Sunday, September 27, 2009

To those we Love

I'm back in Athens as of very early Tuesday morning, and the inability to have grieved has affected me badly. It's only today that I don't feel like I'm moving through glue, and somehow it feels like now it's too late for my tears - the moment has passed, and what a bitter pill to swallow are the tears of grief.

On the ride from the airport to my flat, I began to cry for our lost friend, for my relief at being home, but once again I had to stop because going beserk in the back of a taxi is not the best idea at 3 am. It was my most expensive taxi ride because so desperate was I to get through the front door and back to my normal life, so happy was I at this stranger delivering me to my doorstep that I shoved a EUR 50 note into his hands and took no change.

Watching pre-election debates, sometimes I wish I really could talk to party leaders of the right wing, anti-immigration parties like LA.OS. I know they wouldn't listen, but I would say this:

I followed the Greek I loved to his land and fell in love with Greece. When my plane landed here on Tuesday morning, I felt a rush of relief. Riding in the taxi in the small hours of the morning, past the sleeping olive groves and the mountains that have seen so much and had so much blood spilled on them, I felt like Athens herself was saying to me "You are now home, it's okay to let go now."

The stress of the previous week released and tears rolled down my face because I realised that what Mr Zeus had always told me was true: Greece is not a place, Greece is a feeling, and if you open your heart she will talk to you. It's those that can't open their hearts that will never be happy here.

Greece spoke to me on Tuesday morning as clear as an actual voice in my ears and I cried that an alien land had accepted me so unquestioningly into her embrace. Greece - halfway between the Home Country and the UK, my new home, the home I love, where I am at long last free.

So please, don't judge all us foreigners with the same standards. It may be hard for you to understand, but some of us love Greece as much as you do, maybe even more, because we were not taught this love from birth, we felt it of our own free will. I may not be able to roll off the history of Greece on my fingertips or name all her past leaders, but I can certainly tell you what is right here in my heart, in my gut.

Here's to the ones we love, who we should all hold a little bit closer because for all the fights and for all the frustration, they are here, we are here, and life is beautiful no matter what the colour.

Monday, September 14, 2009

In Good Times and Bad

When you move to a new country, much of what you base your decision to stay on is centred around happy times and successes. Greeks can be overbearing in their emotions but the pleasant side effect of this is that they celebrate your joys with all their hearts.
They are obsessed with their families which means someone is always nearby when you need them. They adore their friends to the point of inviting them on your holidays, without asking you, but this adoration means that when life becomes unbearable, the friends appear at your side to adore you right back, to lift you from the ground where you have fallen in your sorrow.
I have had the good fortune of experiencing many of the great milestones of Greek life - births, marriages, baptisms. Last week, I had the misfortune of going to my first Greek funeral and in its own strange way, nothing has made me more determined to live in Greece.
I can count on one hand the funerals I've been to in my life, and I have never been to a funeral on my own, without being an extension of my family. I am a coward, and I tend to run from funerals. Last week, I had to draw on a strength I knew deep inside me I didn't have and escort one of my dearest friends to the funeral of her husband, one of Mr Zeus's childhood friends.
In some ways the reality of that day has still not sunk in - the rain falling on us, the grief, the coffin, the feeling that this had to be a joke and any minute now he'd pop out from somewhere, my friend screaming and shaking in my arms, my arms that I had offered to remain by her side as a replacement for her family that had not arrived, who I cannot forgive for not being there.
Like me, she is a foreigner, and that same affinity I felt for her when we first met - two women who left it all behind to be with our men - is what kept me at her side, despite the feeling that I was not strong enough, that I couldn't do this, that Mr Zeus better turn up sometime now because I can't do this.
But I did it. We all did, and we all did it together. We all walked our friend to his final journey, smothering him in flowers, though I didn't have the heart to look. We wept together, and we even joked together. Later, the mourners were offered coffee and cognac and I shook hands with mourners on behalf of my dear friend's absent family as they wished us in Greek "Life to us, life to you."
That night we threw an impromptu heavy metal party where we drank some more, laughed some more and cried some more. "The next time I see him," I said "I'm going to force him to watch Bollywood movies because I never drink coffee and I never listen to heavy metal and I did both for him today!"
In Greece, when you tell them your bad news, they don't look away and mumble an apology. They don't shrink away from your sadness like it's a bad smell, like your misfortune might rub off onto them. They embrace you, look you in the eye and tell you that life is such and we must go on living it. When you start to cry, they don't pat you on the shoulder and tell you to pull yourself together. They stroke your hair, tell you to cry and let it all out. 
48 hours later I found myself back in London for a week. I haven't had the luxury to cry as much as I need to clean my soul, to try and get to grips in my head the image of our friend's coffin, the feeling of my friend writhing on the ground in her misery. I had to be strong, but now I want to rest my head on someone's shoulder and let them let me cry to my heart's content.
But I'm in the wrong country, and when the tears began to fall last night, they made those around my uncomfortable. Their discomfort was so tangible I began to cry even more. I was told to pull it together, don't be sad.
This week, I don't want to be in London. I don't want to even be in my family home. I feel alone, miserable and tired. I just want to cry once, one good cry without anyone trying to stop me, and then things will feel better.
This is why they have therapists in Western Europe. We don't need them in Greece.
Life to us.

