University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Two Perspectives in the Financial Crisis in Greece: Part 1: From the Field – Amanda Ball

July 15, 2015

Every year, the Penn Museum provides support to Penn undergraduates and graduate students as they deepen their understanding of the human experience outside the Museum’s walls. Follow these blog posts from our intrepid young scholars as they report on the sights and sites that they encounter throughout their travels in the field.

July 5, 2015

Pagouria and the Molyvoti Peninsula, Rhodopi, Greece

The “You are leaving Pagouria” sign. Photo by Amanda Ball.
The “You are leaving Pagouria” sign. Photo by Amanda Ball.

My mother called me this past Saturday night, as I wandered the streets of Istanbul. She and my father were worried I wouldn’t be able to make it back into Greece after my weekend off in Turkey, despite my assurances that I was fine and there was no reason to worry.

A picture from the border on July 5th, 2015. The line to leave Greece for Turkey. Photo by Amanda Ball.
A picture from the border on July 5, 2015. The line to leave Greece for Turkey. Photo by Amanda Ball.

“Don’t be a hero, Amanda,” she said. Easily the coolest thing anyone has ever said to me. “If things get bad, get out. Get over the border. We have a friend with friends in your area. Don’t be the last one out. Call us.” I laughed then, but later skimmed several articles on the possibility of violent fallout between then and when my bus back to Greece was scheduled to leave. As we headed back over the border the following day, with no trouble, the line of cars trying to get out of Greece extended absurdly far.

The Molyvoti, Thrace Archaeological Project (MTAP) inhabits a village called Pagouria. Pagouria has no bank, no ATM, and almost no one in it. There are two convenience stores, two kafeneias, a hardware store, and a gas station. Often it feels like more dogs inhabit Pagouria than people. The residents of Pagouria largely work in the farmland surrounding the village. From here, the crisis is merely something that shows up on the news programs every so often and is discussed by the locals in resigned voices. The Greek media is calling the crisis “the German problem” or “the European problem,” making the issue seem even more distant from daily life.

Pagouria from a distance. Photo by Amanda Ball.
Pagouria from a distance. Photo by Amanda Ball.

The closest city, Komotini, is a different story. From the last week of June, every ATM I’ve seen has had a line of four or more people standing outside of it. The only instance I’ve seen a vacant ATM since has been in the middle of a rainstorm. We foreigners are exempt from the 60 euro limit of ATM withdrawals from Greek bank accounts. It definitely makes one feel guilty to withdraw hundreds when the people behind you in line are withdrawing just enough to get by.

A Greek ATM line. Photo by Noah Kaye.
A Greek ATM line. Photo by Noah Kaye.

Greece’s division over whether to vote yes or no to the referendum is apparent only in the cities. Friends who went into Komotini on Wednesday, July 1, saw groups handing out fliers and waving posters labeled “Οχι”, in English, “[Vote] No.” These protestors seemed more determined than hostile and after my friends attended their lecture, they returned to quiet Pagouria.

Of course, this comes from an outside perspective. I spend most days walking cotton fields in the middle of nowhere, as part of the survey team run by Tom Tartaron, chair of the Art and Archaeology of the Mediterranean World Program at Penn. In the day-to-day, I am much more afraid of shepherd dogs than I am of Greece defaulting on its loans. The scope of the problems being discussed on every channel, on every news source, seems so abstract as to be meaningless. However, that’s not to say we have not been affected at all.

A picture of the Yes/No ballot. Picture by Noah Kaye.
A picture of the Yes/No ballot. Picture by Noah Kaye.

At a meeting on June 30, MTAP’s director, Nathan Arrington, outlined the changes that were being made in the general running of the project. Shopping would now be limited to what could be bought with credit cards. The project’s account at the local hardware store had been closed, as had the account at the copy shop in Komotini. Supplies were stockpiled and further shopping trips would be limited. Everyone was instructed to take out Euros from the ATMs, in case of emergency. Otherwise, the project would continue as normal. “It will take much more than this to stop this project,” Nathan said. The words had the ring of a coach’s motivational speech in a sports movie. The whole staff applauded, as he stepped outside to speak with a workman who seemed concerned about his pay.

Following this speech, two staff members drove to a larger village nearby that did have ATMs in order to withdraw cash. The ATMs were closed upon arrival. The locals seemed to be having a party at the restaurant next door. When they saw our friends, they yelled, “Haven’t you heard, there’s no money in Greece?” while drinking and listening to music. The Americans replied with the obligatory, “Well, at least you’re happy!” The situation seemed and seems farcical. The ATMs are empty. Why not have a beer?

Financial crises seem faraway when this is your everyday. Photo by Amanda Ball.
Financial crises seem faraway when this is your everyday.
Photo by Amanda Ball.

On Sunday, the day of the vote on the referendum, the Muslim school has voters trickling in and out and more old men than usual are sitting outside the two convenience stores and kafeneias. These are the only signs anything is different from normal. Several voters showed up to our dighouse because they believed this is where the voting would happen. These local voters were dressed to the nines, clearly seeing a vote on a major issue as a significant event. There are no riots, no one shouting, no anger. The farming village seems almost indifferent. International politics seem far away, merely a new topic for the ever-present grumblings over a Vergina at the local bar.

Though to our families back home the financial crisis seems like a terrifying thing, we in the boonies of Greece remain almost unaffected. If the banks do not open on Monday the 6th, they may open later this week, or in the next one. We do not know how the vote will go. The crisis is currently unresolved and, no matter the results, will remain unresolved for a bit longer. Our dig is scheduled to end July 28. All we in Pagouria can do is hope the crisis is resolved before then in some manner or another. ‘Til then, we work.


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