In Athens – Walking with Amal

So, here I am in Athens after flying in yesterday. I honestly didn’t think I’d be travelling anywhere further than my back garden this year, but here I am staying in an apartment in Monastiraki and about to embark on a 24 day solo trip.

Since the Covid pandemic began I’ve tried to be the best citizen that I can. Staying at home when we were told to stay at home. Communicating with my family through Whatsapp video calls instead of seeing them in the flesh – even at Christmas. I’ve been wearing the mask (and still wearing the mask in places where it is no longer mandatory). I didn’t ‘eat out to help out’ or go to the cinema or theatre. I’ve mainly just stayed at home apart from travelling down to Kent for a family funeral. I’m double jabbed and I’m just trying to do what I think is the right thing and do my bit. I know I’m not alone in this and I’m sure many understand what a toll this can take – or has taken.

So why am I here? Especially after being so adamant that I wasn’t going to travel until this pandemic had been given the boot?

For the last few months I’ve been following the Good Chance Production’s The Walk on social media. This is a collaboration between a number of creative organisations across Turkey and Europe who through a 3.5 metre tall puppet called Amal, aim to raise awareness of the plight of refugees and displaced people. In 2017 I had volunteered with Foodkind, a charity that provides 2 meals a day for displaced people. We were in the port town of Patras where we were given first hand stories of the treacherous journey’s these young men and boys had made after fleeing their homes in fear. This left an indelible mark in my heart and is an experience I will never forget.

So The Walk really piqued my interest and little Amal personified the struggles of the people that I had met. In reality, the Walk is a theatre production. However, Amal felt real to me. I’ve followed her steps from Turkey to Greece with interest. She was scheduled to leave Turkey in early August and make her way to the island of Chios in the Eastern Aegean. It was at that point that I started thinking ‘What if?’.

I started looking at flights and ferries just to see if it would be possible. I just dreamt of seeing her arrive on the shores of Chios harbour to the sound of traditional songs sung by the welcoming community. Chios itself a very symbolic island for her entry into Greece and an island that has been on my ‘to visit’ list for some time.

I dithered and I hesitated. Time came and went and I didn’t book the flight. I began to get a extreme case of FOMO – or rather FIAMO – Fear I’ve already missed out! I could see that she was due to arrive in Ioannina several weeks later so I began plotting another trip – this time with flights and buses.

Believe me the KTEL bus service with their own autonomous website for each region makes this rather challenging. Anyway, I plotted it, put it into a spreadsheet and then posed the idea to my husband. This wasn’t met with much of a reaction – I don’t think Peter thought I was serious – just me with too much time on my hands! Up until the day before the flight to Preveza was due to depart I had my finger paused over the airlines ‘Book Now’ button, constantly refreshing the page to see if the seat was still available. But I didn’t book. There was something that just wouldn’t let me do it. Some kind of unknown fear.

I don’t know if the fear was real or whether it was possibly magnified by the closeted existence I’ve endured over the last 18 months. I tried to analyse what my fear was. Catching and spreading Covid – I’m double jabbed and quite adept at keeping my distance from people. But what about on the plane? The airlines say they are filtering the air and cleaning the cabins scrupulously. The one thing that really scared the Bejesus out of me was the prospect of the Covid test – and still am scared at the prospect of it. That stick shoved up my nose is bad enough but down the back of the throat fills me with absolute dread!

Sitting alongside these thoughts was an even more horrific fear. This was the fear of not living my life – just existing. This was all wrapped up with thoughts about my ever increasing age and an overwhelming sense of my own immortality. That’s lockdown for you! It gives you too much time to contemplate life – and of course death.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve been far from idle during the pandemic. There has barely been a moment to breath especially during the early days of the pandemic where I’d done various bits of volunteering when it ‘almost’ felt like we were all in it together. We’d also embarked on major works on the garden and then growing, tending and harvesting my vegetable patch. My garden is NOT a low maintenance garden by any stretch of the imagination. That aside, in moments when I wasn’t cramming my days full of activity, I’d catch myself thinking about how old I’d become, how much weight I’d gained, how boring my life had become – the list is endless. I felt that my life lacked a sense of fulfillment and reward – despite what I could see with my own eyes.

