Thursday, August 30

AHMET

On my way home today, a skinny little man got on the bus and, with a small bow-like gesture, asked if he could sit beside me. I responded that indeed he could, and so he sat and gave me a shy smile, and I smiled back, and etsi started a conversation. It wasn't a terribly singular conversation, but it made an impression on me. So this, to the best of my memory (and slightly condensed), is how it went:

AHMET: Where are you from?
ME: Canada.
AHMET: Ah! Toronto!?
ME: No, Montreal.
AHMET: Ah, Montreal. I have a friend in Canada. But I thought that you were from France.
ME: Really, France? Why?
AHMET: (Shrugs and gestures - at my attire, I suppose.)
ME: So, where are you from?
AHMET: Pakistan.
ME: And how long have you been in Greece?
AHMET: Two years.
ME: And before that?
AHMET: Oh, many places... many places... Always moving nowadays, you know? People are always moving, here, there. How many days are you here for?
ME: I live here. Four years now.
AHMET: (Total shock and incredulity registering on his face.) Why??
ME: Well, my father is Greek.
AHMET: And your mother?
ME: Russian and Polish. (This seems to sit better with him.)
AHMET: And your name?
ME: Ranya. You?
AHMET: Different name, Ranya. Hello, I'm Ahmet. (We shake hands.)
ME: So, do you like it here?
AHMET: No. It's very bad country. Not friendly to foreigners at all...
ME: That's true...
AHMET: You like it?
ME: Well, it's got its good things and its bad things, you know? Like anywhere.
AHMET: Yes... good and bad... Job good?
ME: No, not really. I want to go to the islands, to a village. I think it'll be much nicer there, close to nature.
AHMET: Yes, probably much better... Funny to hear different opinion about Greece! I like to hear that... Interesting.
ME: What about you? Have you found a job here?
AHMET: No. Two years I'm looking now and I haven't found anything. Very bad for jobs here. I'm small man, you know? So it's hard for me to find...
ME: Yes, I imagine it's much more difficult for you here than for me...
AHMET: Yes, very difficult. Government very corrupt, police very bad. Worst country in Europe. And now they let these people die in fires... very bad, very bad.
ME: Yes. It's horrible... So, you want to leave, then?
AHMET: Yes, I want to go to Spain. I have friend there. And little sister in Holland. No problems.
ME: And your parents are still in Pakistan?
AHMET: Yes, and my other sister. Studying medical in Islamabad. In two years she'll be doctor. Very good for me, very good for my family.
ME: You must miss Pakistan. Do you ever think of going back?
AHMET: Yes, of course. But very bad country, too. Government changing every two years, very corrupt. And no jobs. But maybe, if god is kind and I make money in Spain, I can go back.
ME: What do you want to do in Spain?
AHMET: Open business, if god is kind. You know, like McDonalds?
ME: A fast food restaurant?
AHMET: Yes.
ME: Well good luck with that!

Ahmet seemed to find this very funny (I guess relying on luck for something, instead of god's kindness?) but alas it was my stop so I bid him farewell and went to get off. As I did, though, he called out, still smiling like it was a really good joke, "Good luck to you too!" And so we parted.

I wasn't going to editorialise, but allow me just one comment, please. Perhaps even more interesting than the conversation were the reactions of the Greeks and other immigrants on the bus:
The 20-something Greek cool guy, studied nonchalance, eyes continuously averted and headphones in, but he managed to make his way over to near where we were sitting, and kept leaning in to hear better.
The 50-something Greek man, openly staring, completely flabbergasted.
The 70-something Greek woman, openly distasteful, many shakes of the head and mouth turned down in distaste.
The 40-something Filipino woman, openly hostile, seemingly directed (from the angle of her glare) at Ahmed. Perhaps he was breaking some unwritten social rule by talking to me, a non-immigrant?
The 30-something African dude, completely impassive. In fact, he seemed to be the only person on the bus not at all phased by our talk.

And those were only the people within my line of sight.

And isn't it sad that just a simple, everyday conversation engendered such a strong reaction?

And also, it just occurred to me, why are people from less developed countries called 'immigrants', while we from the West are called 'expats'? Are we not immigrants, too?

Sunday, August 26

FIRES

What a sad reason to return to the blogging world, but I really feel the need to join Ellas devil and others in expressing how at a loss for words I am regarding the fires.

Or maybe I do have a word: enraged.

At whom is this rage directed? Politicians? Arsonists? I can't say. It's just kind of a blanket rage, I guess, the rage one feels when one sees something one loves being destroyed, and can do nothing to stop it.

So there's another word: impotence.

It's awful sitting here, watching the news in spurts for as long as I can take it, in a mournful, funereal silence, and not being able to DO anything. Anything to help. Anything to punish those responsible, either by their actions or by their lack thereof.

With elections looming ahead, I am left with no one to vote for. There is no lesser of two evils here - both are equally bad. Not even, anymore, a small party I can trust and rely on to not make me cringe when they state their opposition. So politically, too, I am impotent.

And what of the victims of the fires? Those who have lost their livelihoods, homes and loved ones? Is no aid being organised for them? Will there be no international relief funds set up, as there have been for numerous others the world over who have experienced tragedy of late? Karamanlis has promised those affected 13,000 euros compensation. It's almost better to offer nothing at all, no? The amount is just insulting when your home, your crops, your family is gone. And on the other hand he's got a spare million lying around for those who provide information leading to the arrest of arsonists. What should our priorities be, really? Does the need for revenge, to make someone pay, surpass the needs of the victims? Here, too, I am impotent, unable to offer any comfort, help or words of support to those whose lives have been ruined.

I can't help thinking, too, of the irony of the blood tax, a term fittingly coined by teacher dude, that these fires will no doubt serve to pay.

Most of all, however, watching the ashes fall, I feel sad and devastated at the senseless loss of our beautiful land and forests, which neither we nor our grandchildren will see restored in our lifetimes, if ever. The rains are coming next week, or so they say, and while they may aid in quenching the thirst of the fires, they will also wash away the detritus left by them - nutrient rich ashes which, if allowed to soak into the soil undisturbed, would render it fertile again. If they are washed away, the land will become completely and permanently barren.

We can only hope for the best, hope without reason that the government will manage to pull itself together in the wake of the blazes and take measures to minimize the damage, start reforestation, and most of all do whatever it can to stop the land from being developed. Sadly, I fear that none of these things will come to pass, and that the half of Greece which has been burnt will be lost to us forever.

In the face of that possibility, I am truly left speechless.

UPDATE: The Hellenic Red Cross is accepting cash donations for the purchase of essential items for those in need. These can be deposited at the following bank:

Bank of Attica
23 Omirou Str, Athens – Greece, under the indication ‘Fires in Greece'
Bank account: 069/84298361
IBAN: GR54 0160 0690 0000 0008 4298 361
Swift Code: ATTIGRAA XXX

For details, visit www.redcross.gr/files/preliminary_emergency_appeal.pdf

Thanks to buruburu for the link.