Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Greece is on Fire

It seems only write to blog on the issue of the riots while I am sitting in my apartment awaiting updated information on what tonight is going to look like. As most of you have read, a 15 year old boy was shot and killed by a police officer on Saturday night. This boy (Alex) and a group of his friends were allegedly throwing rocks at the cop car. As Alex threw a petrol bomb the cop shot him. Things quickly turned from bad to worse. Protesters took to the streets that night, torching stores, pummeling banks with windows, and battling with the police. My roommates and I had no idea any of this had happened the night before because we do not have a TV or internet in our apartment. So, we went to Ermou street on Sunday to get coffee and go shopping. Little did we know that over half the stores (shopping district of Athens) had either been torhed or had broken windows. About 10 minutes after we walked around and checked things out we got a text message from our school saying to avoid the area we were standing in as well as 3 other parts of Athens due to large protests. At this point we were watching the police department file out of their vans with their riot gear in hand. Needless to say, we decided to head home.

We still had no idea why the massive destruction had happened until people started getting phone calls from their parents asking if they were ok and explaining what had happened. Rioters continued to clash with the police throughout Sunday. We went to class on Monday only to be dismissed early because things we escalating. Monday night has been the worst so far. They torched the city's Christmas tree, destroyed downtown Athens through fires and smashing storefront windows, and lighting anything and everything on fire.

Our last day of classes for the semester was canceled today due to the boy's funeral. Things are expected to be violent tonight again. We walked downtown this morning to where the city's Christmas tree stood and checked out the damage. It is extensive but not as war zone like as they are describing on CNN. The cities outside of Athens that are seeing riots as well as just as badly destroyed. We also learned last night that Greeks in other European cities were taking the Greek consulates and burning their own flag. They want to mark their solidarity with the youth protesters in Greece I suppose.

So Why? Why such a violent reaction to the death of a 15 yr old. Well it is more then that. This is the straw that broke the camel's back so to say. Greeks are furious at their current government and the economic situation. There cost of living has risen (as it as around the world) while wages have stayed the same and unemployment keeps growing. Also, in the youth say the cops are a bunch of "pigs" because they get away with whatever they want. In essence, they see the police and the government working hand in hand and not for the betterment of Greece.

What now? Everyone is really unsure as to how long these protests will last. Many have said that if the current PM calls for early elections next year then things will clam down. However, many have also said that if Greece calls a state of emergency and brings in the military things will get much much worse very quickly. Greeks still reference the military junta that ruled for 6 years as if it was yesterday. They drove their tanks on to the college campus in Athens and killed about 40 students. Since then universities throughout Greece are aslyums.. no police officer is allowed to enter university grounds. This has its pros and cons. Pros it is a way to contain protesters and con--the faculty at the universities have called for a 3 day strike so students are basically just storing ammunition in their safe haven.

The poor kid and his family. Their heads must be spinning over all of this. I'll keep you all posted on my situation. We are having a town hall meeting tomorrow to answer any and all questions / discuss what happens if things do not get better by the end of the week. We shall see.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Perspective Change

With less then two weeks (13 days to be exact) left in Greece I have began to think..not about my memories but about my perspective. I entered this completely foreign country 4 months ago unsure if I was going to like it let alone be able to live in it for a whole semester. I wanted to go where I knew no one (patterns repeat themselves). Yet, when I got here I was unsure if I would bond with the people in my program.

As life in Athens has become less foreign and more like 'home' these worries and concerns have faded. I have made some great friends, people I will keep in touch with for the rest of my life. We have this amazing shared experience that no one else really quite gets. When I recount my trips and my weekends exploring around Greece it is these people I will recall. It is strange to think that 4 months ago Leslie and I sat next to each other on a plane knowing nothing about each other and now we are great friends. Life is funny like that.

The people of Greece have been wonderful. They are a very proud people with a very storied past. Their perceptions of outsiders is somewhat understandable when you learn their history of being conquered numerous times. My encounters have been nothing but positive. A lot of that can be attributed to the fact that I'm a student. They respect that you are in their country, learning their history. It means a lot to them.

