Greece is a country where people always welcome guests and routinely cook extra food, where a high-spirited dispute can end on the friendliest note, where parents maintain close contact with children after they leave home, and where the people take particular pleasure in relationships, generousness and intimate friendships. But these often good-natured people have found themselves immersed in fear, uncertainty and insecurity for the future.
My parents are part of this group of people, who were affected by the economic turmoil in Greece. Respectively, this has affected my life. In the beginning, not a day went by when I didn’t hear of daily riots, strikes and news of people committing suicide in Athens and throughout the country. The atmosphere of my city changed; streets, once lively with cafes, became deserted as shops went out of business and closed. The misery, pain and despair of Greek society were showing as an increasing number of homeless people and beggars were on the streets. Violence and crimes increased and our home, my father’s office and my mom’s clinic were all eventually burglarized.
I was shocked when our home was broken into. I felt that my home was always a safe place and now I no longer felt protected. I never dreamed it could happen to us. I felt defenseless, mad, sad and frightened all at once. I had parents who were stressed and continuously worried about my safety.
I lost touch with friends I had grown up with as many of my friends’ lives radically changed. Some suddenly had unemployed parents and had to relocate to other schools, others moved because they had lost their homes, many suddenly found themselves in one-parent households, some went to live with grandparents. Our household multiplied when my aunt Zoe and my cousin Kimon came to live with us when they no longer could afford to maintain their home. My grandparents also came to depend on my parents for monthly help because their retirement pensions were severely reduced.
At the outset of the financial meltdown my parents were talking about the same thing for about six months. The conversations revolved around the same themes: The situation is getting worse and worse. Salaries are decreasing, taxes are rising. Health and education services are disintegrating. Unemployment is escalating, prices have risen. Next winter it will cost us five times more to heat our home. I remember the following winter my school cut down the use of heating in the building, and on cold days teachers and students wore hats, gloves and scarves in class.
Until this point my life had been affected by the crisis and there had clearly been changes made, but my life had not yet been overturned. My life was turned upside down when real panic set in for my parents (many middle-aged Greeks fear for their children’s future more than theirs).
Once they acknowledged how desperate things were getting, shattering all the dreams they had for their children, they became very scared and worried, seeing there was little hope for a better future. They were seriously thinking not only about leaving the country, but leaving Europe. When my father told his father, “We are seriously considering leaving Greece,” my grandfather emphasized, “This is all happening because we (the Greek government) have acted irresponsibly before the economic collapse.” I had never seen my father so determined when he triggered back, “But that is no reason to punish the children, to destroy their future as part of a remedy for a past for which they bear no responsibility.” I knew in an instant that my life would never be as I had imagined it. I was right; within a month my family and I moved to a new world: Vermont.
The financial meltdown in Greece totally affected my life. I moved to a new home on a different continent. Unfortunately, it didn’t go smoothly. I struggled to become fluent in another language and still do well in school. I missed my home, family and friends, and the smell of the sea. I often felt so homesick I couldn’t breathe. I worked hard at trying to understand people and things I wasn’t familiar with. Before this, I never would have imagined me, my skeptical self, in a small community in rural Vermont. I often asked myself, “Why am I here? What am I doing?”
Somehow I made progress. My teachers and new friends helped me gain confidence that spilled into other parts of my life. I live in a safe and secure environment to grow in. My parents are no longer stressed; they believe and I know I have opportunities here for my future. It wasn’t easy, and I think a lot about how things are for people in Greece. Nevertheless, I feel the warmth and openness of this place. This is my home.
Max Ginnis is a senior at Harwood Union High School.
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