Friday, 24 July 2015

Greece in Crisis - Boiling a frog

I have often used this phrase when thinking about our life in Greece: it's been like boiling a frog.

A frog sitting on the handle of a saucepan, which is sitting on an electric hob, which is glowing red.
"Frog and saucepan" by James LeeFormerIP at en.wikipedia 
The idea is this: if you put a frog in a saucepan and gradually turn the heat up, the frog fails to notice the change and stays in the pot eventually being boiled alive. Although it seems that the premise is scientifically wrong, it is a very strong image that conveys exactly the issues we are facing in Greece at the moment. 

For the last five years change for the worse has been constant. Schools have slowly been deteriorating, unemployment has been increasing, the roads have been falling apart, hospitals have been closing. It has been happening slowly, but steadily. 

My husband and I often talk about leaving, but obviously have not done so yet. People back in the UK ask us why (if I'm honest sometimes we ask ourselves why) but it is hard to explain. Our quality of life, which is more than hospitals and queues at ATMs, is great here. We live in the countryside, in a wonderful house that we own (and that we certainly couldn't afford anywhere else). We have a large garden and a wonderful view. We wake up to birds singing and go to sleep with the cicadas' sound. We work close to home in jobs that we both love. We have the time to spend with each other and our kids. Our two boys are growing up with some extended family, more than they would have for sure, if we lived somewhere other than here or South Africa. 

We have stayed through the steady decline and we have often argued about when the right time to leave might be. Because the problem is, we could get trapped. Moving countries with two kids (and dogs) is expensive, and we would ideally like to do it not as poor economic migrants, but by making a positive step for our future, by being able to choose, by being employable. 

And so it goes on... The change, so far, has been gradual. Saying that, I cannot help but wonder if we will soon be in hot water... 

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Greece in Crisis - Waiting for Godot

This is what life in Athens feels like at the moment. A long wait.... for something that might never come.

We are in an extended state of limbo, waiting for something, anything to happen. Banks remain closed and every day we are told the ATMs might simply run out of cash. Then, that's it... no more money. In an economy like the Greek one, where people rely heavily in cash transactions things will slow down even further when that happens.

We are spending a lot of time at home, not wanting to spend money on petrol, not wanting to spend money on anything.

We are incredible lucky in many ways. First of all, our fridge is full. We have made sure we have food that will last a while. Most of it is long-life type of stuff, but I am planning on a visit to the local farmers' market to supplement all the dried pulses and pasta (unlike the UK the farmers' market is where you can buy very cheap fruit and veg, no artisan bread or homemade jams to be found anywhere... just very cheap produce, directly from the producers).

We are also lucky that our house has a big garden and that we spend a lot of our day there - playing, in the paddling pool, with bat and ball, J on his bike, O in the shade. It is a nice way to spend the day! It certainly lifts the spirits.

And so we wait... For a deal that might not come, for the banks to open, for normality to return. The other option remains scary... 

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Greece in Crisis - A historic day

The sun is still shining. The summer is mercifully cool. There is a soft breeze from the north that breathes life into the leaves of the trees in our garden. We are still here.

The last week has been intense. Much like when a loved one dies, sleep seems to offer relief, only for the shock to hit every time I wake up. And every morning I wake up in a bankrupt country, with long queues at ATMs, with empty shelves in supermarkets. I wake up in a place where I feel ideologically more foreign every day.

I am a woman with a plan - I never let things just happen and we are facing the same decision every day: leave, this time as economic migrants, for better shores or stay and see what happens.

On the one hand if we leave we have less than a month of savings before we have to be earning again. As our Greek savings our locked in inaccessible bank accounts, we will have to somehow start afresh. From zero. A scary prospect. It would be a liberating one, were it not for our two dependants. It would be exciting had we not been leaving like thieves in the night. It would be exhilarating if we did not have to leave an ailing, elderly mother behind. Pain lies on either side of this decision and both of us are reluctant to make it just yet.

We await news, hopefully of a deal, but I am no longer optimistic. We await news so we can make a decision. Let us not be rash, let us be measured. We await...   

Friday, 3 July 2015

Greece in Crisis - Life, but not as we know it

I am realising, as the days go by, how many things we have been taking for granted all these years. 

For example, being able to access our money, either by withdrawing cash from the bank or by paying by card. Think about all of the times in a day that you do that... or that payments are made automatically. Now imagine that didn't happen... That's where we are at the moment. 

Capital controls mean that we are only able to withdraw 60 euro per day, per person. Not a problem, many thought: that is 1800 euro per month - a lot more than most people's salary. However, we can only withdraw from ATMs that have money... these are few and far between, and you can spot them by the long queue and the police presence. You stand in line, with no guarantees of actually getting money out, as by the time it's your turn the well has often dried. 

We are trapped in the country, as our cards have been disabled and do not work abroad, while others, our fellow Greek are trapped out of the country and cannot get home. 

Tempers are running high and on our walk around Athens yesterday (not for fun but trying to get essential travel documents ready, just in case we need to flee) I saw several people having heated discussions. Nobody was hurt, but I can only imagine what will happen in a few weeks - remember this has only been going on for 4 days... 

We saw pensioners, many of them, in groups, outside the few bank branches that opened just to help those pensioners who do not have cards to withdraw cash from ATMs. They stood there, in the heat of the July sun, patiently awaiting their 120 euro allowed to take each. 