Anyway, although working reduced hours in my day job, I still had some clients travelling to Greece and most of them departing in August – some of them on their third try for the same holiday since 2020. One of my such clients had sent me an email outlining his and his wife’s first hand experience of travelling to Greece from departure airport to arrival airport and transfers to their hotel and then an onward trip to another Greek island. It was all very positive and very reassuring. I think this may have been the turning point.

By this point I had missed the opportunity to follow Amal from Ioannna to Trikala and beyond to Elefsina. BUT – she was still going to be in Athens for a few days before leaving the shores of Piraeus for Italy.

Out came the spreadsheet again – if I’m going to brave the bloody Covid test and the associated paperwork for travelling I’m going to make this trip count. I then put my proposal to Peter who was a bit reluctant to support my idea – and still is really. My Libran sense of indecision needed a swift kick in its backside. And I did it. I booked. I booked the flights, I booked the first two sets of accommodations for the PLF form. I booked the Day 2 Covid test. I waded my way through the list of travel requirements and I’m here.

I’m here staying in an apartment in Monastiraki for 3 nights to see Amal weave her way through Athens, spreading a message of love and support for those that have been forced from their homes. I then have an additional night in Piraeus where I will wish her bon voyage as she leaves for Italy, and onward through Europe until she reaches her journey’s end in Manchester in November.

So it is thanks to Amal that I am here.

The event tonight was fantastic though at one point I could have missed it entirely due to a last minute change of location. According to the website the event was to take place in Monastiraki Square at 2100. Just on the off chance I had emailed one of the Creative Directors involved in the Athens production to check the location for the event. She emailed me back to say that instead of Monastiraki, the Walk would start from Thisseio Station at 1930. Thank heavens I contacted her otherwise I’d have missed it entirely. I had read in the Greek Reporter yesterday that the event that took place in Larissa a day earlier was met with a small faction of protestors expressing their dislike for the support for refugees and also views about religion came into it. Maybe this was an attempt to keep the protestors away. Whether this is the case or not I don’t know but the event was very uplifting and positive with no sign of protest.

Upon arrival at Thiseio, there didn’t seem to be any indication of where and where Amal would appear. After a while the police presence began to build up and then a motorbike cavalcade of police drove away to co-ordinate the traffic. The crowd was now quite substantial and the air was alive with anticipation. I could see some activity in the distance and as I headed towards the crowd there she was – Amal in all her 3.5 metre high glory. A very emotional moment for me and the realisation that because of a thought of ‘what if’, a moment of inspiration and a giant doll I’d fought through fear and procrastination to be here.

The crowd walked with a sometimes bewildered looking Amal from Thisseio Station to Technopolis. Musicians serenaded her and dancers wound their way around her as she walked. As the sun began to set we all took strands of red wool and threaded it from lamp posts (but mainly around people’s ankles!) in the hope that she wouldn’t lose her way.

More tomorrow

8 thoughts on “In Athens – Walking with Amal”

  1. Thankyou for that update and I totally understand your reasoning for going, it’s something you had to do and would always have regretted it had you not. The positive comments from your clients helped you make this decision and I’m happy for you xx

    1. Thank you Carol! There was a point earlier today when I doubted I was doing the right thing but this evening’s event was wonderful and I look forward to seeing more of the Walk whilst I’m here.

  2. Hi Stephanie, I really enjoyed reading your account from my balcony in Patmos, on the holiday which you arranged for me. What a worthwhile and interesting trip to do. I look forward to hearing about the rest of your trip !

    1. Awww thank you so much Liz! I’m glad you’re enjoying your holiday and I can’t wait to hear about it when you get back. If you’d have time would you like to write a guest blog? Your trip is going to be amazing! X

  3. So glad to hear that you made it and have no regrets about the journey. Have a wonderful trip, travel safely.

    1. Aww thank you so much Paul! If it hadn’t have been for your very positive feedback on your own experience I don’t think I’d be here. Thank you so much and I can’t wait to hear about the rest of your trip when you are home. Safe travels!

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