Thursday, November 8, 2012

Yes they can, but can we?



Last night I stayed up as late as I could, waiting for early exit polls. I fell asleep to the sound of political pundits theorizing and making predictions…. I woke up to the news of Obama’s victory and I felt relief, hope, and when I heard Obama’s victory speech, I felt inspired:

I believe we can keep the promise of our founders, the idea that if you’re willing to work hard, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from or what you look like or where you love. It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight, you can make it here in America if you’re willing to try.

Fifty years ago, Americans began the fight for civil rights; the women’s movement began to gain momentum; early gay rights pioneers began to take action. In the decades that followed, society changed for the better. And today, we have a government, a president who respects and includes all people. Obama unifies. Obama inspires.

Today, here in Athens, we are still collapsing. Parliament has been in session all day. Tonight a key austerity vote is to take place. The measures must be passed before Greece can receive the next tranche of bailout money from the troika (EU, IMF, ECB). Lawmakers have been fiercely debating all day; strikes have affected the city and the nation all week – from air traffic controllers to garbage collection to public transport and banks… At one point tonight, outside of the parliament building protestors hurled Molotov cocktails while riot police sprayed a giant fire hose to keep people back; while inside the parliament building another kind of circus was taking place – lawmakers shouted at each other, stood up gesturing in disgust, walked in and out of the chamber, the sessions stopped, the sessions resumed... Proposals were made, proposals were retracted…

Here in Greece, we seem to have lost our way. We don’t know what we are fighting for anymore. Today I watched Obama speak words of real hope, words that aim to unite. And then I watched the debate in the Greek Parliament – extreme-right Golden Dawn MPs spoke. Socialists spoke. Pro-European MPs spoke. Communist MPs spoke. Anti-austerity supporters spoke. They spoke words that only inspire division and hopelessness.

Tonight, as I type this, I watch the parliament members voting… ναι; όχι; The protesters outside have gone home. And so I am up late again, waiting for the results of another vote. However, whatever the outcome of this vote will be, it will not inspire hope and change. The coming years in Greece will be filled with hardship, suffering, disparity, disunion. And I wonder if in my lifetime I will ever witness a Greek political leader express sentiments which echo Obama’s message of inclusion, acceptance, cooperation, promise and inspiration.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

the (un)kindness of strangers


After spending most of the summer in the US, coming back to Greece and the new realities in Athens was something like reverse culture shock...
Walk around a typical Athens neighborhood and on the surface, things seem normal enough. In my neighborhood square alone, five frozen yogurt shops have opened since the beginning of the summer. “Fro yo” is all the rage and on any given evening, strolling through the square, you’ll observe that the frozen yogurt shops are filled with people enjoying this new treat, as if they didn’t have a care in the world… But peek beneath the thin veneer of normalcy and you’ll see that the cracks in this society seem to have deepened and gotten even wider than they were just a few months ago.
Over the summer, racist violence increased as Golden Dawn members and supporters openly attacked immigrants on the streets; and in other incidents, they smashed up stalls run by foreign nationals at open-air markets. Justice Minister Antonis Roupakiotis condemned the violence and said he will introduce tougher measures on criminal acts and stricter penalties…
Nevertheless, I try to remain optimistic but I can’t help but notice “small” things which seem to convey much bigger meanings….
The other day I was going home in a taxi. The main street near my house often gets clogged with traffic, so I usually tell drivers to drop me off at a certain point before they get sucked into the standstill, wasting their time and gas. This means they can turn left down another street, avoid the traffic and find another fare. I don’t mind getting dropped off one street before mine, and taking a few extra steps to get to my door.
So as we approached the main street, I could see cars piling up ahead and I told the cab driver to drop me off and proceeded to tell him where to turn left to avoid the traffic and pointed out where people usually stand waiting for taxis, so he could easily find another fare. While I was telling him all this, I handed him a 5 euro note (the ride cost €4.50) and started to exit the cab. He thanked me for not making him get stuck in traffic and motioned to give me the 50 cents change but I told him it’s ok. He stopped and swiveled around to get a better look at me, and seemed bewildered.
“Are you from here?” he asked.
I paused. “What do you mean?”
His expression was curious, “Where are you from?” he repeated.
“I’m from this neighborhood,” I said, with an expectant look. Realizing I was perplexed he explained, “But you are so nice and polite; you went out of your way to tell me how to avoid the traffic, to help me, even though it meant you had to walk a bit further to get to your street. I am speechless. Thank you again and have a nice evening.”
I walked away not knowing what to make of what just happened. Maybe the cab driver had a really bad day and my simple words of advice made him suddenly cheer up… or… have we all become so used to the cold, rude day-to-day exchanges with strangers; used to the unkindness all around us, that when we are shown even the tiniest bit of consideration it makes us stop in disbelief and we assume a kind stranger must be from another planet?
Today I was at the bus stop. A middle-aged woman carrying bags from the supermarket approached, put her bags down, exhaled and looked at her watch. The typical bus stop conversation began. She asked which bus already came by, everyone complained about the buses being late, a few people wondered if they are on strike today, while others confirmed the buses are running. The woman explained (to no one in particular) that she usually walked home, but her supermarket bags were heavy so she’d wait for the bus. Another woman chimed in, saying she does not have far to go either, but she takes the bus to avoid walking through the pedestrian underpass. This underground corridor goes under a main street and is the only way to get to the other side. It is dimly lit and dingy, it smells of urine and is covered in graffiti. Many people avoid these underpasses, especially at night, for fear that danger may lurk in the dark shadows.
The lady with the supermarket bags sympathized. “I don’t blame you. What can you do? Everyone is afraid of the crime. And then they tell us not to be racist. Foreigners are pouring in. They are hungry and desperate. Of course they are going to steal from us and rob everyone.”
The bus came. I went on my way. I had to go to the local social security office for an errand. I got to the building. The small elevator was filled to capacity (4 people). I walked up four flights of stairs to get to the right department.
It was the usual chaotic scene -people scrambling in various lines, pushing and shoving in front of one another, grumbling and complaining, some people and clerks shouting at each other at the top of their lungs. The building itself is old and grimy and the offices are decrepit, with stacks of files piled up all over the place, a general look and feel of disarray and disorganization....

