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Tuesday, August 09, 2005 

3 Things For a Better Athens


1. Gypsies selling their wares via megaphone and truck at 9am on weekends.
...or any day of the week for that matter. They go up and down the streets at 5km an hour blasting their voices through megaphones to make sure that the deaf woman on the 45th floor heard them. Noise pollution HAS to be reduced in this city so let's start doing something about it.

2. Laikes.
These are street markets and every day of the week, you can find them in every single district in Athens. They used to be a cheap way to get fresh Greek produce at cheap prices. Now, they're just as expensive as the stores and the produce isn't that great or cheap anymore. And it's not just produce they sell. Everything from silverware to curtains can be found there and I don't believe that it's fair to stores who also sell the same products and pay rent, taxes and give receipts. I've never gotten a receipt from a laiki. Another reason I'd like to see them go is because they occupy 6 or more city blocks. With parking spaces disappearing faster than people are buying cars, it would be nice to be able to find a space without having to spend 45 minutes looking for one on laiki day. For those of you who think I'm exaggerating, come to Dimosthenous St. in Kallithea on a Monday morning at 9am and see how impossible it is to find a parking space. The solution is to designate a large warehouse in every district and allow them to set up shop there much like meat, fish and flower markets to be found in most major cities.

3. Street Beggars
How many times I've seen little children no more than 5 years old begging in street squares or traffic lights by themselves late at night? When I talk to other people about it the response is that "they're Gypsies or Albanians". ???!! That was the answer. They don't matter because they're Gypsies or Albanians? Well, it matters to me. They're children first and foremost and they should not be on the streets period. (90 percent of the 300 children arrested for begging each year at the streets of Athens are Albanian...why are they arresting the children and not the adults? Or are they only arresting Albanians which is even more worrisome to me.)

Last Friday, I was at the Nea Smyrni square and a young woman with her baby was begging there...in 40C weather and the baby had no hat or water. I couldn't BELIEVE people were giving this woman money instead of calling the police on her for child neglect. I tried calling them on my cell phone but as usual, no units left on my card. I instead, walked over to her and yelled at her for being so stupid and selfish and informed her I would call the police. She got up and moved. Most likely to another square where she could beg in peace.

Now, many people reading this will assume I'm cruel and heartless but the facts can't be ignored. By paying these beggars money, we only encourage criminals to exploit these children. There are already far too many news articles regarding child exploitation in Greece. Children are taken from their parents in countries bordering Greece or even here in Greece for the sole purpose of begging or worse...child prostitution. It's time we stop supporting this illegal, abhorrent racket and start arresting and imprisoning those responsible. Get those children off the street and into homes and schools for a better future. If you want to help them, send your money to a reputable NGO (see below) instead...at least your money has a better chance of helping children with a notable charity than the exploiter who forces them to beg.

SOS Children Villages Worldwide--the world's largest orphaned and abandoned children's charity
Amnesty International--campaigns for international human rights including children

I agree on all three counts, although I will die before I ever live in Athens again anyway. I soooo hated it there.

The children begging thing really bothers me too, not to mention the parents that use their children for cons and begging and all that crap. Sure, I'm all for treating the gypsies and other immigrants fairly, but lets not let them get away with child abuse and mistreatment.

As to the street vendors with their megaphones, what is with the weird robotic voice thing they always use? God that creeps me out. The first time I heard one over the phone when I was talking to my husband I had no idea what the hell it was. He explained to me what it was and I asked him what is with the voice. He said that is just what they do. Odd people.

Your blog was posted at 5:41am! I'm totally in shock! What sane person is awake at that time unless they are staggering home from a club?

Anyway, I'm totally behind you 100% on issue number one! There's nothing worse than lying in bed listening to the din they make. If it wasn't illegal, I'd quite happily take a contract out on them and have them executed. But apparently it's against their "human rights" or something...

I'm finding it wierd that your against the laiki. I personally hate them. My mom used to (and still does from time to time) drag me out of bed at the crack of noon, drag me down to the laiki where we'd then walk past every stall about 48 times to compare prices before overloading me with heavy bags of crap and then we'd have to walk home about 6000 blocks in 40oC heat. It wasn't then and still isn't now my ideal way of spending a morning. The fresh products are still good at the laiki but the rest of it is the same overpriced rubbish they sell down in Plaka to the tourists.

The point you make about street beggers, I don't know what to say about it. You seem to think that people are going to think you are cruel. I certainly don't as it appears to me you give these issues much more thought than anyone I know. The example about the woman with the baby out in the sun. I wouldn't have noticed her to be honest and certainly the welfare of the baby wouldn't have entered my mind. I hope the readers of your blog realize that by funding these children, your not helping them as they immediately give the cash to the adults running this illegal operation. My mom isn't quite as hardened as me though. She always buys them ice creams or sweets as she says it's something for them which no-one can take away.

This thread also made me think of a blog topic you did a long time ago.... http://theseawitch.blogspot.com/2004/11/to-pay-or-not-to-pay-charity-or.html

Seawitch,

As I keep saying, I think that you put into words what many of us North Americans believe but sometimes just don't enunciate.

Keep up the good work, and by the way, I forward your comments many times to a Group of Greek Americans in the states and they are loving your words also.

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