Interview with Lampros Moustakis from Shedia

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Shedia is a street paper sold by homeless people in Athens and Thessaloniki. Shedia offers the vendors a dignified way to earn some money to cover their basic needs, as 50% of the selling price goes directly to them. But the most important thing about Shedia is the process of social integration, since social exclusion is the hardest part of being poor, according to the editor-in-chief Chris Alefantis. Apart from creating and distributing the street paper, Shedia also has a football team competing in the Homeless World Cup, and organises petanque every Sunday. They also organise Invisible Tours, where homeless people become tour guides leading you through the backstreets of Athens. Lampros Moustakis was our tour guide.

 

[“When the IMF came to Greece, i]t was catastrophic, not only for Greece, but for all Europe.”

 

Moustakis worked in a slaughterhouse in Argentina for fourteen years, but in the 80s the IMF came to Argentine, and he lost his job because the company had to close its doors. He decided to move to Brazil for a fresh start, and he found another job in a slaughterhouse there. He bounced back and things went well, until the IMF crossed his path for a second time. Again, Moustakis lost his job, and started looking for a way out. His cousins advised him to go to Greece, as things were looking up in Europe and he was only 35 years old. The Euro, a strong currency, was about to be introduced. Moustakis found work in the Greek tourism sector and he was living the European dream. It only lasted eight years, because when in 2008 the financial crisis hit European shores, it hit tourism and construction majorly. Then, in 2011, the IMF came to Greece. “It was catastrophic, not only for Greece, but for all of Europe.” Once again, Moustakis faced the consequences. He not only lost his job, but his house as well. “This time, it really brought me to my knees, because I didn’t have any savings and there was no work and I was 50 years old.”

 

“When you’re homeless, you have three main concerns: where to sleep, where to eat, and medical healthcare.”

 

Selling Shedia’s street paper and guiding the Invisible Tours has been part of Moustakis’ difficult but honest recovery. Nowadays, he resides in social housing, paid for by the European Union. He climbed out of the valley, but is still struggling to find a more welcoming part of the mountain that is life. His climb has been long and difficult, but he’s glad he isn’t living on the streets anymore at least. “Sleeping on the streets was just horrible. You don’t know where you’ll sleep or if you have anything to eat. That just demolishes you mentally. You don’t have the strength in mind to fight the demons in your head. You can’t make any mistakes or you end up in prison or a grave. I didn’t want to give up like I saw a lot of people do. Life is what God says it is. I’m not expecting anything from it. God is standing next to me to protect me and from there on, I will fight. I found Shedia and it’s helping me. The work I did for Shedia and the 200 euros I receive in benefits is enough to pay rent, utilities and a bit of good. Last year I even had meat to eat. I had meat to eat in my own house. Now, it’s been five months since I had any meat, but it doesn’t matter, I don’t complain. I don’t steal, I don’t fight, I’m not an addict. I do like my beer. I really like it. I don’t drink any other alcoholic beverages, I just really like the taste. If I have a little bit of money left, I find someone who’ll sell me a can
of beer for 1 euro. Then I take it home and on Saturday, I’ll make myself spaghetti. I’m a horrible cook, but I hold my own. I eat spaghetti with tuna and drink a can of beer and I have dinner in my own house. That is my life today.”

 

“When you’re homeless, you have three main concerns: where to sleep, where to eat, and medical healthcare. When the crisis came, the number of homeless people grew enormously. At the start of the crisis, the government managed to provide extra housing solutions. But things have been going downhill since two years, because the government doesn’t have the money to open new shelters, so a lot of people are left on the street. Due to the crisis and the lack
of funds, the social services have been very dysfunctional the past few years. There isn’t enough space to house everyone, so the facilities have to set priorities, which means that certain groups, such as the homeless with an alcohol problem, are being excluded.”

 

Moustakis also took us through the most diverse neighbourhood of Athens. “The rise of Golden Dawn has been a major problem here. They bully immigrants, beat people up and ruin their stores, but lately the situation has been a bit better. Many Greeks living in this area vote for Golden Dawn, because it is a very neglected part of the city, which drives them to the far right. Hopefully, one day nationalists like Golden Dawn will be eliminated.”

 

“[Theatre] gives me mental and physical strength, to cope with the fact that things haven’t always come my way throughout life.”

 

Moustakis’ favourite stop is the National Theatre of Greece: “It was constructed at the start of the 18th century. It only started operating as a theatre in the thirties, because during the First World War, it was used as a refuge for immigrants. I have a personal connection to this theatre, because they started the National Theatre Group for the Homeless. At the start of the program, only twelve people showed up, and only six stuck with the program, including me. The director who took the initiative was discouraged by many people, but he said “I believe in them, if they also believe in me, we can go forward together”.”

 

“I used to be afraid to speak in front of an audience, but the director told me not to worry. He told us to trust him, they would figure it out together, because that’s what theatre does. Theatre helps to get the best out of each person. Little by little, we started performing in some places, because if you believe in it and want to do it, you’ll find a way. Since then we’ve performed many plays, from Greek tragedies to modern plays and Shakespeare. During the crisis, we’ve performed many comedies, because the director believed that during hard times, the Greeks need to find their smile again. The Greek people have stopped smiling since the crisis. Theatre has helped me to improve my mindset, it gives me mental and physical strength, to cope with the fact that things haven’t always come my way throughout life.”

 

“Politicians talk about the Mediterranean as if it’s only a holiday area where people don’t want to work and only party and hang around.”

 

When asked whether he has hope for Europe, he smiles while shaking his head “I have hope for the European people, they’re good people, but politics…” He waves his hand and exhales sharply. “It’s kaput. Politicians talk about the Mediterranean as if it’s only a holiday area where people don’t want to work and only party and hang around. People want to work, they’re honest, no mafia or thieves. People live here, sometimes they forget that. A perfect Europe is the Europe we had thirty years ago. The idea of the European Union was creating a strong union. Now it’s a fantasy, the north is not in union with the south. It has become the German Union. The English government went tot he EU and said “no more”. Whether it’s right or not, they decided they wouldn’t stay anymore. The problem is the European bank, the IMF and maybe the American big companies, German big companies and the decision “take my blood”. They took the blood of the people, the citizens. They work, the shops are open, small industries thrive, it’s logical! Don’t take the blood of these people. It’s logical! Miss Merkel doesn’t accept these decisions. In my opinion, it’s not right.”

Interview and photos by Sonderland
Translation by Charlotte Dewulf