“If you’re twenty-two, physically fit, hungry to learn and be better, I urge you to travel – as far and as widely as possible. Sleep on floors if you have to. Find out how other people live and eat and cook. Learn from them – wherever you go.” – Anthony Bourdain
My name is Anna Coffer and recently I’ve experienced too many memorable things to not write them down. I am a strong believer that when a memory, a moment, is put onto paper, it is solidified and immortalized. What follows is an often convoluted and confusing account of my travels as I get lost countless times on a continent far from home.
My mentality surrounding getting to know a new place is simple. Get as lost as you possibly can and attempt to find your way home. This is how I have accumulated such a knowledge of my neighborhood in Pangrati and how I know how to get back to Syntagma Square from miles away. Simply, I have accepted that there is no possible way that I will know where I am innately, so I am forced to invest time in getting lost.
Everywhere I travel, whether it be Jerusalem or Amsterdam, I must walk. When walking, it is so much easier to notices the small nuances of everyday life that make a city so beautiful and multifaceted. These nuances, a broken down building left to rot in 1930s splendor, or a rare book market tucked away in an alley, serve as clearer lenses for seeing the city for what it is.
Often times, walking does not take you on the fastest route, but it usually takes you on the most interesting route. So enjoy what is to come in my chaotic walking, sometimes running, adventures as I get lost and attempt to find my way home. What follows is a storied tale of sleeping on floors and trains, taking wrong busses and frantic climbing. But, in addition, be prepared for my awestruck ramblings as I continuously wander and wonder.
This semester, Athens is my home. The city is a patchwork of neighborhoods sewn together with a common history. These neighborhoods are not like the neighborhoods of New York; they all melt together with little differentiation between borders and inhabitants. Those who live in Plaka stroll through Monastaraki with little difference of deference. I have not seen the regional pride that comes with the attribution of neighborhoods such as in Queens or the Bronx.
Rather, there is a shared history of struggle and regional suffering that binds those native to Greece to each other. While there is this soft nationalism that binds causes to each other, there is also a deeply seeded racism and fear of “others” that permeates society. This fear is not directed at white tourists. It is instead focused on Asian appearing tourists as Greeks may remark that they do not pay as well as American or Western European appearing tourists. When asked, Greeks remark that these tourists are cheap, clueless, loud, and know no English. The disdain is palpable and comes across in tone-deaf conversation as some tourists are mocked and others are lauded.
This disdain and discrimination is not just found in conversation, it is also found in action. On a trip, friends witnessed Asian tourists accosted and forcefully shoved onto a bus. Another incident occurred when classmate was accosted for her dark skin on a field trip in Piraeus. Another friend is always asked her ethnicity when meeting Greeks. Despite these separate incidents, the Greek people loathe to call it racism. They insist that racism does not exist in Greece due to the country’s lack of slavery. Here, racism is intrinsically linked to slavery in the fact that as slavery has no history in Greece neither does racism. The definition of racism here is so fluid that it becomes impossible to categorize any action under the label.
Despite how difficult this definition may be to adhere to and categorize actions by, racism may be found in the differing treatment off tourists in addition to the sequestering and consistent marginalization of immigrants in the slums of the city.