I try to wait patiently in line, ignoring the din all around me. To the left is a dusty bookshelf containing old files and random Christmas decorations, on the floor next to the clerk’s desk is a huge basil plant, and on the wall there’s a large plastic 3-D color picture of bleeding heart Jesus. I had never seen anything like it. I’ve seen that type of 3-D picture, but they are usually in kids' story books; if you turn the picture one way, the image changes and if you turn it another way, it looks as if it’s moving. Well, this Jesus picture was like that. If I moved a bit to the left, the heart looked like it was thumping one way, if I moved a bit to the right, it thumped the other way and Jesus' hand looked as if it was moving, making the sign-of-the-cross motion...
I heard someone behind me say “I just want to ask a question” and then I felt someone shove me. An old woman pushed her way to the front, pausing as she realized she snapped me out of my 3-D trance, “Humph, what are you staring at my girl, not even the Lord can save us from ourselves, just look at our mess…” And without missing a beat she approached the clerk as everyone in line began to shout and protest….

I sighed and shifted back and forth on my tired feet, watching 3-D Jesus' bleeding heart go thump... thump... thump...
 



 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

flight

Mid-afternoon in Athens during a heatwave. Temperatures have been as high as 105 Fahrenheit during the past week. The heat is oppressive and my neighborhood resembles a ghost town. As I make the short walk from my apartment to the car, dragging my suitcase along the sidewalk, the sun sears my shoulders as sweat gathers at the small of my back. The only other person on the street is a dark-skinned immigrant, pushing a supermarket cart filled with bits of metal and other scraps. He stops at the trash bin and lifts the lid, rummages around but he doesn’t find anything and continues on to the next set of bins, pushing his cart down the street while the scorching sun beats down on us. Before I drive off, I check my bag one last time. I have everything I need. Money, passports, e-ticket number.

The past week has been filled with mixed emotions – melancholy and excitement. As the plane soared over the azure waters of the Aegean - Greece sparkling before my eyes like a gem - I felt a strange sadness and longing for what should have been… As we ascended through wispy clouds and flew high above the Adriatic Sea I watched the coastline below… The sun was shining, the sky was blue, and everything seemed perfect as I observed the changing colors of the scenery – blues and browns changed to varying shades of green as the plane flew past Dubrovnik, then Venice, and over northern Italy and Switzerland. As we neared Zurich the skies turned to grey and the clouds darkened as a thunderstorm rained over the airport… I walked through the jet bridge towards passport control shivering in my sleeveless shirt as the cold air rushed in.
I show both passports to avoid the usual confusion if I just offer one (if I show only the US passport, they ask ‘when did you enter the EU?’ and ‘where is your entry stamp?’ or ‘do you have a work permit?’… if I only show the Greek passport they ask ‘you are in transit to the US, do you have a US passport?’)…. So I rifle through my bag and find the blue one and slide it under the window, and as the official thumbs through the pages of my US passport, he says something to his colleague in the next booth and they both glance at me and chuckle (perhaps a snarky comment about the ‘dumb American tourist’?)… In the meantime I’ve found the maroon passport and I slide it under the window too and their faces become serious again. Did they realize that I am also an EU citizen, I am also ‘one of them’ and perhaps I understood their amusing comment? The official quietly scans my Greek passport and then I am on my way to gate E53 with my two identities in my purse and the dichotomy in my head: am I Greek? am I European? am I American? I decide that I am all three…

The next flight passes over Western Europe and crosses the Atlantic Ocean. I settle into my seat with a novel about a journalist in the 1980’s – he travels to divided Germany and settles in Berlin. As a foreigner he is able to cross the Berlin Wall and he easily travels in and out of East Berlin. He writes about the differences between East and West Germany and how the people in East Berlin treat him differently because of what he represents: the outside world and freedoms they do not have… Some East Berliners treat him with suspicion; some are indifferent, while others are resentful. The journalist struggles with this duality and the guilt he feels because he is able to leave while others cannot.
I watch the monitor in front of my seat, which shows a map of the route. The plane has crossed the Atlantic and is nearing the East Coast. It flies past Nova Scotia in Canada and goes south, descending towards New England. I don’t need to look at the monitor anymore, I look out of the window to the land below and I know exactly where we are.

When I exit the airport, rolling my luggage cart through the parking lot, the air is warm and everything is familiar. Even though I have been living in Greece for over 15 years, I feel like I never left my birthplace – the city of Boston. My much-needed time here will be brief, but just enough to recharge my depleted batteries.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

life goes on...


Trying to stay positive is becoming increasingly difficult in a world that is collapsing, bit by bit, every day. Life in Greece is like observing a condemned building after an earthquake. It is unstable and can implode into a pile of dust in an instant; each day the cracks seem a bit wider, pieces of broken cement fall off; it becomes more rickety but somehow remains standing as curious on-lookers walk past shaking their heads in disbelief.

Struggling with pessimism has become a daily battle. Everything is on the rise – crime, attacks against immigrants, unemployment, homelessness, the suicide rate. The new government already resembles a sick man (literally) - the newly-elected Prime Minister was hospitalized for an eye operation and was incapacitated and unable to attend significant, urgent meetings... The Finance Minister passed out and was also hospitalized. He resigned before he even had a chance to be sworn in….
Avoidance acts as a form of escapism. We go about our daily lives superficially – not discussing the (shocking, upsetting) events which are occurring around us. We desperately search for new narratives but they don’t exist. No political party can offer a promising, new hope. There is no magic wand, no fairy tale ending. Yet people hang on to the old narratives and keep telling themselves that everything will be alright.

Escapism offers a brief respite and I find myself wanting to withdraw into my own little cocoon. I don’t want to watch the news; I go offline, trying to avoid reading the headlines, trying to shut out reality. I put on my headphones and listen to a mix of international club songs that were popular in the 1990’s when I was a student. I imagine myself (circa 1992) on the dance floor surrounded by my friends – fellow students from all over the world – happy and carefree.  Then I imagine myself dancing in the streets of Athens, the music creating a sort of Pied Piper effect, people joining in, laughing and dancing, traffic coming to a halt as the street party grows… Eventually I snap out of my daydreaming and come back to reality and to the sound of wailing police sirens...

