Go back to normal view
Of the half dozen or so absolute-requisite jokes, I’d guess my Dad’s favourite was, “What’s a Grecian urn?” (You have to say it, out loud). And the answer: “about five drachma, a week”! (… I did warn you).
Even allowing that wages in Greece are (still, at the time of writing) measured in Euros; sadly, in the summer of 2017, the answer to the question may be even more miserable.
That country presently sees unemployment rates of around 22%. Whilst specifically youth unemployment reached the giddy heights (depths?) of 60% as recently as March 2013.
This ‘joke’ came to mind for me, as I spoke to my son, Aidan, a few evenings ago, through the wonders of WhatsApp. As we spoke, he was cooking an evening meal for his eleven flatmates in the Greek city of Thessaloniki. Let me explain …
Aidan has, to my deep admiration, opted to spend this summer in Greece, bringing aid to refugees who have landed up there following journeys from further afield. Mostly this aid consists of food drop-offs: which he and other volunteers are charged with making where the refugees have congregated, and with ensuring that it is fairly distributed. He told me, to my initial surprise, that he and his fellow twenty-somethings have licence also to deliver food to the Greeks of the city who are without work, and who are struggling to survive amid the perilous local economy. Theirs is a genuine mission of mercy.
Impressed as I have been by Aidan’s ventures, I’ve naturally had a father’s concerns as well. Do you feel entirely safe? Is there any violence on the streets? Does the delivery of food supplies stir up antagonism between the different starving peoples? (To say nothing of the obvious, ‘are you washing your socks’?). He has been able to reassure me, and to give a flavour of what is involved. He was living initially in the volunteers’ flat with 4 British, 2 Spanish, 2 Italian, and one each from Germany, France and Croatia. The exact make-up has changed from week to week. The work is hot and gruelling, but it’s deeply satisfying and has its own rewards in the faces of the recipients. The largest proportion of the refugees are from Pakistan; with others from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan; and some from North Africa.
This summer in Thessaloniki has brought to mind several things for me:
1) Young people (and you’ll know your own Aidans) will often respond admirably to a cause, or injustice; a particular humanitarian or charitable concern. What is less often seen in them, is that institutional belonging which is more the province of earlier generations: political parties; pressure groups; uniformed organisations; student societies; or, dare I say (even), organised religion. More often, it is stark human need that gets them out of bed; blatant unfairness or wrongness, that stirs them into action. And good on them!
2) Young people (Aidan is 22) are too often unthinkingly done-down, rubbished and be-rated .. when there are some fantastic attitudes out there. Unconventional, maybe; off-beat and puzzling to us oldies. Yet many of you readers will have equally inspiring tales to relate of good-things-done by those-so-young.
3) How limited have been my own efforts, in my own student holidays and beyond, to make a difference on this scale; yes, I have given money, but never given my self in such a way. Though my work gives me opportunity, I reflect that my son has led where I myself have so seldom even begun to go.
If this young man offers any reflections from his experiences and new-found wisdoms, what might these be: don’t forget the poor; human fellowship crosses all boundaries; and, if you can do it, .. why not?!
Who’s laughing now … ?