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Friday, September 04, 2009

Fruit of the Gods

September has rolled around and reared her ugly head at last, and it seems summer will be over all too soon. From the 1st of September, Greeks start wishing each other a happy autumn, words that depress the living daylights out of me. Seems I waited forever for summer and now it's leaving again.

That doesn't mean that the taste of summer still can't be enjoyed. If you are the sort who doesn't start freaking out when outnumbered by dark-skinned foreigners, I recommend a trip to Menandrou Street in downtown Athens, just off Athinas (metro stop Omonia).

Down this street, the jewels of summer can still be enjoyed - boxes of yellow, fragrant, dizzyingly sweet mangoes from the Home Country. No one should ever decide what they think about mangoes without eating Home Country mangoes, which are universally believed to be the best on the market. They have a silky, juicy texture that Caribbean mangoes can only dream of.

Mangoes can be bought by piece or by 5 kilo boxes. I usually get the whole box for around EUR 15 and share the contents with other mango lovers.

And if you still need convincing, mangoes are considered to be aphrodisiacs, with the saying going that there is no clean and tidy way to enjoy a mango or a woman.

Oh, I do declare Miss Bollybutton! How can one be talking about eating and aphrodisiacs in the middle of the holy month!


Thursday, September 03, 2009

Before and After. Can you Spot the Difference? Me neither

The big news in Greece at the moment is that elections have been called early thanks to the annual disgrace which is the handling (or lack there of) of Greece's wild-though most are set accidentally on purpose - fires. Hooray! New government time! Same old assholes, but a brand new covering on the box outside! Whoopee!

As a foreigner living in Greece, the thing that pisses me off the most is the wasted potential of this country. Here we are, surrounded by brilliant young minds, with families bankrupting themselves to educate their children, who then return to Greece and have zero job prospects because all the good jobs go to those who know someone, not those who know something.

Let's start with the most important thing, the thing that Greeks toast each other with instead of Cheers - good health. Take for example the NHS. That's a system the British love to complain about, but boy do you miss it when you can't have it any more. When I tell my Greek friends that you can walk into any clinic or hospital and get what you need without paying a penny and without having to slip bribes under the table, they're amazed.

With the crushing taxes that Greeks pay, don't they deserve something similar? I think yes. In my opinion, privatised medicine are two words that should never appear side by side. Doesn't a young, nervous, first time Greek mother deserve the right to have her baby safely and naturally under the guidance of doctors and nurses who have her interests at heart, rather than the doctor who will bully her into needless surgical intervention because surgery means a little extra in his pocket from the insurance company? Greece is now top in Europe for Caesarean sections at 44% instead of the WHOs recommended maximum of 15% - why is no one even talking about that? Because the medical insurance companies the government let in are so powerful.

This is country that could be absolutely anything, but because of so many years of such corrupt governments, nothing ever changes. Shabby schools and bored teachers who come to life all of a sudden at the Frondistereo after school schools where they get paid more. In giving the children of Greece such a shitty state school system, the government is basically sticking two fingers up at them and saying "Let them eat cake". I mean, there are so many really good private schools, right? Which everyone can afford, especially when their parents earn EUR 700 a month. Cake! Cake for all!

But I'm just ranting. Harsh as it sounds, not a thing will change in Greece until these old grandpas running the country die off, and some fresh young blood forces its way in. If I'm still hearing Karamanlis and Papandreou in 20 years time, I'll set the Parliament on fire!

Here's hoping.