Archive | October, 2011

Riots in Athens, Day 2

20 Oct

This time I headed down to Syntagma Square earlier in the day. Things were pretty chill. Actually, at Kolonaki Square, the posh place to see and be seen in these parts, people seemed completely oblivious to the fact that 300m away the biggest demonstration in Athens’ history was taking place. People chatted, shopped, banked, and drank the ubiquitous frappe.

As I walked toward the demonstration, I started to see more and more people covering their mouths with their shirts and even more wearing surgical masks. A few hard-cores had gas masks. There were some shouts and chants, but overall things were calm. I did feel a sting in my throat but then it subsided.

The people were normal, of all ages, their masks uniting them. After snapping some photos, I went home. See my photos here.

This evening, the three of us headed out to the synagogue, on the other side of Syntagma, to celebrate Simchat Torah.  We took the metro – which had been opened despite the strike so that people could attend the demonstrations. We had to walk to the station north of ours because Evangelismos and Syntagma stations were closed. The police were afraid rioters would escape through the metro.

We were happy because the metro bypassed the two stops between where we boarded and our destination, making the trip very short. But when we walked out, a woman started gesturing to us and talking quickly in Greek.

“Do you speak English?” We nodded. “There’s a lot of tear gas up there. Don’t go up there with your little one.”

We thanked her.

“Where do you have to go?” We explained that we had to switch lines. She said that would be OK.

The elevator wasn’t working so we went up the escalator but that took us to street level, and not to the platform for the other line, as we had intended. People were running in frantically and yelling at us in Greek, pointing to Amitai. My throat started to burn.

We quickly turned around and took the next train home.

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Riots in Athens

19 Oct

Once we saw the news on TV of the mega-demonstration turning violent, I grabbed my camera and ran to Syntagma, only a 15-minute walk from our apartment. The streets of Kolonaki were surprisingly still and quiet. I fiddled with my camera to get the best exposure of the protest in the late afternoon light.

The main road leading to Syntagma Square was blocked by Police vans and there were about 20 people huddled there. They let through several police cars and a firetruck. As I headed up toward Kolonaki Square to try to circumvent the road block and join the demonstration, I saw people walking around with their shirts or scarves covering their mouths; others wiped their eyes. A few had their faces painted white. Intrigued, I continued in that direction.

I saw there were several fires burning along the streets and the riot police were watching. The streets where I was were empty. There was a loud explosion in the distance.

My throat started to sting intensely – probably a mix of tear gas and smoke. I walked home amid the accumulated trash pouring into Athens’s streets. We can still hear the helicopters circling above us.

I don’t know much about these protests, but people must be pretty riled up to go out in the tens of thousands. People tell me Greeks like strikes because it gives them a long weekend, but what’s going on here is about more than just vacation days. They don’t want their lives to be completely ransacked by outside pressures. Most Greeks I have spoken to about the situation admit change is much-needed but these measures are too extreme.

The Greek prime minister is in a hopeless situation. He won’t make Europe or his people happy, and the Greek economy is at the point of no return. I’ve also been told that Greeks don’t have the solidarity Israelis have in the current social protest movement there. Maybe today’s events will change that.

See photos here.

Awake at Night

12 Oct

I realized the irony of this term, now at 6:20 am, after spending a restless night thinking of Gilad.  “Awake at night” is the name of the Israeli organization of former prisoners of war, a group Gilad will likely join.  Here I am, just a regular citizen, not even currently in Israel, and I can’t stop crying at the thought of his return.

He’s not back yet, but I’ve thought of his release almost daily for his five long years in captivity. I’ve dreamt about him numerous times, and could not ignore that earnest and shy face when I saw it on the numerous posters, billboards, and bumper stickers in our hot, crowded country.

What is five years? A lifetime. When Gilad was kidnapped, a few weeks before the onset of the 2006 Lebanon War, I was still new in Israel. I wasn’t naive but I was still learning the ways of this country. We were freshly married, visiting the country for the summer during a previous stint abroad.  Who knew it would last so long?

Since then, two more soldiers were captured (and many killed). Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser were returned in cold blood in coffins. The previous deal I had witnessed in Israel, was less (or more) sardonic, yielding one live criminal, Elhanan Tannenbaum, and three bodies. They had been captured more than three years prior.

Now, as a mother myself, I can’t stop looking at the photo of Aviva Schalit, Gilad’s horribly media shy mother, finally, after so many years, smiling.

