Friends have previously accused me of being no fun cause I label everything as political (as if that aint fun!). Here’s a story of one recent train journey that perfectly illustrates the political dimension of simple daily things.
I have come back to Greece for a few weeks and came to Athens from Istanbul. After a pretty interesting hitch-hiking experience, my journey back to Athens continued by train. From Alexandroupolis, its 7 hours to Thessaloniki, and from there, another 6 hours to the capital. It’s a long but fairly beautiful trip.
Alexandroupolis is a frontier town. Between it and Orestiada, a little further northeast, it’s one of the first places you are likely to come to if you travel by land from Turkey. It’s a place that seems to have given in to the atmosphere of a waiting room, or the dreariness of a giant bus station. I have only ever been there when leaving to or coming from somewhere else. In the last decade it’s got a reputation as a stop off point for people travelling document free. In recent years, this has become much more visible and apparent as the numbers of people reaching the city (often by foot, across the Evros river and then through Orestiada) has gone up. Recently, at a guess, the destination of Athens has become more common as immigration controls in other areas has become more violent, and as work has dried up in other parts of the country. I would assume this means that the route from Athens via Alexandroupolis is an extremely well trodden one by now.
When I got to the station to take the train, there were around 40 document free travellers also waiting (I am making the assumption they were travelling without papers, because Greece does not give residency to anyone from Africa or the Middle East). Many looked like they had been waiting a long time for that train. Clothes were airing over railings. People were sitting around in the sun, on the platform, in thw waiting room in small groups, mostly according to nationality/ethnicity. All were men, except for one family. I got talking to some guys from Bangladesh, and sat with them on the train.
A curious thing happened during the journey. Over the course of a few hours the ‘ethnic mix’ of our carriage changed despite few people leaving or getting off. It seemed that, having previously been spread out throughout the trains 4 carriages, all the black people came to be sitting in our carriage. It seemed that the conductor had moved them. At the same time, all the white folks were slowly leaving (or were also moved?). Why? Why? For what reason? Why? Why this segregation? Why? I was the only white person left in the carriage. And now it was a fucking political statement to remain there; a statement of solidarity.
So, I passed my journey in the jovial but also anxious and anticipatory atmosphere of the folks separated out according to their colour and assumed lack of status, by the dude checking tickets and his balding friend rudely selling snacks. Welcome to Greece! I wish them all the best after this welcome.