What I'll miss.. the people we have met along the way. There are to many characters to mention (Anthony, Rony, Old Irish, Tom, Maria, Alexo, the Professor, the Marines, Eddie & co, little man, etc). Each one of them has impacted my time here in Greece all for the better. Some have opened my eyes to parts of Greek life I would have never known existed without them. For that, I am forever grateful. I'll miss everyone's hilarious anecdotes on their cultural mishaps. Understanding that older Greek men have no qualms about urinating on a side street is just part accepting the culture right? I'll miss being talked about in front of in a language I still do not fully understand. I always wonder what they are saying...

I'm going to miss a lot of it. It is the first time I have ever lived in a major metropolitan city. Public transportation in winter park is non existent. I've enjoyed my first city experience but I'm not sure if its for me. Their is always something going on and something to do and see but space is limited..sometimes its nice to not be pressed so close to the stranger next to you on the bus that you can see their pores. Eh just a thought..

Most of all I'm going to miss the traveling. I saw so much of Greece, which was nice because you do not get the "beautiful" impression from living in Athens. Santorini is magical, everyone should go once in their life. The Peloponnese is just this lush mountainous area where the air is clear and the streets are quite. It is the polar opposite of Athens. Crete is one of coolest places I have ever been too.. hiking down a gorge while the sun beats on your back and the rocks make you feel the size of an ant..just amazing. Egypt was shocking on so many levels. As a woman it was a real interesting experience. Not being accompanied by a man was wrong, which is still an idea I can not wrap my head around. Historically it is so rich. So, it was worth the awkward cultural exchanges. Istanbul was my favorite, hands down. I would go back in a heart beat. I feel in love with Italy when I was in Rome. It is a country that I will be back too numerous times.

All of these places I have gone and people I have met seem so vast when I look back on it. With each trip there is another story. Within those there are a dozen that stick out. It is strange how you enter a new stage in life unsure of what to expect and when that chapter comes to a close you look back and wonder when it is you actually adapted and stopped seeing this new chapter as new. I am not sure when that exactly happened to me but it definitly did. I feel at home here. Greece is a place I will visit again. Hopefully come and stay for an extended holiday and just enjoy all that this European / eastern / ancient country has to offer.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Where Have All The Tampons Gone?

Ok, so I was telling my mom about this paper that I wrote for my ethnography (a fancy word for cultural anthropology) class. Our second paper we had to write on something about Greece that was bothering us so I chose Tampons. I am posting the paper because I feel like e-mailing to all my friends and family might be out of context. In this respect if you're not interested you can simply skip this entry (as I am sure Chris and Conor will do). No worries boys, this is more for the girls then it is for the guys. Enjoy.. I hope it gives you a good laugh. I have thought of maybe using it to apply to grad school.. thoughts?? I am sure it would have to be an all woman's college with a touch of feminism, but hey whatever it takes right? : )

...When prompted with the question, “what’s bugging you?” about Greek culture, there are a few distinct things that come to mind. I am working through my disgust for cigarette smoke everywhere. I have also gotten over the fact that my debit card is virtually unusable when it comes to purchases. However, there is one issue that I can not seem to overcome.

Every month, like most women ages 14-60, I experience a week long period of menstruation. My issue is not menstruation in itself because lets be honest, I do not really have choice in the matter. It is part of being a woman, like it or not. My issue is with Athens and even Greece at large, hostility towards tampons. During my first week here in Athens I found myself wandering the aisles of the Extra grocery store in search of ever elusive tampons. What I found was not my prized possession but instead shelves upon shelves of sanitary napkins.

I was surprised by my discovery. Growing up in the United States, my only other point of comparison, there is an entire aisle dedicated to women’s products. This includes a multitude of products with many different kinds of tampons and sanitary napkins. Whatever your menstruation pleasure, it has found its way on to the shelves of a typical American grocery store or pharmacy.

