Three days in Greece is not enough time to draw any conclusions about the refugee crisis or even much about the state of affairs in this economically bruised and battered country. So I’m only sharing observations. Opinions and conclusions will come later.
Observation #1 — Every other block in central Patras has an empty storefront. Patras is the 3rd largest city (pop. over 200,000) in Greece and a major commercial port tying Greece to Italy and Western Europe, but there’s a tangible feeling of melancholy hanging over everything. I rode a city bus out to the city’s southern neighborhoods and found the same. At least one vacant storefront on nearly every block. There was also evidence of alot of deferred public maintenance visible along the sidewalks, streets, parks and public plazas. On two different occasions, a young child came up to me asking me to buy their trinkets. Old men were walking around selling what looked to me to be lottery tickets. I saw many men and women in my age bracket (60+) out in the public spaces hustling their fellow Greeks, not tourists. I couldn’t understand them, but their despair was clear.
Observation #2 — The Communist youth group in Greece opposes the government’s plan to legalize cannabis for medical/health purposes. Why? Because they believe the government’s motive is to make the citizens stupid and control their heads. The pamphlets they distributed included information about the growing movement in the U.S. to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes. One organizer told me in her broken English “Capitalism is bad” and I sensed from her perspective that if the U.S. was doing it (legalizing marijuana) then it must be bad. I watched members of the group making their signs, setting up the sound speakers and trying to organize a rally with music and speakers. Their youthful enthusiasm reminded me of Occupy Wall Street, but without the critical thinking. It was such a dismal affair, with very little interest from the public and the musicians didn’t know how to do much more than strum a few bars and do “mic check” for more than an hour. I decided to take a bus ride and return later, but by 9:00 pm I called it quits.
Observation #3 — I met a young Greek man (29) back home on vacation from London where he’s living now and cooking. He’s a trained chef. He says he can make good money in London, even after paying rent and “living with dignity.” He’s saving money and wants to return to Greece in a better position. The current economic crisis in Greece is “very complicated” he told me. A combination of corrupt Greek politicians and civil servants who defrauded the citizens, as well as Germany and the EU blaming Greek citizens for being lazy and stupid to elect such idiots in the first place. Now the pensioners have been hit hard, their monthly stipend from the government has been greatly reduced forcing many into poverty. (This report from Sept. 2015 – Greece: A Perfect Storm – confirms the pensioners’ hardships.) When I asked him what he thought about the future, he said he doesn’t know, but he has to be optimistic. He loves his country. We were sitting on a bus riding from Patras to Athens on the second most dangerous road in the country, he said. Every few miles there was more road construction work. “We’ve paid for this dangerous road to be fixed for many years from our taxes, but it was never fixed. The politicians stole our money and didn’t fix anything.” I asked him where those politicians are now. He smiled and shook his head. “Probably hiding somewhere.”
Observation #4 – Many friendly people have helped me along my journey in Greece. I’ve been very fortunate traveling in this new territory, not knowing the language, and always finding my way. Today I took a bus from Patras to Athens (3+ hours), then a city bus in Athens to the Metro station, then a subway to one stop where I transferred to another subway, and finally to my destination in Piraeus. While transferring from one subway to another, there was a great deal of jostling as the doors were about to close. I sensed that something was not right, and pushed my way through. Fortunately, there were plenty of seats available. Then I noticed a compartment on my backpack was unzipped. ++DAMN!++ My phone and glasses were still there, so I chalked it up as neglectfulness on my part. Some women sitting across the aisle from me were very agitated and talking loudly and rapidly. One was holding a small black bag that had been thrown through the subway window and landed on her head. She feared it might be an explosive. I looked at it and realized it was my camera bag! Earlier I’d removed my camera to take some pictures, so the bag was empty. Without a camera, apparently the pickpocketer had no use for an empty camera bag and tossed it back into the train. The women told me that there’s alot of crime in Athens now because of the migrants. There isn’t enough security or police because the public payrolls have been cut. Just last week, one of the women had her cellphone stolen right out of her hand. They told me they were sorry it happened to me but this was a good lesson and didn’t cost me anything. They cautioned me to be careful with my things. I asked them how have things changed in Athens in the last 4-5 years. In unison, they each said crime has risen and the city public spaces are dirtier. They attributed both to the arrival of the migrants.