An American Abroad: Hero to Zero?

Last week I said that I was traveling to Athens and Santorini, which is true, and it is even truer that I was super excited. I could go into the different places that I went and provide examples of my amazement in regards to the art and architecture. But if anyone truly knows me, they can already understand my obsession with classical architecture, and probably prefer to never hear me talk about fluted columns or dentils ever again. But something I found very profound was the relationship between the classical identity of Athens and the modern city of Athens. I honestly was not sure what to expect when I traveled to the city, I was believing it would be enriched with the history that I have found inspiring, which it was. However, in its current economic and immigration state, I was skeptical. I strongly believe that by traveling to Athens I never felt more thankful for my country and the opportunities it has given me. Just like any city, there are nice parts and some not so nice parts. Obviously, Athens is no different, but I think the comparison between the wealthy empire Athens was till its current uneasy state is interesting to think about. On the outside, Athens tends to show its classical roots, which thousands of tourists, including yours truly, gobble up each day. But that’s not the Athens it is now.

We took the ferry to Santorini; the metro station and port in the location were some of the sketchiest places I have walked. I am not quite sure anything would have really happened to me, but the extremely deteriorated location was not a turn on by any means. Throughout the city, I would see several homeless children and mothers begging for money. Now, the amount I saw prior to the ferry was not dramatic, it did not seem that different than any other city. However, when we turned the corner on the ferry, I saw hundreds of camping tents in the port. I mean, I have seen photos and videos of refugees in Greece prior, but it’s one of those things that you can never truly wrap your mind around unless you see it. I am not an expert on the European refugee crisis, but I like to think I am an expert on being a human being. The first thing that came to my mind was how brave these people must be, they left a place, their home, possibly the only place they have known for another continent who does not really want them. They do not speak the language, don’t have a job, and clearly were expecting to just live in a tent in a decaying port. Now, I ask why aren’t more people looking at this subject, if another human being is forcing themselves into a tough situation by American standards, obviously the place they left was a whole lot worse. I understand there are political and national security concerns with this whole topic, but why is it possible for me, a single human to be watching this go by while wearing a new pair or sandals while another human is calling a tent in a foreign country his or her home. I just don’t understand how a human can let another human live like this, I mean look at the United States, we have shunned immigrants throughout our history. But how different is a refugee in Greece from an Irish man that crossed through Ellis Island in search of a new life in the 1800’s? Maybe I live in my own little naïve world of a pursuit of Happiness, but as far as I see it, all humans have a set of basic human rights and opportunities. And if I did not feel something, and felt guilty about my new sandals as the ferry went by the thousands of refugees, I do not think I would be able to consider myself a morally sound human.

To me, Athens was one of the greatest cities to ever exist, it brought so much to the world we live in now. They were heroic in a sense, but now…I am not quite sure what to call it. All I know is Athens and/or Greece is not the hero that it could have once been considered. The civilization that brought us epic tales and stories, the Olympics, Gods and Goddesses that seemed within reach, and of course columns, wouldn’t you think they would be in a completely different state now? I have loved my time in Greece and the people are some of the most welcoming I have ever met. I can tell they truly love their culture, but why isn’t that translated differently in the country’s modern state?