I am currently spending a week in Athens on an EVS On-Arrival Seminar. Over 50 volunteers between 18 and 30 have attended from countries all over Europe. We make up 9 of these volunteers and no-one can quite believe that there are so many of us from one organisation. It is very interesting to find out what other projects people are working on, from looking after old people to architecture to working in radio. Everyone seems completely committed to what they’re doing which creates a really stimulating and heartening atmosphere. Mostly we have been playing all the “get to know each other” games while “working as a team” which, being 29 and English I found quite tiresome at first, however some of the ideas were actually a lot of fun in the end. For example in the Greek language lesson we had to design a product and create a TV advert in Greek; I didn’t learn much Greek but I laughed my arse of all the way through.
We are all staying in a Hotel in Omonia square, very near the city centre. We were warned before we arrived that it is a very dangerous place, especially after dark. Some advice we got was to not take a bag out with you, and to always get a taxi back to the hotel. This is difficult to follow as it is not very practical, but we have managed to keep out of harms way so far by staying in big groups.
A 10 minute walk down Athinas road brings us to Monastiraki which holds an abundance of shops, bars and restaurants. Along the way we pass the electrifying fish market and a heartbreaking pet shop. Dozens of small birds, puppys, kittens and rodents were squashed into tiny cages. A full grown parrot looked depressed and ruffled in a lonely cell. It was extremely saddening. I wasn’t allowed to take photos.
The Flea Market in Monastiraki, consists of one winding road alined with shoes, t-shirts and tourist curiosity. A very toned down Camden. The most impressive shop was the bead shop. I could’ve spent hours in there, it looked just magical. Rows upon rows of all kinds of shapes, sizes and colours, and the overall effect was mezmerising. The market wasn’t very big, but big enough to have shops start to repeat themselves towards the end. But with the Acropolis creating a breathtaking backdrop, it was purely breathtaking.
I eventually made it inside the Acropolis, on the last day two of us decided to make the sweaty trip up the steep hill for a 30 minute intense history lesson. I have to admit that I was a little underwhelmed. I was expecting to be transported back to ancient times where I could imagine toga cladded greeks philosophising in sandalled feet. This was not to be.
The scaffolding on the buildings, together with the bags of cement and soulless metal cranes seemed to completely ruin this illusion.
However, the view from the top of the hill, is utterly sensational. There are panoramic views of the whole of Athens, you can even see the cruise ships going out to sea from Piraeus port. This is definitely worth the endurance of the sweltering climb.
The most inspiring time to see the Acropolis is from a distance and at night. The walls and pillars are lit up perfectly (unfortunately these spot lights add to the day time disappointment) and you can also see the same city scape but, from a different aspect. Instead of white houses, there’s lights, music and romance; well the latter I just assumed. You can also still see the cruise ships, only recognisable from the cabin lights all forming the identifiable cruise ship definition.
I used up a whole Lomography film on my new camera taking photos of this however, with film it takes a while. Fingers crossed they do it justice.
One very interesting part of Athens is a small area called Anafiotika. It is supposed to resemble the Greek islands within the centre of Athens. Traditional white washed houses lining tiny winding streets and steps. It was built by the Anafi people who were contracted to build the Acropolis because of their profound construction skills.This is where they lived at the time. It is a really impressive and calming break from the city stresses and heat, and it just looks so quaint. At other points the walls are adorned with graffiti, some good, some bad, some political. I enjoyed all of it. An essence of “cutting edge”.
When I heard I was going to Athens for a week I was excited by all the culture, ancient history and traditional arts that I would experience. But, on arrival there, I was faced with a very different and lesser known side to Athens that is not particularly celebrated. This involves the effects of the crisis. Once the media reports of the 2011 riots and subsequent bail out had stopped, most of us just went on with our daily business and didn’t really look into how this had effected the Greek citizens and businesses (aside from the occasional “it will be cheap to go on holiday” joke). I must say, in Athens, it is rather devastating. Shops and restaurants are closed, any that are open are desperate for some custom. Homelessness is at an all time high, heroin addicts shoot up openly in the street they also beg profusely for any means to an end. Stray dogs attack overflowing rubbish bins, and prostitution is rife. Street crime is commonplace and I was almost robbed on the Metro coming home from the Acropolis, he was not a professional so didn’t get away with anything however, this was a warning.
I have never felt nervous walking around any city, but Athens gave me a chill. One time outside the hotel, I witnessed a local man with a problem. He was shouting, and waving his arms. He then took a run up to the concrete pillar, and smashed head first into it. He repeated, still shouting. He repeated again, his head now dripping with blood. The hotel receptionist came out and joined me, he explained “he is trying to kill himself, he’s on drugs”. He smacked into the wall a couple more times, when eventually a policeman appeared and kicked him out of the way. He then crumpled on the cold floor in an emotional mess. He was cleaned up and taken away in an ambulance 30 minutes later. A long time I thought.
This is the effects of the new drug called Sisa and is the biggest issue I became aware of when in Athens. It is made from crystal methamphetamine, but cut with something else – usually battery acid. It can kill someone within months, but at only 1 Euro a hit, the addicts see it as an easy high. The affects of this inhumane stimulant are extremely violent. People become completely de-tatched from reality and are likely to either harm themselves or anyone else. It melts the insides and quickly destroys all the organs one by one. A horrible situation, and it will have devastating consequences. Apparently the Greek government is aware of this problem and has recently been trying to tackle it. They send police vans early in the morning, rounding up all the drug addicts and dealers from a certain area then would drive them into the suburbs, leaving them to survive on their own. What a perfect solution! They are then out of the way of paying tourists and desperate business owners. I heard that Omonia, where we were staying, used to be a lot worse until this evacuation happened. I can not imagine it. Some people think there will be a revolution, others think it will be all over soon, most people think it can only get worse. Athens; culture, ancient history, arts, crisis, homelessness, drugs, needles, violence, blood, corruption.
To find out more about SISA in Athens please watch “Cocaine for the Poor” a documentary released in May this year. It’s available on Vice and you tube.by Katie with 7 comments