Guns, Dogs, and Beggars: A Stroll through Athens

            Lately we have been in the city and haven’t ventured on any excursions.  This has allowed me to once again get settled into a routine here in Athens bustle through the city a lot more.  I am again noticing many of the things that astounded me during my first few days in the city, and am noticing that I have a completely different perspective on them now.

            My first day in Athens, as we all lugged our luggage to our apartment, I embarked upon my first venture through the city’s streets.  I found myself, on this first walk, very frightened of the large, uniformed, Greek men with automatic weapons slung carelessly over their shoulders.  This is very common, and it is virtually impossible to walk from one place to another in Athens without spotting a man with a gun.  Though this was a very shocking thing for me to take in, it is much to my surprise that I don’t even really think about it anymore.  I have walked around enough and adjusted well enough that I simply smile and walk by the large armed men.

            As if the sight of these guns wasn’t enough this walk was host to another frightening Greek normality.  With the exception of the taxi driver from the airport my first Greek welcome to the city came from a pack of stray dogs, that I have now learned are the “sort of “ pets of the city.  As we all walked don the street with our bags a pack of dogs began to run at us barking.  If this happens in the U.S. one would get the feeling that they were about to be bitten, so it is apparent why I found this so frightening.  The dogs just barked at us as we continued walking and none of the other pedestrians even seemed to notice what was happening.  That is because this is a very normal occurrence in Athens, which is home to thousands of stray dogs and cats. 

            At first I was turned off by the idea of strays everywhere, but a rainy day (only the second we’ve had since we’ve been in Athens) today made me realize how much Athens’ pets have actually grown on me.  I sat and stared out the window wondering where the dogs were going to stay warm and dry.  This made me realize how the Athenians are ok with the large stray population.  The dogs find a warm spot inside of people and become a pleasure to pat on the street corned or feed at an outdoor taverna.

            Beggars, I did not run into until a few days into our abroad adventure.  They are one of the few things in the city that I still haven’t been able to get used to.  Every time I stumble onto a beggar sitting with his/her cup out, and often times empty, I think back to a question that arose in class early in the semester: What makes these people get up every morning and go back to their spot on the sidewalk?  It seems almost useless to the passerby who, when looking in the cup, sees a minimal amount of change at best.  I simply can’t shake the ill feeling I get when I think about a day in the shoes of one of these beggars.

            Reflecting on all of this, I am realizing that this city is becoming comfortable to me.  I don’t feel quite so foreign anymore, and the clarity of what was originally very scary and new to me has allowed me to get at a deeper level of my submersion into the semester abroad. 


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