I hope I’m not interrupting your midday relaxation or your lunch break with friends. If you are still able to safely enjoy your social activities amidst the chaos and fear from the Coronavirus, I tip my hat and I’m raising my glass to you. Enjoy!
I am sitting at my kitchen table in my home in Athens waiting for an online meeting. It’s quieter than usual here these days. It feels as if fear and trouble have woven a net over the city. It is so thick that even the blooms of the almond trees and the early spring sun feels trapped and darkened. Am I being too dramatic?
Possibly. Some would argue that dramatization is an inseparable part of the Greek psyche. The truth is that I am experiencing an unprecedented amount of fear. Pure, undramaticized, core-shaking fear.
The news in this country is spreading faster than the truth, so much that they change even the fabric of reality. The front pages are split; half headline the Coronavirus; an unexpected pandemic that is spreading fast and is threatening the already collapsed healthcare system. If the 10-year economic crisis forced incoming patients to bring their own medical consumables and wait for days or months to be treated at the public hospitals, Coronavirus is pushing them even further. With not enough doctors, no medical supplies and no State support, the best one can do is hope; or maybe pray to the old myth’s goddess Fortuna. Assuming that you fill the criteria for such one summoning of course; you are neither miserable, nor ungrateful. And you have both self-confidence and creativity galore.
If not, you’ll have to ally with the Greek Orthodox God. Whose humble photogenic servants wear long black robes to contrast perfectly with the shimmering gold, emeralds and rubies hanging from their elderly sweaty necks. They preach far and wide that salvation is in the Holy Communion. (Holy Communion: bread crumbs mixed with sweet wine in the Holy Cup and passed to the congregation one by one using one communal spoon and cup). After all, faith in the one and true God wins over viruses and science. But only if your faith is real, deep and heart-felt. Only then, you shall have a place among the healthy chosen ones.
The other half of the news headlines the warlike atmosphere at the Greek-Turkish borders. The European-Turkish borders, if you like. Thousands of people are cramped in horrible conditions on one side of the border fence waiting to cross the line in hope of a better, European future. On the other side, police officers, Frontex and citizen border guards have closed down every single entry point, denying access and abolishing the right to safety and asylum to every single soul. After all, by now they are not people any more. They are a weaponized mass that Erdogan pushes forward to challenge the Union and satisfy his ever-growing thirst for power. A madman armed with thousands of desperate migrants and a handful of secret and non-secret armament deals Versus a European “family” that monitors their borders from the safety of the helicopter flying above and throws more money and police reinforcements to show solidarity to their poor old cousin doing the dirty job. The foundations of the Union are cracking once again.
As I said, these days Athens is quieter than usual. And yet the noise is deafening. Fear, anger and violence are taking so much space, you can almost see their material bodies. People are retracting to find their tribes, to name the enemy and throw themselves into a fierce and merciless battle against him. If you are not one of us, you are with the enemy. Your label is my rallying flag. You racist! You nazi! You anarchist! You nationalist! You traitor! You pussy! You terrorist! You fear, you hate, you anger, you violence…
I stopped talking to people as much. I started avoiding the unavoidable conflict. Polarisation. People I know and respect, people I love and care about started becoming harsher and more judgemental. Any sign of difference of opinion is enough to raise the eyebrow, to wrinkle the face, to search for the label. And I, that I’ve always despised labels, I feel like I’m playing the most vivid VR pre-apocalyptic game.
The screen widens-360.
I am walking on a slackline with a pair of overused shoes; my red old Allstars from my teen years and dreams. The rubber soles are worn off, the lashes overstretched; barely able to keep my ankles from shaking.
Beneath me is the chaos. A vast bottomless canyon where shadows and ghostly creatures find their keep. I hear their screeching voices louder with every step. I feel the boiling heat coming from underneath me and I am terrified.
Deep breath, one more step.
Find a stable point and keep your focus there.
Scanning. Stable points not found. Deep breath. Let’s try again.
My phone rings. Back to reality. I’ve got a remote meeting to attend for Reshape; a program that brings together culture professionals from the EuroMed region to work on changing the world.
Or at least to try.
Deep breath. Stable point found.
This calling deep inside. The fire to create. To find others with that fire, to share and stand together. Live better, work better, support better.
It takes a village to make a small change. And sometimes, the whole village is not able, is not willing or is at a different task. Sometimes a part of the village spends time analyzing the problems, another one criticizing the status quo or identifying the threats, some other visualizing brighter futures while another is still sleeping. The village is not free of conflict either. Fear comes in many faces, as many as the other, even in the same village. The village knows about privilege and knows about capital and violence too.
But the village has some fertile lands and seeds too. And the village needs to plant before it needs to feed. For seeds take time to grow and fruit take time to ripen and the soil of its lands is harsh and dusty and unclean.
And so, it needs a village for the planting. And for the cleaning and for the caring and for the nurturing. Through the conflict and the love, the pain and the joy, the loss and the creation, through the fears and the hopes, I'm walking on that slackline. In my old teens' shoes and dreams, with my shaking ankles and my little fire lit inside, I'm looking for this village. Do you know, stranger, if I'm close?
Thursday, 12th March 2020, 1pm, Athens
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