt like I had to make excuses for myself. I could either rise to her bait and start an argument, or respond with dignity and grace and say nothing. I chose the latter option...but felt like I was grinding my teeth to a fine powder. I kept the visions of sororicide to myself.
Kirsty clearly had a certain view of TEFL teachers, and the double whammy was that one of them was now going to be her younger sister.
Is she jealous? Her long brown hair looks particularly greasy today and judging by the way she’s wolfing down those chocolate biscuits, the Atkins Diet isn’t working out.
I reached over and took another biscuit, fleetingly smiling at the fact that I could eat them to my heart’s content without having to strike up a relationship with Mr. Atkins might not help sibling bonding.
“You just love being the Little Miss Victim of this family—assuming no-one loves you,” said Kirsty.
You think? With a sister like you, is that any surprise?
I tried to tune her incessant nagging out, humming women-empowering Aretha Franklin tunes in my head—
R E S P E C T-Find out what it means to me.
“Besides,” Kirsty continued, “how hard, really, can a one-month TEFL course be? It’s not like it’ll lead to a proper career, unlike my teaching degree. You’ll bum around for a few years like those other TEFL hippies. Never saw you as the Jesus-sandal-wearing type, always thought you saw yourself as above all that.”
“Dad, can’t you say something to her?” I pleaded, once again hating myself more than anything for the fact I allowed myself to feel—and act—like a three year old in my older sister’s company.
“Not fair for me to get involved sweetheart.” Dad, as much as I loved him, was quite a weak man when it came to family emotions and took the usual male route of avoiding conflict where and when possible. He offered a sympathetic smile and turned back to concentrating on the task of peeling potatoes.
So, holding my breath, lest I say something I’d regret, I kissed him on the cheek before bolting for the door. I needed fresh air, fast. I ignored Kirsty’s barbs and tried to focus on the positive; at least on one point we actually agreed with each other, even if she was being malicious: how hard, really, could a TEFL course be?
What’s everyone thinking?
We sat in the classroom, ten strangers who were due to take up a whole new set of challenges and responsibilities for a month. I’d chosen to study in Cornwall.
(It’s only an hour and a half’s drive each way…I can be home before it gets dark.)
This is an ideal place to study, I reassured myself, growing increasingly nervous as the silence dragged on.
Jeez, when’s this going to start?
Gloria, the trainer, swept into the room some ten minutes late, just as the quiet was becoming deafening, and after polite introductions broke it to us:
“You will be teaching from tomorrow. You’ll be expected to undertake five written assignments over the duration of this course, the first to be handed in by the end of this week. That’s right, this Friday. You must plan for the lessons you teach and show them to me for approval before you teach them.”
A young man who looked to be in his twenties shot up his hand.
“So if we’re teaching tomorrow, we’ll need to plan a lesson tonight and hand it to you tomorrow morning?” He looked as panicked as I felt.
“That’s right,” beamed Gloria. “But you’re all intelligent people, you’ll cope.”
I looked around at the sea of equally shell-shocked faces. A small part of me had half-agreed with Ugly Big Sister that TEFL would merely be an opportunity to bum around a bit before making up my mind when to settle down and get a career; it’d be easy. But I had no intention of letting Kirsty know this, and taking the workload into consideration I quickly realised my three hour round-commute would be too much to bear. I decided that from tomorrow I’d find somewhere local to stay. Anyway, it might be pleasant to stay in Cornwall for a month over the summer. I envisaged myself lounging on the beach at the weekends. They couldn’t expect us to work non-stop, could they? But judging by Gloria’s announcement about daily teaching slots and weekly assignments, it appeared that the trainers did, in fact, expect us to do just that.
So, with my visions of learning to surf on the beaches of North Cornwall banished I found a flat with two fellow course-mates…above the local tropical fish shop. Unfortunately, the gurgle of all the fish tanks at night prevented anything approaching a good night’s sleep, but the three of us supported each other well throughout our month of hell. Calling it hell was no exaggeration—it was harder than all three years of university put together. It was only when I started to get very, very tearful because I couldn’t remember the difference between present perfect and present continuous verbs that my fellow flatmates, Tom and Sandra, took me under their collective wing and dragged me away from my current lesson planning.
