Young Greeks Start Grassroots Initiatives

Young Greeks Start Grassroots Initiatives

[slideshow]The current situation in Greece has not only changed the spending habits of Greeks, but it has also caused some to altogether look for fundamentally different answers to their changing lifestyles.  I met some of these intriguing, young Greeks at a two-day conference in Athens over the weekend.  One of the aims of this training conference, called Transition Launch Training and started by a UK-based organization, Transition Network- transitionnetwork.org, is to give those who are starting their own grassroots initiatives the know-how to take their idea from an initial vision into a sustainable project though creating awareness campaigns, building effective groups, establishing the right partnerships and overseeing practical actions. The two instructors of the conference, Naresh Giangrande and Sophy Banks, who flew in from the UK for the event, have taught this specific method-based course for the past few years across the world.   More recently, there has been an interest in their seminar from the crisis hit countries of Spain, Portugal and Greece. The interests of the participants at the event were wide-ranging.  About half of the forty attendees, who were around the ages of 25 to 40, came from Athens, while the other half represented the different parts of Greece- its islands, small villages and mid-size cities.  Many of the participants were already working on small, grass-roots sustainable projects and were figuring out how to propel their idea past the initial phase of forming a core group of friends and supporters, setting up a Facebook page and executing their first few activities.  The proposals we discussed ranged from practical urban initiatives, such as carpooling and promoting cycling, to more...
Greek Hospitality at a Mountaintop Village

Greek Hospitality at a Mountaintop Village

[slideshow]Every time I come to my grandparent’s village, Efira, one of the most captivating images of the terrain is a mountain off in the distance- Mount Skoli.  There isn’t something tremendously special about it.  But for my brother and I, when we would visit here in the summers as little kids, it was a guiding point during and also a stunning backdrop from where we would orient ourselves during our nature expeditions around the terrain of eastern Ilia. The only info that I knew about Mount Skoli is that it is 960 meters in elevation and it is in the northeast direction towards Patra- not too far away from the village where the Papandreou political family originally hails from.  Also, during the Greek civil war in the late 1940’s many left-wing, communist rebels were holed up here, which makes sense due to the rugged terrain of the area. A few of my aunt’s neighbors told me I should visit the main town at the foot of the mountain, Portes.  Although it was about a thirty-minute drive away, no one in the neighborhood seemed to have been there in ages, since it wasn’t really on the way to anything. It ended being a fairly easy and straightforward drive besides a couple forks in the road.  When I got to the village of Portes, I got out of the car and walked around a bit to get a better angle of the mountaintop and the landscape.  I then made my way to the town-square.  A man in his fifties, Kosta, who I had asked for directions on the road into town...
Reconnecting With Lost Cousins Through an Australian Permaculturist

Reconnecting With Lost Cousins Through an Australian Permaculturist

[slideshow]One of the things on my to-do-list in Greece is to visit a few organic farms.  I got in touch with a Greek-Australian friend, Tina, who I met in Sydney a few years ago.  She came to Greece in 2009 and now works on permaculture projects all over the country and teaches seminars to young Greeks who want to find out how to move to the countryside or how to live more sustainably. Her blog is www.kangouro.gr I called Tina last week and asked her where she was working now and if I could come visit for a “Greek farm day”.  She told me she had just finished a tour of  Peloponessos and the island of Kythira, to see where she would base herself for her next project.  She ended up meeting a very warm and industrious family, who live on a good-size farm, near the town of Amaliada, in the province of Ilia.  I asked her where precisely she was talking about, because this is the area where my parents are originally from.  After a little back and forth of “who, what, where, really?”, I realized that she was staying at my mom’s second cousin’s place, who we had lost touch with over the years.  It was an odd coincidence! I went off to the farm to visit them one morning last week.   There, I met for the first time, Uncle George, who after traveling and working all over the world, decided to settle down in the countryside of Ilia.   He reminisced about his first job abroad, as a taxi driver in the neighborhoods of Harlem and the...
Just another 800 year old Gothic church on side of road

Just another 800 year old Gothic church on side of road

[slideshow]I left Athens about a week ago for a mini-road trip around the Peloponnese.  I usually head straight to my parent’s ancestral village, where we still have a few relatives.  But to make the trip more interesting, I didn’t take the national highways. I stayed on the local roads and went through small village after village, asking for directions, occasionally getting lost and meeting some engaging locals on the way. When you drive around the Greek countryside, it seems like there is some type of archeological site off every other road.  They are labeled with distinct brown signs with gold-color lettering, denoting something historic.  Some of the sites are developed with museums, others just have a small plaque and maybe an enclosure.  Unless you’re an archeology buff and you know your ancient history, you have to just take a chance when you see “a brown sign” and go down a gravel road and hope you end up seeing something interesting. A few days ago, I drove out towards Nemea, the fertile wine region in Corinth, and I was on the lookout for what a travel book said was one of the few Gothic buildings in Greece – the Zaraka Monastery.  I have never seen a Gothic building before in Greece and it is pretty bizarre when you pull up to it. The unmanned site sits on the side of a local road, with a small wire fence enclosing the property, a sign on the front that just says “Zaraka Monastery” and an unlocked gate, from where you can enter and explore.  There isn’t a village nearby, just a small...
First Impressions of Athens

First Impressions of Athens

I’ve been in Greece for about a month now, primarily in Athens.  I’ve been meaning to start this blog for a couple weeks, but have been sidetracked by a few days on the beach, some lazy family meals and rediscovering my favorite neighborhoods in the center of the city. I was anticipating before coming here that Athens would “look different” this time around.  Flying in from the US, the first thing I noticed is how much more static everything appears, almost like it is in a time warp.  There are hardly any new visible investments coming into the country, there’s a virtual halt in construction and it seems like there’s a vacant retail store on every other corner. On a personal level, I’ve heard many mixed reviews about the situation here from my talks with locals, friends and relatives.   Many young professionals have left the country in the past couple years and more are still looking for an international connection to get out.   The general vibe is that people have been squeezed too much – slashing of salaries, pensions and layoffs and for the first time this year, a new and quite harsh property tax has been introduced. On top of this, there is a feeling of uncertainty about the future, because it is not apparent when and if economic growth will return.  Everyone knows that Greece’s debt has spiraled way out of control and the country has an enormous and inefficient civil service that needs to be dealt with.  But the economic plan implanted so far, with more austerity and no growth strategy, further perpetuates the contraction of...