2020! Happy new year everyone!
It will be the year that we will come back home by bicycle! We are in Athens in Greece now and have cycled 14.562 kilometers so far! As enthusiastic as I am about the rest of our trip, right now I feel a bit sad.
Athens is an ancient city, with the Acropolis peaking out above the city centre, lots of museums, Olympic stadia, shops, orange trees and cafes with terraces full of people.
Athens is also a crazy city. The traffic is mental, with its 4 million people. Lots of buildings, over 130.000 of them, are abandoned and many are in a bad condition. The city is covered in graffiti. Really, there is no building without! The art and squat scene is very active here and they are organising lots of events.
We are staying in Athens for 3 months till the end of March because the winter is too cold to cycle and to camp. After 2 weeks of searching we found a great place to rent, something we can call home. It felt needed, some private time after 1 year and 4 months of cycling, camping and staying with other people! We met Nicolas, a great guy and the owner of a bar where we were having a beer while trying to find some good solutions to our housing quest. Nicolas was planning to leave Greece for 3 months but said he couldn’t find a way to rent his place out! What a coincidence! We now live in a bar, converted into a temporary home 🙂 We have no shower and had to create our own kitchen, but the rent was very low compared to all the normal prices. It feels like another little adventure with lots of bucket showers with warm water out of the kettle.
Greece has gone through a tough crisis and it is still hitting the people hard. Salaries are low, it is hard to find a job and the costs for living are relatively high. Next to their own crisis they are dealing with the refugee crisis. Greece now hosts around 90.000 refugees (1/3 are kids!). There is not enough support for refugees, not enough shelter nor food.
Kiran and I started to help out at an organisation called Khora (www.khora-athens.org). A collective run by volunteers that helps hundreds of people in need every day by providing them with clothes, food, legal advice and activities. We are helping by cooking and serving, by helping with workshops and in a ‘give away free’ shop where people come to get clothes.
With the help of citizens lots of abandoned buildings in Athens provided shelter in the past for women, men, children and families in need. In the last months the police evicted most of these buildings. There are police everywhere.
The amount of people that are living on the streets here is enormous and it shocks me. It is very cold at night and it’s raining off and on. So many refugees, also children, living rough outside. So many in the hostel we stayed in before we moved to the bar. They all have hardcore stories of traveling by foot, by boat. Of police brutality and discrimination. Of missing family and loved ones. They hang on to a little spark of hope for the future.
In the Netherlands and often on this cycle trip it was easy to turn my head away from the reality of the refugees crisis you see in the news. In Athens this is not possible. You get confronted with it everywhere.
The city makes me think of our cycle through India, where contrasts were also enormous and you could really love and hate the country. So much beauty, yet so much craziness, inequality and shear poverty. In Athens the confrontation is bigger for me though. Right in front of our bar window homeless people are passing by, or staying the night just around the corner. Even if we bring them food or hot chocolate, offer them some warmth in front of our heater or just a listening ear.. the feeling of guilt goes deep. Shouldn’t we do more? Should we offer a place to sleep too?
What would I hope for when I would be one of them? It leaves me with lots of doubts how humane I can be, how much of my privacy I am willing to give up. How much trust should I have in the other? Am I selfish when I say no? Lots of thoughts with no set answers to all these feelings inside..
The situation here in Athens reminds me of our own cause to raise money for the 26 Burmese students that also have similar stories of fleeing war, missing loved ones, an unsure future and authorities and regimes that work against them. The situation of the refugees from Burma is not anymore ‘right in my face’. I don’t get confronted with it as much as the refugees here in Athens. Sometimes it is easier to just let life take its flow and forget about the things you have to do.Yet I know this is a trap. They are still very much out there needing my help. Athens is my wake up call! We made a promise: to pay for their school and education and to raise the money to renovate the dormitory and school buildings before the next rain season. I have to do everything in my power to keep this promise!
Please, please help me raise the money for coming school year (2020-2021) before the end of March. If everyone gives a bit every year I can be able to maintain their education.
If you want to donate to our cause and help pay for the second year of school as well as the much needed renovation cost please donate here
Lots of love xxx