T’estimo Catalunya… A love letter from a Scot in Greece

It was September 11th 2012, we stood together in the centre of Placa Catalunya, strangers who had only met 24 hours before.

Your children took my hands, welcoming me as part of the family on our big city day out.

Each took turn of tying their flag around their shoulders,  a red and yellow cape with its independent star.

“I, Inde, Independencia!” the crowd cheered.

I had never been to Barcelona before and I found myself sharing the city streets with over 2 million others that day. All wearing their capes. All flying their flags high.

Drums were pounded, songs were sung. People laughed and danced and chanted. We marched, a sightseeing tour like I could never imagine.

When the little feet couldn’t march anymore we huddled in a doorway to watch the rest of the procession. The streets were packed with people – protesting? The word protest, as I understood it, didn’t fit here.

Babies, kids, mamas, papas, grannies, grandpas.

You told me the story of Catalonia that day. I never forgot it.

We went home to our quiet little seaside town, the sleepy superheroes still caped in their flags napping all the way.

As time went on I began to notice the every day little injustices.

I remember when we protested outside the town hall when they tried to stop the children learning Catalan in school. The older generation could still remember when they were not allowed to speak their native tongue.

I learned to always say, “moltes gracies,” instead of “muchas gracias.” As a foreigner, speaking Catalan made more people smile.

I went to school, I learned Catalan. Yes, I was the only one in those classes who could not speak Spanish. I am likely still the only Scottish girl who speaks Catalan but not Spanish, guess it says a lot about my politics.

I left my happy Catalan home with a different view of Spain.

I may have left Catalonia, but I never left my Catalan family.

We joked about who would have their own passport first, a Scottish or a Catalan. I always told you the Catalans deserved it first.

We grieved together after the Scottish referendum. I knew how much it would have meant to Catalonia if it had gone the other way.

Spain told you a referendum was illegal, but you did it anyway on the 9th November 2014. It may not have been legally binding but we were there that day at 6am to make sure the police didn’t stop the vote from taking place.

The votes may not have counted but I saw what it meant when people dropped their papers in the box. I saw the elderly lady crying. I saw the couples with their children imagining a future free from the restraints of Spanish rule.

After my Catalan life, I spent my time with those fleeing war. Those victimized by their religion, their nationality, their ethnicity.

My Catalan babies made a stall and sold their old toys to send me money to make more sandwiches for refugees.

I saw persecution on a greater scale, from a different perspective.

I see the actions of Spain and I begin to draw comparisons in a situation I never believed held any comparisons.

I remember the sign above the river in Girona, “Catalans want to vote.”

This week the National Theatre of Catalunya released a statement that their board members had been imprisoned because they supported a referendum.

Comparisons are consistently drawn between the Scottish referendum and the Catalan independence movement. What happened in Scotland cannot be compared.

Catalans want to vote – but legally they cannot.

 

A friend once told me, “The people of Catalonia are like the sand on their beaches. The sand here sticks to you and you will keep finding those little grains throughout your life, where you least expect it, like the people, no matter where you go, they will always be with you.”

 

The Catalan spirit never left me, Catalonia is a home to me, Catalans are my family.

The people of Catalonia deserve to have a say in their future.

Even if independence is not the result, the people of the region should have a voice and a vote.

Catalunya, I am with you.

 

 

 

 

I could write a more academic explanation of why Catalans should have the right to vote for independence, referencing their history, politics, economics but what the Catalans showed me most was love, and this is why I choose to share this story of love in return.

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Dear American Tourist Gentleman…

Setting – Breakfast Bar, Greek Island Hotel. Male American Tourist and Female Greek Waitress.

“I see you here all the time, do you work all morning?”

“Yes, I work all day, morning to night.”

“Really, I thought you said you had children?”

“Yes, I do.”

“So what do you do with them if you are always here? When do the kiddos ever see Mama? You know, children need their mothers.”

 

Dear American Tourist Gentleman,

I hope you are enjoying your vacation on an idyllic Greek island. I hope you are enjoying the sun and sea and that you are experiencing the incredible hospitality of the Greek culture. But in the beautifully constructed tourism bubble that the locals of these islands do everything in their power to preserve, you may have missed the reality for the every day Greek citizen.