Unlike past prisoner exchanges, Gilad is an “open sore” for everyone (even those who were against such a wide-scale exchange) because it could have been resolved many times before. When Gilad was captured, we had a prime minister who cared more about five-star hotel rooms and business class than his own citizens. His subsequent resignation and trials confirmed what we all knew.

As much as I loathe Bibi, our current prime minister, he cares more. But not more than retaining his coalition. This deal happened way too late.

Besides the government’s inertia, the Schalit family has oft been criticized for being too timid, for not “turning over tables” to secure their son’s release. Demure and timid like their son, Noam and Aviva Schalit were forced to open up to the media, so reluctantly. They fought their battle, in their own way. I was so happy when Yoel Schalit, Gilad’s brother, and his girlfriend Yaara disrupted a Remembrance Day ceremony – finally they understood that they had to break the rules. They had to fight. Gilad wasn’t going to return by himself.

For nearly three years, we lived three minutes away from the Gilad encampment next to the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem. The tent, with its homemade banners and small but constant stream of visitors, has become a landmark and it’s hard to imagine that it will no longer exist. In those years, I demonstrated, visited the family, sat in the tent, and prayed there on Yom Kippur.

I got pregnant in its vicinity and remember visiting Gilad’s parents during that time, with many others, on Purim 2009. Amitai was born a few weeks later, on the 1,000th day of Gilad’s captivity. We have a photo of a chubby baby Amitai watching the video of Gilad in October 2009. When the Schalits finally decided to camp out in Jerusalem permanently, Amitai and I attended the welcome rally. I told Aviva that it was hard to believe that a human was born and grew up in the time her son was away from her.

Gilad is now 25. He has missed out on the post-army trip, studies, finding love, all the things that make life so great at that time. I hope he will have some semblance of a normal life once he returns. I hope his parents can bask in the love of their son, and in the privacy they so desperately need.

When kids go to school at 4 a.m.

4 Oct

I awoke last night to the usual shouts in Greek. The difference yesterday was that they didn’t fade away into the night, as generally happens to the joyous bellows of hipster Kolonaki bar-goers. When I finally dragged myself out of bed, it was about 4:30 a.m. There was what looked like a bunch of teens hanging out on the stairs of the high school opposite our apartment, being obnoxious, oblivious to the attempts of others to sleep in peace.  So I decided to yell at them, and then call the police when that didn’t work. This is a familiar scenario as I regularly call the police on obnoxious teens waking us up in the middle of the night in Modiin.

The lights were on in the school and kids were milling about as if it were midday. It was so bizarre; I wasn’t sure what to think. Granted, I was in a bad mood, as my sleep deprivation has recently reached new heights. Amitai is a great sleeper but when Bubby first arrived in Athens, he thought her jet lag was an all-night party and none of us slept! When I finally found the number of the police after looking through the Greek phonebook which I can’t read, the police came and the kids left.

What ensued was a restless night of perplexing dreams. Because the situation I had witnessed was so surreal, I’m not sure what was real and what wasn’t. A lot of images of the school and kids running around. Yehudit Ravitz singing a commiserative song a cappella in a nearby Athenian square was definitely not real, and neither was my encounter with my husband’s doctorate advisor in a northern suburb (whom I’ve never met, but is responsible for bringing us to this chaotic place!).

When I woke up for good, I discovered that the kids had “taken over” the school and had imposed a lockout on the teachers at the 8:30 am morning bell. Apparently there was a wave of takeovers last night, and some 600 schools have been occupied this way of late in Greece.  Our landlady tells us the move is against the new reform to high schools and she applauds them. The security guard at Aharon’s school said it’s something that has always been done in Greece, and it’s not particularly symptomatic of the current crisis.  I remember that’s how people explained to me that people burned cars every New Year’s eve in France. They just do.

Not sure what tonight will bring but tomorrow the city will be completely shut down. I can’t complain as I work from home, and Amitai goes to a private nursery so we are unaffected. The only change is that my mother and I will have to postpone our food tour of Athens by a day. Earlier this  morning the tour company rep. told me that we needn’t worry because they are in the private sector and the markets won’t close down. Later in the day she called to say they had to cancel the tour because the ferries will be on strike and none of the participants will make it to Athens. Oh well. The souvlaki will have to wait. Yesterday, my mother couldn’t do the hop-on, hop-off bus tour she had planned because students had laid down on roads near Syntagma Square in downtown Athens, blocking all traffic. 

BBC and CNN tell us the pressure is on the Greek prime minister to abide by the austerity measures and remain in the Eurozone at all costs. But the street tells us otherwise.