Recently I found myself at a maternity hospital waiting for the arrival of a new family member. The private maternity hospital is new, modern and lacks nothing. It actually resembled a 5-star resort. But for me, it symbolizes the growing rift between the haves and the have-nots in Greece; those who can afford private healthcare and those who can’t…

Last month the Pharmacists Association was no longer able to extend credit to the National Organization of Health Service Providers (EOPYY), which means that the pharmacists were not receiving payment from the government (which has no money) for prescriptions. Pharmacies were no longer accepting prescriptions from patients. If you had the cash, (and the drugs you needed were actually available) you could buy the drugs at full cost. The result was people who desperately needed drugs for life-threatening conditions (cancer patients, for example) were not able to get the drugs they need. A dire situation – if you had the money for these expensive drugs (and could actually find them) then you could get them. If you are like most people, you don’t have the money so you don’t receive the drugs you need. This is the new reality in Greece. By the end of June, the government began to pay off the 127 million euro it owes pharmacists for April prescriptions, and thus pharmacies have resumed supplying drugs on credit to those covered by state health insurance (EOPYY). So if you are still alive, you can now get your prescriptions filled.

Many people outside of Greece believe that we are kicking back, receiving “free” socialized healthcare and enjoying the benefits of this wonderful system. The reality is that the services offered by socialized medicine are sub-par. State-run hospitals and medical care are severely lacking. Those who can afford it, buy (usually expensive) private medical insurance which offers treatment and medical care at private hospitals and clinics (which are modern, state-of-the-art facilities).
So, there I was, waiting anxiously at the private maternity hospital with the rest of the extended family to see the new addition… When they finally brought him out, I looked at that tiny, precious life and realized how lucky he is indeed – and hoped that his future will be bright.

Despite everything going on around us, life continues – people are getting married, having babies, planning their summer vacations… and telling themselves that “everything will be alright”…. I hope they are right.




Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Two knights?

Saturday night...

A few days ago, on June 16, I was on my way home, walking through the square. The unbearable heat of the past few days had eased up and a strange, wild wind whipped through the air – violently shaking the tree branches and causing the awnings on the buildings to snap furiously, their metal parts clanging….
It was the day before the election and the square was buzzing. Crowded, loud, cafes full – enormous screens were set up everywhere, in place for the Big Game - the Euro2012 soccer tournament. I realized that was the real reason behind the ‘buzz’… Down to the wire, Greece needed to beat Russia (against the odds) in order to advance to the quarter-finals.  Not being much of a sports fan, I went about my business, rather oblivious to the sense of growing anticipation over the game.
Personally, I was more excited when I came across a book swap, set up by a group whose leaflet said: “people come before money” - “democracy now! everywhere and instantly!” - “solidarity is our weapon and active participation is our future!” The group regularly meets on Sundays in Syndagma Square and holds a ‘book and goods swap’… Although it was the first time they held the swap in my neighborhood, initiatives like this are becoming more and more common as people have less and less money to spend on “luxuries” such as books. So at the book swap, I traded three books in English (mindless, mass-market paperbacks which I never got around to reading) for three books in Greek: an old, musty, moth-eaten edition of Tolstoy’s The Cossacks, a novel published in 1863 about an aristocrat who joins the army and is sent to a village to fight in the Caucasian War – the book explores themes like the purpose of life, the nature of happiness, and the interaction of social classes;  the second book was a book of poetry by Kostas Karyotakis  - an influential poet of the 1920’s who committed suicide in 1928, while working in the northern Greek town of Preveza. He was a lawyer for the state, deployed to dole out land donations to refugees of the Asia Minor War of 1922… before his suicide, his last poem reflected the misery and loss he witnessed and experienced while working in the town; and lastly, I got an old book about the island of Kastellorizo, which is Greece’s easternmost island, only 2 kilometers away from the Turkish coast.  
I left the noisy, bustling square and walked along my quiet street - eager to get home and inspect my loot. As my key turned in the lock, I heard the sudden sound of a crowd erupting into cheers – a roar of primal triumphant noise. We had scored a goal. Sports fans from the surrounding balconies filled the neighborhood with their joyful cheering. I was glad. I wanted us to win. Later on, while I was half asleep on the couch, I heard another eruption of sheer joy – but this was prolonged and was quickly accompanied by the sound of car horns honking. This signaled that the game was over and we had won.
The captain of the Greek national soccer team, Giorgos Karagounis, had scored the only goal early in the game, and his winning goal made him Greece’s new knight in shining armor. From my balcony, I watched the victory party in my neighborhood – cars drove through the streets – people hanging out the windows or standing up through the sunroof, waving flags, blaring music, beeping horns, hooting and whooping it up. I fell asleep after midnight to the sound of honking horns, screaming fans and roaring winds… I was happy that Greece was at last victorious… at something.

Sunday night...
The world seemed to be waiting for the outcome of Greek elections with baited breath, but over here the sense of urgency was not felt. Whatever the election results would be, Greece’s immediate future will not be bright – this much has been understood and digested. When a dark cloud is hanging over your head, you eventually get to the point where it doesn’t really matter if the storm will bring light rain or heavy sleet. You know you will have to endure the storm – and whatever it will inevitably bring.  
Sunday night we gathered around the TV to watch the results of the first exit polls. It was like a déjà vu of May 6 elections. And the question still remains: will the politicians be able to cooperate and form a coalition government?
I stayed up late watching TV - all the channels were showing another victory. Antonis Samaras was at Zappeion, where he always goes to make his speeches and proclamations. Zappeion is a neoclassical building in the center of Athens, designed by Danish architect Theofil Hansen. The building was dedicated in 1888, and was originally built in preparation for the revival of the modern Olympic Games in Athens, held in 1896. The building has a long history, and among other things, was once used as a hospital; during World War II it was occupied by the Germans and used as a barracks. Today the building is mainly used for ceremonial purposes, private conferences and events. The signing of the documents which ratified Greece’s accession to the EU in 1981 took place at Zappeion.

And so from this historical place, Antonis Samaras held a press conference and made his ‘victory speech’ on Sunday night. Journalists clambered to snap photos and get sound bites. His speech was serious; his people stood behind him with their arms solemnly folded in front of them, as to visually emphasize the importance of his words…

I sat on the balcony to get some air. Election night. Results in. Speeches made. The neighborhood was extremely quiet - only a few cars slinked along the main road. Even the wind had died down. New Democracy’s Antonis Samaras had claimed ‘victory’ - with approximately 30% of the votes, but no cheers could be heard. Why do I get the feeling that this victory did not produce a knight in shining armor? I fell asleep to the sounds of a very quiet Athens, with only the words of the poet Karyotakis ringing in my ears:

friend, it seems my heart has now grown old.
my life in Athens is over…

…I won’t come again to the place, my countryman  
to the place marked by youth’s celebration.
Rather I will pass only as a bystander, with my hope, with my dashed dreams…

…I will walk up towards Zappeion, singing and staggering…
all around me, the horizon will be pleasant and broad,
but my song will sound like a sobbing wail.

