Thursday, March 15, 2007

Adios Amigos

Panic not, dear friends. This is just a post to let you know that I am off to the Homeland to dance around trees for a week. I'm going to go back to my village and smell the soil, walk in the green wheat fields, pray on my grandparents' graves, play with my baby cousins, spend lazy afternoons in my desert-border hometown chatting to the people I grew up with, take walks down the streets I played on as a child, bargain tactfully in the old market and eat my aunty's delicious curry breakfasts. People think curry for breakfast is an insane idea, but I think it's a much gentler wake-up than the screaming matches on TV with a fag and a coffee.
My cover story is already set up for me and all I have to do is stick to it. The official line is that I still live and work in the UK. Because in the country I am from, boys can do what they want, but girls who step out of line are done for. The fact that I am in a loving relationship and us living together in a supportive unit should be cause for a family's happiness. Unfortunately for me, the man happens to be the wrong colour and religion and also not married to me.
I have male cousins who got blind drunk, slept with prostitutes and generally indulged in appalling behaviour but none of this tarnished the family's honour. However, if anyone from back home found out what I am doing here in Greece (forming a relationship I plan to keep for life) all hell would break loose. My immediate family have been understanding, but back home is a whole other story.
If word got out, I'd be excommunicated faster than you can say "Dishonour". No more aunty's curries, no more warm welcomes, no more fields in my village. So even though it makes me angry, I will stick to my cover story because I don't want my father's reputation to bite the dust along with mine. Aren't you impressed that I can still dance with all the weight of a family's honour on my slender shoulders?
Anyway, keep my blogspot warm for me till I get back and I'll share my tales upon my return.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

HA HA HA HA!!!!!

I was looking online to find some facts on smoking in Greece and I found out that Greece is Europe's most heavily smoking country. As a total non-smoker, you can imagine the fun I have in bars, clubs and taverns constantly breathing in the crap other people are slowly killing themselves with. If you notice a face amongst a group looking horrified that no-one seems bothered about smoking around pregnant women and small children, it's probably me. But then why should they be bothered? I've seen pregnant women happily puffing away, which is wrong no matter what angle you look at it from.

I nearly wet myself laughing when my searches threw up this gem: Ha ha ha! Yeah right! No wonder I never heard of this 'ban' before.

Since I've started I might as well finish: Smokers, if you don't care enough about yourself to stop smoking that's your problem, but don't take me with you!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Watch Sarbel In Action Here!!

*Swoon* I can't help it!

Yia Sou Sugar!

A bit late of me to report on this, but my very own Sarbel is going to be flying the flag for Greece at Eurovision 2007. Being somewhat of an expert on Eurovision winability, I am sorry to say that the song, 'Yia Sou Maria' doesn't have the necessary elements to win it. I mean, Elena Paparizou had a bunch of male dancers in tight tops who lay down and formed the number 1 with their bodies. That's Eurovision magic! 'Yia Sou Maria' is just not.... camp enough?

Who really cares though. Some people (men) aren't too crazy about Sarbel's song winning the nationwide who-shall-we-send-to-Eurovision competition, but that's just because they're jealous. As long as I get to cheer on my twin (recap: born same day, same month, same year as moi) I don't mind if he sings Baa Baa Blacksheep. Mr Zeus is not at all impressed with the half-Cypriot, half-Lebanese chocolate muffin, so I am considerate lately and resist my urge to swoon when he's on TV.

I kind of wish he had submitted his flagship song 'Sokolata' for the competition, but sadly he didn't ask me for my opinion. That song plus a pinch of Bollywood spice, and Eurovictory would have been Greece's!


Thursday, March 08, 2007

Women's Day 2007

Hooray for us, girls!! March the 8th is marked all over the world as International Women's Day. Some think that by 2007 enough work has been done to progress the situation of women and that such a day isn't really that important any more. I know London is marking it with some rubbish about animals in art and yoga rather than important issues as why is it that mothers with young children are the most discriminated against than any other group in the job market. But we're not in London, we're in Athens.

Greece is one of the safest countries in Europe, and this applies for the safety of women too. I can wait at a near-deserted bus stop late at night and not feel worried about my safety, unlike London. Greece is waking up to the 21st Century and taking steps towards reducing the machismo that is characteristic of Mediterranean countries in general and promoting gender equality in school and at work.

Consider, then, these statistics which I pulled from last week's Athens News on the incidence of abuse of Greek women:

Experience of violent behaviour by a husband or partner in a previous relationship:

Experience of violence in house in which you grew up:

Verbal or physical abuse from husband or partner:
56% <-- am I the only one who thinks this is WAY TOO HIGH?!
Forced into sexual intercourse:
Consider husband or partner to be violent:
It goes without saying that Greece, like almost everywhere else in the world, pays a woman less than a man gets for the same job. Back to the macho Mediterranean culture, in summer 2005 when I was walking back from a beach and a male jogger running past me grabbed me between the legs, it was shrugged off as one of those playful things men do in the summer. It might not be such a big deal on the scale of violating things that a man can do to a woman, but it's these small allowances that add up to a bigger picture.

