"Oxi!" yelled the crowd that gathered along the streets by the Old Royal Palace which is today's Hellenic Parliament building.
My second to last day in Greece happened to also be Oxi Day! October 28th is a day celebrated across the country as the Greek people remember a proud moment in history. A former military general and Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas called out, “Oxi (No!)” to an ultimatum coming from the Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini that demanded compliance in allowing Italian troops to be placed in specific locations in Greece or else they will go to war in the year 1940.
The Greek people stood tall and proud regardless of the challenges they have to endure. The current economic crisis was transparent in the heavy eyes of the merchants throughout my time in Greece, as well as the stories of their current living situation, and the hopeful tone as they genuinely wished me well. Hope, to every extent of that word, is what each and every person held on to without question. Pride is what exuded when they welcomed me to their land in every introduction. Pride filled the streets on Oxi Day and everyday. Every school in Athens sent a group of uniformed students along with educators to march in the Oxi Day Parade. They marched in front of the Parliament Building where people in politics and leaders of the Greek Orthodox Church cheered and waved. Members that took part in the special olympics marched last, the crowd roared for them and they were overcome by glee. A large marching band ended the parade with a final performance for the leaders of the church and country.
It is a beautiful country coexisting in the past and in the present, especially in Athens. Modern structures surround archaic ruins such as the main site of the Acropolis. Traditional worry beads were sold by the same person who sold selfie sticks. Modern brands lined the plazas with churches in between. During my time in Greece, I saw the importance of faith unlike ever before during my travels. Although, I had the most moving experience in Athens in relation to faith.
I walked the streets of the Athenian flea market on Oxi Day. It was crowded and children sat on the shoulders of their parents with Greek flags after the festivities. A particular store caught my eye as I kept walking along. Once I started to head back to the hotel, I went inside the store that drew me in. Byzantium was a place filled with religious artifacts and traditional Greek products. The family was so warm and we shared stories for hours. The day after, which was my last day in the country, I went back and our time multiplied with even more stories, snacks, and drinks. The sweet woman looked at my neck at one point and asked if I had a cross. I did not and shook my head. She turned around, picked a special cross, put the necklace over my head, and patted the cross on my chest. "There," she said, "now you are protected while you travel." It hurt to leave them behind, all the people I had met, and the places I visited.
When I think of Greece, I'm overwhelmed with appreciation. I believe the world has and will continue to learn from the values rooted in their land. Every person I interacted with was an example human being. Curious about new things, incredibly hard working, strong by their hope, and altruistic.
Athens was a city of different time periods existing at the same time with the underlying heart of the Greek culture.