On a flight to Greece, before the referendum

I was on a flight to Greece, six days before the referendum decides on the fate of the country

Yorva Tsiakara

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I was on a flight to Greece, six days before the referendum decides on the fate of the country; a flight different from all the others, that used to mark until now the beginning of mine and all of my co-travelers’ summer vacations.

That night, I caught a flight from London to Athens. I am one of the hundreds of Greeks living in the UK, not only because I chose to but mainly because I had to. I was waiting on Gate A18 of Terminal 2 of Heathrow Airport to board, while scrolling down my Facebook homepage, going over all these opinionated statuses on the situation in Greece. A few people were sharing pieces like the one from Joseph Stiglitz for The Guardian, encouraging the NO-vote; while others were inviting friends of friends at that day’s YES protest, at Syntagma Square.

As I scrolled further down, I saw more sarcastic comments, even more angry replies and a lot of explanatory speeches on the current situation.The people around me were much more silent than my cyber-friends. It wasn’t the first time I was taking this particular flight home; a flight of Aegean Airlines to Athens, booked sometimes at least one month in advance, to make sure I get a ticket in a logical price, and other times only a week before, just because I was too homesick to wait for a month and needed a dose of the Greek sun, as soon as possible.

The day I’m leaving for Greece tends to be one my favorites. I usually plan it in my mind since I’m still on my way back from my previous visit there. Always making sure I will get a little something for those back home, while I pack at least two days in advance. I’m unable to sleep the night before and usually rush to the airport, while it’s still too early. I’m not an anxious traveler, I’m pretty much used to the whole flying routine, but with Greece, I can’t help it, I can’t wait.

I always arrive at the gate to this flight too early and the fact that I’m not the first one there still surprises, every single time. My gate is already full, from my fellow excited Greek citizens. The moment of boarding feels like a Friday afternoon at a school’s exit. I love the sounds of “καλώς ήρθατε.’’

The plane is full of noises, I hear Greeks talking about their summer plans; I hear them giving tips to non-Greek passengers on where to go out at night and which islands they should visit. I have a bite of my favorite Greek biscuits that the flight attendant offers at the end of the meal and then literally stuck my head to the window and wait impatiently until I see Athens’ coast-line from my window.

When I’m finally able to see all this blue, surrounding my favorite city, I get an uncontrollable smile on my face and always feel like I have to take a picture of my view, make a memory for when I’m away. This day was different. When I planned my trip, I had no idea what I would come across to, a few days before this flight. Before I leave, instead of getting a little something for my family, this time around I had to make sure I get a lot of cash with me. This flight would not mark the beginning of my summer vacations, my trip this time was all about a vote, for a Yes or a No, that would define even the date of my next trip to my home country.

I don’t remember what I packed, I don’t think I got everything I needed for a month. I was unable to sleep the night before, and the night before that, to be exact, but this time it was because I was more worried than excited. I closed the door of my flat in London, although I wasn’t ready to leave. This time, I had to drag myself to the airport. I had to rush, as usual, but this time to exchange my money.

The gate was empty, I thought I had mistaken it and checked twice for the number. It was the most silent gate experience I’ve had until now. It was only when they called us for boarding, when the rest of the passengers appeared. We slowly made a small queue, still in silence. You could hear only a few guys talking, joking about how most of the people there must be flying just to vote on Sunday.

“Look at them, they are all going for the YES”, they were saying; guessing Greeks living abroad must be voting for the country to stay in the Eurozone. I’m not sure if he guessed right or wrong, but I could see that behind his ironic comment he was as disappointed as the woman standing behind him. She looked at him in a grumpy way, like she wanted to put him in his place for making fun of her YES vote. A worried American girl sitting next to me, after catching where I was coming from originally, started talking to me about the plans she had made for Paros; she asked for tips and whether I think her credit card should be working while in Greece, or not.

The flight attendants were as calm as the passengers this time, like they didn’t want to bother our thoughts by offering us their services. They gave us some meatballs and potatoes. My grandma used to make this dish for me, it smells like home, more than anything. I didn’t eat much, neither the young guy on my left. He asked for a beer though, “Could I please have an Alpha?” I realized he was Greek by his choice of beer, and that he was living abroad by his accent “the situation calls for a drink and a high degree of courage“, he continued.

This blog was originally published here.