As I exchanged seasons greetings a few days ago with a friend who is a military officer, he told me of his recent trip to the southeastern Aegean islets of Ro and Megisti. “I got a boost of energy being away from the humid climate in Athens.” I suspect he was being polite regarding his feelings about the capital. But he would have been right to be more explicit. Because on days like this, it would be good to spend a few moments thinking about all the men and women who stay awake at night, work nonstop and with incredible discipline so the rest of us can enjoy a good night’s sleep. It may sound like a cliche, like the customary tributes on television to people working on the night of New Year’s Eve, but it should not be dismissed as such with typical cynicism.
I think of the doctors and nurses working yet another 24-hour emergency shift at one of the big public hospitals, getting a pittance for a salary and trying to do their job in Third World conditions. Any foreigner looking at a public hospital ER in Greece would be justified in thinking that it’s a part of the film set of a war drama or in some non-Western country. The pressure from the constant inflow of patients and their anxious relatives is suffocating. The gurneys packed into unheated hallways beside broken windows is inhumane. But you admire the people who are calmly doing the very best they can, trying to bring order to chaos. You wonder why the political system has failed to change this after so many years. All you want to do is convince the powers that be that these people should at the very least be better paid and be given a better environment to work in.
I also think about all the people serving on old warships, in far-flung units. We consider it an accomplishment when the state gives them a small stipend. They too must be supported and shielded from the toxicity of Athens politics so they can get on with the job. Nothing infuriates them more than seeing some good-for-nothing colleague getting promoted or being given a cushy post because they know someone in high places. When you see them, you feel compelled to present a much more innocent picture of what is actually happening in Athens, even though they are all too aware.
The only reason this country is standing on its feet today and will do tomorrow and the day after that is because certain people who believe in something and love what they do, are giving it their all, for one more night. A “thank you” is simply not enough – it doesn’t put food on the table. What counts is doing everything in our power to give them better wages, a better work environment and better tools with which to do their jobs. And, of course, to keep them as far away from the “humid” Athens climate as possible.