6 August, Athens
I flew into Athens and it looked quite spread out at first, many hills and mountains. The sparkling blue sea contrasts with this widespread city. I found out later it was much larger than I realized, around 4 million people.
I caught a modern bus, similar to Action (Canberra buses) and it was clear I was in Europe as the signs were in metric and the standard road signs. I found the ticket office and bought a ticket for 3 euro. I found a map and off the bus went. Then after a while I realized I didn’t have my suitcase, I quickly told this girl who spoke English, she told the driver and he stopped at the next stop. I had to go back to the airport and to my relief my bag was still there. I then jumped on the next bus and off I went and I informed the driver to let me know where to get off. I walked up and down the street with my suitcase trying to find a travel agency which was my marker. Then this lovely guy comes up to me with English and offers to guide me to the address I am seeking. He also rings Vanessa my couch surfing host and she informs him how to guide me.
I walk into the apartment block and two Australian’s walk in, my new friends Los and Maddy. We went up and met with Vanessa. She is a lovely Greek lady who says she is addicted to couching surfing hosting. She has met so many people.
Vanessa organized a couch surfing meeting in Athens, there were around 40 people that turned up. I jumped up and organized everyone to speak one at a time to introduce themselves. I met some really nice people and talked about 2012 and found to my surprise people quite open. People sense there are problems in the world and I find they are hoping for a better world.
I was chatting for a while and then noticed a guy in jocks (pants) lying on the grass with his legs spread like a snow angel. Apparently he was an exhibitionist or mentally ill. I didn’t really notice him for a while and wondered how he felt when everyone was chatting and not really aware. It did make me contemplate on the situation for Athenians. I was aware that the financial crisis had hit Athens hard also there was a prevailing mood of sadness wherever we went. People didn’t smile or say thank you and it was confirmed to me later that there is much sadness in Athens. I thought how sad given the beauty of the area around them. Not unlike the Kashmiri’s they felt sad for different reasons, yet I am sure if they were under military control, they would realise the financial crisis is not that bad. The sorrow reflects expectations and how people equate their happiness with money.
As the night continued I met briefly a NZ guy called Malcolm and a Bangladeshi guy Raj who worked for the Bangladesh government and with the UN. Towards the end of the night I got a foot massage from Raj, he then started teaching another guy, so the next leg was massaged, then another 3 people massaged my hands and my neck. I was told later some of the girls were jealous as I was being pampered, couldn’t believe my luck. Then later on Los, Maddy and I caught the train home. Vanessa and another Egyptian guy Meto came much later around 6am.
The next day Vanessa took us up the coast around 70km’s to visit the beaches. Saw the umbrella’s and the crystal sparkling waters of the Mediterranean. It was wonderful seeing so many islands. The weather was very hot around 40 degrees. I was extremely keen to go for a swim. I was not lost on the difference between Egypt and Greece, where I can wear shorts and was relieved to be able to allow the air and sun to shine on my exposed body. I felt sorry for the Egyptian women, especially in Alexandria which is the other side of the Mediterranean. They cannot strip off to bathers and go for a swim. I was aware that men in that part of the world saw women as having no mystery if they were not wearing much, whereas I don’t think there was much reflection on just simply allowing one’s skin to be exposed to the sun, great for vitamin D.
The following day Vanessa decided to take us on a tour of the riot area where there was violence. She showed us a picture of a boy who had been killed. There was much graffiti reflecting disdain and anger towards the police. She said on the day of the riot she was leaving work and had to find another way home, she said it was scary. We sat in the square where it happened and she informed us the university was near by and this was a place that was political and students would come. We were also shown the poorer area, Los and Maddy had stayed in a hotel and said they saw people shooting up heroin outside, one guy had a needle sticking out of his arm. Los was shocked at how open it was. Maddy grew up in Kings Cross and said she also thought it was very visible. They were quite surprised by the social problems.
We then walked to see the Athens Library, University and the Parliament. I saw a statue which depicted a philosopher in the pose of ‘I think therefore I am’. I contemplated the fact this is the city that birthed what we call today democracy. Yet there were anarchy symbols all over the city and I didn’t get the feeling people felt heard. We went across to Parliament to watch the changing of the guard. That was quite impressive with their dresses and large shoes. I stood next to one of the soldiers at the end, as others were getting photos, and I started to juggle for fun. I heard him stomp his foot, clearly he didn’t like it. Then a soldier stood in front of me and said ‘stop’ angrily. I said ‘what is the problem?’ he said ‘you are showing no respect’. He said ‘do you know where you are?’, I said ‘yes I am in front of Parliament’. He said ‘this is the memorial for the unknown soldier.’ I didn’t know that, in truth he had been rude to me, all I was doing was juggling. Then my friend Maddy stood next to the soldier for a picture and just moved her shoulder up and down, he then came up again shouting, get away. I had to laugh as we walked away, I felt they took themselves way too seriously. In London, Buckingham Palace the soldiers would never react. There is always the temptation to make them react to test their discipline, but I didn’t think I was rude. Anyway, I thought about democracy some more and wondered about freedom of speech. I certainly got the feeling that people were under surveillance here as there were many police in black uniforms, heavily armed with flack jackets. Population control yet again.
