Your Culture is our Culture

Experiencing The World In A New Way

I began my journey to Athens in Hong Kong. I know, super random. That’s how I wanted to go about my summer. This was the last summer I was going to have before being a full “grown-adult-in-the-real-world-who-complains-about-missing-college-all-the-time” and I didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity that many people so passionately told me about that they would have taken, to travel. I either had the option to graduate in August and go head on into the corporate world or step on the brake a bit and add on to my personal happiness by doing something that I had been wanting to do. Fortunately, I made the right decision and I soared abroad. I started in Singapore for a month and then to Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong, Greece, and Lebanon. But in this article I want to talk about a country that really left a dent for me.

 

Back to the earlier point that I made, Hong Kong was the starting point for my adventure to Greece. I had a flight from Hong Kong to Bangkok to Amman and then finally to Greece. The trip in total was about 25hrs. One of the only great things about these long flights is that there are so many random meals that you get at breakfast, lunch, dinner time. In reality we had no idea what time it was, I could have been eating breakfast at dinner time. It was difficult to tell since we were 10,000 ft in the air going about 600 MPH passing through all kind of time zones. All I really knew was that the girl to my right was fed up with me accidentally touching her elbow while she was trying to sleep. Lol.

 

When I arrived in Amman after a 9 hour flight from Bangkok I was exhausted and jet lagged. During my 6 hour layover, I was thinking of taking a short tour around Amman until I looked out the airport windows and realized we were surrounded by desert. I didn’t think it was too smart on my part to leave the airport alone in an unknown country knowing I had a connecting flight in a couple of hours. After looking into it a bit more, once I was back in Philly, it turned out that the center of Amman wasn’t too far from the airport and the desert was just like our normal grass landscape here, oh well next time! Anyway, I decided to stay inside and was waiting to pay for a pair of headphones when the cashier started speaking to me in arabic and seemed surprised when I told him I did not speak arabic. He said, “You look just like this Turkish woman I know”, and then I awkwardly said “oh, nice!” and casually walked away. It wasn’t common to see Latina women at all, so I couldn’t blame them for making other assumptions I guess. They charged me in Jordanian dinars which, at the time, I had no idea what the equivalent was in US dollars. Little did I know I was paying $40 USD for mediocre ugly baby blue headphones. I think I was assuming it wasn’t going to be too expensive since most expenses in South Asia, even in the airports, weren’t anything unreasonable. I decided to pick a waiting area to wait in and try to sleep a bit and then I sat down and looked around and noticed I was right next to the Muslim prayer room and all the women around me were wearing Hijabs and dressed in black. I was the only woman on the bottom floor who was not wearing a head covering and was dressed in bright colors. I noticed immediately that this drew attention and felt many eyes on me. I started to get a bit uncomfortable, so I got up and moved to a floor where the waiting areas were less crowded. As I was walking around pretending I knew where I was going, I saw an older couple snuggled up behind a wall beam sleeping on the ground. I did the same right near the windows where it seemed to be a bit more hidden. I hooked my bookbag to my arm and hoped nobody would be crazy enough to come rob me or something. The sleeping thing failed, I probably was able to sleep for about 15 mins and then I sat at the Starbucks for about three hours.

 

Finally arriving to Greece I was relieved after such a lengthy trip. I quickly came to the realization that this was the first time I was in a foreign country by myself without a cell phone plan and no one waiting for me. The first thing I did was exchange my dollars to euros, I was disappointed when I noticed I was getting less euros for the dollar. It was completely opposite in Asia! One thing that certainly did not help at all was the language barrier and the fact that everything was written in greek. I had to use context clues to make the best decisions of where to go lol. When I got to the subway, typical tourist move, I took the subway going the opposite way of my hostel, it was a 50/50 chance and I failed lol. I had the directions to my hostel, and all I wanted to do was get there, relax, and put my bookbag down. I got on this extremely crowded subway that was full of graffiti everywhere, on the outside, inside, and even on the seats. I squeezed my way into the subway and I accidentally hit a woman, that I didn’t see at first, behind me with my bookbag. She gave me the dirtiest look I could have possibly gotten and said something to me in greek. My welcoming overall wasn’t too great. After my subway adventure I got to the hostel and I was sharing my room with only one other person and we had our own bathroom, it was wonderful! She was a very nice girl from the UK.

