Thu May 4th, 2006 at 11:28:07 AM EST
Hello from Athens, everyone. I'm finding myself at a rather antiquated computer (I'd say maybe 1991?), that, however, has a Greek version of Linux called Hellug. Nice. I came here to interpret along with five of my fellow students from London Met. Before I left, I promised I'd write a few reports on what's happening here, which I'm doing now.
I'm finding it a bit hard to begin. What should I write about first? How about a few adjectives about how I feel. Overwhelmed. Lost. Tired, disenchanted, frustrated, freaked out, too. Where am I? I came here to be useful, but I'm finding myself wondering long corridors, looking for who-knows-what. If there were one word to summarize this event, it would be CHAOS.
I came here to work, voluntarily, out of "good heart and for a good cause", or so I though. I left my cozy home (sniff), my partner (double sniff) and my four-year old (AAAARRRH!) for what seemed to be an opportunity to do something valuable. The accommodation is Spartan (we're in Greece, after all): six people in two rooms on improvised beds in a house that hasn't been used for years. The shower has no curtain so we all dutifully mop each time we're done... you could eat off of the floor. There are no chairs and the floor is made of bits of marble... rather cold. But that's okay. We're going to the SOCIAL forum, right? No sinful, capitalist luxuries for us. Fair enough. I didn't come to be pampered.
The ESF is two minutes away from the sea, south of the centre of the city. It's taking place in an old airport. Definitely impressive size-wise. Due to some lapses in organization (there seem to be MANY), I won't be interpreting until Saturday, so I can spend the days as I please. I was told to look for the Czech group to see if I could help out, but it's like looking for a needle in a haystack. Plus the Czechs don't seem that friendly anyway. Maybe they wouldn't want me around and tell me off. So I walk around to "soak in the atmosphere". Taking pictures, stopping at booths, peeping into conference rooms, fiddling with radio channels (the interpreting is done over the radio this year... clever if you have a good radio. I don't, and cannot hear doodley squat.) I'm hoping to learn something new. Instead, I feel transported back in time about 18 years. I see red: red flags, red stars, red T-shirts. Red signs, the Cyrilic alphabet. Portraits of Lenin, Stalin. The sickle and the hammer. Anti-capitalist slogans. And I begin to question where on the political fence I'm sitting. The political compass throws me in the far left; the centre of the left bottom square seems to be my home, right there with the majority of ETs. But here, I feel nauseous. A fundamental aversion is gnawing in my gut, something that has been with me since I was a kid. I recall our lame salutes to the Party, drawing Russian soldiers with carnations, the horrendous red pioneer scarf I was never able to tie properly, to my parents' joy. The stories about the evil imperialists, the first of May processions with decorated green tanks, singing the "Internacionala". I remember the empty stores, the coveted lousy shoes smuggled from Poland, the envy of my schoolmates at a pink ruler from Australia. I remember my mother listening to Radio Free Europe with her head under the pillow. Our manipulative, rigid, oppresive "comrade teachers" that held together and there was nothing you could do once you fell out of favor. The black soot on our balcony coming from steel mills with chimneys with no filters, and stories about children who went to so-called health camps and had to return because of oxygen poisoning. I think of STB, our equivalent of the KGB, and of the dreadful feeling that the walls have ears, no matter where you are. Of my sister, running through the Yugoslav Alps to get away.
I look at the people lost in the sea of red, and I wonder... how much do they actually KNOW about this "red" life? Do they really have any idea about what their propaganda stands for? What are its implications in reality? This is a homage, a celebration to everything we learned to hate.
Maybe I just need time. Listen more, see more, talk to people. Be selective. Sure not everyone is a die-hard communist here. I heard a good talk on global warming, and another one on social housing programes. I'm takin g notes and will write down the most interesting stuff.
Hopefully I can continue tomorrow, if I get to a computer. Which might not happen, so be patient with me. When I get back to London, I will post my pictures, too.