Fri, Jun 22, 2012 - Page 9 News List

The agony of Athens — four ordinary Greeks tell their stories

What is life really like for Greeks as they face the crisis gripping their nation? A single mother, a finance director, a businessman and a civil servant speak out

By Jon Henley  /  The Guardian, LONDON

I have been in Greece talking to real people this week. It is better that way — trying to write about “Greece” or “the Greeks” or “the crisis” does you no good after a while, because there are so many different realities.

Some people do not seem affected at all. Walk down Ermou Street in central Athens, heaving with shoppers; try finding a table on a crowded terrace off Monastiraki Square; drive through the cosseted suburbs of Kifissia; and you would never guess there was anything wrong.

However, spot a young, cleanly dressed family sitting on the steps of a bank on Stadiou Street, father holding out both hands for money; visit Kyada, a municipal soup kitchen that feeds 1,500 a day; stray beyond where the tourists go, as far as the boarded-up shops and graffiti that says “Greece for the Greeks;” and there is another reality.

Beneath it is a deeper, but palpable reality — that far larger forces are playing out here, life-changing decisions being made in distant places. Plus the reality that for a lot of the world, “the Greeks,” basically, brought it on themselves.

So it is complicated. You get pushed into narratives that cannot be complete, or even necessarily true. My idea was just to let some Greeks speak for themselves, to recount their personal realities.



I’m divorced with four children — a student daughter of 25; a son of 24; and a boy and girl in their teens. They’re all still at home.

I worked for a while when I was much younger, but I got married at 19 and had my first baby a year later. Then I looked after my children until the youngest left primary school. At first, I found temporary jobs no problem, in hotels, a cafe, but for the past two years there has been nothing.

I get 180 euros (US$228) every two months from the government, because of the kids still at home. My parents give me a bit when I go to see them, but that’s not easy now because my father isn’t well — we think it’s Alzheimer’s disease — and anyway his pension has been cut.

My ex-husband sends me 400 euros a month; it pays for the kids’ food, and he helps out from time to time with their clothes and a few bills, but we are five almost-grown adults living on 700 euros a month. Thank heavens my ex finished paying for the house or we’d all be homeless by now.

It has been so long since I had money I don’t know what I’d do if I got some. I’d like to go out sometimes and have coffee with a friend, not just in each other’s houses, or take the children to a cafe. My best friend has a cosmetics shop and lets me pay for what I need, nail varnish, a bit of lipstick, when I can afford to. It would be nice not to make her wait.

I did get a job a while back in an old people’s home. They said I was good with old people, but they couldn’t keep me. They had to get rid of people — lots of families are taking their elderly back because they can’t afford retirement homes any more. I got 150 euros for the week.

I made one mistake — I should have gone back to work earlier, when my youngest was two or three and the economy was OK, got a secure job, but my husband didn’t want me to and I didn’t push it. Now I’m taking evening classes for my school leaving certificate — I left school at 16 — and an accountancy qualification. The trouble is, I’ll cost more than someone in their 20s, because my youngest isn’t 18 yet.

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