“OK Rachel, time out. We’re having a night off and going to the cinema,” insisted Sandra. “You
come with us. Get out of your pyjamas, get dressed, brush that mop on your head and stop looking like a local.” Sandra clearly didn’t rate the Cornish population very highly, and I had to admit I’d seen a few people wandering around the town looking frighteningly vacant—similar to my current state. My appearance, however, was study-induced and not a by-product of the shallowness of my gene pool.
“But I have to teach the German teens tomorrow, and they’ll eat me alive if I don’t get this lesson right…their grammar knowledge is better than mine! Can’t you see their smirks in class?” I paced around the room, chewing my thumbnail.
“I don’t care, it’ll do you good,” said Tom, prising the textbook from my hands and throwing it onto the couch. “Besides, you’ll love this movie, it’s a sing-along version of
I made my way to the hallway mirror to comb my hair. A mental health night was just what the doctor ordered; it’d refresh and revitalise me. Refusing to give up, I’d show Kirsty; English grammar hadn’t beaten me yet.
We jumped into Sandra’s car and headed into town for some well-deserved entertainment.
I met my reflection in the mirror as I got ready for bed after
, and a knowing grin crossed my face.
I can do it: find my paradise in Greece after TEFL.
I have a habit of labelling things, especially significant events that shape my life. The
evening was one such event. It helped me realise where I’d apply to go for my first English teaching job when I finished this course from hell.
I’d visited various places around the globe, and the farther they were from home the better I liked them…a psychological side effect of the negative relationship I had with my sister. I always held the belief that there
be something unlikeable about me, due to Kirsty’s relentless animosity, so Greece would give me a chance to re-invent myself and be liked by others. Initially I’d intended to teach in a far-flung destination: Vietnam, maybe. My surface motivation for this was sunshine, swimming and a complete change of culture. When you’re conditioned to the wet, grey weather of the UK, the chance of a job in a different climate and country—a new life and new friends who accept you with no interest in who you were, but what you are—is certainly appealing. At first I’d thought anything in Europe was too near—both geographically and culturally. But there were things I wasn’t so eager to run away from (yes, I had a vague notion I might be running, but was prepared to). My Dad, for example. He’d never ask me to stay, but he was getting older. If something happened I wanted to be near enough to come at a moment’s notice. But why not go to Spain? If it was sunshine and swimming I was after, I could go to any Mediterranean country.
The final push in the internal compass that pointed me towards Greece was the memories
stirred up. I remembered happier family times, holidays there when I was younger; blue skies, whitewashed houses and a laid back attitude to life. Dad had once had business contacts in Greece and would chuckle as he reminisced on his time there; “They refuse to wear seatbelts in their cars or crash helmets on their bikes, even though it’s for their own safety. It’s because it’s a law, because they’re being told what to do. You know how to get a Greek to obey the speed limit? Put a sign on the national road that says ‘Do not, under any circumstances, drive at 70km an hour’ and they’ll do it, purely because they’ve been told not to,” he’d joke. I liked the idea of living in a slightly anarchical society…a place where authority was looked down upon. Unconventional from birth and always in trouble for questioning too much at school, I figured if I was going to make an “awful life-plan,” I might as well make it in a country that would more readily understand this character trait of mine.
In the meantime I had a lot to do: find a job, rent my property in the UK, promise Dad I wouldn’t meet—and run off with—some Onassis-type
(although the money would be nice, I mused to myself).
Dad had always been protective of me, probably because I was by far his youngest and while he never said much, he was mindful of the scorn Kirsty heaped on me. This protectiveness had mutated into the realm of believing that no man was good enough for his daughter. “And especially not a Greek man,” he had once said, based on his intimate knowledge of Greeks and their character traits. “They’re all mummy’s boys…you’ll always be second.”