Don't think that it's all bad news though. Today, put on your favourite clothes and go out with your girlfriends for your coffee. If you'll be at home, pour a glass of wine and say "Here's to me!" Celebrate what women have achieved thus far, and in fact celebrate the fact that you even exist. 10 million baby girls in India weren't so lucky. I know this post is a bit heavier than my usual nonsense, but women's rights is a cause very close to my heart. I grew up in a country where a baby girl could be killed for as little as 70 cents. And I'm not talking abortion, I mean an actual baby that had been born.

I did try to find events in Athens that were marking Women's Day, so if anyone reading knows of something please post it in a comment. Kosmos Radio is playing female singers all day till 2pm on 93.6 FM.

To all mothers, daughters, wives, girlfriends, friends, sisters, businesswomen, wonderwomen, here's to US!


Monday, March 05, 2007

I Laiki it a lot

Lately it's all been doom and gloom for me, but this weekend things started to look up again. On Saturday, Athens experienced a beautiful Greek spring day with a gently warm breeze and hot sunshine. Waking up to such a lovely day and feeling optimistic, I decided to go out and about and do the day's shopping all by myself. Since the incident with the rude girl in the ticket booth, my confidence for talking to Greeks plummeted, so I thought what better way to get back on track than the hubub of the weekly vegetable market, called the laiki.

Local weekend markets are still big business in Greece, despite breakfast news regularly featuring irate yiayias complaining about the crazy price rises. "Carrots were only 50 cents last week and now they're 70!!" sort of thing. It's a good place for ladies to get together and gossip while they do the weekly shop. It's also a pretty safe place to practice your Greek as farmers are eager to shift their goods and are very unlikely to be rude to you, unless you're rude to them first. Pave your way with lots of good mornings and how are yous.

Now, for most city slickers, markets are an alien concept. They're just too used to turning up in a supermarket and tossing lots of uniform, shrink wrapped produce into their baskets. I remember a friend in the UK who couldn't understand what I was up to when I went through the melons in Tesco trying to sniff out which one smelt sweet. So if market shopping is still a bit tricky for you, here is my fool-proof method for picking up the best of the best: Watch where all the little old ladies go.

Trust me, it never fails. When faced with seven different stalls selling tomatoes, I always head for the one where lots of little old ladies are mingling. On Saturday I overestimated my own skills and decided to buy tomatoes from a stall sans little ladies. They turned out to be bland and boring, and I went back for round two, this time sticking to the little ladies. Try it, works every time!

Apart from the laiki, I also went to the bakery. I somehow managed to lose our regular bakery, missed it by one street, and was finally able to use my classic phrase from the original Greek classes I took in London: Is there a bakery nearby? The answer to that in Greece will always be yes.
So Saturday was very productive. I received warmth and friendly curiosity from everyone I spoke to, from the girl in the bakery who told me the name of the bread I was pointing at in an exaggerated manner "xoriatiko", to the lady in the cleaning shop who helped me pick an unbranded but very effective washing powder.

Friday, March 02, 2007

I predict a riot

Yesterday trundling back from my class on the bus a lady was moving down the aisles asking for bus tickets. In Athens, it's acceptable to buy your ticket off another passenger. They'll actually give it to you. Astonishment! Two years in London really killed my belief in other people.
Anyway, the hot topic of the day is Greece's failure to decide on reforming their university system. You know what I'm talking about if you live in Greece. If you don't you obviously don't watch enough shouting matches on morning TV. The government wants to privatise some unis to create healthy competition and raise the standard of the education provided, along with reasonable measures like putting a time limit on how long you can take to finish your degree. What, it's open ended? Yes children, it is.

The Greeks love nothing better than a good protest, so they've been up in arms for what seems like FOREVER over the reforms. Every day the TV shows long-haired students burning things, throwing petrol bombs and shutting down their campuses. Smart, guys, real smart. I too was a long-haired student once, but I have no sympathy for their cause. The highest ranking of a Greek university according to the Times Higher Education Supplement is number 459. The university of Athens comes in at number 508. Kids, you really have nothing to be proud of. When your universities are doing so badly in international league tables, it would be wiser to contemplate measures that might improve them, not throw a hissy fit that you won't be allowed to take 10 years to finish your degree.

Generally, I don't agree with privatisation, but in this case I sincerely do. Why should smart Greek kids who want to learn and have a degree that would actually be worth something have to miss out because they can't afford to go overseas to get an education? The Ancient Greeks are still regarded as some of the most intelligent people in the history of humanity, because they valued knowledge and tried to make it available easily. Why should modern Greeks be disadvantaged by not having good quality universities in their own country? Why should they have to pay and go abroad, thus contributing to the country's brain drain? Someone should ask these rioters: wouldn't it be nice to get a good quality, useful education and still have dinner at Mama's? That's the one that'll clinch it!!

Alas, what do I know, right? I'm just a stinky foreigner after all.