Nov 202020
 
 November 20, 2020  Posted by at 8:14 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , ,  6 Responses »


Georgia O’Keeffe Red poppy No. VI 1928

 

 

High time for another update about our support for what is now called the “Self-managed Social Kitchen Monastiraki” here in Athens (Athina). It’s again been a while, because for a long time so many things were uncertain and up in the air. I guess that is inevitable when the entire world lives through insecure times, and the homeless as always are more affected by such things than anyone else.

For the first half of the year, I wasn’t even here, I spent the first lockdown period in Holland, because I thought Greece would be more affected than it, but I was very wrong. Greece had it down then. It’s only now, 3-4 months after they opened their borders to tourism again, that things go wrong.

But the country needs revenue from tourism, it cannot keep its borders closed forever. There’s a lesson in there somewhere about what I wrote earlier, that “after 10 months, we can’t keep treating COVID as the only problem in town. That’s myopic. We need a bigger picture”.

Athens went into another full lockdown recently, and the city is devoid of life. Which will kill off another large part of the “mom-and-pop” businesses that make it function and kept it vibrant. There’s exactly two Starbucks in Athens, to name an example, one McDonald’s and one KFC, and I think they should be very proud of that. Monoculture kills life itself, both in farming and in city streets.

And countless people working in the “mom-and-pop” businesses, and in the tourist- and hospitality industries, no longer have jobs. They get some financial support, but not enough to pay all their bills. So what do they do? They go see each other indoors, where the infection risk is higher.

Still, here we are. And we have to deal with it. Back in March, the Monastiraki kitchen did that too. A lockdown doesn’t make the homeless any less hungry or needy, it makes them more so. And the boys and girls responded to that under ever more difficult circumstances. When cooking in the street was no longer viable, they devised a way to cook in a private space nearby and ride out the food to Monastiraki Square, on a cart.

 

 

Problem with that is it costs a lot more time and money, because every meal has to be individually packaged, and you now in COVID time need sanitizer and gloves and tons of bags, and facemasks. I bought a whole bunch of N95 masks for everyone a few weeks ago, because there are real risks when working close together, and then handing out the meals to the clients. I want to keep these people as safe as possible.

 

Then this summer, there was another issue. The kitchen had returned to cooking on the square, but in early August was told by municipal police that there were anonymous complaints about them “taking up public space”, and they couldn’t come back. All attempts since to find out what exactly was going on have landed nowhere. At one point some official promised he would come with a solution, only to never be heard from again.

And so, certainly with the new lockdown in place, the decision was made to keep cooking in the private place, and rolling out the food to the square. People are good at adapting. But there remains an underlying threat of the kitchen volunteers being arrested, a threat that was actually made in early August. For feeding people in need. Some world.

 

And this is a good moment to introduce Filothei, the lady and girl who is the driving force behind the kitchen now. Which she will deny, because it’s all about everyone else, not her, and because she insists she’s only 17. I began to wonder about the kitchen’s finances when I got back to Athens in June 2020, I thought they’d badly need more of the Automatic Earth funds, but they were in no hurry.

Meet Filothei 😉

 

 

Digging further, I realized we only provided some 10-15% of the funding. So where did the rest come from? It took some questioning, but sure enough, a large part of the answer is: from Filothei herself. And while that is supersweet, it also makes for a vulnerable situation. And then, of course, she got hurt a month ago when a piece of a mirror fell into (yes, into) her arm and she hasn’t been able to work her job as a physiotherapist for handicapped people since.

By the way, Filothei also has a large organic garden, which provides most of the vegetables for most of the year. For 200 meals every week! Automatic Earth readers’ donations are typically used to buy the staples, pasta, olive oil, canned tomatoes etc.

We decided to run a trial on November 16, when Filothei went to the supermarket with some of the €1,000 in coupons she still had left from what I bought in early July(!), without using anything still in stock, to see the cost for one run of 200 meals, and it showed a total of €242 (in current exchange rates, close to $300 US). While “my” coupons have paid for some €20 per week. We were both surprised at the numbers.

 

 

And no, €242 for 200 meals is not much, it’s less than €1.15 per person. While the NGO’s and charities funded by governments and the EU claim costs of €5-€10 per meal. But you still have to have the €242 every week. And it shouldn’t come from one sweetheart of a girl, or from me, or any other individual person. That’s not how you run a social kitchen operation long term.