 

Once settled in, I knew I had to wait until at least 8 or 9pm to go to sleep so I could adjust my jet lag. I went out and I started to make closer observations of what Athens was like. The neighborhood that I was staying was called Omonia, I learned later on that this was an area people were starting to stay away from because of its growing dangers. In Philly, we also unfortunately see many people who are homeless and poor in the streets, but here in Athens it was everywhere. It seemed to be common to be in the streets sleeping, even with tiny babies. That was extremely difficult to fathom. At a restaurant I sat in, kids that looked as young as 14 years old would bring their bag of tobacco and roll their own cigarettes. This was common and popular everywhere that I went in Greece, especially among the younger generation. The older generation was probably more able to buy a pack of cigarettes, but smoking was extremely popular all around and very much embedded in the culture. It was difficult for me though to be okay with mothers smoking with their adolescent daughters and their babies in the stroller next to them. The next morning I took a walking tour of Athens with others who were also staying at nearby hostels. Our tour guide openly told us that he was not a registered tour guide and he “technically” wasn’t allowed to be giving official “tours” of Athens and charge for them so he would gladly take any donation at the end. He was very honest about his situation and that of many others. It seemed that many were doing what they could in order to stay off of living in the street. We walked through modern day Athens as well as historical and ancient athens, it was unbelievable. We were told which streets would rip us off and which ones had the best authentic foods, huge tip for any traveler is to get advice from locals! We talked for miles in 100 degree heat observing the Acropolis from afar and tasting local greek foods. I was torn when thinking of how beautiful Athens was, but how badly its people were and its political environment was. You could feel the frustration of the local people all over, not just in the homeless. I remember vividly waiting to go up to Acropolis when I decided to go to the restroom and there was a lady standing right in front of the stall with no one else there. I asked her “Hi, are you waiting for the bathroom?” and she glared at me and said “Yes” and then a second or two later she says again, “What did you think I was doing? Just standing here? What else could I have possibly been doing?”, I felt this old woman’s frustration and I said, “I thought maybe you were waiting for someone that was in the bathroom and I didn’t want to cut in front of you.” She then looked at me and didn’t answer to what I said but then started complaining about the women that were taking so long in the stalls. It seemed that this woman just needed something to be angry at, or something to take out her frustration in. Granted, this may have not been all because of the state of Greece, but it certainly didn’t help. Especially the older generation who understood very well how beautiful Greece has been for many years in comparison to its current deterioration.

 

Later that night I went out with the friends I had made that same morning on the tour. One of the women was a Canadian teacher, one was a Athens local from Morocco, and the other two were a couple from France. Our local friend made sure to tell us that we needed to stay together and that they would come pick me up from the hostel even though it was out of the way. Indeed they came to come pick me up, we had to rely on the old system of being on time and trusting people’s word of where they would be since we didn’t have cell phone communication and wifi wasn’t always available. We went to the rooftop bar of a hostel and looked out into the night where we could see the Acropolis lit up as if it were part of a far away painting. It was incredible to be able to sit there, chat with new minds, and share the views. Afterwards we got a delicious gyro before they all walked me back home. Looking back, it was crazy that these people that barely knew me treated me as if I was someone they truly cared for. It was so humane.

 

My experience in Greece was unlike any other I have ever had. The culture was beautiful but its peoples frustration was painted all over the city. For me to walk through the streets of Athens and experience this all, was life changing for me. It shifted my perspective and has allowed me to continue to think about a world far beyond mine.


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