Two-ish weeks have gone by since landing in Athens, and I’ve recently moved into the apartment I’ll stay in for the duration of my time in Greece. Athenian apartments are built to withstand earthquakes—which means residential buildings made of concrete, marble, and stone make up much of the city’s architectural landscape. My apartment feels incredibly large, even as I share it with two other students. Being conscious of apartment features that use electricity is the only unfamiliar aspect of Athenian domestic life. Remembering to turn the fuse box switch on to heat water for the shower, or avoiding plugging in too many appliances so as not to crash the entire apartment’s electrical meter requires some conscious effort on the part of American students, though I think this consciousness ultimately serves to illuminate what & how many resources are needed to complete daily domestic tasks many of us take for granted.
In an orientation session, a Greek architect named Maria spoke on the disconnect between Greece as a cultural/national idea and Greece as a European country. She was saying that the strong nationalism of many older Greeks might suggest a homogenous idea of what “Greek-ness” is and how it functions, though, she argued, this is a product of a mythology born from diaspora, economic hardship, and occupation by other global powers. The younger generations of Greeks—mostly due to an increasing population of those who are ethnically non-Greek—are beginning to puncture the myth of “true” Greekness.
This broadening in mindset and cultural construction can be seen in a diversifying racial, sexual, gender, and religious Athenian socio-political landscape, although this broadening is slow-moving and met with resistance at many levels in Athenian society.
Related to this, I’ve been considering what racial homogeneity in Madison means against the racial homogeneity I’ve been learning about in Athens. From street harassment experienced by non-white people on State St., to housing discrimination perpetuated by landlords in Wisconsin, to violent policing of non-white community members across Madison—all these acts of violence have been reflected in incidents I’ve witnessed walking around Athens, or in speaking with local Athenians. In other words, I am reminded that white supremacy and white nationalism are global ideologies, and in trying to understand this further, I’ve been seeking out political organizations with anti-racist goals in order to learn more about the nuances of anti-racist social-political work taking place in Greece. So far, I’ve found several organizations based in Exarcheia (a neighborhood known for its young anarchist and radical leftist communities) that I hope to involve myself with, so expect more on that in later blog postings.
I borrowed the title for this post from a piece of street art I first saw walking through Kolonaki, which is the wealthiest district in Athens’ city center. This was at the end of a walk that began in Exarcheia, where the infamous 2008 riots in response to the murder of Alexandros Grigoropoulos / Αλέξανδρος Γρηγορόπουλος by Greek police started. The walk ended at a bar where I spoke with a Greek man about America’s seemingly endless cycle of violent headlines, and what it means to feel “at home” anywhere in the world. I share all this to acknowledge a gap between what one considers home and the comfort we take in it—especially as that comfort often requires another’s discomfort.
None of this is a happy note to end on, but I find these are all important issues to consider when thinking about the experience of studying abroad. These are certainly issues I’ve been confronted with and learning to process as part of staving homesickness. Sure, being a guest in another country means enjoying its food, nightlife, art, etc.—which I certainly have been doing—but it also means becoming an active participant in the injustice, displacement, and discrimination that occurs in communities everywhere. With that comes an impulse to either remain ignorant and close yourself off to the violence occurring in your temporary home, or an impulse to learn more & undo some of the systems perpetuating that violence. For the past couple weeks, I have been trying to consider ways in which I can, through my own, marked non-Greekness, disrupt homogeneity in significant ways, & (hopefully) help others by way of that disruption.