It was one of those coincidences that fate conjures up every now and then when you are plugged into music as you make your way through the city.
The first few bars of Roberta Flack’s Tryin’ Times played through my earphones as a dishevelled man boarded the train. There was nothing remarkable about him and it soon became apparent that he was a drug addict – begging for money and spinning a story about a hospitalized child – like many others that trudge through Athens’s trains every day in the hope that they’ll raise enough money for their next fix.
But for some reason – perhaps the immaculate timing and tone of the accidental soundtrack to this tragic urban scene – I felt an immense feeling of helplessness. Beyond the moral dilemma of whether to give this man money, the sense of being in no position to make a difference was perhaps prompted by the awareness that he is just one of a growing number of people in this city that are slipping through the cracks. His emaciated frame spoke of a man who was the prisoner of an economic war as well as his own personal battles.
In Greece, where drug use and its related diseases are on the rise, and the financial resources to deal with them are diminishing, this man’s fate seemed as bleak as the country’s. The survival of both is dependant on being able to breach the disinterest of others.
In the meantime, Greek society continues to fragment. Athens Mayor Giorgos Kaminis warns of the need to stand up to the “fascist gangs” roaming the city’s streets, almost a quarter of the population is officially jobless, thousands have lost access to healthcare and long queues form at soup kitchens.
Tryin’ Times describes a world of ghettos, riots and inequality. These were mostly foreign concepts in Greece until recently but have now become part of everyday life. Trying to work out how the country recovers from this point is as anguishing a task as attempting to understand how it got here.
Talking about getting over these trying times seems woefully inadequate at the moment.