[poem: to an old college friend, by Kostas Karyotakis, 1921]



Thursday, June 7, 2012

a new day has dawned…


Today, I was going to post the article below. However, this morning, new events unfolded and first of all, I would like to mention this morning’s news…
As I sat there, sipping my morning frape, I watched the live news show on Antenna channel. The usual morning line-up of politicians, analysts, discussion, disagreements and then suddenly Golden Dawn MP, Ilias Kasidiaris, got up and physically attacked two women on the panel. He threw a glass of water on Syriza MP Rena Dourou, (who sat across from him) and then proceeded to hit/slap/punch the MP of KKE (Communist Party) Liana Kanelli who was sitting near him. State prosecuter Eleni Raikou has already issued a warrant for Kasidiaris’ arrest but for now, he is on the run and has yet to be apprehended.

***

I have not posted anything in over three weeks. The only reason why I hesitate is because I find myself in an atmosphere of constant doom and gloom; negative news swirls around us every day. Trying to stay positive is very difficult. I don’t want to dwell on ‘the bad’ – but ‘the good’ seems ephemeral while ‘the ugly’ abounds… so bear with me…
There have been a few things on my mind these past few weeks; for some reason I cannot get certain ‘news items’ out of my head…
…for exmaple the recent spate of attacks on immigrants.


On May 29, a 32-year old Pakistani man was attacked by a group of about 12 men while he was riding the train. The group of men boarded the train at the Attiki metro station and brutally beat the Pakistani man, dumping him on the platform of the next stop, Agios Nikolaos station. He was taken to the hospital. Witnesses reported that the attackers shouted anti-immigrant slogans.

On the night of May 31, three attacks on immigrants occurred in the Neos Kosmos area of Athens. The victims of the three separate attacks (an Albanian man and two Polish men) were hospitalized with stab wounds. Witnesses reported that the attackers wore helmets.

On the night of June 1, on Pireos Avenue in the Tavros area of Athens, a group of motorcyclists participating in a Golden Dawn rally attacked and injured a 31-year old Pakistani man. Police rushed to the scene but were unable to find the assailants who had already fled. However, police intercepted another group from the same rally, who attempted to attack a group of immigrants at the intersection of Konstantinopoleos and Irea Odos. Police detained six people, including the daughter of Golden Dawn’s leader (Nikos Michaloliakos) and two Golden Dawn parliament members, Ilias Panagiotaros and Giannis Voulidis. All were released without charges and Golden Dawn issued a statement denying any involvement in the incidents of violence. 

***
I’ve read many articles about the sharp increase in suicides in Greece – nationwide, the suicide rate has risen by 40% in the first half of 2011 compared to the same period in 2010. Experts have been studying the effects of austerity measures in Europe, in terms of mental health. They report that austerity measures can turn a crisis into an epidemic and this crisis may leave behind a legacy of mental illness in younger generations who are faced with years of living in hopelessness.  Job loss can lead to severe depression – and untreated mental illness can intensify into problems that are difficult to reverse.

Recently there have been many reports about suicides which took place all over Greece during the past few weeks. However, I can’t stop thinking about these two cases in particular…
On May 30, a 61-year old man hung himself in a park in the Piraeus suburb of Nikaia. His suicide note said that although he worked hard all his life he found himself in so much debt that he could no longer survive. His note also said “I hope my grandchildren are not born in Greece, seeing as there will be no Greeks here from now on. Let them at least know another language, because Greek will be wiped off the map unless of course there was a politician with Thatcher’s balls so as to put us and our state in order.”
On May 24, in the central Athenian neighborhood of Metaxourgeio, a 60-year old man and his 90-year old mother stood on the roof of their apartment building, joined hands, and jumped. The man, Antonis Perris, was a musician. His mother suffered from Alzheimer’s.
He left one last post on a website dedicated to music and lyrics. In this last post, he explains that he had been caring for his elderly mother for the past 20 years but in recent years her condition had worsened and she suffered bouts of schizophrenic episodes. He also wrote that nursing homes would not accept her because they do not accept patients who suffer from such ‘overburdened conditions’.  He also explained that he had not foreseen the economic crisis and when it hit, he did not have enough cash in his bank account. Although he owned plenty of property, of which he kept selling off at any price just to survive, he found himself without enough money to live on – he did not have enough money to eat, care for his mother, pay his bills… and he noted that he was recently informed that he also had a “serious health problem” but he did not go into further details about it. He ended his post with the lyrics to a song he wrote himself. These are his last words:

     Don’t leave any of them standing

If you want to fix this world, first you must change its foundation,
before, due to our own inaction, the decline obliterates us…
We are governed by thieves, bankers and crooks
and all of their minions.

So without mercy, then, without pity,
Strike them down before you are destroyed
Because otherwise you will live in misery, without justice
So without mercy, then, without pity,
Don’t leave any of them standing.

The commandment states you shall not commit murder,
but by necessity you kill yourself
Strike them down before they destroy you,
Idleness is a crime
of our moral inaction and of our indolence…
let us no longer be sick and weak.

In the meantime… politicians continue their debate on whether or not they should have a televised election debate; experts examine the possible effects of a possible Grexit; bankers discuss the prospect of some kind of EU rescue plan… but I just wanted to mention what’s been on my mind these past few weeks…

Monday, May 21, 2012

This is (new) Greece…


For a few hours a day, I feel the need to escape. I turn off the TV, the laptop, my phones - I try to shut the world out. I go to the gym and for a few hours I don’t think about anything. I always walk through a large park on my way to the gym. The park is clean, well-maintained, is filled with shady trees and green grass, there are children laughing on the playground, people jogging, there is a small outdoor theater where various performances are held during the summer. For me, this park was always a kind of haven, and now more than ever, it has become a refuge for everyone seeking a break from reality. I often visit the park on Sundays, (when it is especially packed) and sit on the grass in the shade with my Sunday paper, enjoying the spring weather and the pleasant surroundings.  