We saw NO posters, hundreds of them, almost on every light post all the way into town. How can a government that does not have money for the basics has money to print so many posters? 

We are going into the unknown, each of us with hopes of coming out at the other end unscathed. We are afraid. For us, for our children and for the future that is coming, when the sun rises on Monday morning. 

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Waking up in a Bankrupt Country

This is not a political blog, but it is a blog about my life, which has suddenly changed overnight! Yes, living in Greece the last 5 years, over this austerity period has meant big changes, a big loss of income and state services, but these last few days have seen a change that we only had nightmares about.

It started on Saturday morning, with the announcement of the referendum fresh and queues in banks at 7 in the morning. Tensions were high, but most people kept their cool: at least the banks were still pumping out cash. My husband went to the supermarket to stock up - we had done our big shop the day before, but decided that a few more cartons and tins won't do us harm. We stocked up on food and basic medicine, and now have enough nappies for about 2 months (with two kids in nappies at the moment, that is a lot)!

A few hours later posts started appearing on social media about which cashpoints in Athens still had money - and although the government was denying that it would have to impose capital controls a few hours later those too had been announced, along with a 'bank holiday'. An extended one...

We live away from the centre and away from people, but had to head down into our nearest town to try get some passport paperwork sorted. Monday was eerily quiet. Small shops were largely empty, some didn't even open, while supermarkets were full. The few people walking the streets in our nearby town looked a little aimless and shocked but I am pleased to see that in some places spirits remained high, with a few jokes and banter being exchanged, mostly about the situation.

Our search for a petrol station was lucky, we even found one that accepted cards and had petrol, though we ended up buying super racing car stuff... I joked that if we had to drive to the border quickly this should do the trick... Even so, most petrol stations had run dry, and a lot of the others demanded cash in hand. A difficult feat, as the by now open again ATMs have a daily withdrawal limit of 60 euro per person per day. That is if you can find one that still has money, or if you don't mind queuing up.

Wednesday morning finds us bankrupt, as a country. Greece has skipped its payment to the IMF. The fact that it paid salaries and pensions on Monday in full is quite the joke, as people are unable to access their money.
The referendum looms.
The rhetoric remains heated.
Tempers run high in both camps.
Shortages are not yet felt, but I'm sure are due to come soon.

We are lying low. In fact, I am not even sure what the situation is out there: my priority is to stay calm, spend time with the kids and await more news. We have several plans, we are currently still on plan A, which is to sit tight and see what happens. Wish us luck!


Sunday, 28 June 2015

Mama Bear - The Biggest Change

We are in Greece in one of the most critical times in its history in the last 40 years. The future of our children, the toils of our parents are being jeopardised in the most cowardly way!

This is not a political post, however. This is a post about motherhood. About the force that motherhood is, the 'mama bear instinct'.

I have often wondered about the changes in me since I became a mum. In a few days I will have been a mother for a year and in that year there is no doubt my life has changed. But while my 'everyday' has changed so drastically, I have often thought about the changes in ME. Have I changed since becoming a mum?

I have to say that up until this last week I would have said a resounding no. I feel very much myself, a better, happier me, but myself. I still do the things that define me, I exercise and I write, I spend time with my husband (less) and I (try and) look after myself.

Yet with the current Greek tragedy unfolding, and with us being in the centre of it all, a new me has surfaced. I have become a true mama bear, ready to do anything for my kids. In many ways, the worry that I feel is greatly intensified by the responsibility I feel towards my kids.

Mama Bear is awake in me, and it is an unsettling feeling. It is the feeling that keeps me awake at night, planning for all eventualities. The feeling that has made me stockpile food and medicine, something I would have laughed at before. It is this intense need to keep my babies safe that has made me plead with my husband to leave, before civil unrest sets in, before the borders are closed, before the last flight gets booked.

Still, we stay. We stay and hope that we won't have to flee in the night, that the shortages many talk about will not happen. We stay and we hope...

Thursday, 11 June 2015

No perfect time: The ten places I have written since I became a mum of two.

With the coming of my two kids I have realised something that I wish I'd known before: there is no perfect time to do the things you love (although, I do admit there are better times and less good times... Oh, how I wish we could go hiking and camping again! Maybe soon.)

This is how I used to write: at my desk, cup of coffee at hand.

This is how and where I write now...

1. On my bed 
In fact the bed is my default work station, while J is having his nap in his room, and O naps next to me! 

2. In the car, while my husband is driving

3. In the car, parked at a car part, with the kids sleeping in the back

4. While my son is in the bath - I sit next to him, usually on the toilet, and write, on my phone. He is happy playing and I am there should he get into trouble... 

5. On the bike - ok, not while I'm actually riding, but when I am on the static trainer. Exercising and writing at the same time. Talk about multitasking! 

6. While queueing at the supermarket -occasionally D will let me go for a shop without the kids. Any dead time during the shop is used! 

7. In a dentist's waiting room - three weeks after giving birth I needed a root canal! Those three dentist's visits became my first outings out of the house without the baby, and I took advantage of the waiting time to do some writing. 

8. On the metro - a classic! What else to do while getting from A to B?

9. In the kitchen, while waiting for the food to cook - I cook after the kids are in bed, around seven, every night. It is prime time for writing too. My husband's usually off for a run and the house is quiet. Bliss! 

And the all time favourite, yes, I will admit to also occasionally writing

10. On the loo... 

There's no perfect time! When do you fit in your creative pastimes? 


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