topics: grilled meat (food), the Town Hall and Mayor of Konitsa, earthquakes, school presentations; jump to dispatch

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Rider Notes: March 27, 1998

Food of the Day: grilled meat

As in many places in Greece, grilled meat is in great demand. Anthony, Ethan and Padraic have found this refreshing and enticing, especially the pork, having just spent many months in non-pork-eating countries. Finally tonight, we could not hold ourselves back from going whole hog (pun intended) and indulging in carnivorous frenzy. With everything available, we ordered a heaping plate of grilled (oharas, in Greek - "oharas") steak (beefteki, in Greek - "beefteki"), pork (hirini, in Greek - "hirini"), liver (sikoti, in Greek - "sikoti") and lamb (arni, in Greek - "arni").

Person of the Day: Mr. Prodromos Hatziefraimidis click to view a photograph

Mr. Prodromos Hatziefraimidis has been Mayor of Konitsa for seven years. Soon, he will be running for a third four-year term, and we wish him the best of luck for an overwhelming victory. The Mayor (as we took to calling him) with George was the primary force that made the decision to come to Konitsa so very easy. He was also the ubiquitous presence - appearing at almost every meal, and in every post-meal café or bar - that lifted our spirits to greater and greater highs as the days passed in this somewhat out-of-the-way place.

The Mayor welcomed us first with a meal at the Sourloukas Tavern, thus setting the groundwork for many days of give-and-take with him, the young people of Konitsa, and the many faces that became more and more familiar as we spent more and more time there. On other days, he would join us at a restaurant for a nibble, or in a bar or café for friendly drinks, or just stop through and say hello as he appeared to be making the round of the town. One night, we were all in the same bouncing bar when the music and dancing began. Well, the Mayor is a dancing madman and we watched (more like cowered) off to the side as the locals wound through a hand-wave and boogie routine that was great to witness.

But the Mayor is also an extremely responsible executive. Faced with the tough responsibility of having to lead Konitsa through the aftermath of the earthquake, he made some bold decisions about reconstructing the town and bringing it into the public eye in a gentle but progressive way. Slightly controversial (because of Turkish origin), old, historical buildings are being brought to light and renovated. The "Evathlos - Konitsa" sports event arrives this May (see more about this from George). And greater attention is being called to the astounding natural beauty of Konitsa's location (so near to the Vikos-Aoös National Park) with unique access to hiking paths and river rafting/kayaking/canoeing routes through the two nearby gorges. For example, a floodlight, one of the Mayor's ideas, now illuminates the edge of the Aoös River gorge that ends at the southern edge of town.

But for all his big-scale vision, he is also certainly a hard-working man of the people, taking a great deal of time to be with them, laugh with them, and fight for them. We got a peek of this last bit of his character when he put great energy into making sure that our departure toward Albania would be as smooth as possible. This happened one evening when he was working late (as he apparently always does) and personally receiving everyone who came or answering every phone call that came in.

So, Mr. Mayor, we hope that you will have an opportunity to read this and we look forward to the day when we will return to Konitsa and enjoy the abundant hospitality of an excellent community of people! Thank you for all that you helped us accomplish!

Place of the Day: Konitsa Town Hall

Konitsa is built up the length of a long slope rising out of the Voïdomatis valley. A winding road leaves the main drag and snakes its way through switchbacks up to the town's central square. Most of the activity in town - political, commercial, and social - takes place within eye- or earshot of this square. And, not surprisingly, flanking it on one side is the Konitsa Town Hall. Therein are the offices of the Mayor (see the Person of the Day), other town officials, some civil engineers working to repair and improve town after the recent earthquakes (see the Tech Fact of the Day), and public facilities, like the auditorium (used for gatherings, film screenings, important events, etc.).

We found ourselves haunting this building at least once a day and sometimes at unusual hours (since the Mayor keeps some unusual hours himself). We would have to go by to meet someone, get information, connect to the Internet using the phone line, or, as was the case today, serve as the primary attraction. In the marvelous auditorium - one of the nicest presentation areas we have seen yet - we shared BikeAbout with young people of all ages and made many new friends. For more about this, see the Rider Notes.

Tech Fact of the Day: earthquakes in Konitsa

A little more than a year ago, Konitsa was hit by a destructive series of earthquakes. For eight months (!), the earth shook on sporadic but daily basis, and changed the lives of almost every person in town, destroying hundreds of buildings, unsettling business, showering rocks onto roadways, and displacing many, many people.

The quakes and tremors have now ended and the town is in the process of rebuilding. The many vacant lots up and down the slope on which the town is located are just a first clue as to how devastated the community was. Cracks in the walls of standing structures were just another. We met plenty of kids who told us that they are still living in temporary homes while their old homes are being repaired and rebuilt.