Earlier in the year, when I joined the gym and met the staff, they asked me about my background. When I told them that I am Greek-American they only had one question for me: why are you still here? In a half-joking manner they commented that now when so many people are trying to get out of Greece and find opportunities in other countries, you remain here instead…

Almost 20 years ago, when I first came to Greece, Greeks would ask me many questions. Which country do you love better – Greece or America? Where do you prefer to live? Do you feel more Greek or more American? I knew what people wanted to hear – that I love Greece the most, that I can’t imagine living anywhere else, that I most identify with my Greek side. However, people were mostly puzzled by my replies (I love both countries, I feel like I live between two countries, I feel both Greek and American.) Many times people would persist and try to elicit the answers they wanted to hear. What they were really getting at was where does your allegiance lie? Perhaps they wanted me to say that I chose Greece over America, so as to reinforce or justify their own feelings about their own choices.

As Greek immigrants in America my parents were accepted, they were welcomed and respected; they worked hard and gained much. As the child of immigrants I too was accepted, was never made to feel like I did not belong; I had the same opportunities as everyone else. Being raised in a Greek home, I learned about our heritage and when I got older and started to visit Greece as a student, I studied Greek history, literature, and I even fell in love with Athens itself.

Perhaps being from two countries is like having two great loves - you can never forget either one, never give your heart to only one, you are always missing the one you are not with.

Throughout the years, my American friends saw my life in Greece as something to envy – with my weekend trips to the Greek islands, and my various jobs with interesting businesses and organizations… As much as I tried to explain that life sometimes becomes routine wherever you live, to them, I had an exciting, exotic Greek life.

And now, so many years later, Greeks are asking me very different questions, mainly: why are you still here? My American friends ask the same question: why are you still there? However, I don’t want to answer this question. I can’t answer this question.

After the gym one day, I walked through the park again on my way home. It was mid-afternoon, a very quiet time in the park, the playgrounds are empty and most of the joggers and walkers had gone home… I walked through the center of the almost-empty park, and was pleasantly surprised to see a small group of Pakistanis playing a game of cricket. This is not an unfamiliar sight in many downtown areas of Athens where empty lots are used for makeshift cricket fields. However, I had never seen cricket being played anywhere else, and it was the first time I was seeing it in this park. Cricket is similar to baseball and the kid inside me wanted to run and join the game, and have a turn at bat.

They looked like they were having so much fun – running, laughing and joking with one another – I couldn’t understand what they were saying but I didn’t need to understand their words to know how they felt at that moment. There was a small snack bar nearby and a few people sat there, lingering over their coffees, watching the cricket game with interest. To avoid walking through the cricket field, I walked off to the side, and as I passed the game, unfortunately my adult brain overtook the kid inside me and instead of joining the game, I just offered a shy smile and kept walking.

But before I left, I too turned to linger and watch as the batter swung and hit the ball, sending the others running after it. An elderly man approached the center of the field and when the players returned with the ball, the happy expressions on their faces suddenly changed. The laughing and joking stopped abruptly as they gathered around and the elderly man spoke to them, pointing and gesturing. I was too far away to hear what he was saying but I didn’t need to hear his words to understand what was going on. It was the first and last time I saw a cricket game in this park.

A few days ago, after returning from my ‘escape’ to the park and gym, I turned everything back on - the TV, the cell phone, the laptop. Back to reality. I read about Niko Ago, an Albanian journalist who has been living and working in Athens for 20 years. On Thursday, May 17, Greek authorities notified him that he faces deportation within 30 days because back in 2007-8, he did not work enough hours, which were required to renew his residence permit. However, at the time, his lack of working hours were due to a serious health problem.

I also read about a 78-year-old retired Dutch man who has been living near Monemvasia (in the southern Peloponnese) for almost 20 years. According to a police statement, on Tuesday, May 15 police arrested two local men who are suspected of attacking the 78-year-old man as he walked his dog along the beach. The two men drove up and asked the Dutch man if he was German and when he told them he was Dutch, they physically attacked him, breaking his jaw. They shouted “this is Greece” during the attack.

My cell phone started ringing; the voices from the talking heads on TV got louder as all the speakers begin to shout over each other; outside a gypsy truck drove past and the driver announces through his crackling loudspeaker that he collects all kinds of junk… and I am again lost in a cacophonous world… a new reality, a new Greece.






Sunday, May 13, 2012

in limbo


And so here we are. It is the seventh day after national elections and we still don’t have a government.

This week political party leaders held a series of meetings with one another, trying to figure out if they could piece together a government which would complete the parliamentary puzzle. And it seems like today’s last-ditch efforts to form a coalition government has also failed. The probable result of this week’s political wrangling is new elections in June, and until then, a caretaker government.

The election results produced new realities – Pasok, the established party which dominated Greek politics since the 1980’s, came in third with 13%. Syriza (Coalition of the Radical Left), a party which was only founded about 10 years ago, was second, with 17%. Main opposition party New Democracy, was first with 19% of the votes. The most distressing election result was the 7% that neo-Nazi Chrisi Avgi (Golden Dawn) gained, which would give them 21 seats in parliament if a government was formed.

So for the time being, we sit in limbo and we wait.

The world keeps spinning I suppose, and on the surface everyone is going about their usual day-to-day routines. From a distance, everything seems to be functioning as usual. But if you look a little closer, you notice that things are, in fact, really quite… different.

On Wednesday, May 9, police mistook a visiting professor from India, Dr Shailendra Kumar Rai, for an illegal immigrant and arrested him. He was taken to the police station and detained. Dr Rai is a visiting lecturer at the Athens University of Economics and Business. He has been teaching here for six weeks and will conclude his classes at the end of June. On Wednesday, when he stepped out of his office (without his passport) police stopped him for an identity check. Dr Rai was interviewed for today’s Sunday Vima (newspaper) and describes the incident in his own words:

It is their [the police] duty to uphold the country’s law and order. To do this, they can stop anyone they want, at any time, to check their identity and inspect them. Therefore I was stopped by police and it was found that I did not have my passport with me. I had just left the university building and had forgotten my passport in my office. In any case, a few minutes after they stopped me, some professors and administrators from the Dean’s office came out and spoke with the authorities, to confirm my identity and my relationship to the university. But then I was really surprised when I realized that the police were not willing to listen to my university colleagues, and the result was my arrest. That’s what was shocking to me. It was my first bad experience in Athens….

The article also says that the dean himself, Konstantinos Gatsios, had to intervene in order for Dr Rai to be released from the police station.

