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I was going to write about starvation in urban areas, and how people in the big cities were returning to the country so they could at least grow their own food, but hey, it is the weekend. No one wants to think about starvation on a Saturday. Sure people starve on the weekend too but one needs a little breather from the constant depression once in a while.

So I decided to focus on some of the choices one has to make while riding the death spiral of a recession. Not the depressing life or death ones (for a change), just simple little choices that show us something about our value systems. Now even mentioning what I am about to will mark me as possessing decidedly bourgeois values but nonetheless…

The first thing you need to understand is that, unless one is a shipping magnate, politician or millionare (in euros), there is no longer such a thing as a stable income in Hellas. One can no longer count on getting paid on pay day. In fact, one can pretty much count on not getting paid on time. Businesses are doing so badly that employers pay what they can afford to pay and when they can afford to pay it. Employers can no longer be sure of business from regular customers. This situation means that one has to watch every single cent one spends and try to save money in dribs and drabs for mortgages, bills, and the ever increasing taxes. One also has to keep emergency money on hand at all times because Murphy’s Law will have it that at the worst of times a pipe is going to burst, or the stove is going to short a fuse, or the car is going to need some kind of repair. We had all of this happen in a single month during this winter, and it was no joke at the time.

So now it is summer. The period on the islands when we should be making enough money to tide ourselves over the winter. Which hardly happened last year, and is not happening this year at all. Yet we still have exactly the same expenses, and a little extra due to extra taxation, and a strange phenomenon that I have observed every summer since arriving in Mytilene.

Good weather = some kind of island insect plague

I do not know why it happens, or even why the type of insect plague changes from year to year. It appears to be related to what kind of winter we had. This summer there are two separate plagues…teeny tiny ants & big fat ticks.

The teeny tiny ants started pestering everyone in Mytilene a few weeks back already. Their size makes them an evolutionary improvement on the normal size ants from two years ago. They can get into anything. I have to keep my airtight sugar container precariously balanced on the edge of a tin. If anyone leaves it on the counter for longer than 30 minutes the teeny tiny ants gleefully crawl inside to party in sugar ant heaven. Plus it is hard to track where they come from because their size allows them to move stealthily in the spaces between tile glue behind the wall tiles. Any hole or crack in the grouting is all the opportunity they need to invade the kitchen.

So how is this connected to the crisis? Well there is only so much sugar one can throw away when money is tight. And it is not only sugar. It is anything that has sugar or honey inside. The ants are weeny enough to crawl in the thread of a lid for a bottle of honey. Of course one cannot keep honey and sugar in the fridge either. So it comes down to a series of choices. The best choice of which is the most cost effective: (a) track them to their source and destroy it with a few sprays of the very expensive ant spray/poison. This does not work however because they move behind the tiles and in between the stones of the walls. One is then left with more expensive choices (b) fire fight the problem and spray the ants as and when you see them plus spray all tiles and wipe surfaces with chlorine. One bottle of expensive spray and a bottle of chlorine later one discovers that this is only a temporary solution to the problem. So then there are only three choices left: (c) fill a container with sugared water and try to lead the ants outside into an ambush; (d) place all sugar and honey stuff in containers and place the containers in saucers of water or (e) buy more expensive spray and (not expensive) chlorine and repeat choice B. The ambush plan I am not prepared to risk. The ants that don’t know about us yet may take it as an invitation to scout our premises. Plan D is a Mission (with a capital M). Which means that we are left purchasing expensive ant spray with money that could pay bills or feed a family for two days. If we don’t, we have to throw away sugar and honey that, cost wise, could feed a family for three days or more.

Choices, choices…

Then we come to the big fat ticks that travel in the wind and plop on you while you are walking in the street. Fortunately we can brush them off but our cats can’t. In the past month my son and I have removed at least eight ticks from the large male cat. Never before have we had ticks on the cats, but now we do. Murphy’s Law. So I start thinking of thrifty ways I can prevent ticks without purchasing expensive pet products which I find more and more difficult to justify to my long suffering husband who would not even have pets if it was up to him. A month later the cats have developed a psychological aversion to the citronella oil which should (in theory) prevent both ticks and fleas. Only thing is that the male still gets ticks plus both he and the female have fleas now too. Yesterday we were forced to purchase chemical spot removal treatments for both cats and tick/flea collars to keep the pests off (both are required because of the amount of ticks flying around). The cost was a mere six days of feeding a family.

Between what the ants and the ticks have cost us we could have purchased a whole weeks worth of groceries, or paid our mobile phone bills, or donated it to someone who needs to pay cash for medicine, or purchased enough inexpensive grain products to supply a whole soup kitchen for at least a meal.

My middle class values bring me shame at a time like this.