Monday, March 17, 2008

Looking back on the last 12 months, I've certainly done alot of travelling. Stepping on and off planes, meeting new and interesting people. Encountering new situations. Whether it was last summer's trek trhough the midwest, the Thanksgiving visit to New York City or the spring trip to Europe, I'd say it's been a pretty restless year for me. Thursday marks my departure to Rome and Hungary for easter. Should be a blast. The trip to Egypt and Israel is in full swing now, I've made a downpayment to signify my commitment.

The last few weeks here have certainly been interesting. Whether we were at a carnival celebrating lent, a festival celibrating the phallus or just chilling at a taverna I am continually shocked by the caliber of people that I come across. But now, I am ready to unveil the most startling revelation thus far. I am ready to tell you the most interesting thing I have learned while living among Greeks. When I came here, I thought that the feeling of euphoria was temporary- perhaps a side effect of the excitement caused by a new enviroment. I thought the differential I felt in the ebb and flow of time was percieved, not actual. But gradually I started to become more aware of my surroundings. It's not that I percieve time to be slower here- it is slower. It's not just my opinion that the culture is more carefree- it actually is. And the evidence is everywhere. When my friends and I go out to a Taverna, all of Greece is with us without a care in the world. When I am liesurely walking outside by the waterfront at 3 am on a thursday morning, and decide to stop in for pastries, I immediatley find I did not have a novel idea. All of Thessaloniki is behind me. Of course there are things that must be accomplished, jobs to be done. But this truely IS a parallel universe. I question if the words "deadline", "expedience"or "bedtime" are even part of the Greek vocaublary. It's the most bizzare thing- especially coming from a culture of urgency.

Case in point: there have been many strikes recently, but two main strikes are holding strong: the bank strike and the sanitation strike. I know, I know. Probably the two worst types of strikes to have. The Greek National bank has been closed for 2 weeks. Some select private banks still function, but this is like shutting down Bank of America. It's a big deal. Iron mesh gates and barbed wire fences seal off the teal-green glass doors to all the major branches. The ATMs are on, but will not dispense cash except for a 2 hour window during the afternoon- which makes it increasinly difficult to get money. Normally, this would not be an issue in the States. However, in Greece the infastructure is not so well equipped. Let me be more clear: NOBODY TAKES CREDIT CARD.

Want to go shopping? Better have cash.
Want high end electronics? Bring hundreds or euros.
Want to buy a bus or train ticket? Cash only, sorry.
Going to a resturant? It can be a hassle.

Being without cash never alamed me at home. It was normal in fact. I'll swipe some shoelaces and a pack of gum on my debit card for $2.00. Here, no such luck. Being without paper is the same as having no debit card at all. So now you can see why the bank strike is such a big deal. Factor in the issue that everything is expensive and you have a catch-22 of sorts. You are always spending money (whether is is a taxi to get home, or paying for a shopping cart at the store. YES, you have to RENT a shopping cart). On the other hand, this money goes quicky, but due to the shortage, you don't know when you will be able to get more money out. It's a real headache. But we deal with it and work out way around it. Let's call it a lesson in finance.

Then there is the TRASH strike. I've never seen a more absurd problem. Imagine a world where you leave your trash out at the curb, yet nobody comes to pick it up. So you pile more and more. And then more. Still nobody comes. Imagine that problem in a city with the population density of New York City..and you have big issues. And compound all this with the fact that every human being smokes. My lungs hate me. The trash is getting out of hand here while sanitation workers negotiate for new salaries. Every block is a miniature mountain of trash. The funny thing is, it doesn't smell. Well, I'm sure it does. But we're all used to it. I'm actually grateful to get up to school in this instance so I can breathe that fresh mountain air.

Lastly is the electricity strike in which power may go out for hours at a time without warning or reason. The good news is it doesn't affect my neighborhood because I am 2 blocks away from a hospital- which leads me to believe we are part of a main power line on the grid which they cannot disconnect. Although I have to admit, that hospital scares me. Every person I see limp out of those dilapidated, decrepit doors makes me sick to my stomach. They are always horribly bandages and bloodsoaked. The property is frequented by the seediest Thessaloniki has to offer, and their one converted-hatchback ambulance is hardly suffice. It's like a bad horror movie. It's the hospital for the uinsured. I will say this though, I think they have running water.

Ok, done painting pretty picutes for now.


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