As the week dragged on, each day brought news of yet another impasse and by Friday everyone was getting increasingly skeptical, confused, angry, scared, annoyed, distrustful, charged, restless…

A stroll around the square in my neighborhood late afternoon on Friday was an odd experience. I’ve never seen the square so full of people. All of the outdoor cafes were packed – not an empty seat could be found; the pedestrian walkways were over-crowded; people sat on benches or stood around in groups; in one area a small cluster of teenagers had gathered and were playing guitars and singing; a homeless man with a goofy smile was stretched out on a patch of grass, barefoot and propped up on his side observing the scene; some of the political parties still had their pre-election kiosks up and people were gathered there, sitting around and talking. There was an electric buzz in the air. You could feel it.

I don’t think it was the warm weather that brought everyone out of their apartment buildings for a cool afternoon stroll; I think we all had a need to get out and talk to people instead of being cooped up inside watching endless debates and listening to talking heads on TV… It’s as if all the people in the square were anticipating something but we didn’t know what… so we stood around, sat around, strolled around and waited… in limbo.

On Saturday night while sitting in my living room with the balcony doors slightly open, I heard the distant sounds of a crowd approaching and car horns honking… I figured it was just the fans of a local soccer team who often take victory laps through the streets when their team wins a big match. I’m not much of a sports fan so I was not aware of any big games that might have been happening that evening. But as the noise got louder, it didn’t sound like the usual celebratory cheering – I could hear chanting.

I stood on the balcony and watched as about 100 people carrying large banners and signs walked up the main street towards the square (traffic piled up behind them) – they had megaphones and shouted anti-fascist slogans: “Golden Dawn is not a political party, they are neo-Nazis”, “no Nazis in our parliament”, “rid the fascists from our neighborhoods”…

I watched as the group headed towards the square, with two lines of riot police escorting them on either side of the street. A little while later, the small mobile rally returned – they must have walked around the entire square and were on their way to another destination. They passed on the opposite side of the main street, riot police in tow, with a bunch of excited little kids trailing behind them. The blocked traffic eventually started moving, the honking horns ceased and the group exited as strangely as they had appeared.

After a rather surreal week, I feel almost speechless, and so I must borrow the words of one of my favorite Jimmy Cliff songs, and leave you with these thoughts:

Sitting here in limbo, but I know it won't be long
Sitting here in limbo, like a bird without a song
Sitting here in limbo, waiting for the dice to roll
Sitting here in limbo, got some time to search my soul


Sitting here in limbo waiting for the tide to flow
Sitting here in limbo knowing that I have to go…







Tuesday, May 1, 2012

May Day, mayday…


It is my favorite hour of the day when the late afternoon sun emits a wondrous glow on everything. The light is slowly fading, casting a soft gleam on the apartment buildings across the way, transforming their dinginess into brightness. A wandering musician on the street passes, he plays ‘Bésame Mucho’on his accordion. Today is May Day in Greece. I sit in my living room, the balcony doors open, the sounds of the neighborhood wafting past the fluttering curtains… The spring breeze feels good.

May Day…

It’s a public holiday – a day off for mostly everyone and many of those who have to work strike in protest anyway. Today the two main unions held rallies in downtown Athens which were mostly peaceful with only minor scuffles. The ferry workers are on strike, much to the dismay of weary Athenians who were looking forward to a short getaway to nearby islands. The national railway is on strike, so those hoping to leave Athens by train were grounded too. Workers in the food service and in the tourist sector are on strike, possibly effecting services at airports, hotels and tourist-related businesses. I stayed home today. Even if I wanted to go somewhere, I wondered if it was worth the hassle of either being stuck in traffic or stuck in a crowded taverna or a noisy café. So here I sit instead, listening to a young family on the street outside, the wheels of the stroller clacking over the bumpy sidewalk as the mother sings a popular kiddie song…

May Day…
Everything is rather quiet in my neighborhood today. Those who managed to leave Athens for a brief trip to the countryside or seaside must still be gone. It’s unusually quiet; the traffic noise is noticeably reduced. I can even hear birds chirping as the sun fades and my TV produces a faint glow in the dimming room.

The news is on and the faces of the men and women representing all of the major political parties parade across the screen. They are all touring the country, trying to win over the voters, getting out their May Day messages: Pasok’s Evangelos Venizelos ensures that “The country is becoming reliable again. Greek and foreign investors can trust us”… I wonder if Mr. Venizelos would choose to say this at, for example, an international event, with European leaders and bankers sitting in the audience.

New Democracy’s Antonis Samaras states that only ND can move the country past this crisis and that “illegal immigration in Greece threatens the Schengen Treaty itself and if we don’t stop them, if we don’t expel them ourselves, Greece will soon become isolated from the rest of Europe”… In other recent statements, Mr. Samaras has condemned far-right party Chrisi Avgi (Golden Dawn), as neo-Nazis and “enemies of the country” – how is this possible when Mr. Samaras shares the same view as Chrisi Avgi, which also says they want to expel immigrants?
mayday…


The sun has gone down and the room is dark. It’s so quiet outside. All I can hear is the footsteps of the occasional passer-by on the sidewalk. The glow from the TV casts flickering shadows on the wall as the political face parade continues…
KKE’s Aleka Papariga (communist party) warns that “(after elections) the only thing that any newly-formed government will succeed in, is to spread disappointment and anger among the people”… Syriza’s Alexis Tsipras (Coalition of the Radical Left)  reminds us that today is a day of remembering past conflicts and battles, “it is a day which reminds us that the path of humankind and history was written by workers’ struggles - civil disobedience… by those executed by Nazis… etc… With struggles, with blood and sacrifice the people managed to change history”…. Is Mr. Tsipras suggesting that using violence is the only way to achieve change?

LAOS’ Giorgos Karatzaferis (Popular Orthodox Rally) reminded voters that today is not only a worker’s day, but an opportunity to offer a gesture of love, “a rose to all the women, to those who are here today in this honorable and good struggle, and to women all over the world. Without women, we wouldn’t be able to do anything in this world. Women were always protagonists, everywhere.” He went on to say that just moving immigrants from inner-city Athens to outer-lying detention centers only moves the problem from one area to another. “There is only one solution: For them to leave. And they will leave the day after we win the election and are in power”….
What about the female immigrants, then? Will Mr. Karatzaferis hand them a rose before he kicks them out of Greece?

mayday… mayday…

The TV screen is showing the central train station in Athens, with its motionless trains and empty platforms. The picture changes and shows the port of Piraeus, giant white ships lined up around the harbor, immobile.

