Kai Ryssdal: When we talked to Lambrini Cain this afternoon, she had her priest with her, Father Anthony Salzman. Greek Orthodox. And he said something almost in passing that’s a perfect set up for this next story.
Anthony Salzman: My son, he’s studying in Greece. And he’s at the university and he has an app and on the app it’ll tell you who’s on strike that week. This week it’s the power company, this week it’s the train.
Austerity budgets are getting Greece billions of dollars in bailouts. But more than a year of spending cuts and tax hikes and riots and strikes have stalled the already-weak economy. And the middle class is being slowly being strangled. From Athens, Greece Joanna Kakissis has our story.
Joanna Kakissis: Achilleas Giraud is serving psarosoupa — Greek fish soup — to his family. He ladles the lemony cod, carrots and potatoes into bowls for his wife and teenage kids, who sit at the small kitchen table.
Achilleas is 53. He has a degree in economics. And these days, cooking for his family is one of the few pleasures he has. It’s been a year since he was laid off from his real estate job. And though he sent out 500 resumes, the only work he could find was weeding the parks here in Kifissia, the leafy and wealthy Athens suburb where his family has lived for years.
Achilleas Giraud: I was cleaning a little park when a friend of mine saw me. “I don’t believe it,” he said. “What are you doing here?” Because if you once had a top job and status in life and suddenly your friends see you with a rake cleaning a park in the nice neighborhood where you live, they think it’s weird. Some people can’t do do it.
Achilleas’s wife, Roula Korobili, washes the dishes after they eat. She’s 55. She used to work as a secretary but her company was struggling so it forced her to retire early. The city of Kifissia hasn’t paid her husband for months so the family lives off the $1,000 monthly pension she gets. It’s nowhere near enough. Their monthly mortgage alone is nearly $2,500.
Roula Korobili: We’ve been here for five years. We took out a loan to buy the house. After my husband and I lost our jobs, we couldn’t keep up with payments. The bank forgave us for awhile but not anymore. It wants its money or it wants the house. So we’re planning to either sell it or give it up and move to an old house my parents used to own.
Alkistis is the couple’s 15-year-old daughter. She’s blond and outgoing and wants to be a comedy actress. She says her parents were never big spenders. And she doesn’t mind living on fish soup and not getting new clothes. But having to give up the neighborhood she grew up in? Well, that’s another story.
Alkistis Giraud: I’m really sad to leave because I’m used to it here. I just ride my bike for a few minutes to see my friends. My best friend Eleftheria is a two-minute walk away. Now I’ll have to ride buses for 45 minutes to see her.
Strumming on the guitar is Alkistis’ brother Guy. He’s 19. Tonight, he’s playing “Behind Blue Eyes” by The Who and he says he finds some escape in music. But he fears he may soon be forced to escape Greece altogether — that there won’t be any work here for at least another 10 years. And he says Greeks should have seen this crisis coming.
Guy Giraud: The politicians are to blame for sure but so are older generations. They were doing fine and they didn’t want to accept that things were going downhill. They didn’t care and they didn’t think about the future — about our future. That attitude ruined Greece.
As his parents look on, they don’t argue with him. But his mother has tears in her eyes.
In Athens, I’m Joanna Kakissis for Marketplace.
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