These islands are particularly talented at making sure the veil of perfection never slips so it is understandable you wouldn’t know the real Greece. I mean we still have refugees arriving on our beaches – which you will likely never see as they are hidden away as soon as possible. We have earthquakes which within 24 hours we will ship the dead and injured away, clean up the streets and make videos about how perfect life is so you need never know anything ever happened. Oh and then there was just that little thing of the Greek financial crisis, but that’s old news, it doesn’t still affect everyone in their day to day lives – except it absolutely does.

So here’s an interesting statistic, the current Greek unemployment rate is 22.5% of the population. The highest in Europe, double the European average. I am British and I saw the effect of unemployment in the communities I lived in there, but on investigation the UK unemployment rate is 4.1%, so compare that.

And it’s not just unemployment, it is working conditions. Yes, the waitress will work long hours and probably for a very low wage, and she will do it to support those children you mention. Last year before tourist season I was looking for a job and was offered one in a similar role to the waitress you were so incredibly rude to this morning.

The working hours were 10 hours per day, 7 days a week for, wait for it, 650 Euro a month salary. Let’s work that out, 70 hour working week, resulting in a 2.32 hourly rate. Perhaps while you’ve been here you’ve popped into a supermarket and you will see how little 2.32 will get you in Greece. Even the “cheap” supermarkets like Lidl are almost twice as expensive as they are in my hometown in Scotland.

To note, this is not the wage everyone working in hospitality will earn in Greece, but in large it is very representative of the industry here. I personally applied for a number of jobs with the best wage being 3.50 per hour of them all. To add, the tourism industry only has 6 months of business a year, the rest of the year these islands have very few employment opportunities in the empty winter streets.

But your lack of understanding of Greek finances is not what made me fill with rage upon hearing your conversation this morning. No, the rage was ignited by one single fact. No man, should ever reprimand a woman by suggesting she is not spending enough time with her children in order for her to make a living.

You may not have noticed that she may have kept her smile fixed during your conversation but the minute she turned around that smile instantly slipped after a complete stranger judged her on her parenting abilities. I would say that in Greek culture this could been as particularly hurtful, but I believe this extends to every woman in all cultures I have ever experienced.

I was raised by a single working mother and at no point in my adult life have I ever looked back and thought, “But why didn’t I see my mum every minute of the day?” In fact, I look back and think that my mother was a superhero for facing the challenges she did and keeping a roof over our heads and food on the table whilst raising us to be respectful, independent and kind humans.

Your ignorance and brash attitude may have touched a nerve with me personally but it is nothing compared to how you made this woman feel this morning. I saw her face as she walked away, and I saw your face, as if nothing had just happened as you shoveled another sausage in your mouth.

Greece depends on tourism, yes, it is people like you that keep people employed, that bring these places back from the brink of the crisis. But that gives you no right to be that patronising, judgmental human you were this morning.

I live a strange kind of life as Scot in Greece, something between a tourist and a local. I see the benefits of tourism and I see and meet tourists from all over the world who are nothing like you. People who come to Greece and respect the culture, who respect the people. Maybe in future you could be a little more like them?

But, let’s be honest, this is not about tourists and locals, this is about men and women.

So when you have finished getting the perfect lobster shade skin upon the beautiful beaches and you head back to the US of A, maybe you should treat the women of your own culture with a little more respect too. How would you feel if someone said that to your wife? Or maybe you would say that to your own wife, who knows.

In conclusion, Mr rude American tourist man, I saw you make a Greek woman really sad this morning and in turn you made me very sad.

Women are more than mothers, and mothers are women who deserve your respect not your judgement.

Yours Sincerely,

The girl with the skin turning the same colour red as her hair – and not from sunburn.

 

To all the Mamas out there, I respect you.

To the Mamas who choose to stay at home to raise their babies, I respect you. To the Mamas who choose to go out and work whilst raising their babies, I respect you. To the Mamas who wish they could stay at home and raise their babies but have to work to support their families, I respect you. Whatever your choice or your situation, you know it better than anyone else and you need never justify it to anyone. You are all incredible human beings, never let anyone make you feel you are anything short of heroic for all that you do for your tiny humans! 

 

Grounded

 

All through life when times get tough, when things start to run away with us or when things start to get too much we often hear the advice “stay grounded.” We are told to “keep our feet on the ground” to balance us, to remind of something solid, something steady that can help bring us down from those dizzying heights that challenging times can take us to. But what happens when that safety net fails, when you can no longer trust the earth to keep you steady?