I turn off the TV and the room is plunged into darkness, the only light coming from my laptop. Outside it’s black and still. I can hear a dog barking in the distance, like a faraway distress signal.


mayday…


mayday…


mayday…






Wednesday, April 25, 2012

letter from Nafplio


Perhaps it is ironic that this week I find myself in the city of Nafplio, which was the first capital of the modern Greek state.  A city rich in monuments which reflect Greece’s multiethnic past: Byzantines, Franks, Venetians and Ottomans once ruled Nafplio and left behind a hilltop fortress, a seaside tower, Catholic and Orthodox churches, mosques and remarkable examples of neoclassical architecture.

Much of Greece’s modern history began here… during and after the Greek War of Independence. The various Greek clans banded together to oust the Ottoman occupiers and eventually succeeded. When Ioannis Kapodistrias, the first governor of the newly-formed Greek state, came to Nafplio in 1828, he was faced with stark reality: Greece was broke, factional infighting was still rampant and was hindering the formation of a unified national government, the military was disorganized, the educational system was practically nonexistent, the country was in need of a national currency, living standards were extremely poor, and as if that wasn’t enough he still had to negotiate with the Great Powers regarding the degree of independence of the Greek state….  (sound eerily familiar?)

Despite this grim reality, Kapodistrias managed to make great reformations and began to modernize the new nation. He was able to unify the military and regain territory which was formerly lost to the Ottomans, he introduced the first quarantine system in Greece which raised the level of public health by bringing epidemics under control, he founded schools (the first military school for cadets) and the first university which produced the first teachers of liberated Greece. He also introduced the first currency of the modern Greek state in 1828, the “phoenix” – named after the mythical bird and symbolizing the rebirth of a nation. However the monetary rebirth was short lived when only four years later the government printed more money without having the assets to back it and the people justly rejected the phoenix… which led to the introduction of the drachma…

Perhaps many of us don’t know that the original “Potato Movement” happened in Nafplio. The cultivation of the potato in Greece was introduced by Kapodistrias. At first, the people didn’t care for his potatoes and he feared his plan had failed. In order to win the public’s enthusiasm, he had a shipment of potatoes unloaded at Nafplio harbor, and had them guarded day and night. People began to assume that if the potatoes were being so closely guarded, that they must be of great value. Thus, Kapodistrias’ potato movement became a grand success…

But perhaps his greatest effort is what lead to his demise. Kapodistrias tried to destabilize the power of the traditional Greek clans and families which had ruled in the young nation’s recent past. He considered this type of ‘governance’ to be outdated and a product of a former time, an ineffective remnant that had no place in a new, modern, forward-looking country. Furthermore, Kapodistrias imposed customs dues on the powerful and wealthy merchant families which comprised many of the ‘clans’…  This elicited much opposition by the old political tribes, who refused to pay dues to the Kapodistrian government.

On October 9, 1831 two clansmen representing one of the most powerful family dynasties of the time, assassinated Kapodistrias. One fired a gun but missed, while the other stabbed Kapodistrias on the steps of St. Spyridon church in Nafplio.  As I stood in front of the church, looking at the bullet hole in its wall, I wondered about upcoming elections and what the future of our ‘new’ Greece will be. Who will lead this country into the next chapter of its history and in 200 years’ time, what will Greeks have to say about it? If history repeats itself, who will be brave enough to try and undermine the authority of Greece’s current political clans and families? On May 6, voters will chose among 36 political parties that will be on the ballot. Of the 36 political leaders, will we find our Kapodistrias?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

great expectations



I stood in the churchyard shivering in the cool night air, holding an unlit candle, surrounded by hundreds of people – all waiting expectantly for the priest to appear with the ‘holy light’ – the annual ritual…  I observed the scene with a detached weariness as the flame was passed from one candle to the next and a soft glow slowly spread throughout the churchyard. I felt like a bored spectator watching a play I’d already seen too many times… observing the next familiar act… The church bells started clanging, the priest’s voice crackled over the loudspeaker proclaiming ‘christos anesti’ (Christ has Risen), people kissed one another shouting ‘chronia polla’(well wishes) and then everyone rushed home to enjoy the traditional meal (soup, red eggs, sweet Easter bread)… In a few short minutes the churchyard was practically empty - perhaps only the people who really understood the true meaning of the religious celebration remained inside the church, following the service until the end.

But most of us are just ordinary people after all, and perhaps expecting great things of ordinary people is just expecting too much.

Many are already talking about what we can expect next. Recently, a prominent Chief Investment Officer who oversees an equity and bond fund with nearly €1 billion in assets, expects that Greece will leave the Eurozone in 12 months’ time.

According to a recent report from the European Commission, EC president José Manuel Barroso expects that Greece can transform itself if it adheres to reforms. He also stated that he expects Greece can generate growth and jobs and we can even expect changes by this year.

But what we expect and what actually happens are sometimes two very different things.

Former Defense Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos probably never expected that someday he’d be arrested and accused of corruption and money laundering. But on Wednesday, April 11, we watched as the drama unfolded live on Greek TV as Tsochadzopoulos was led from his home (in one of the most prestigious neighborhoods in Athens) to police headquarters. He remained in custody until after the Easter break and on April 17 we all watched the drama continue live on TV as he was led by police to Korydallos prison. He is a founding member of the socialist PASOK party and held key ministerial posts throughout his career which spanned over 20 years. Perhaps this is a 'lamb' which some never expected to see being led to slaughter.

Many people hope the arrest isn’t just a pre-election attempt to convince the public that the government is serious about cracking down on corruption – even at the highest of levels. Who might be next on the list? Are certain politicians starting to get nervous? Is this the beginning of a new Greece where real justice can be expected? Or is this just too much to expect?

Other experts write articles stating that they expect European leaders will eventually rally to our aid and provide a great, new Marshall Plan which will guarantee our rescue.

I returned to Athens after the break and finally realized why Easter was so important this year. In this unstable, uncertain time, where we don’t know what to expect of Greece’s future, we found comfort in ritual. Even if for a brief few days, we had a great need to know what to anticipate. We found great comfort in knowing exactly what to expect – we knew how this story would play out and had a great need to believe in a crucifixion, a resurrection, a salvation, a sacrificial lamb, a celebration.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Passion Week

A bomb exploded this morning at a government office – at the Ministry of Administrative Reform – destroying the ground floor of the building as well as the cars parked out front. And so begins Holy Week 2012 in Greece.