Leaving the grocery store behind, I took my quest to the nearest pharmacy. To my delight the woman at the pharmacy showed me right to the tampon shelf. This is where the second part of my issue with Athens hostility towards tampons comes to a head. Tampons are only sold in small twelve packs and the majority of the time they only carry Tampax regulars.

I am annoyed not only by the lack of variety provided but also by the inconvenience. It is not out of my way to go to the pharmacy but it is unnecessary to have to buy multiple twelve packs, when I know bigger boxes exist. Also, I would not have such an issue with the lack of tampons in Greece if the same prejudice was accorded to sanitary napkins. This is not the case. Those who use sanitary napkins have a distinct advantage. They get to choose from different brands and styles, while I do not.

So, what is the deal? After speaking about my conundrum to three different groups of Athenian women, I have come to understand (partly) what is going on. My first stop was the pharmacy. Choosing Kolonaki square as my target destination, I entered a pharmacy right outside the square with a handful of questions. Maria, the pharmacist, informed me that “young girls like to use tampons during the summer months and when they go on trips.” Maria also said that older women see tampons as “foreign, funny objects”. While this classified who the tampon users were vs. the non-users, it still did not offer me any insight in to why they are so elusive. When asked to delve further, Maria said “they are just not as popular, so we do not carry them as much the other products.”

My next inquiry was a group of three young women ages 22-24, who I approached as they enjoyed their late night gossip session at one of the many cafes in Pangrati square. All three shared a similar opinion to Maria, agreeing that it was more acceptable for women their age to use tampons. Angela, the most outspoken of the group, even offered further proof of older women’s distrust of tampons. Speaking in regard to her grandmother, Angela said, “When I began menstruating my mother told my grandmother and the next time I went to visit her, she handed a package of [pads]. She sees tampons as dirty, saying they are bad for your body.”

Angela and the other girls could not explain the reasoning behind ya-ya’s thinking tampons are “bad for your body.” There only explanation was a basic “that’s just the way it is” here. My only thought was one of religious connotation. Some women do not use tampons because they believe that nothing should enter the vagina until they are married and consummate their marriage with their husband. The Greek woman gave this explanation some thought and said “Oxi. They just do not like it.”

Seeking another opinion on this issue, I looked to a Rony. A male, whom I know has a sister and has been in serious relationships in the past. After looking at me quizzically for a minute or so, he opened up. While, Rony has never purchased feminine hygiene products for his sister, he is fairly certain she uses tampons. His sister is in her early 30s. Rony has bought products for his past girlfriends and says that while most use tampons, some have asked him to buy sanitary napkins. He also noted that since he dates women who are usually “10 years younger” then him, that could also be a factor.

It seems to me that I am at a crossroad between the traditional and the modern. Maria’s comments about young girls using tampons during the summer and on trips suggest that tampons are still not the norm. The traditional being that which is followed by the older women, seems to still have an effect on the younger generation of today. My opinion is that this relates back to familial relations. Family life in Greece is of the utmost importance. The relationship between grandmother and granddaughter and mother and daughter is much more intimates that is within the United States.

Puberty and sexuality are topics covered within the school walls in the United States. While parents are encouraged to have a conversation with their child about their sexual health, one would be hard pressed to find how many times this actually takes place. Sometimes, that relationship does not even exist. While estranged parent-child relations are not the norm for every child in the United States, it is fair to say that familial relations are not as strong as they are in Greece.
It is my belief that the closer the family, the more traditional beliefs are valued and kept alive. Example: Angela accepted her grandmother’s kind gesture and classified it as “the norm.” She knows that most women in her family prefer to use sanitary napkins. That is what she grew up learning about. As a result, she has incorporated both tampons and sanitary napkins in to her routine. She uses the traditional and the modern interchangeably.

