Saturday, September 27, 2008

Observing being a "non-observer"...


Well, today's post contains a bit of a sad story, so look if you must, but if your day has been good... don't look...

I wrote the first half in a memo on my Blackberry as it was happening so the thoughts on my mind would be fresh and any impressions I had at that exact moment would not be watered down by time... you know, given enough time, even the worst things seem not so bad.

But its not all bad. The second half returns to not such a tragic tale.

In all actuality, my friends, did you think I was just going to post stories all filled flowers and butterflies and rainbows? This is not a moderated blog. I'm not posting this for anyone but myself and anyone who might get a little enlightenment from reading it...

So far, I guess, these posts have been much like many of my friends that are accompanying me, "Oh, its just so... awesome... and just... wow... awesome... and freaking cool... and like, whoa!" But, given I've been here a week, that kind of thing can run dry very quickly. Here's a little anecdote written as it was happening:

Read on, if you must...

There was a man today on the metro that had severe scars all over his body and he was missing his arms from the forearm down. He was singing in a language that I didn’t even recognize as Greek - it may have been some street dialect - and walking slowly up the train cars holding his hat between the stubs of arms begging for any loose change that someone might be gracious enough to give. His face was severely contorted by the scars – one would assume burns – and his hair was mostly missing except for a few patches on the top and in the back of his head. This almost gave me the idea that he must have been exposed to extreme amounts of radiation that caused all of these horrific deformations. It's what I'd always imagined from the books on Hiroshima after World War II.

Grotesque would probably describe him well. Yes, even bad enough that his very appearance actually caused me physical discomfort. As he walked up and down the train cars during our ride, people would part giving him an abnormally wide path.

As he approached and even after he passed, the boisterous young people in the next section up grew very silent and awkwardly stared out the window for multiple minutes. It was almost a reverent silence - a similar silence as that which many of the young people give a priest from the local Greek Orthodox Church - though not with a polite για σας greeting that young people greet their elders.

To see this today cause a bizarre feeling of pity for the man, yet my hand did not go to my pocket for a portion of the 3.20euro in coins that I had gotten from breaking a 10euro bill at the Metro station a few minutes prior.

I don’t know if I was just that shocked or just blanked and did not know what to do at the sight of the disfigured little man.

Yes, my friends, he was that grotesque.

When you see a movie like the “Elephant Man” or the “Hunchback of Notre Dame” or “Phantom of the Opera” we all someway or another think, “Why does the world not take pity on this poor creature! Is he not human, too?” Do we not look down upon those who treat him like a "creature" and not a human and can't fathom being so cruel or negligent of a man who has evidently had a great deal of misfortune come upon him.

Well, when the rubber meets the road, my friends, and we go out into the real world that is thousands of miles beyond our television sets and our books and our comfortable “American” lifestyle, can you say for absolute certainty that you would be any different from those who shun people who are “different” from you? Or less fortunate?

I believe you could say that I didn’t do so well on my test this time.



At this point, we made it to Syntagma Square and begun our day in the district known as the "Plaka." Since it was Sunday, we all attended the evening service of a friend of the leader of our group.

Interestingly enough, this is a generally English-speaking service, yet at the end, 5 men got up and prayed for a final prayer... one in English, one in Arabic, one in Farsi, one in Bulgarian, one in Greek.

Sure, believe what you want, but that part of the service, coupled with the sight of the deformed beggar this morning, caused quite a bit of thought as we rode home on our Mercedes bus. (We have to Charter a bus if we are out in Athens later than 8:30 because the last public transit bus from Markopoulo to Porto Rafti is at 8:30... and its a 20 minute Metro ride to the bus stop.)

I did not have thoughts of guilt or a desire to give huge amounts of money as the collection plate went by during the service. I just realized how much of a difference this trip is going to make to my way of thinking. Being from small town north Alabama, you don't grow up with an appreciation of REAL culture. Yeah, you could say the south has a "culture" all its own, but as far as diversity goes - a lot of Hispanics and African Americans - it has NOTHING on a 3000-year-old civilization like this with a current population of 6,000,000+.

We are all in this world together. Whether it be the tourists with their wide eyes and expensive digital cameras, or the little old men that play backgammon on the sidewalk next to the Agora as the sun’s rays throw long shadows, or the beggars on the Metro who may collect enough money in any given day to the equivalent to the cost of a single roll of my film… we’re all human and this is the same world.

No pictures this time. I'll post again very soon with pictures. And, no, I did not take a picture of the deformed beggar.

~Noah D.

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