We Greeks are a passionate people – everyone says this about us. If you see Greeks talking loudly, waving their arms, making strange gestures – no, we are not arguing, just having an animated, passionate conversation. If a Greek man shows interest in a woman, won’t leave her alone, insists on buying her a drink – no, this is not harassment; he’s just being a passionate Greek lover...

And so this being Holy Week, or “Passion Week” as it is called in Greece, I see passion everywhere. This year, everyone is feeling passionate about something.

The largest seaman’s union is passionately fighting for the revocation of the law incorporating their social insurance fund into the new national health plan. They will be passionately striking this week for two days – a move which will disrupt transportation not only for thousands of Greeks who plan on going back to their ancestral islands for the Easter holiday, but will also disrupt the transportation of goods from farmers and business-owners, causing them a significant financial loss.

A recent poll showed that 89.9% of Greeks believe that “immigrants are the cause of increased acts of violence and criminal activity” – when this same poll was taken in 2009, 74.5% of Greeks agreed with that statement. What has happened in three years, then? Are Greeks becoming more passionately opposed to immigrants?

And naturally, everyone is passionate about the recent public suicide; Dimitris Christoulas, a 77 year-old retired pharmacist, shot himself in the head in the middle of Syndagma Square last Wednesday.  His suicide note stated that he chose to end his life in a dignified manner, before he was forced to scrounge for food in the garbage… The day after the suicide, a peaceful rally in Syndagma Square turned violent and a photojournalist covering the event was seriously injured by riot police who passionately beat him repeatedly with batons.  Marios Lolos, the photojournalist, is still in the hospital, recovering from surgery and severe cranial injuries...

On Saturday afternoon, after the funeral of Dimitris Christoulas, mourners left the cemetery and took the metro to Syndagma Square, to visit the spot where Christoulas took his own life, which has become a make-shift shrine. A policeman and his colleague were on their way to work, when the mob spotted them at the Syndagma metro station. One policeman was passionately attacked by the mob of mourners and ended up in the hospital with serious head injuries. The mob also passionately robbed the policeman of his coat, bullet-proof vest and other parts of his uniform – all of which are now part of the make-shift shrine to the dead pensioner.

But perhaps the most passionate people in Greece right now are the politicians. With upcoming national elections, politicians are constantly on television – each group or party persistently bombarding us with their most passionate thoughts and opinions on “what must be done” to “save Greece” and to “save our neighborhoods” and to “save our families”…

This morning I went to my local bakery to grab something quick for breakfast. This being Holy Week, it is the most important “fasting week” of the Orthodox Lenten calendar. Meat and dairy products are strictly forbidden and the “serious fasters” even refrain from fish and olive oil.  The bakery was filled with signs saying “Lenten cookies” and “Lenten cakes” (made without eggs, butter, milk, etc)… I took my non-Lenten ham and cheese pie and went to the register to pay. Behind me stood an older, well-dressed woman. She pointed a bejeweled-ring wearing finger at me and passionately stated “this is the problem with young people today… tsk tsk.. not fasting during Holy Week!” gold bracelets passionately clanging to emphasize her disgust. I gave her a warm smile and passionately bit into my warm ham and cheese pie…

Perhaps we are all straying from the real meaning of ‘pascha’…. I believe all religions, cultures and traditions have their own ‘pascha’ – whether it’s called Easter, Passover, Nowruz  - every spring we all essentially celebrate the same thing: a triumph, a rebirth, a renewal, a reawakening… If this is the case, then why are certain questions stuck in my mind: This Easter in Greece, what triumph are we celebrating? What will renewal bring? What new realities will Greeks be reawakened to?  

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

operation clean sweep



For years, thousands of undocumented immigrants have been living in squalid conditions in central Athens. Unremarkable, ordinary neighborhoods gradually became the new ghettos of Athens. Drugs, crime, prostitution.  Last month I found myself on the fringe of one of these neighborhoods. When I first came to Athens in the early 90’s, I used to stroll carelessly in this very area - shopping, having lunch with friends.  Now, I stood at the bus stop and surveyed the scene: many empty and abandoned storefronts, desperate-looking people were everywhere, dozens of drug addicts wandered around like zombies  - some with open wounds on their arms; immigrants lined the sidewalks openly selling contraband cigarettes… I wondered why the police were gathered around in small groups, standing near each bus stop… were they guarding the people who were waiting for the bus because we were a bunch of sitting ducks? Or were they ‘guarding’ the bus stops because it was easier than patrolling sidewalks where with every step you saw people breaking the law? How can a small group of cops deal with such overwhelming unlawfulness? 

Today I was in this area again (another errand at yet another tax office) but this time, all the drug addicts were gone and mainly, all the immigrants were gone too. What happened? Well, this is Athens one month before national elections.  This week the government began “operation clean sweep” (επιχείρηση σκούπα) in central Athens. Their mission is to “clean house” – basically to round up illegal immigrants and ‘undesirables.’ Reminds me of what I did tonight when I had unexpected guests call to say they are coming over in 15 minutes:  I frantically ran all around the apartment, rushing from one room to the next, shutting away the clutter in drawers and closets, throwing my shoes behind the couch, hiding my half-eaten sandwich in the bread box, sweeping the dust under the rug.  Then my guests arrived and I served coffee in my ‘clean’ living room, feeling proud of myself because I pulled it off. However after they left, the feeling of dread quickly came back as I realized that in actuality, my house was a total mess and it would take hours to really clean it up….

Today I was also around Syndagma Square in downtown Athens, and on Ermou St (one of Athens’ main shopping streets). Usually these areas are filled with immigrant street sellers, hawking fake designer bags to costume jewelry. Today however, they were nowhere in sight. A few days ago, in my neighborhood (a suburb of Athens) I saw police patrolling the square for the first time(I’ve been in the neighborhood for over 10 years). Police in blue uniforms, army boots, guns on their belts, striding around the square as Nigerians fled down side streets, out of sight (ordinarily the Nigerians are at their usual posts in the square, selling pirated CDs and DVDs).

I wonder where all the immigrants who have been rounded up this week have been sent…. PASOK’s Citizens’ Protection Minister, Michalis Chrysochoidis, has announced that 30 ‘reception centers’ around the country will house immigrants either awaiting asylum approval or deportation. But these centers are not in operation yet. So where have all the immigrants gone? Into already over-crowded jails? What giant rug have they been swept under? A temporary solution to a very deep-rooted, serious problem.