Anthony and I wait as directed in the coffee bar in Agios Nikolaos, where Camil arrives shortly to pick us up. This is really a stroke of luck – a lift out of Trahila followed by another one all the way to Kalamata with friends of the community (see last post). Camil has a dentist appointment in town. He drops us on his way and we cross the city on foot. It’s a beautiful day.
After a few short lifts we get a long one – all the way to Patras with a Greek truck driver, Yiannis. The only catch is we have a couple of stops for an hour or two each to load and unload the truck. We take the opportunity to walk around and eat the bread, oranges and olive oil we brought with us. I have a two litre bottle of the oil we harvested: my last piece of Trahila. Yiannis comes over with a lettuce from his cargo and a couple of bottles of water for us. He’s not a talkative guy, but he’s obviously generous.
We arrive on the outskirts of Patras around 9pm. Anthony jumps out of the truck to give me a squeeze goodbye. He’s going to continue with our driver all night to Thessaloniki – a little more synchronicity for him.
After some faffing about with buses I get to the centre of town and meet Sma, who’s borrowed a bike from the guys she’s staying with, and we walk together to their flat.
Our hosts are a Greek guy whose name I can’t seem to pronounce and Tony, a Spanish guy who used to be an Erasmus student. They each have their own rooms and keep to themselves mostly, so it’s hardcore internet time for Sma and I who also get our own room and wifi connection. She’s been here almost a week already.
Walking around the following day, the first thing I notice is the migrants. There are people everywhere, especially down by the harbour – lined up along the fences staring longingly at the boats to Italy. It’s easy for me to connect with migrants here, I just need to walk around. I guess I must stand out a lot with my reddish-blonde hair, anarcho-hippy-punk attire and obvious lack of Greekness. I meet a man from Nigeria named Shaggy who, like most other migrants here, wants to go to Italy. Not allowed to stay and not allowed to leave either – the situation in Patras reminds me a lot of Calais. Shaggy asks for my phone number. I’m reluctant at first, but give it to him. He’s going to Athens for a day, but wants to call me when he gets back. I tell him sure he can call me and we can meet up, but in no way is he to think of this as anything other than friendship… EVER! He says of course, no… but he never calls. Was I too harsh?
It’s an interesting exercise to walk about in a meditative state, be aware of how all this attention brings a fear up in me, an urge to close down and erect boundaries. I concentrate on breathing, relaxing, opening to it as much as I can, but it’s hard.
Walking up the big steps to the castle, I’m followed by a sly looking man. He’s looking at me in a way I don’t like and it makes me impatient so that I turn to him and demand “what!?!” He smiles and slinks back to his friends, but one of them comes over. I’m not happy about this, but the man is much politer than his friend. “May I sit with you?” he asks. I reluctantly agree and he sits and chats with me a while. This man is polite, unintrusive and his eyes have a sparkle. His name is the Moroccan version of ‘Jesus’, so I take to calling him that instead. We discuss migrant problems, languages – of which he speaks a few – and the country he has come from, which he obviously loves. I ask why he came here – “It’s a big story!” Ah yes, it always is. He doesn’t want to tell me and I don’t push. Jesus tells me in the two months since he arrived, I’m the second (presumably non-sans papiers migrant) who has spoken with him. There’s a lot of racism here. Like all the others, Jesus doesn’t want to stay here, he wants to go to Italy – then up to Belgium, to England, to Canada… it’s a big dream. This guy has confidence, more than most others. I wonder if it will see him through.
Sma and I go to meet a girl I found on CS, an anarcha-hippy like me. Silena takes us to a squatted social centre, Perasma (“passage”), then to a Greek bar with live music where we drink “Rakomelo” – flaming hot sweet alcohol, with her friend Christos.
The squats here seem more open than in Athens. We go to the weekly Kafeneio (cafe) in Perasma, and another in Maragopouleio – the squatted house, recently evicted and then re-occupied. We go to the latter with Yorgo, another CSer who Sma stayed with last time she was here. He’s been hosting her winter boots and coat ever since.
I meet Jesus again two days later in Persma. He’s with some friends and I go over to say ‘hi’ and invite him to sit with us. I’m with Yorgo and some other “comrades” (they use that word a lot here) from the other squat. One guy, Dimitris, persuades me that I absolutely have to go and listen to Rebetiko music in another cafe. Jesus and his overly-smiley friend come with us. The friend is constantly looking at me, flashing his teeth. I feel uncomfortable, but smile back. Jesus himself is as respectful as before.
I laughed when Dimitris said I’d be out half the night – I’m usually in bed by midnight. But he’s right and it’s 5am by the time I get in the door, waking Sma who was already asleep. How did time fly? Maybe something to do with the kiss I shared with a Greek comrade, my first in three months.