Photographers' Blog

A hopeless situation

By Cathal McNaughton

Time is running out for Natassa Papakonstantinou – by August she could be homeless.

What becomes depressingly apparent as we sit in her tastefully decorated apartment in a middle class suburb of Athens, is that there is no plan B. Last August, 43-year-old Natassa was finally laid off from her job in telecommunications – she hadn’t been paid a penny for the previous six months so she had been living off her savings and hoping for the best.

She was made redundant and now gets by on 461 euros she gets each month in state benefits plus what little is left of her dwindling savings. By August she has calculated that she will be penniless and, with no money to pay her rent, she could be homeless.

She told me that every day she spends up to six hours trawling the internet for job opportunities and applies for any job she can find – she gets few replies. “I sit in my office for hours on end looking for work. I rarely go out and I am nearly always on my own.”

She has tried everything – even recruitment agencies that specialize in jobs in Australia – but she says they exploited her. “They took hundreds of euros from me for administration fees and then said I wasn’t eligible to work in Australia as I don’t score enough points for a visa. They said I could pay more money and apply again.”

Surviving rather than living

By Cathal McNaughton

“My wife thinks I don’t do enough but I’m doing everything I can. I work day and night. I’m trying to work my way out of this,” olive farmer Dimitris Stamatakos told me as he took a break from stacking wood at his small-holding in the village of Krokeae in the Peloponnese area of Greece.

During the boom years Dimitris, 36, made a comfortable living from the 1,700 olive trees on his seven acres of land – today, due to rising costs and higher taxes, his olive crop yields just 50 per cent of what it once did and to make ends meet he toils endlessly at odd jobs.

Selling firewood, hiring out his tractor and even hiring himself out as a laborer to his neighbors are just a few of the ways he makes the extra euros he needs to support his wife Voula and their two young boys, three-year-old Christopher and one-year-old Elias.

Snails as food, snails as business

By Yiorgos Karahalis

One of my fondest memories is of the snails my mother harvested after the rains. I couldn’t wait for her to get home so that I could grab those tiny animals and play with them for hours, all the while looking forward to the next day’s lunch! Little did I know then that this childhood pastime was also a big business.

Perhaps it was my memories that led me to be intrigued by the story of Greece’s Fereikos Helix snail farming company, a successful business started by two sisters, Maria and Panagiota Vlachou.

“I was having dinner in Zurich as I was speaking to my sister on the phone. I told her that I ordered snails for near 37 euros. And she joked with me, saying we must start growing and trading snails,” Maria Vlachou said, explaining what motivated them to start their business in 2007.

In the eye of the Greek storm

By Yannis Behrakis


(View a slideshow of Yannis’ photos from the Greek financial crisis here)

In the past 20 months the Greek financial crisis has been one of the world’s top stories. Day in, day out words like, IMF, ECB, and Troika are mentioned as some of the most common words in my country. People who knew nothing about economics and had never heard of strange words like “spreads”, “haircut” and “bailout”, now seem to have become almost experts in financial matters. Everywhere you go in Greece people talk about the same issues — an upcoming default, the economic meltdown, the misery the unemployment, the rising prices, the possible loss of their deposits in banks if Greece goes back to its old currency, the drachma.

According to the latest polls, Greeks are the most unhappy people in Europe and it’s easy to see why. On the streets of my home town Athens, people don’t smile much, they argue a lot and on some days it seems that misery looms over the capital. If you add to that the terrible traffic jams caused by one or more protests that occur every single day, on top of the increased number of beggars, drug addicts, illegal immigrants and homeless, Athens seems in its worst shape ever. According to another study last year, the center of Athens was “closed” for 2-3 hours daily due to protests, resulting in, according to shop owners, a financial catastrophe for many in the once booming downtown Athens.

Greece’s new army of the homeless

By Yiorgos Karahalis

Ragged clothes, small piles of belongings and a bleak future, Greece’s new army of homeless have swelled in numbers since the debt crisis hit the country.

As part of ideas to highlight the story that has dominated headlines for the past two years, I wanted to illustrate the emerging problem of homelessness in a country which has seen a rise in the number of homeless by 20-25 percent in the last two years alone – a staggering rise in a country where adult children live with their parents, in some cases until the day they get married, and pensions traditionally go to support young families.

Athens is the country’s largest city with an estimated population of five million and where the homeless problem is much more visible than anywhere else. Even its city center, a top tourist spot, sees dozens of homeless people having made building entrances and shop fronts their new home. Sleeping bags and cardboard boxes piled against walls, a few shopping bags of clothes and food their only belongings.
Homelessness has now permeated all genders, races, ethnic backgrounds and social classes.

Der Ball ist rund und das Spiel dauert 90 Minuten

“Der Ball ist rund und das Spiel dauert 90 Minuten” – the ball is round and the match lasts 90 minutes - words of wisdom from Sepp Herberger, known as the ’Miracle from Berne’, most famous as German national coach of the team which won the 1954 World Cup. 

The other night we had something like a miracle from Vienna – Michael Ballack struck a thunderbolt free kick to send an unconvincing Germany through to the quarter-finals of the European Soccer Championshop 2008 with a 1-0 win over co-hosts Austria. Ballack’s free kick, right-footed into the top corner and clocked at 121 kilometres an hour by a German TV station exactly describes, what acording to another German saying, is the whole point of the game, “das Runde muss ins Eckige – the round thing must go in the rectangular thing.

So that is easy enough – isnt it??

1
  
1. Germany’s Michael Ballack (4thL) scores from a free kick during their Group B Euro 2008 soccer match against Austria at the Ernst Happel Stadium in Vienna, June 16, 2008.     REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach.  2.  Austria’s goal keeper Juergen Macho fails to save a free kick by Germany’s Michael Ballack during their Group B Euro 2008 soccer match at the Ernst Happel Stadium in Vienna June 16, 2008.     REUTERS/Christian Charisius