Recently I experienced a rather nasty earthquake which has left this question playing on my mind. When we live in a world of such uncertainty, how exactly do we stay grounded when we can’t even trust the ground we walk on?

But this idea of losing trust in your surroundings goes further than a shift in tectonic plates, for me personally anyway. Over recent months I have watched the bubble of my own personal little world of experiences shift drastically. I now live on a little Greek island where the best and worst moments of humanity play out on a daily basis, here it is very difficult to stay grounded, particularly when the earth literally moves so I do tend to find memories of home a steadying anchor, or at least I did, until recent months.

I watch the outside world from the perspective of my little Aegean island mostly through traditional and social media and more often than I could ever imagine I wake up to the Facebook safety check icon informing me another friend is safe from another horrific moment in our modern history.

I see the pictures of Parliament and of London Bridge and read the messages of friends who were there, who witnessed the horrors and remember the times we shared much happier memories in these places which will be forever changed in both of our minds.

I see the pictures of frantic families trying to trace their missing children who had gone to simply enjoy a concert but became victims of a horrific attack in my old University city.

Most recently I see a place where I found a family not connected by blood but by love, a place that has always been my refuge, reeling in horror, in destruction, in terror on Las Ramblas. I still see the picture of a small boy who remains missing being shared on social media and remember the days I walked this street holding the hand of a little boy I love dearly with never a thought crossing my mind that anything so heartbreaking could have happened in this beautiful place.

But we all now have these memories of places we love being shadowed in the grief of terrorism or the new layer to our terror filled days – the rise of fascism. Every day we wake up to another horror, near or far, and it doesn’t seem to be stopping anywhere. So what do we do to stay grounded?

I mean we can always distract ourselves from the terrorism on our doorsteps with the escalating rhetoric of nuclear war between North Korea and the US? Or we can watch white supremacists march the streets waving Nazi flags murdering young anti fascist demonstrators? Or take minute to remember the still ongoing refugee crisis on the shores of Italy and Greece and the hundreds of lives still lost in the Mediterranean or the hundreds of lives still trapped in camps and detention facilities in an endless wait for asylum in Europe.

I could go on with many more examples but as you can see it’s pretty hard to stay grounded when crisis and horror become our every day. But what hurts the most is how we are now so used to this life that we have become so desensitized, but what else can we do other than detach, it is not possible to live day to day if you spiral into all in the grief in the world.

So again, how do we stay grounded, how do we not go to denial but keep our heads?

Honestly, I am not entirely sure, I am very open to suggestions. Answers on a postcard?

But I do know that the most important thing we can all do is just not buy into all the hate. Terrorists whether they be pledging allegiance to ISIS, the KKK or whatever the hell radicalized ideology do not represent their race, their religion or the colour of their skin. The white supremacists in Charlottesville represent me as much as the terrorists in Barcelona represent the religion of Islam. These individuals are a minority, they are not the majority no matter what the media may have you believe.

I don’t believe the world is as doomed as it may seem on the surface. The majority of people out there are kind and loving and just trying to get by in these bloody scary times. But unfortunately fear isn’t too many stops away from hate and when we are really scared our ignorance can lead to some pretty extreme standpoints on issues we never really felt too strongly about before.

I discovered something interesting recently about ignorance. A friend began to tell me about an article she had read about a new development in Artificial Intelligence and before she could even begin I asked her to stop talking about it because it scares me and I don’t want to know anything about it. That, my dear friends, is ignorance and it is as easy as that. Replace AI with something the media have told us to fear, for example refugees, and if you take the same stand point as I did and refused to learn any real facts, no wonder you are scared.

So maybe, to stay grounded we need to start learning more about the world we live in. We need to stop allowing the fear to take over and we need to discover how we can make change. I’m not talking about changing the world, but maybe little changes that can add up. Maybe even just talking to friends with a different viewpoint than you, opening up a discussion, challenging ignorance is a place to start.

I don’t know what will happen next, but I hope it is not as terrible as it all may seem right now.

Stand together, show love where you find hate and don’t let fear win.

 

Also, quick tip, if your boyfriends’ parents are staying at your house and you live on a fault line, make sure to always wear more than just your knickers to bed… that is an added horror no one needs when waking up to the earth shaking!

Be strong friends! Peace.