Moreover, because of the COVID situation, other people who used to provide some funds, no longer can, because out of 30 of them “affiliated” with the kitchen, only 3 now still have jobs. When it rains, it pours.

 

 

So on November 16 we did the shopping trial, and the next day I went along for the whole cooking process, about 4 hours. November 17 is the day Greece commemorates its then military junta violently putting down a student protest at the Polytechnic university compound in 1973, and the government tightened its lockdown measures even more, fearing protests, which meant many who usually help in the kitchen were afraid to come in, fearing a €300 fine.

As did I, but hey, hard as it is to understand the details of the lockdown measures when you don’t speak the language, if others take the risk, who am I not to? There was police in full riot gear everywhere, and at the end of the day, around 7.30 pm, we had meals left. That never happens. Some of the guys later went into side streets, where the homeless were hiding from the police, and handed out dozens more meals.

 

But of course things ain’t all bad. Filothei told me yesterday about a group of people, organized in the “Love Van”, which is an organization made up of Greek athletes, that reached out to her to ask what she needs, and now promised to bring 160 winter coats and 160 sleeping bags next week to the kitchen. That’s such a grand gesture. Coat: $100 a piece, sleeping bag $100 a piece?!

 

 

Not everything is bad. And no matter how bad it gets, we will somehow make it through this. Hey, the shortest day of the year is only one month away, and after that things can only get better. But you already know what I’m going to say next: please help me, help us, help the people that need your help most.

Put the Automatic Earth, and the Monastiraki kitchen, in your Christmas donations list in 2020, and contribute to a real effort to help real people beset by real problems. These are mostly not people with drug- or alcohol problems, they are people who lost their jobs or businesses and their homes, through no fault of their own. That was true when I first got here in Spring 2015, and it’s even more so now, because COVID has killed off so many ways to carve out at least a minimum existence.

 

 

Most of you will know the drill of this by now: any donations ending in $0.99 or $0.37 go straight to the Monastiraki kitchen, while other donations go to the Automatic Earth -which also badly needs them, especially for Christmas-.

I dislike few things more than asking people for money, even though the Automatic Earth now runs primarily on donations, and there’s some sweet justice in that as well, in depending on people’s appreciation of what we do, instead of ad revenues.

But I cannot do this on my own right now. To get through the winter in one piece, the Monastiraki kitchen will realistically need about €1,000 per month. I don’t have that to spare. So I’m calling on you. In earlier times, 2016-2017, we had way more than that with Konstantinos, but both Filothei and I decided a few years back, independently from each other, that we didn’t want to work with him anymore.

So let’s see where we can get today, shall we? I want to write the perfect article with the perfect plea, but there is of course no such thing. Therefore, I will be back in a few weeks time with a reminder -and updates-, hoping that y’all have gotten the message.

I love all you people so much, and I’m sorry I can’t thank you all individually who have supported -and still do- the Monastiraki kitchen and the Automatic Earth all this time, and I ask you to keep on doing just that. The details for donations on Paypal and Patreon, for both causes, are in the top of the two sidebars of this site. Could not be much easier.

Love you. Thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We try to run the Automatic Earth on donations. Since ad revenue has collapsed, you are now not just a reader, but an integral part of the process that builds this site.

Click at the top of the sidebars for Paypal and Patreon donations. Thank you for your support.

 

 

Turns out, the same Filothei is quite the photographer too:

Filothei Photography

 

 

Support the Automatic Earth in virustime, election time, all the time. Click at the top of the sidebars to donate with Paypal and Patreon.

 

May 312020
 


Monastiraki Square deserted due to lockdown, Athens, Greece 2020

 

Well, actually, there is no Automatic Earth in Athens right now. But we’re working on it. And I have had a hard time finishing articles recently for some reason. It may be because it’s virustime, and it’s certainly because of the lockdown. People are social animals, and I am no exception. Living alone and working alone makes it more extreme.

Not that I have changed my mind on lockdowns; they are the only option to tame the virus under the circumstances. Still, a lockdown must be executed properly, to make it “as close to impossible as possible” for the virus to jump to new hosts, and that has only been done in very few places, either because politicians and “experts” don’t understand how and why, or they find it too inconvenient. But enough about that for the moment, even as today’s new global cases top 130,000 in yet another new record.

