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The view from the work site out to the sea.
The view from the work site out to the sea.

The Language of Life on Crete

by Maeve Gately '12

Posted July 27, 2010
Tags Career Center
While it would be near heresy to claim that I have any mastery of the Greek language, the few phrases which I have managed to glean from guidebooks and friends neatly sums up my first three weeks here:

“Signomi” meaning “excuse me,” or “I’m sorry,” has been my constant fallback for situations as varied as the Athens metro (where pushing becomes a way of life), grocery shopping (as I often have to ask the owner for fresh slices of feta, apologizing for my horribly broken Greek), and within the excavation trenches (this time in English, whenever I happen to trip over walls or swing my pick in treacherous proximity to Kiernan’s feet!)

“Tha ithela na frappe glyka me gala” meaning “I would like a frappe, sweet and with milk,” has been my afternoon request, when I return from the field, dirt-encrusted and bleary-eyed, and want nothing more than an iced coffee beside the sea to wake me from my post-dig coma.

“Kourasmeni,” or “tired,” is my frequent answer to the question “ti kanis” (“how are you?”), but is often accompanied by a smile and an exuberance which belies the answer.

And finally, “ne,” meaning “yes” and “okie,” meaning “no,” which must be the most counterintuitive words in any language, and continue to baffle me on a daily basis!
Archaeological terminology has begun to pervade my consciousness as well, as “sherds” has replaced “shards,” “zambili” means a round rubber bin which is used to carry dirt out to the screens to be sieved, and “acid wash” has become a task equal in importance to showering (which, after a day of digging, is high on everyone’s list!). A friend who works with the pottery here, and is too often ferrying purified water back and forth from tubs of post-acid wash sherds, recently told me never to use the word “deionize” in her presence again!

In the last three weeks, two of which I spent digging, and the third helping Professor McEnroe begin to draw the walls of the settlement; I have learned to adopt several more facets of the Greek lifestyle, most of which (I am proud to say) have been more successful than my grasp of the language.

The language of Greek life, I have found, runs far deeper than any linguistic divide. It lies latent in the very breath of daily life, a calm, unconscious undertone present in every conversation, every expansive meal or exhaustive day of work, every sunlit afternoon or starlit night. Despite the heat, despite the economic crisis and political uncertainty, despite the veritable fields of trash which wash up onto the Pacheia Ammos beach and the failed crop of olives after yet another dry season, Greece simply is. Contentment and appreciation hum like cicadas in the air, and begin to weave themselves into your own circadian rhythms, forcing you to slow down, to watch the waves without seeing the plastic bags, to begin to love the feeling of dust, ground into your windblown hair.

And even though my accent may still sound foreign, this is a language I am learning to speak.

Related:
Gately '12 and Acquisto '13 Uncover Minoan Past in Crete (7/21)
Tread Softly and Carry a Big Stick (7/21)
A Shift in Perspective (8/5)
Digging Through the Dust (8/16)
Cupola