The Experience

  • SumoMe

 

Note: I published The Experience exactly 3 years ago today.

June 1, 2011:

On the train, only one thing was out of place. The love struck teenagers who were annoyed by an unseasonal flood-inducing storm that drove them away from the serenity of the beaches.

As I exited the train and made my way through the station, I braced myself for a surge of determined angry-faced people. It wasn’t until I climbed the marble stairs and emerged at Syntagma Square- the central square of Athens opposite the Parliament; I felt the air shift to that of anticipation.

Besides a very distant echo of drums, horns, and people chanting, the first thing I noticed were the tents. A large group of indignant people of all ideologies had set up occupation. There were food venders, a miniature hospital, a radio and communications station.

Thankfully, the daily rallies, sometimes involving more than 100,000 people, have been for the most part peaceful.

Coffee Before War

I found a table at a cafe offering a perfect view of the square: the Parliament to my right, the Hotel Grande Bretagne to my left. Taking out my diary, and keeping my camera close but out of public view, I sickeningly felt as if I was preparing to write a review.

An angry-looking water boy put a glass of water down on my table and walked away without a word. A waiter, with darting eyes who looked as if he’d seen his share of bombs falling from the sky, tried to be extra polite and brought my cappuccino in unusual Greek swiftness. I couldn’t help but to wonder what they had seen and what they were expecting.

Cautiously and very slowly, I drank my cappuccino to avoid a sudden caffeine rush. A news crew was in front of me interviewing a man, whom I had before seen on tv, wearing a white suite and white hat. “Who really dresses like that in reality?” I think.

Another old man, wearing silk flowers on his hat, tries to cheerfully sell me lottery tickets, which I find ironic.

Anarchist trying too hard to hide their perfect posture, have appeared, sitting on a bench, portraying a calm demeanor, yet chain smoking and taking pictures.

One representative from the tent city cautiously hands me a piece of paper, to which I thank him in my nursery Greek.

Reading the paper, I discover that this movement is called Direct Democracy, an uncanny and romantic recreation of the ancient Greek system.

Clouds have finally retreated and the sun sits on her throne of blue brilliance that only a Mediterranean sky can claim. Sirens are now blaring in the distance and the banging of drums and shouts of marching crowds are getting deafeningly louder.

The owner of the cafe is pacing back and forth with sharp eyes, as if ready to defend. Wandering tourist stop in amazement, breathe in the electrified air, snap a few pictures and disappear. Some people pause and look over my shoulder at my diary, but I am writing in cursive, something that many people with English as their second language can not understand.

The Greeks who are sitting around me are quickly paying and abandoning their coffees. I think they are leaving, but no, they are grabbing their flags. Their departure has left an audible air of Albanian being spoken behind me. It is that moment that I question my sanity and wonder who is more stupid for being here, me or them? Then I glimpse the Pakistani who has set up a table to sell Greek flags and decide that he is the most stupid.

I light a cigarette and dismiss any surges of fear.

The cafe is filling up with spectators. An overweight man approaches me and ask in rapid Greek if he may take the extra chair from my table. Of course, I reply. He sits down, crosses his legs, and settles in as if he’s about to watch a football match. I didn’t mean you could sit with me, I think. I shrug it off as being lost in translation. As he lights his cigar, I crush my half-smoked cigarette in the tasaki and grab my bag.

The Experience

Slowly walking a perfect circle around the Square, I adjust my pace to those around me. People are talking about the uncertainty of Greece’s future and frustrated by endless propaganda.

I make my way through the growing crowd and bump into one of my friends. He has invited me to sit with him at one of the Direct Democracy gatherings. Thousands are gathering and sitting on the marble ground in a perfect recreation of how the ancient Greeks meant democracy to be. The citizens are the ones who share the ideas and debate, the citizens are the ones who vote on every topic. There is the absence of a leader because the ancients understood how easily it was to be corrupted.

In a moment that I will remember for the rest of my life, an old lady pauses infront of the group and looks at us in disgust. “Don’t just sit here and talk!” she screamed in a powerful voice,  “Storm the Parliament! Burn it to the ground! Take back your country!” And as I sat there Indian style, legs numb, squished between my friend and a thousand others, I glanced over at the Parliament, silhouetted in the full moonlight and thought I think that is about to happen any moment now as another massive crowd of thousands screamed and pushed their way closer.

Discussed at the gathering: The metro agrees to call off its strike so that they can transport citizens to and from ongoing protest. They talk about how a reporter form a major station was fired for covering the Direct Democracy movement. The group overwhelmingly votes to make a human chain around the Parliament tomorrow morning to block politicians from entering.

 Disorientation

As my friend headed back home, I decided to take one last walk around the Square. I made my way to the Parliament and found myself in the front-middle of the crowd, a perfect place to take a picture. But suddenly sirens started going off in my head. I felt trapped and claustrophobic in this angry, screaming crowd. In my imaginations eye, provocateurs could take advantage of this electrified moment and ignite a riot.

I know Sytogma Square well, but the feeling of disorientation was amazing. I followed a large man who was making his way out of the crowd, using him as my “shield”. I finally made my way to the stairs, leading back down into the Square- I stopped in wonder. Before me, was a birds eye view of 20,000 protesters, all headed for one direction: The Parliament.

 

Greek Protest

 

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