 

In mid-December I went from Athens to Holland, where I still rent a small apartment though I’ve been spending most of my time in Athens. I thought I’d stay a few months in the Lowlands, do some of the everyday -or every year- stuff that needs doing, taxes, medical things etc., and return to Athens in spring.

I had a ticket back to Athens from Holland on April 1, which I had bought early February, when things still seemed somewhat normal. But as the date approached, of course, we moved ever further away from normal. If I had booked a few weeks earlier, things might have worked out, but Greece implemented a very strict lockdown, so it wouldn’t have been much fun.

I could change the ticket for free until two weeks before departure, after which the cost for changing it would be close to the original ticket price. So I changed it. By then, there was a two-week mandatory full quarantine in place for new arrivals in Greece. Not very tempting, but more importantly I was thinking I didn’t want to become a burden on the Greek healthcare system.

Which according to some has shrunk by 75% (imagine that) due to EU-mandated austerity. I was thinking the odds of Greece and the Greek system being overwhelmed were much higher than that it would happen in Holland. Boy, was I wrong. The irony is that it is exactly this that made Greece adopt the strict lockdown measures it did, as early as it did, and faring so much better because of it.

For 2 months, until 2 weeks ago, everyone who was out in the street had to carry a piece of paper detailing why they were out (try that in the US!). The only valid reasons to be out were shopping for food or medicine. All stores other than supermarkets and pharmacies were closed anyway. Greece was early and strict. They didn’t feel they had a choice.

And even if so much of the healthcare system has been bulldozed, the core is still very strong, that is a major factor. The professionals (experts) running the system and advising the government are of a very high caliber, which is more than one can say of many other countries.

 

 

 

 

In Holland, it’s been a very different story. It was late to the game, and when it did decide on a lockdown, it called it an “intelligent” lockdown. Like Dutch people are smarter than others. Which, of course, people like to hear. Most stores have remained open (though not public transport), there was no mass testing, only people with obvious symptoms were tested, and the Dutch version of the CDC still maintains today that face masks don’t actually work (i.e. we are more intelligent than 4.5 billion Asians).

Like in many other countries, the lack of testing and masks really only had one reason behind it, and it wasn’t that they would not work, or that anyone believed they didn’t, it was that they didn’t have any. And then when a government says they’re not needed, the pace at which they are purchased abroad or can be produced domestically slows down too, even with all the high tech industries in the country. That way you sort of boil in your own fat.

We’re 5 months into the pandemic, and only now can one get tested without already being on the verge of death [Update May 31: still no test available without symptoms, asymptomatic carriers be damned. Should I fake symptoms?]. And only now are masks obligatory in public transport. This means the virus has become pretty much embedded, though perhaps not yet endemic, in the population.

It’s a giant gamble with the lives of your citizens when you try to hide your failure to acquire the necessary tools and implement the needed procedures, behind stories about how well “we” are really doing. The kind of gamble that politicians should at the very least by forced to quit for, but that is not going to happen.

But, more irony, they’re real popular. People buy the narrative that “this is the best we could have done”, and hang on to their lips every day for a shred of good news. That happens in many countries, of course, and, yes, it has a function: if you want to do a lockdown, above all you need a sense of unity. That it is used to hide lies and failures is almost an afterthought.

I don’t try to point out to people here -the few I see- anymore that their government has done a terrible job; they all watch the same news, and they’ve all bought the same “we’re in this together” kool-aid. Which, again, does serve a purpose, but it’s also very false. Here are the latest numbers from Worldometer:


Holland:
17.3 million people,
46,257 cases of COVID19, and
5,951 deaths.


Greece:
10.7 million people,
2,915 cases and
175 deaths.

I don’t even have to do the percentages, do I? The “successful” and “intelligent” Holland not only, 5 months in, still has an “official” worse “deaths per million population” rate than the US(!), the Dutch numbers also invariably come with the official addition that “real” numbers of both cases and deaths are much higher due to the lack of testing.

Almost as if they’re proud of it. As if it’s a waste of time to try and keep track of how and where the virus is spreading in your society, something you won’t ever know if you only test and count people who are already in hospital or dead.

