February 2010. I have just returned home after two months in India, where I participated in a volunteer program that took me to a number of orphanages and special schools in the wider area of Kochi. Home is Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece. Now, I didn’t see much of the true horror that is poor India, but what I’ve seen was horror enough. So, here I am, reading my paper and sipping my coffee in the station cafeteria, waiting for the train that will take me to my parents’ home for a visit. The newspaper is filled with imaginative proclamations of the horror to come, and in the TV opposite me some left wing politician is roaring about how they will lead us to starvation (by “they” he means pretty much anyone who’s not Greek). I watch him amused. And I chuckle. These people know nothing about starvation.
Now, let’s fast forward to summer 2013. I have finished my second MA, done a number of internships, and here I am; skilled, highly qualified, and unemployed for longer than I care to remember. The only job I’ve found is in a call centre, talking to a minimum of 100 people per hour (trying to sell them a kind of health insurance program they couldn’t afford even if they truly needed it), for 6 hours per day (except for when I do the evening shift as well, not for extra money of course –God forbid!– but simply out of the kindness of my heart), 5 days per week, for three hundred euros per month. That was not a typo. The shabbiest apartment, far from the city centre, no more than a room in the basement of some old crappy building costs at least 180€ per month in my city. There is no such thing as all inclusive rent. Add electricity, heating (winter in Thessaloniki is surprisingly cold and humid), water, a landline with internet connection and you’ve reached 260€. That’s the most optimistic estimate I can make for you. Add another 30€ per month for public transportation to get to work. As for food, let me just tell you that the prices I pay in German supermarkets today are exactly the same as in Greece. Only the average salary in Germany has four digits… I shouldn’t forget to mention that I’m also in black labour, which means no contract, no health insurance, no unemployment benefits if (or more like when) I get fired. Of course, I take the job. I am no longer laughing. The joke is now on me.
Why am I telling you all this? It is not because I want your sympathy. In fact, your sympathy insults me. It is neither because I want your help; it is rather presumptuous to think that you can help anyone but yourself, and honestly no country has been left unscathed by the financial crisis; if you really feel the need to help, start helping the people living in the streets of your city. All I want is for you to understand, so that you will no longer look at me and see news articles and horrific headlines. So that you will stop passing easy judgments on others and will learn a thing or two about the real Greek crisis.
Check back next week, when I will try to explain to you why most of what you’ve read about the Greek crisis was in fact lies.