Remember Demetra Angelis Foustanellas, author of Secrets in a Jewellery Box, resident on the Island of Samos? I contacted her recently about the economic crisis in Greece — unless you have been in an isolated cottage with no internet, you would already know that this means Greece owed money, its EU creditors threatened it to pay up or have its head cracked, the voters rejected the bailiff’s proposal and the banks closed, then the newish government accepted the new fiscal terms, which means ongoing austerity and bad news for a country that already has 50-60% youth unemployment. Here is Demetra’s response to my questions about how she and their hotel are doing under these conditions.
Letter from Demetra on Samos
It’s been a difficult time. Besides the economic problems, Greece is experiencing a rising influx of refugees, mostly from Syria right now. They come in on rafts. Up to 3,000 per month on Samos alone.* They are in transit heading for Europe. They wait at the port for the next ferry to Piraeus.
A few days ago, my husband witnessed migrants fighting for their lives — their raft was torn and they had slipped into the water. My husband helped the coast guard officers pull some of them out. They all survived but many others never make it.
Most of the migrants sit patiently by the harbour, without even the basic facilities, and wait for the ferry to arrive. They appear to travel in family groups: cousins, aunts, uncles etc. Few have enough money to rest in comfort for the night, wash their clothes at the coin laundry, eat a proper breakfast.
A few nights ago, some of them stayed at our hotel. They were quiet, respectful and grateful to have made it so far. Most were in their thirties, about the same age as my own kids, some much younger. They did not expect charity. All we offered them was complimentary breakfast the following morning.
My husband and I will never forget how some guests reacted negatively when the migrants started filling the breakfast venue. Shocked by such lack of compassion, I wanted to cry, and I did.
Of course there are exceptions. We were relieved when others helped to make the refugees feel the welcome they deserved.
Right now, all I can think of are the smiles on the people’s faces and hope in their eyes for a better future. One young man said to me, “We finally escaped the bullets.”
Before they left, they asked the bartender to play some music. It was a traditional song from their homeland, Syria. I watched them hold hands and dance in a circle, singing happily. I couldn’t help wondering if they will ever have this chance again, to hold each other after they are separated in Europe. From what they said, they did not all share the same destination.
After what we’ve witnessed the last few days, we figure there are bigger problem out there, like the fear obstructing people’s judgment. We are influenced by the media, by stereotypes, to the point that we are afraid to help or share and, more importantly, fail to understand in a time when any one of us could be in the same shoes. We still have much to learn about the world and why things happen.
I know this happens daily but it hits you differently when you see it live. Peace is a blessing.
It will be a while before I can collect my thought about the economic crisis. From what it looks like, the situation isn’t going to be fixed here in Greece any time soon. Impacts from the new measures will surely hurt us even more and for a long time to come. What is happening to Greece should be recorded as the biggest fiasco in modern history.
And we’ve obviously not seen the worst yet.
*According to this June 5, 2015 UNHCR report, “UNHCR reinforcing presence in Greece,” over 42,000 people reached Greece by sea from January to June 2015 — not all but most were refugees. “This is six times the level [of refugees] of the same period last year (6,500) and almost the same as the total for all of 2014 (43,500).” Of these, over 60 percent this year have come from Syria.