I’ve found that those of us who left Greece to escape the bottomless abyss of economic despair tend to fall into two categories. Those obsessed with maintaining ties with home, closely following all news on Greece and constantly discussing how bad things have gotten and offering ideas of differing practicality/feasibility but uniform enthusiasm tinged with a touch of desperation. And then there’s the other group. Those who throw themselves into their new life and try not to think about what they left behind, whether because doing so is too painful or to assuage the guilt of feeling like the proverbial rat swimming away from the sinking ship.
I’m firmly in the second category — hell, I’d say I pretty much embody it if it weren’t for the fact that my relationship and ties to my country have always been complicated, in the way that national identity is for all of us cultural mongrels (mixed country, army brats, anyone who’s spent their childhood dragged from country to country, gaining a lot of unique insight but losing something in the process).
There’s a line from a Greek song my mother used to play when I was little that’s been on my mind a lot lately, loosely translated as “It’s one thing to die for Greece, and another to die from her”.
For all that there are aspects of my country that I cannot abide, at my core, I love it. Desperately. But it doesn’t love me, or the rest of this lost generation (and the one after, and after) back. Loving Greece these days is a painful, and disappointing and entirely one-sided endeavor, hence why Greeks within and without her borders nowadays seem to be polarized into extremes, of either almost obsessive nostalgia, banging against the walls, embracing ugly nationalism or, in my case, simply cutting all ties.
A funny thing happens when you return here. For all that it’s changed, for all that you’ve managed to reimagine your life as if your time here has never been, it still feels like regaining something of yourself that you hadn’t even realised is missing. From stepping outside the airport and being hit with blazing sunlight and 25 degrees in October, to being bombarded by questions and comments like “you’re nothing but skin and bones” (a phrase Greek mothers are required by law to repeat on a regular basis), to hearing updates on a range of people that you can barely remember and don’t particularly care about if you do, to witnessing the stark contrast between half the shops on your street being boarded up and people digging in the trash for food on one hand, and young trendy pretty things desperately having fun on the other, to feeling both safer and more exposed than abroad, it gives you that mixture of exasperation, and frustration, and fondness, and just rightness that only being back can bring.
The truth is, no matter how I try to deny it, this place is in my heart, always. So with the perspective granted by time and distance, I will try to fully embrace all it has to offer, good and bad, and maybe along the way gain some understanding.