One woman we met in Konitsa is a civil engineer with a special interest in and awareness of the effects of seismic activity on urban developments. She reassured us that the area is not overly prone to earthquakes, nor should people fear continued activity. Most experts apparently agree that what shook the people of Konitsa was not the energy released by plates moving against one another, rather it had to do with the settling of the ground. The rivers running through the valley are constantly moving soil from one place to another. These shifts eventually led to the eight months of quakes. Further evidence of this comes from the fact that the quakes were felt much more strongly in the lower portions of town than they were in the upper areas.

Group Dispatch, March 27
picture of Ethan

The day began with a tap-tap on the door. George had taken it upon himself to get up early, race off to Town Hall (our Place of the Day) and shore up a meeting at Primary School #1 of Konitsa. On his way back, he bought some breakfast pastries and coffee. It was easy to drag ourselves out of bed for that.

But it was a short breakfast. The school meeting would soon be taking place, so Corinne, Padraic and Anthony revved themselves up for an encounter with kids while Ethan stayed behind and worked on dispatches.

Primary School #1 of Konitsa is a small building perched high in the town's rise up the hillside. We immediately recognized the old brick building as a school by the squeals and chatter we could hear through the closed windows. Making our way into the school, we saw that we had interrupted the mid-morning snack break, as many of the little ones paused mid-munch to watch Anthony, Padraic, Corinne and George ascend the staircase to the School Director's office. The Director is also on the town council, and so had been alerted by the Mayor to expect us and assemble the students, who numbered all of 75 children, ages 5 to 11.

In the assembly hall, before a red velvet curtain and among posters of national heroes from the past century, Anthony, Padraic, and George introduced the BikeAbout project, speaking less about the Internet and more about what life is like for kids their age in America. While Corinne shot video of the curious but kind teachers who also sat in on the assembly, the guys got a better picture of what life is like for kids in Konitsa, and shared with them the similarities between the cultures. George, a master at coaxing the children out of their shells, got the kids to sing a song for us, called "Greece, My Sweet Greece" showing their national pride and obedient nature. Here is one verse from that song. click to hear an audio clip

After the presentation, one young lady invited us to a photo exhibit her class had prepared in their homeroom. It was all about the Epiros region. This led to a mad dash out of the hall, when all the students rushed to their other rooms to hang additional pictures from other projects that they could then show us and that would help us learn more about Greece. Each of us poured over the displays in each room, confident that we wouldn't be let out of the building until we had duly admired each and every one, and stopping to sign our names in slam books for the older kids. Finally, some of the photographs the kids had collected were presented to us as gifts, and we left, grateful for the opportunity to meet these darling children. click to view a photograph

While Corinne and Padraic returned to Town Hall (our Place of the Day), George and Anthony sped off to the local Middle and High Schools (along the way meeting Ethan walking up the slope to meet them at the Town Hall). Together they made an announcement to a small gathering of students on a break between classes. click to view a photograph click to view a photograph There was no time or ability to make a full presentation in the schools, but the Mayor had put the town's auditorium at our disposal and we needed to alert everyone to the 7 p.m. spectacle we hoped to make of ourselves.

Free until then, Corinne returned to the guest house, while Ethan sent and received email through Town Hall, and then the four boys (the BikeAbouters plus George) went off to a yummy local taverna for lunch. Appetites sated, we all returned to the guesthouse and worked.

At 7 p.m., we gathered in the auditorium in the Town Hall building. A large, impressive and comfortable room with all sorts of audio-visual equipment (needed for showing movies and having big meetings), the auditorium is one of the nicest facilities we have been in for a presentation. We spread ourselves across the large stage and around the room and waited for an appropriate number of kids to take seats.

It didn't take long. By 7:20, the Mayor stood at the front of the room and made a quick presentation click to view a photograph to the assembly of about 50 young people. And then George took over. Translating between Greek and English, he followed and led Padraic click to view a photograph through a more formal exchange that lasted about 30 minutes. And then, as usual, things broke down. Smaller groups of kids began to gather around different members of the BikeAbout team, asking questions, giving answers, and enjoying the hundreds and hundreds of pictures now available in the BikeAbout scrapbook.

While everyone certainly learned a great deal - about America and Greece - the star of the show, the man who made every English word mean something in Greek and vice versa, was undoubtedly George. He kept the kids interested and the BikeAbout presentation interesting. He spurred kids to ask questions and not be concerned how we might respond. And he helped us expand our developing understanding of how these kids' lives have been affected by their culture and environment. We touched on many of the subjects that we normally broach: international relations, and in particular connections with nearby neighbors like Albania; life in a small town; popular culture... There were no great revelations, but we always enjoy hearing again and at first-hand from students click to view a photograph what we have been learning throughout our travels.

After the presentation, we piled into George's car and zoomed up above town to a restaurant with a magnificent view. For a moment we paused to absorb the sense of space before us, specked with flickering lights, but our hunger drove us indoors to a table that was eventually filled with great piles of grilled meat (see our Food of the Day) and other delectables.

Following that, we made a quick swing by a café where we had made tentative arrangements to meet some students, but we were quite late and it was no surprise that no one was there. So, giving into the late hour, we glided down the hill to our rooms and sweet, sweet slumber.

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