We walked through the city square down into another market place with an old church and many small shops for the tourists. There were bars and coffee shops all around. We stopped at one of the bars which was an art deco type bar. They had rooms dedicated to surrealist art using modern lighting, film and effects. One room had water in a round bowl and light was shone up on the ceiling and musically tones were played which sent ripples out. The vibrations of music were made visible through the water. It was quite fascinating. Another room had people’s words and drawings put up in a gallery style. There were funny comments, interesting drawings all about life. I found myself thinking about the importance of listening to many voices. Democracy enriches society. We had a drink and the 5 of us had a chat, it was nice and relaxing. We then made our way home and cooked up food. Vanessa invited another 5 or 6 people and it was a banquet.
It was a big night with everyone chatting until around 4am. In this house it is very hot and the rooms are not sealed so you can hear everything. I was exhausted as I haven’t had good sleep and was keen to go to bed. On saying goodnight this woman sung my praises, I was surprised at how impressed she was. She told me she was unhappy and I held her hands and told her she was in fact a very generous person. she spent much time speaking with people, laughing and really positive, so for a sad person she gave a lot in my view. She said to others afterwards that she would like to be more the person I am. I did say to her what you see in another is a reflection of yourself. I do sincerely believe this is true. If someone sees something good in me, how can they see it unless they know it in themselves. That is my theory anyway.
The next day Los and Maddy and myself headed into Athens we saw the ruins in the railway station, apparently the station was being built and they discovered ruins so it took more years to build as they had to build around them. Looked good walking over Perspex bridges. We then went to the markets via Monastiraki station. Not far from the markets in the centre of Athens was the Ancient Agora ruins. There were a few statues and pillions and rocks around in a square. They had pictures depicting what it originally looked like. We then walked to the museum and had a look at the ancient pottery, jewellery, currency, statues and a whole range of artifacts. It described the different periods. We went to the toilets and I couldn’t find the flusher, turns out it is a foot flusher on the floor, the hand basins work the same way. I did laugh and take a photo.
We then walked up to the Acropolis which can be seen on a hill overlooking Athens. It is a steep walk past local shops and roman head dresses. We called into one shop and he showed me his hand made jewellery in coils of silver and copper, said he had made them for 20-30 years. I was very impressed. As we walked up to the Acropolis I realized just how big Athens is. It is huge as you will see in the pictures. We walked up to the Hellenic style temples, the Acropolis apparently was built for the gods, as Adelphi was told in a prophesy to allocate this place to worshipping the gods. There would have been marble staircases up to this site. To the side of the site was the theatre of Dionysos and another called the Odeum of Herodes. These looked like large forums. My friend maddy said they were for sacrifice as they appeased the gods. So spirituality was central to Athenian life.
We came back to Vanessa’s place and met with Vanessa and Raj. The guys made a lovely salad and we had wine out on the balcony. It was great talking to Raj about his experience in government and his dealings with dignitries. We discussed how hard it would be to live that life having to always follow protocol and demanding heads of state. I doubt I could be false to people and I don’t think I could put up with spoilt people, I am too honest. Anyway, he described his job and how he had worked with villages in Bangladesh, had them enrolled, fallen down mountains, been approached by wild elephants. Apparently 13 of them had killed villagers and he said they climbed up the mountain as they were hungry. Their trunks apparently are very sensitive to smell and they can smell up to 100km I think. He said his group had food and they came for it. But he said he lite flares and he tried to talk to the elephants to not come closer. He believed the head elephant understood and the elephants left. I was fascinated by that story and how hard it is for animals to coexist with people. This guy had also worked in air traffic control, we discussed a wide range of peace issues and the corruption that seems to exist everywhere. Greed and power structures are the map of the world, it will be great when there is a mass understanding that these systems are not working. The more people are engaged in decision making and responsibility from a heart centred approach, the quicker the world will change and the more compassionate people will become. How important are values I thought, I know my work is on the right track but am waiting to get a foothold so I can pass my knowledge on. I showed Raj my peace work in photos and explained how I taught and the concepts and experiential learning that was in my course, he said he had never seen work such as mine. My hope is that perhaps I can offer my work to schools in Bangladesh, but will wait and see if he contacts me.
My stay in Athens was coming to a close. I was sad to say goodbye to Los and Maddy and so surprised at how mature and wise they were for people in their twenties. It was great to hear Australian voices and I could easily see how we do have our own culture, even though we do bag it from time to time. I love the easy going nature of the Australian spirit, it is truly unique in the world and a joy to be around. Said goodbye to Vanessa and wanted to convey to her how truly wonderful and kind she is as a host. She demonstrated peace by her hospitality and to think she did this all for free. She gained much through meeting new people but she gave much as well. We bought her a small token of our gratitude, a necklace with love hearts all around it as that was indeed what she was sharing. Raj headed off, this was his first couch surfing experience and he loved meeting new people. Very friendly, very intelligent and a wonderful dancer, full of energy for life and interesting stories. We really loved listening to him. He made the world smaller by sharing his life experience, for such a young man, he had done a lot. Maybe we work together in the future. I hope so.
On Tuesday 10th August, I was packed and ready to go to London, caught the train to the airport and off off and away. I said goodbye to Athens as I flew out over the many hills and looked forward to visiting my old home in London. I may even see my ex husband.