Last night’s Whatsapp conversation with my sister:
Me: “Can I post this selfie?”
*Posts selfie anyway*
Here it is folks. Regardless of how unflattering, I wanted to share the aftermath of getting caught in a hail-rain-thunder-lightning-flooding storm on my way home from buying a fan to beat the heat of the office yesterday. OH THE IRONY, I thought, while the freezing winds blew raspberries at me, making my sophistikhaki (new word, you like?) shorts cling to my shivering thighs, I WAS JUST SO HOT AND SWEATY AND NOW I AM SO COLD AND WET.
The storm started with hail on the metro, and grew to truly biblical proportions while I waded through the flooding streets (water up to my knees I tell ya!) on the seven-ish minute walk from the metro stop to my apartment. I consoled myself with a mini-mantra when I had to scoop up my phone, wallet, and new fan from the river at my feet after the paper shopping bag I was carrying completely disintegrated from the rain attack, “you’re ok, you’re ok, you’re ok.” Once I finally made it inside, a pathetic, blubbering mess with a pinecone in my shoe, I first took a selfie (priorities). Then I ran out to my balcony, where I remembered I had a bunch of laundry “drying,” and filmed the streets below.
I was kind of peeved, and not just because I was so wet. Right before I had made it into the (flooded) entrance of my apartment, I had to waddle past the 24-hour-café that is connected to my building, which I do every day. But this time I was met with the booming laughter of the café owner as I passed, complete with a point and nudge to his buddies to join in on observing my misery.
Ok, I get that I looked comical, and he had every right to laugh, but this guy is not my favorite person and he is representative of an ugly part of Greek society. I was annoyed at his smugness. Especially because after the shock of getting caught in the storm wore off, the only thing I could think about was how bad it must be for the people living in the camps I visited recently. I cannot imagine what a brief rainstorm does to the masses of tents on the red dirt grounds in Malakasa or Elliniko. I thought about the tent I was warmly welcomed into the other day in Schisto, where I was given tea and listened to 14 and 15-year-old girls answer my question that no, they do not feel safe at night—they can’t leave the tent after 8:00.
I wondered what the rain did to the “carpets” made out of layered UNHCR woolen blankets and the cardboard boxes full of personal belongings. I wondered what the rain did to the outdoor mosque at the Schisto camp, where mats were laid out under trees and atop the beds of pine needles—did the makeshift holy place float away in a muddy flood? I wondered what the rain of Athens, which broke my spirits in less than 10 minutes, did to the spirits of the thousands of asylum seekers who live outdoors in camps and city squats.
Maybe for some, it brought a brief and welcome respite from the heat, but I can’t imagine something much worse than flooding in the camps right now. I wondered if the café owner saw the conditions where the refugees are living, would he laugh at them too?
Sadly, he probably would. The very first time I went to the café, the owner asked me why I was in Athens. I told him I am here to work with a refugee organization for the summer. He responded immediately with, “I hate you.” Um, what? Is this sarcasm? He glared at me as I laughed nervously and said, “Oh? Why?” He explained that no, he doesn’t actually hate me, but he definitely hates the refugees who come to his country and make all of the problems Greece already has much worse.
A few days later I was sitting in the café, typing on my laptop, and from behind the counter he shouted at me, “kill all the refugees!” I turned to him and said, “What? Me?” And he said, “if you don’t, I will.” Whether or not this is all just part of a dark sense of humor, the sentiment is clear. And it is common. I used to pull out my phone and write down all of the negative responses I got when I told people what I’m doing in Athens, but now I just avoid telling people.
I know this is not the general feeling of Greeks toward the refugees and asylum seekers in their country, especially from the wonderful people I have met through my work at the Greek Forum of Refugees, but the vitriol with which otherwise kindly people speak about refugees is alarming. My landlord, for example, once explained his theory to me that Muslims are trying to conquer Europe, and they are “worse than wild animals.” Another woman from whom I used to buy my morning coffee proudly told me about how she refused to let her eight-year-old son bring milk to school when the teacher asked for donations for refugee children because, “if we have extra to give to people, we will only help our neighbors, not those strangers who ruin our country.”
The hate always comes with reason, of course. “We are in a financial crisis.” “There are no jobs for Greeks.” “Why can’t the rest of the world help?” “We don’t have enough to feed our children, why should we feed theirs?” Existing frustrations with domestic issues are understandable, but how far can one go to justify hatred? At what point do these words turn into actions? The GFR is in its second office, because the first one was vandalized and Yonous, our director, was physically attacked. The spike in hate crimes in England in the wake of Brexit is foreboding, and I wonder how far and fast it will spread.
Still, the positive outshines the negative around here. This weekend, the Greek Forum of Refugees will have a booth in the 19th Annual Anti-Racist Anti-Fascist Festival in Athens, and I’m really looking forward to chilling out and chowing down with the good kind of activists. And just to really make sure I don’t end on any sort of a sour note, let me leave you with a question that’s been nagging me lately: do Greek women not use tampons? Seriously, look at this picture I took while shopping the other day:
There are about 4 million varieties of pads and only two kinds of tampons, and they’re the WORST kinds. UGH. It’s quite perplexing considering that tampons find their origin in Ancient Greece. This might just have to be a lyric in my next song about Athens…
Posted By Mattea Cumoletti
Posted Jun 30th, 2016