This explanation provides valid reasoning for why there is little variety. It also explains why the shelves are stacked from floor to ceiling with sanitary napkins and not tampons. However, it still does not explain the small package. Why only twelve?
My only explanation for the small boxes as the solo option is Greek culture. Yes, that is a broad statement so let me clarify. As I mentioned before, there are whole aisles in grocery stores devoted to these products in the States. America sells convenience (think Sam’s Club). We (Americans) crave one stop shopping. The same is not true in Greece, where it is quality over quantity. There is a different cultural mentality. An average American woman would hate to have to go buy tampons every time she had used twelve of them, where as the Greeks do not mind. Daily shopping is not seen as an inconvenience but rather a part of their daily routine. If you run out, you just go get more. Simple enough.

What I originally viewed as a mere annoyance has turned in to an interesting cultural study. I was surprised to hear that age determined which feminine hygiene product Greek women were likely to use. Part of living in a different culture is adapting to the ways of that culture. Prior to living in Greece, I had prepared myself to be open to all changes, ones that I knew would happen and ones that I did not. However, to be honest, tampons are the last thing I would have thought I would have an issue with. So, yeah it bugs me but I am slowly realizing that “that is just the way it is.” I am sure I will laugh at the irony of it all when I walk in to Rite Aid or CVS for the first time back home. Plus, in the end, change is a part of life.

Greek Thanksgiving & THIS IS SPARTA

This past week America celebrated its pride and glory holiday..the Native Americans and Pilgrims shared a feast and the world was at peace...or at least that was the case in history class until middle school. Spending my first Thanksgiving outside the confines of the States was interesting. My fellow students were annoyed that we had class. Eh I was impartial. It was the first and only time I will be in school on Thanksgiving but it was not like I was missing out on the preparation of the feast. It is not as if my family was down the street waiting for me to get done with school. Anyway CYA had a Thanksgiving "lunch" feast for us, complete with sub par pumpkin pie, a GIANT American flag, and Coca Cola (which I am still baffled by). They did a nice job of decorating and making it festive but its just not the same as sitting around the dining room table in Downingtown and solving the world's issues :). My family was appalled when I told them that we did not have mashed potatoes. In fact, I think every Irish person in America cried a little for me over that. Other then our Thanksgiving lunch the day was uneventful. I got to Skype with everyone at my house for the festivities and Kaitlyn (who since it had been so long since we heard each others voice we talked forever...much needed). We went to the Irish pub that night and Tom, a self described "pure blooded" Irish man who owns the pub, wished us and I quote "a happy Thanksgiving, whatever that is."

The next morning I left for my last CYA field trip and sadly my last traveling I will do while I am abroad. When I told Chris I was going to Sparta I could almost see his face light up, reminiscing on the movie and the classic line 'THIS IS SPARTA'. No worries Chris, it was repeated numerous times throughout the weekend. Probably every time we disembarked from the bus. The area of ancient Corinth (think St. Paul's letters to the Corinthians) was our first stop. It was the commercial hub to Sparta's military dominance. They made money and led sinful lives (according to Paul) while the Spartans waged war. The Acropolis of Corinth was this really cool castle like structure built in to a mountain. Virtually unconquerable unless the opposing army just starved out the population, yikes!

That night we went to dinner in a town outside of modern day Sparta, which you would interested to know was rebuilt right on top of ancient Sparta post-Ottoman empire. Saturday we climbed to the top the fortification that was Mystra. It was occupied by so many different groups that there are numerous different style of architecture represented. The one Church was visited was still an active nunnery. I think this is the reason that all the cats we saw were well groomed and looked healthy. Nuns love cats. Then the rain started...pouring buckets. Needless to say no one was happy. Our 3 hour on site tour got cut short and the history lessons got shorter and shorter as we moved throughout the site. Like the Acropolis of Corinth, Mystra was built in to a mountain side and literally expanded down the hill. The view from the top was my favorite part because it overlooked all of Sparta.

Tonight I getting an introduction to Lebanese food..I'm intrigued.