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Greece, Voluntourism

Releasing birds and things that only seem to happen in Greece

Life at the wildlife hospital is an adventure. Despite the routine, every day seems different because of new arrivals, new diseases to treat (the center’s pigeon population is currently experiencing a chlamydia or salmonella epidemic, Mirena isn’t sure which), and the occasional event to spice up the week. Recently, another volunteer and I attended one of these events: a bird release ‘festival’ hosted by a couple who appeared to be benefactors of the hospital (I can never tell about these details since I don’t speak Greek and they speak only rudimentary English). The event was held at their home with approximately 50 other guests that appeared to be made up of friends, family, and other bird lovers. There were many children in attendance, much to the birds’ sheer terror. The children swarmed around the boxed birds, peeking inside, shaking the boxes, and generally terrifying the poor creatures. The adults were not much better. I had mixed feelings about this event. Part of me enjoyed seeing a happy-ending to the birds’ journeys to the hospital—after all, I see every day how they come in to the hospital: torn, mangled, broken, or poisoned. On the other hand, part of me abhorred the way in which a celebration was made of it in which the birds were the unwitting, terrified center of it all. For whom is the celebration? If for the birds, it would be much more humane to simply release them without the fanfare. But the celebration is clearly for the humans in this play—a way to say ‘look what good we’ve done’ and feel satisfied with our own benevolence.

Despite my mixed feelings, the event was still enjoyable. Once the birds had been released and most of the guests had gone home, the hosts treated us to lunch. They were extremely gracious (the legendary Greek hospitality is still alive) and I was able to enjoy an honest-to-goodness Greek home-cooked meal of cheese pie (a Greek favorite), salad with feta, fresh bread, and a dish with vegetables, potatoes, meat, and cheese. It was delicious. And since I am on the subject of food, let me just say that the food in Greece in general is heavenly. The tzaziki here is unlike any I’ve ever tasted.

As one might expect, not all of my days are occupied with volunteer-related duties. On one of my days off, two other volunteers and I hopped on a ferry to Ydra (pronounced ‘ee-dra’), one of the Argo-Saronic islands about 2.5 hours south of Aegina. The ride was breathtaking—the ferry sails right through the Poros channel and by most of the other Argo-Saronic islands. When we got to Ydra, however, we lined up at one of the exits (clearly marked ‘exit to Ydra’) and found that it was closed off. We waited patiently with other passengers to see if a porter would open the exit, but before we knew it, the boat was sailing again. When I went to the purser’s desk to see what was happening (hoping the boat was just repositioning itself), I discovered that the boat was now on its way to the island of Spetses. The purser actually had the nerve to berate us (and the other passengers), making it seem as if it was our own faults that we didn’t get off the boat when we had the opportunity—and completely ignoring the fact that one of their crewman neglected to open an exit that was clearly marked for disembarkation. I swear, these things only happen in Greece. So, as it happened, we had no choice but to sit tight and enjoy the ride. And we did enjoy it, although we would have preferred to get off on Ydra. I guess one way to look at this is that we were able to enjoy a cruise through all but one of the Argo-Saronics for a mere 6.90 euro. Quite a bargain if you look at it that way.

About colleen f

Colleen is a globe trotting, sight seeing, day tripping, frequent flying traveler with a penchant for voluntourism.


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