Snapshots of a crisis

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Trying to describe what the financial crisis is like here is hard.

There’s the obvious signs; the closed businesses, the slashed salaries and pensions, the unemployment, and the media and economists with their very disheartening estimations and future projections.

But the truth is, you feel it the most through the little things.

It’s in the fact that half my phone contacts are out of date. The friends and acquaintances they belonged to are currently dispersed all over the globe, in search of greener pastures and employment.

It’s the fact that for the last two years, my apartment building has not had central heating because half of the residents simply cannot pay for the gas. And before it gets all a bit Dickensian, I’m personally fine. Air conditioning and more layers than a nineties teenager discovering grunge keep me warm, but don’t know how the pensioner lady in the third floor is doing.

It’s my favourite dive bar. All drink prices slashed to ridiculously low, even by today’s standards, because God bless old anarchist Exarcheia bar owners and their social conscience. And of course, the mandatory for Greece complimentary crisps or nuts are a thing of the past.

It’s a friend telling me how people go back to the supermarket to return an extra packet of pasta they bought just so they can offset the price of buying some cheap cut meat.

It’s young people stating, without a hint of irony, that they’re not doing ‘too bad’ on a 360 euro a month salary. That’s partly due to not paying rent, because moving away from your parents’ house even in your thirties is impossible. For survival rather than some old quaint Greek ‘family first’ concept.

It’s walking fast and trying not to make eye contact with the countless homeless people in the city centre, which is something I’d become used to in London, but used to be unimaginable here. Even the extended family and friends safety net we used to have here, in lieu of a proper social state, has become shredded to bits.

It’s older relatives, family friends and neighbours, everyone from the pharmacist to the baker, meeting my announcement of moving to the UK with a brief ‘good for you’. And while this might sound reasonable, one thing the essence of Greece has never been is that. Just a few years prior, I would have gotten meddling, ridiculous and often hilarious comments.

“But what will you do, all alone abroad?” Ignoring that grew up abroad and I’m a grown woman.
“But what will you eat there?” Because adults able to cook for themselves is a radical concept.
“They are different from us there!” Something I am quite comfortable with.
But the gist of those arguments was always: “But why would you ever want to live anywhere else?”

That question is unthinkable now. I never had that absurd certainty of living in the ‘best place on earth’ due to my own inability to fit in there. The loss, however, of that absolute almost religious certainty by those who had it, hurts more than I ever expected it to. Like the older generation’s non-reaction to most of the young people pouring out like blood surging from a mortal wound, it’s just confirmation that we are a dead country walking. Still breathing and moving but has lost something that will never be regained.

It’s the absolute absence of hope.

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