So, I wanted to wait a little bit to post about this, so that IF anything went wrong, anyone reading back home wouldn’t be worried about me. DON’T WORRY, I AM FINE. IT HAS BEEN DAYS AND I WAS NEVER IN REAL HARM’S WAY. I was also finishing my first article, which everyone should read because I worked really hard and it’s really good.
Actually, go do that first. I’ll wait.
So this week there has been a lot of striking, which is pretty typical in Greece and in Thessaloniki and Athens, the two cities with the largest populations. The buses still haven’t been running, but most people were on strike only on Wednesday this week for a protest.
I helped with some of the reporting happening on the article, you can read the details of the strike here : https://nujournalismingreece2017.wordpress.com/2017/05/17/despite-lack-of-change-protests-continue-to-be-way-of-life/
When I first decided to help out, I didn’t put a lot of thought into it. I know how to use a camera, and I know how to walk and talk, and even how to use a recorder. What else would I need?
And then someone mentioned bringing milk, to wash teargas out of our eyes… Then molotov cocktails came up… *
So, Gwen and I were understandably a little nervous about what we might have volunteered ourselves for. In defense of any danger, I over-prepared (of course) by saving the location of the US Consulate into my phone and turning on data for the day, and packing my purse with everything we could need: granola bars, both my phones, extra contacts and my glasses (that teargas got me really nervous), and Carlene’s letter explaining to anyone who causes us trouble our purpose for being where we are on any given day.
I also tightly braided my hair, covered myself in sunblock, wore my sneakers for optimal running, and wore the horrible Bermuda-length navy shorts I got on sale before this trip. They make my legs look like those of a tween boy on his way to cub scouts. I then borrowed a neutral colored shirt from Issac. My attempt to look like a small boy/draw no attention to myself worked wonderfully, and I believe I went largely unnoticed by most of the crowds.
Upon arriving at the protest, I was still wary. As we had driven in on our bus, I had seen police in full riot gear. We walked past a large group of Anarchists – those are the ones with the potential to be scary – but they were all just hanging out. We stopped, observed, gathered some footage, and moved on.
Finally, we stumbled upon the start of the parade. It sounds ridiculous, but it looked very much like the Memorial Day parade from my hometown. Everyone was with their group, carrying their signs and flags, and marched in a big loop through the city
It was reminiscent of those happy childhood times, and walking along with them I could almost lull myself into a sense of not-impending-doom-and-danger that I had been feeling before arrival.
But there was one constant reminder in the giant men with bats/makeshift red flags, most of whom had motorcycle helmets with them. They followed the march, and would often line up along side and watch everyone pass.
While Gwen and I were interviewing two ladies we found while walking, I asked one if she felt safe participating in a march like this. She responded something along these lines (paraphrased): I feel safe, because that is the community [of the Communist party]. We are all here, unified, and because we care about not only ourselves, but also others around us and in Thessaloniki.
And when I asked about the men, she laughed. She told us, “They are protecting us! If anything were to happen, if someone were to strike me, everyone around us would help me. They would come and protect me, and everyone here marching.”
So the scariest guys around that I saw were protecting the people around me, and by extension, me as well? That is the kind of thing I like to hear!
It also spoke to something not just about the large Communist group we were walking with, but also to the Greek culture. I’ve begun to notice strong nationalism, and a loyalty to country and Greek identity that I have seen glimmers of in other countries, but not seen quite as strong. Maybe it’s because I’ve been here a longer stretch of time then I normally would on a regular vacation, but I think elements of the identification between Greek people is something unique to Greece.
Overall, I found the protest to be interesting and somewhat fun, once I got over my nerves, but largely uneventful. We talked to some interesting people, and had gyros for lunch.
For the rest of the week, I’ve seen bits of the protest still going on through Thursday, but maybe I’m becoming Greek because I took it in as a piece of everyday life and not a super noticeable event.
Little did I know, Anarchists got teargassed and threw a molotov cocktail at a police officer on a bike last night, about 2 blocks from where I was walking from an interview to dinner. Only in Greece!
* Disclaimer: Carlene would obviously never have let us go if there was a real fear that we would be in danger. We were all just preparing for the WORST EVER, and we ended up not having to run from teargas or run over broken glass to our pre-chosen meeting places. Like, it would’ve made a great story for when I’m home? But probably better that it didn’t happen, at least not that day.