I am in Andros, a Greek Cycladic island. I sit under the shady mulberry trees in Hora, the capital of the island. It is a few days after the Referendum vote. I have a direct view of the ATM. The line gets longer and longer, old men, young women on line for their dose of 60 Euros if withdrawing from a Greek bank or unlimited if from a foreign bank. I watch my cousin, visiting from Pennsylvania, casually withdraw 500 Euros with no problem. After I finish some work in Hora I too try my debit card from a Greek bank at the ATM and get nothing. Not even the 60 Euros. I sway between uneasiness and patience. Perhaps the machine ran out of money. Perhaps the magic man will refill it while I am still in town and I can get today's 60 Euros. I live 15 kilometers away from Hora, so driving up and down in a car to test the ATM machine is not cheap. Gasoline was not available in Gavrio town when I tried filling the car a few days ago, so now that I did find gas in Hora I filled up (cash only), but I have to count the trips I must take to make sure I can get around. The Euros in my pocket seem to be shrinking. Today it is for groceries, yesterday to pay a bill, and most places here take credit cards reluctantly. The uneasiness has been following me around for days. All this leaves me baffled and destroyed.
I have been in Andros, the island my family is from, since June 23, when I arrived with writers from abroad to join this year's Aegean Arts Circle writing workshops, which I created and organize as I have done for the last 13 years. This year I had Guggenheim Fellow David Lazar as the workshop leader and the small group of writers ranged from college student to retiree—all here to spend focused time on writing while exploring this quiet Cycladic island only two hours away from Athens. The island's reputation is one composed of fables with ship owners, captains and wealthy people from far away, but reality is different. Many residents struggle, families have fallen through the cracks. What I see is everyone, from shop owner to visitor, is uneasy. While the workshop took place, I, as the sole organizer switched many hats from writer to participant to logistics person to the source for information on what was happening leading up to the referendum vote a few days ago. All this reality poking at me broke into my writer's bubble and left me torn between tuning out the possible collapse of this country and getting that perfect sentence down right.
I always arrive for the workshop determined to get the most out of my private time to write. I never turn on the TV in my hotel room so I won't allow the real world to enter my hard earned quiet space. Yet it was impossible to keep out the world. How could I keep out the panic when one headline collided with another, and were woven with concerns from the participants with pointed questions to me as organizer: Will the ferries run? Will the hotel take credit cards? Will I be able to get back home? Phone calls and emails from concerned parents, spouses, and others kept me on edge. I am and have been the mother hen responsible for them. They trusted in me and I had to make sure all went well. And it did. The workshop was a success. I bid everyone farewell at the port and got them on the ferry. My own fears were not allowed to surface to the top until now. What if my husband and I lose our savings? What if I can't find any new writing assignments here? How will we continue to live here? What if?
As the ferry left from view and I drove from Gavrio village to my side of the island an hour's drive away I felt a heaviness in my chest.
The next day after all the writers left was the Fourth of July, American Independence Day. The Democrats Abroad organization sent an invitation to join them in Athens to celebrate. I stayed in Andros, the island of my ancestors, to be there for the crucial Referendum vote the following day. I vote in Apikia village at the small school my mother and father attended as children. I tried my best to vote responsibly. I continue to feel torn regardless of the result.
On television I watched people dancing ecstatic in the street when the results came in. I share none of that joy not because I am a conservative or a sourpuss. The repercussions of this vote are many. I hope Greece does get a better deal, stays in the European club and prospers. I still think it unfair for a Spaniard or other European to pay for our mistakes.
As a journalist, I have reported on a country I came to initially in 1981 to live. I have left many times since. The country then, in a PASOK (Socialist) landslide victory, had so much potential: access to generous EU money to make structural changes for all layers of society, opening up opportunity to more than the upper class, which had held the reins for many generations in Greece. Instead it fell apart; PASOK and New Democracy (Conservatives) failed. Both had corrupt politicians, leaders with no spine, both did nothing to improve healthcare, education, job opportunities. The infamous loopholes available in so many Greek laws appear in every industry sector made to suck whatever one can get out of the system. It worked for many years. There were enough people satisfied so as not to change the status quo. Since austerity measures were introduced there have been scandalous reports of entire islands full of "blind" people getting generous amounts of money from the State health care funds only to drive off in their Mercedes and motorcycles. This went on for years and years. So many raw examples like this leave me frustrated. Was there no one who cared enough to stop this? Then the Syriza Party came along telling the public what it wanted to hear after brutal austerity measures were introduced in 2010. It worked. Syriza won the elections in January 2015. When austerity measures were implemented it struck hard on Greek society. We witnessed suicides in record numbers. Suicides were not common here when there is so much sun and reasons to keep a chin up. I watched a neighbor lose his house; close to our house a store owner committed suicide because he could no longer pay the loans he owed for his café, leaving behind an infant and wife. A senior citizen took a gun to his head in broad daylight at Syntagma Square and left behind a note to his daughter telling her he could not bear the thought that he would be looking through garbage cans for food to eat.
However, no one is yet accountable for the state of the country. It is the "others" who are at fault. Fill in the blank: Germans, Europeans, the banks, the Americans, anyone at all other than us. The Vote NO, Vote YES haunts me still.
Each day the workshop focused on producing new writing. One writing prompt: write your obituary. Okay, here it is: Amalia Melis made a horrible mistake when she bought a one way ticket for Greece in 1981 to come explore the land of her ancestors. She was too young to know. Some say she was a dreamer and suffered from that disease to the very end. She finally left behind her rose colored glasses. She went back and forth between New York where she was born and raised, and Greece, unable to stay long enough in either place to grow roots. The end.
The Greek Finance Minister resigned a few days ago but before he did he announced that the country has enough medical supplies for four months, fuel supply for six months. Four months, six months. My parents are 85 and 86 years old and live in Greece. What if they need medicine or care I can't get for them? What if the coming winter is unbearably harsh? Greek Finance Minister Mr. Varoufakis smiled that sarcastic grin on so many television screens that it still makes me want to take darts and throw them at a picture of his face.
I am tired. Actually I think we are all exhausted. We have been having a national nervous breakdown for so long while the world has been watching. Seven months have gone by since Mr. Tsipras won the elections. All we heard for the last few months was: today we will have a deal; tomorrow we will have a deal. Now that the Prime Minister got a 61% NO response to the Referendum for no more austerity measures, we all hold our breath to see what proposal he will lay on the table this time with the Eurogroup, even as Greece stands outside the game with no leverage power, nothing. We are nowhere.
My mother left Greece as a child for New York before WWII, my father left when he married her in the '50s, leaving behind a difficult life on an island impoverished by the Civil War that followed WWII.
I could not be American enough to celebrate American Independence Day and I could not be Greek enough to celebrate a NO victory. I had dreams for Greece, dreams for me. I still carry them around with me. I want Greece to stand on its own two feet. I want Greece to look in the mirror and be accountable for its mistakes and crimes. I want Europe to work with Greece. I want to see growth, job opportunities, a just society that cares for its citizens. I want to get paid for the work I do. Several freelance reporters like me are still unpaid by an English language magazine published for years in Greece. This magazine is not the only irresponsible player. Is there anyone anywhere who will fight with us to get the "publishers" to honor their financial obligations to us? No one hears me, no one hears us. My child has a right to a bright future in Greece, every child does. We have responsibilities and rights as Greeks. I come from hard working immigrant parents who taught me nothing comes for free. I have to earn it. Greece has to earn its place in Europe. Greece remains on its knees. We are not visitors trying to own these ruins for our fifteen minutes of fame.
We hurt in Greek, we need to heal in Greek.