The Conflict of Belonging


The Conflict of Belonging

One of the most difficult things about living abroad is obtaining a residence permit. The process is time consuming, ulcer inducing and a little soul shaking.

I was up early, armed with caffeine and a folder bursting at the seams with documents. Ready for the one hour train ride from Corinth to Athens to The Most Intimidating Building on Earth; granted the local Gypsies didn’t steal the cables from the railway in the middle of the night (selling the copper is a popular way to make money.)

I’m sorry my parents are not Greek and I’m even more sorry I was not born in Greece. However I am a big fan of Plato, I can tell the difference between a Doric and Corinthian column and I laughed when I read The Clouds.

While on the train I practiced these silly words in a fit of paranoia godforbid I should be denied my residence permit and face deportation.


The Most Intimating Building on Earth

I passed the building three times. It was much prettier then I had expected. Classical, right off Ermou street and right across from cafes overflowing with tourist. But it was the crowd in front of the building that should have given it away.

My heart stopped.

I found myself in a sea of human desperation. Eastern families held tightly onto their children, Pakistani men with fear and anger burned darkly in their eyes, a gang of Albanians with identical tattoos on their necks, and a few terrified malnourished women; all waited outside the building. All with one goal: to get inside and obtain a residence permit.


The building was heavily guarded with police officers. So with all my heart I leapt over the heap of living sorrow and swiftly presented my passport to an officer; all the while hoping he was not a member of Golden Dawn.

He gently pushed me inside the building. People behind me began to shout.

I mentally apologized while pretending not to hear.


A chain smoking police officer directed me to an elevator. As I exited I was hit with the smell of urine, body odor, spices, and sweat. Those who were lucky enough to get inside now had to wait here: a narrow hallway with chipped paint and one window.

People shouted, papers rapidly shuffled and somewhere a baby was crying.

An American flag clumsily embroidered on a Nigerian woman’s tee shirt momentarily confused me.

I was aware of a man looking me up and down as I stared intently at a heavily armored door: the only thing that was now between me and my residence permit.

I must get through that door.


 The Gatekeeper to Hades

A little man with a big voice opened the door and scanned the crowd. The energy of the room shifted so suddenly to that of hope it was if a miracle had fallen from the sky and landed on the floor. The Nigerian woman stood in front of him with her chest in his face while others pleaded to be allowed entrance.

Behind him, a shady looking lawyer in a wrinkly suit strided through the door and a few people snuck in behind him, including a thin but fierce eyed woman holding her baby.

Excuse me”, I whispered to the little man with a big voice as I showed him my passport, “I need to drop off the rest of my documents.”

In my imagination I could feel the eyes of the others looking at me in disgust, burning a hole through my back and into my soul. Spoiled, rich American! I could almost hear their thoughts in unison.

Go!” he whispered.

As I hurried through the armored door I could hear a fight break out behind me.



Just 5 minutes more!” The little man with a big voice kept reassuring me over two hours while I waited my turn to be called into an office.

Without compliant and I leaned against the wall and absorbed the chaos around me. I watched as the woman with the baby was caught, but she refused to give up without a fight. She begged then she screamed and then she fought until she was dragged out.

Finally I was called into the office and handed over what felt like 100 documents with 6 trillion stamps.

You’re finished.” snapped the exhausted looking woman behind a desk.

 Greece was officially my new home.

Floating on a cloud of relief, I left the building but swiftly put myself into check as I passed the Nigerian woman wearing the American shirt with tears in her eyes and looking at me in disbelief.

It was at that moment a tourist passed us, a mom with a her teenaged daughter dressed from head to toe in American flag attire.

I couldn’t help myself, I stared in disbelief.

Mom that woman is looking at me funny!”

I noticed.” Her mother replied.


I’m sorry my parents are not Greek and I’m even more sorry I was not born in Greece however I am a big fan of Plato and I can tell the difference between a Doric and Corinthian column. But as I cried for Penelope and contemplated Odysseus I have come to this conclusion: we are all equal parts of the Odyssey.



One Response to “The Conflict of Belonging

  • Wow!!!! The emotion I felt when I read this very short, but very powerful, bit of writing!

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