 

High time for a more uplifting story. In early March, as Greece lockdown measures took hold one by one, almost all of the social kitchens were quickly shut down. But not the people the Automatic Earth has been supporting for 5 years running with your kind help. “Our” crew changed strategy as cooking in the street was no longer an option, and started preparing meals in a central place, only to drive down and hand them out fully ready in the familiar places near Monastiraki square and the Piraeus port.

And because so many other social kitchens had closed and the homeless still needed to eat (always the first to bear the brunt, no exception this time), they made -and make- a lot more meals as well than they were used to doing, and worked 4 days instead of 2, preparing some 700 meals every week.

It’s not just many more meals, but every meal takes much more time and energy to prepare than usual; each has to be packaged separately, because of course fears were that the homeless would be most susceptible to the virus. In short, they’ve all been working their behinds off. Everyone talks about heroes, and these people are mine. Let me show you with a few pictures:

Here’s Monastiraki square, deserted (with the Acropolis on top of the mountain):

 

 

Some of the crew preparing meals in the central place:

 

 

And posing (that’s Tassos doing his finest Greek Zorro):

 

 

Then there’s of course -some of- Da Boyz:

 

 

The usual hot meal in the big pot:

 

 

But lots of other things too, all individually wrapped:

 

 

Which then end up in these crates before they’re loaded into cars to be distributed.

 

 

I love this picture, these are some of the things served on Greek Easter, April 19, because the homeless, too, should celebrate:

 

 

And then the packages are handed to the people in central Athens:

 

 

And at the port of Piraeus:

 

 

Greece, like other countries, is slowly easing its lockdown, first the stores opened, last week it was terraces at bars and restaurants, and next week it will be the inside of these places too.

“The Crew” is not yet back to cooking in the streets, that will take a bit more time. I’ve been keeping in close touch with them, and it’s high time to replenish the supermarket “checks” I last arranged for in December. First thing I’ll do when I get there. Been offering it all the time, a bank transfer might have worked, but so far they manage.

Air traffic is resuming as well, bit by bit. When I changed my ticket in mid-March, I had no idea what would be realistic, and picked June 16 “out of a hat”. Not a bad guess, it turns out. June 16 became 17, and 2 days ago the Greeks said Holland is a risk country, so no flights before July, but this morning they changed that again, to mandatory testing at the airport followed by a night in a designated hotel; it now looks as if this might actually happen. Then again, 17 days is an eternity in virustime of course.

And in the process I’ll get tested, something I can’t get done in Holland. I’ve been holed up in an area of Holland with very few infections, but I’ll still have to do the train-airport-plane routine to get to Athens, all places where the danger of being infected is -relatively- high. Holland is a country the size of a postage stamp, and it still today averages more new cases than Greece has had total deaths.

 

As always when I write about the Automatic Earth in Athens project, I ask you to support it. There are still a few hundred dollars left, but I want to buy at least €1000 worth of supermarket checks, so the crew can fill their by now empty pantries and cupboards and do something extra for the clients, who haven’t had an easy time.

The way it goes is simple and identical to how we’ve always done this: you can donate through our Paypal widget at the top left corner of the site. Any donations that end in $0.99 or $0.37 go straight to the crew, other amounts go to the Automatic Earth, which also badly needs support, and which you can of course also support via Patreon, see top right corner of the site.

I am honored and proud to be associated with these people, and proud of the bonds we have forged since 2015, and I think you should be too. Together, we support the most vulnerable people, homeless and refugees, in a city still overflowing with vulnerable people (with many more added because of the virus), and we do it through a crew that doesn’t cease to amaze with their selflessness.

I don’t remember if I ever mentioned this, but a few years ago I was talking to a guy who did a project on Lesbos, maybe still does, and we were saying: many years from now, when looking back on your life, what will you be most proud of? We both concluded that this would certainly among the top in the list: supporting the weakest members of society. But I can’t do it without your help, which has been amazing all this time, and which I hope will continue in the same way that I am determined to continue to support this wonderful little shimmer of light.

 

 

We try to run the Automatic Earth on people’s kind donations. Since their revenue has collapsed, ads no longer pay for all you read, and your support is now an integral part of the interaction.

Thank you.

 

 

Support the Automatic Earth in virustime.