Journey across crisis-hit Greece
- 11 June 2012
- From the section Europe
The Karinos family sit under the garden vines, taking shelter from the intense midday sun: three generations, brought together by Greece's financial crisis.
Until last year, Thomas and Eleni lived with their two children in Athens. But as they lost their jobs and faced soaring taxes, they decided that the everyday struggle of city life was too much. The family moved back in with Thomas's mother in her house in the tiny village of Pahikalamo, in north-west Greece.
Around a simple lunch Eleni tells me there was no other option. "We lost our income and had two children to raise," she says. "I was waking up and doing nothing except trying to find work. And then I couldn't sleep at night because I so worried about tomorrow."
She tells me several of her friends are thinking of following suit - including her sister-in-law. "The economic times force us to leave the city. I didn't choose to do it - the situation made me come here and that's what I didn't like. I wanted to have my own opinion, but I couldn't."
As Greece sinks deeper into the worst financial crisis in its modern history, unemployment has soared to 21% - and 54% among young people.
With businesses closing and a third of Greeks now thought to live below the poverty line, the urban exodus is gathering pace. Thousands are thought to have left the cities: almost 70% of those questioned in a recent survey said they were considering doing so.
Life is simpler and less expensive in the countryside, but it too is suffering: the Epirus region, the new home of the Karinos family, is one of the poorest parts of the European Union.
As Thomas's mother, 73-year-old Paraskevi, sits at the lunch table, listening again to her children's story, she begins to cry. But the smile returns to her kindly face as she tells me of the pleasure her family bring her - and the company they provide.
"If they had work of course I would like to see them stay in Athens," she says. "I had a hard time growing up here - we were very poor. I was hoping my children would have a better life. But it makes me sad to see that it hasn't turned out like that. Our governments have made a mess of things. They've destroyed Greece."
The anger against the political class for chronic mismanagement of Greece's economic crisis is likely to be vented at the ballot box in Sunday's election.
In the last election on 6 May - which failed to produce a conclusive result - the two big parties in power for most of the past four decades were decimated by a furious, exhausted nation. They haemorrhaged support to newer, smaller parties, which promise to abolish the austerity measures that have brought the country to its knees.
And polls show a similar result may be produced again this time, although European leaders warn deviating from the cost-cutting path could lead Greece out of the euro.
But whatever happens in Sunday's election, Greece's recession has already had a marked impact on the country's demographics.
During the decades after World War II, hundreds of thousands left rural areas for the bigger cities that were beginning to prosper. The population of Athens alone doubled between 1950 and 1980. But now the process is being reversed - Greeks are moving in the other direction, away from urban financial hardship as the effect of the crisis deepens.
Thomas Karinos has found some work in a local eel farm, but the family, like so many, now rely in part on their small plot of land. They have a few sheep and chickens and have started to grow oranges. But for the children - 16-year-old Konstantinos and Evelina, 13 - it is a hard adjustment from city life.
"We got used to things in Athens and now it's not so easy here", Konstantinos tells me. "I miss the city a lot and would like to go back. I don't think I can have a future here. It makes me sad seeing that we had to move - but we couldn't do anything else."
And so as the impact of this country's crisis runs ever deeper, Greeks are falling back on their traditional family bonds as their final safety net. They remain strong and loyal - a rare antidote to the pain of the recession.
A few minutes from the Karinos family's new home lies a small lake - a picturesque place with old wooden boats surrounded by reeds and flowers. They come often, they say - a good place to think.
"I am beginning to like it here, I guess," says Eleni. "In Athens we couldn't live - we couldn't even survive. At least here we can survive."