What is happening in Greece right now is a real tragedy.
People often ask me to talk about the country I was born in nearly 33 years ago, and then left in 2004. My sister, my father and my friends tell me how they try to survive, how they no longer believe in the future, and how it is hard to explain what is going on to their children.
The other day, my friend’s 7 year old daughter was waiting for him when he came back from the bank, “What did the bank say daddy? Are we going to lose our house?”
My father fell into depression when he realized that although he’s been working since he was 15 years old to build his own business, he’s lost everything. He can’t pass on anything to his children and he can’t help my younger sister and brother, who still need his support.
The despair has brutal consequences for some.
In June, the Minister of Health presented a report to the Greek parliament revealing that the suicide rate in Greece increased by 40% in the first half of 2012.
The Greek Association Klimaka opened a hotline for suicide prevention. They receive more than 100 calls daily, instead of the 10 before the crisis.
And then there are those who set themselves on fire.
There are also those families who, unable to send their children to school, or even feed them, have no choice but to place them in foster homes, and wait. For better days.
A friend who works at the SOS Children’s Village in Athens confirmed that children are fainting at schools for not eating. Physical education teachers prefer to cancel classes fearing that their students will pass out. Parent Associations are organizing and ensuring food distribution for their children themselves. “Illegal” markets are improvised behind toll stations and fairs. Places where families can find free food.
More and more people are feeding their families by picking garbage bins at night. Unemployment is increasing constantly, hitting new records this year: 21% (54% in the 15-24 age group).
It is now difficult to be treated in Greece, hospitals are full. For a common cold, a father prefers to take his child to the emergency department at a public hospital where he will pay 5 Euros for consultation, rather than to a pediatrician who will charge up to 50.
Doctors of the World are asking for donations on television to help the poor.
Yes, the country is on the verge of an explosion. And how could it be otherwise? The obsession of draconian austerity plans have plunged the country into its fifth year of recession. How can one live on 500 euros per month when rent alone is 300 euros?
“Did you hear about Ms Lagarde’s comments?” I asked a 36 year old friend who has been working crazy hours as an independent counselor and had to move back to her parents house. “Yes, I’ve heard, frankly I don’t give a shit anymore about what those people say. I haven’t been paid for the last 7 months and like most people here, I just hope they won’t cut my electricity so at the very least, I can keep on working from home. I don’t have enough money to put gas in my car.”
In a recent interview in the Guardian, the Head of IMF Christine Lagarde was asked of what lies ahead for the children of Greece: “Well, their parents are responsible, right? So parents have to pay their taxes” she said. She also admitted having “more sympathy for poor African children than Greeks suffering under the country’s economic problems and austerity measures.”
This is certainly shocking rhetoric but symptomatic of how the world is looking at Greece. For the most part the media and governments are looking at the debt, the Euro, the market consequence of the default. They are not looking at the people, the children, and their real life struggles.
Born in Greece, I grew up in a bilingual French / Greek environment. I lived between Greece, Africa and France. My husband, “I”, French of Lebanese and Syrian origin is also multilingual: French/English/Arabic, and has lived in France, Africa and Canada. Our little girl “N” was born in China in 2011.