Friday, July 3, 2015

The Economic Crisis in Epirus

Days before I boarded my flight to Greece, I'd heard that the economic crisis was heading toward a critical turning point. I worried about civil unrest, the banks running out of money or not being able to use my ATM card. . . but of course, not enough to cancel my trip.
On the last leg of the journey, I traveled aboard a somewhat empty ferry from Corfu. While sitting inside the lounge, I  watched the panic unfold on the television, not quite sure what the Greek newscasters were saying and when I finally disembarked in Igoumenitsa, the chatter of English-speaking tourists deepened my concern.

I cannot tell you what is happening in the cities nor can I tell you about Greece's islands or all of her countryside villages. I can only tell you what I see and hear on the Northern coastline of Epirus.

The banks are closed. They've been closed for the past five days. Small business owners are unable to get the supplies they need to conduct business because there is no way to pay a supplier electronically, so businesses sit idle and orders go unfilled. The ATM in Amoudia was filled the day before yesterday, so said one fisherman as we relayed to him that it is now empty. In the supermarket in Kanalaki, the flour and rice shelves are empty, though there seems to be plenty of other products. The ATM there has money but only $60 per day per card. If I were a younger person with a family, I would be taking that $60 and stocking up on canned goods. The roads have very little traffic on them. There seem to be more motorbikes than cars. At $60 a day, it's probably foolish to waste money on gasoline for a car. There are far fewer tourist than in years past. In fact, some of the seaside towns such as Plateria, and Amoudia, towns that are mostly visited by Greeks on day trips, are so deserted that they remind me of a time long ago before the Egnatia Highway and the influx of easy travel. It's a circumstance that I have often pined for with the new era of crowds and summer commotion, but now that the empty beaches and empty eating places are back, I can't say that I am glad about it. As the saying goes: Be careful what you wish for; you just might get it. 

I have to admit, I'm feeling a bit uneasy.
There is a general air of anticipation that reminds me very much of the preparation that occurs back home on Long Island, right before a winter blizzard hits or that mounting anxiety just before Hurricane Sandy made landfall on the east coast of the U.S. in 2012, causing much destruction. It's a feeling of wanting to prepare for an imminent disaster but not really knowing what to expect and not sure if you are overreacting. I'm glad that I'm on the countryside, especially in Epirus, for these people are a unique bunch.

The restaurants have almost no customers but the cafes, where one can sit for hours with a cup of coffee that costs one euro, are full. The patrons, as always, sit and debate the rights and wrongs of the Greek government, but mostly reiterate what has appeared to be their lifelong mantra: Don't worry. Everything will be okay. I was introduced to this attitude when I came to Epirus for the first time in the 1980s when money was the drachma and when indoor plumbing was only a dream. Some things have changed but not the Epirus spirit.

These are tough people and the new generation who have grown up with much, still have the blood of those who suffered to give them that plentiful life. The village gardens are alive and thriving, the olive trees continue to yield their olives and their oil, the sheep and goats produce milk which in turn provides yogurt and cheese. The chickens still lay eggs, the sea has her fish, the bees continue to produce honey and the villagers still know how to make their powerful moonshine. Life continues.

Yes, to be fair, the money dwindles and is missed terribly but Epirotes have always known how to survive and they continue to do so with gusto!

I'd love to hear from you!

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