The bubble of suburbia

Street art in central Athens
Street art in downtown Athens – a rare glimpse of light in a desperate city

The effects of the crisis are not invisible in our relatively unscathed slice of surburban Athens. But you don’t get an immediate sense of panic or despair whilst strolling around Αργυρούπολη. The evidence of the tragic state of the Greek economy -at least in our neighbourhood – is not written on the faces of the ντόπιους (locals), but in the rows of boarded-up shops, restaurants and businesses that line the high streets.

Whether it’s stoicism, resignation or apathy, the residents of our little patch of surburbia are clinging on to what dignity they can afford, whilst they weather an economic hurricane that threatens to destroy any lingering notions of hope and optimism.

But venture into the capital and the scene shifts dramatically. Step out from any number of central Athens Metro stations and within minutes you’re thrust into a misery and wretchedness that belies any notions of a functioning, civil Western democracy.

Greeks and immigrants alike litter the sidewalks, hands outstretched, faces stained from the scorching sun and the dirt of the city. The hungry, the disfigured, the limbless, the homeless, the junkies, the old and the young – united in a common desparation – compete for our pennies, and beg for scraps of food. The entrepreneurial ones rummage amongst the stench of the waste bins, seeking treasure in the form of an over-ripe banana or some half-rotten vegetables.

Of all the heart-wrenching vistas, I’m most affected by a young toddler, crouching barefoot in a filthy doorway, as his dad rolls a smoke on the concrete steps. Where is his mum? Dead? High? Who really gives a shit anyway? I consider what opportunities this little one will have. School, employment – I doubt it. Crime, poverty, addiction and an early death are a more realistic trajectory. For a split second I consider what it would be like trading my existence with this gaunt, ashen-faced father and son. Then I feel an overwhelming urge to embrace my eight-month old. That’s enough for today. Fuck the city. All I want to do now is get back to the burbs.