Friday, 6 April 2018

Easter charity

In a highly depersonalised world, it is easy to shut society out of your own world and to live in your own bubble. It takes some level of courage to connect the more privileged world with the disadvantaged. Hania is a good example of a society where the two sides have more opportunities to come together without prejudice, a testament to Hania's (znd Crete's) long history of multi-culturalism and multi-religionism.

Every year, the (mainly foreign) students of MAICh leave clothes and shoes behind when they leave the institute, stuff in good condition but not able to be taken with them due to lack of suitcase space. They asked me to help them find a way to donate these items to people in need, instead of placing them in the red bins around the town for recycling clothes. The bins are great for recycling, but like all such ventures, the items are collected for profit. This is a classic problem when trying to get rid of old clothes which are in good condition: charities lack space to store them, and they cant coordinate efficient distribution networks: you need vehicles, drivers, petrol, and this does not come for free anywhere. (Same goes for food distribution: it needs planning.) The items were lovingly washed and stored in five clean cases by the students themselves.

Yesterday I drove one of my students to a local well-established well-known charity in the town centre, serving both Greeks and foreigners. The space was being renovated when we turned up. We were asked if the clothes were mainly men's clothes (a clear hint as to what kind of people are in need). They said it would be difficult to store things in their facilities due to lack of space.
Clothes are appreciated but not actually lacking for people in need in my town, because locals regularly update their wardrobes with the latest cheap fashion, so old clothes are often discarded, recylced or given away. You dont need to buy clothes on a daily basis, unlike with food, which is a more imminent need, but there is also plenty of food available in Crete, and locals are very generous when it comes to sharing food, but again, there are certain segments in society that have more immediate needs for food and clothing than other groups: this mainly concerns undocumented male foreigners in our town.

Luckily for us, a Mahgreb (= North African: another hint as to the kind of immigrants in need that live in Hania) happened to be volunteering at the charity when we turned up. I explained in private that the shoes and clothes were all donations from many North Africans like himself, who are studying at MAICh. He was glad to take it all and distribute it among his compatriots here. It is not a coincidence that we met him at Splantzia, close to the church of St Nikolaos, the only one in Greece with a bell tower built on one side and a Muslim minaret on the other, which was restored a few years ago when there were fears it would fall in an earthquake: more evidence of the multiculturalism and tolerance of the town's inhabitants for others' differences. Historically, Splantzia has been the focus of that role in Hania for many centuries.

La chiesa di Agios Nikolaos Splantzi, Chania - Creta, Grecia
The church of Agios Nikolaos in Splantzia, Hania

It was a blessing to have my Mahgreb student with me to hand over, because as in all societies, there are the haves and the not-haves, as well as the lucky and the not-so-lucky, and the two sides rarely meet given that life takes different turns for them: this was a good opportunity for them to do just that. Charity does after all begin in the home.

Easter in the western world is pretty much over for the western world, but Greek Easter is something else, and it seems that the world is taking note of this too. In the reawakening of the modern Greek identity since Greece's troubles were exposed to the world (which is catching up with the ROW, it seems), Greek Easter is regarded even more prominently than it used to be as a form of rebirth. Remember: Christmas in Greece is for children. Easter to Greeks is what Eid is to Muslims. Easter takes on the star role in terms of the festive calendar for people of Greek heritage all over the world, even in the more secular world that Greece has become:
"What is it about this feast that moves even the many atheists and agnostics among us? ... Easter is, above all, a woven cloth of our childhood memories that awaken towards the end of each person's life, bringing with them the mysticism of the candles that burned and blinded our eyes during long-winded family- or school-driven ecclesiastics. Easter still preserves within us the faces of old men who we identified from their chants, women who tried to show that they were more 'religiously correct' than others, the well-dressed and perfectly coiffed genuflectors of the temples. Finally, Easter recalls all the dramatics of our faith, our own ones or our acquaintances'."
Advice for tourists:
"If you haven’t got a Greek family, you’d be well advised to adopt one for the duration, as tavernas do what they can ... but nothing compares with the home-made version." 
Pluck up some courage and invite yourself in. Smile, show some curiosity, and see what happens.

Happy Easter to all.

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