I’m not an organized person, and I don’t really expect a squatter’s residence to be organized…but it’s a little strange here.
Last night we were told to come back today at 2pm. We show up on time, but can’t find Kastro, the Greek women, the Portuguese volunteers, or the French carpenter they suggested we speak with. I’m not so convinced I’ll be great at building things, but it would be useful AND I’d get to practice my French so I’m keen.
It’s Sunday afternoon and it’s scorching hot, so there aren’t even a lot of refugees around. This abandoned building looks extra abandoned today. We wait around for half an hour, but no one comes, and we can’t access Donation Mountain without keys, so we leave. We tried.
We go for lunch and although we order Greek food, we get a couple things and share them like Spanish tapas. I’m never leaving.
With so much of the day still ahead of us, we decide to head out to an official refugee camp on the other side of town. We take the metro, which is unlike any I’ve ever seen. Why? Because you don’t pay. The system is in such disarray, that the barriers are literally just left permanently open, so you can pass without a ticket. There are still staff working at the windows and some tourists are queueing to buy a pass, but we got a tip from someone at the squatters residence that no one will stop you if you just walk through. No one cares. Our bus driver shrugged this morning and waved us on when we didn’t have exact change for our tickets. Since hearing this, I’ve been watching people on the bus and the metro, and literally no one pays.
In exchange for your free ride, however, you might wait upwards of 20 minutes for a graffiti covered train to arrive. There are dozens of beggars on the platforms and it hurts my heart to have to shake my head and apologize so many times. Other than a few other riders, it’s like a ghost town. Another abandoned structure in this once vibrant city. The economic crisis has taken more of a visible toll than I remember from when I was here in 2011.
The difference between the squat and the camp is stark. Firstly, the camp is much bigger, set up like more of a village. Old shipping containers have been converted into homes, and each pair has a shared bathroom between them. There is a soccer field, volleyball court, a shaded dining area with picnic tables, an air conditioned dance and yoga studio under construction, and more. The organizer who shows us around explains everything in Spanish so I only understand bits and pieces, but I hear him say they invested 8,000€ into the dance space.
By contrast, the squat is struggling with plumbing because there are too many people in the building, some injured or disabled residents have to walk down 2 or 3 flights of stairs to reach the bathrooms, and there is nothing but a small, paved inner courtyard where the children can play. The squat does have a park across the street, but the camp looks like a dream compared to the old abandoned school. There is also more dedication to routines and seems generally more organized. Camps receive some funding from the government and are more official; documented. Obviously at the squatters residence, it’s an under the table operation and receives no funding besides what volunteers bring in for supplies. Legally, the squat can’t ask for donations, because legally, they don’t exist.
I kind of like that though because it means I’m in full control of the money I’ve raised and can make sure it all goes to the supplies/repairs/investments that I see as most important. What the refugees tell me they need.
Even though it’s explained to us in Spanish, it’s clear to me that this camp doesn’t need any more volunteers. The guy showing us around seems most interested in me as an English teacher, and another one of our volunteers who is a dance teacher, but as far as other tasks, it doesn’t seem like they really need or even want us. The last thing I want is to feel here is redundant. We exchange information regardless, and I offer to come back if they want a teacher, but honestly I think I’d rather invest my time at the squat. It seems like they could use the help more.
We head home for a little siesta and then back to the centre to meet up with the Portuguese volunteers. We find each other in Syntagma Square, where some groups of people are playing music and dancing! A large crowd is drawn, and everyone takes turns joining in, or standing on the sidelines and clapping along. I recognize one of the dancers from the squat yesterday. He’s the son of the man who invited us in for tea – he did all the translating. He comes over to chat with us for a few minutes and says that they’re dancing to Palestinian music. The dancing is really pretty impressive. Everyone knows all the steps! They’re so in sync! They look like they’re having so much fun, and it’s equally as fun to watch.
3€ water throughout the day
3€ patio drinks
Transport: walking/free metro