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In an effort to depress everyone a little less than I did with my last post, I thought that today would be a good day to mention something a little more uplifting.

Trying times tend to bring out the best in people. Hardship makes people kinder, more generous, and disarmingly honest.

It is wonderful not to have to hide behind the mask of status, or to conform to middle class standards. It is liberating to be freed from the expectations one may entertain in younger richer years about what type of life one should be living. Just to live, day to day…and see where the future leads you… It is liberating in a scary sort of way that makes one have to forget everything one knew about security, or about squirrelling things away for a ‘rainy day’.

For the first years of the recession I moaned to my husband about our inability to save money. I kept feeling as if the security of money in the bank was somehow a guarantee against hardship, a magical talisman that would keep evil far from my door. It is a fallacy, of course. Those who had savings are now in exactly the same position that we are. Their money only served to delay the descent into a frugal lifestyle for a short while. And strangely enough frugality is not the punishment that I seemed to think it was. It is actually quite fun.

Daily conversations feature supermarket specials and where one found the best deal on something. Everyone always has some new or remembered gem of wisdom to share. Tasty old, yet inexpensive, recipes are exchanged. New ones are found, tried, and then passed around. Costs of shopping at different places are compared. Failures are commiserated and successes lauded. Living as well as possible within a budget is the new black in Greece, and everyone wants to do it. And there is no shame in admitting that one does not have money. The ingenuity and creativity that is inspired by limited resources is fast becoming a source of pride.

A friend recently wanted to make a tray of stuffed peppers and stuffed tomatoes for her family. Now in the past one would usually go and buy a kilo or two of each with no thought for how many could actually fit in one’s pan…but this time was different. She actually took her pan to the greengrocer to make sure she bought exactly the right amount and that everything fitted perfectly. She did not want to waste a scrap or even a cent. It was an act that engaged everyone in the shop as they stopped what they doing to help choose the perfect selection of tomatoes and peppers for that particular pan. The old grandmothers argued about which were best in shape and size until a general consensus was reached. My friend says they chose better than she could have chosen herself, plus they all smiled and gave her lots of tips on how to make the traditional recipe even better. No one raised an eyebrow at her bringing the pan. The old people remember what it was to live in hard times. Their support, encouragement, and lack of judgement made my friend’s day.

And one kind act usually inspires others. Like the ‘Potato Movement’ here in Greece.  It is a farmers’ initiative that seeks to sell fresh produce directly to the public at cost price.

So every week the farmers load up their potatoes into their truck, and drive or take a ferry to a different location where for 10 euros one can buy a 25kg bag of potatoes. The supplies are limited. The queues hideous. One has to be strong enough to carry the bag, and everything is sold out within the hour of the farmers’ arrival. Doesn’t sound good for those who could not or did not manage to get a 25kg bag…not so however.

The downside to actually buying a bag is that one ends up with more fresh potatoes than one family can cook or eat before they go rotten. The solution is to share of course…and at such low prices no one is going to ask for any money in return.

Which means FREE POTATOES for anyone who did not buy a bag…

For two weeks afterwards everyone is always offering everyone else a share of their potatoes along with detailed recipes of the latest potato dishes. It is actually amazing how versatile the potato is. We have had the farmers here twice in a month and our family alone has bought 50kg of potatoes. And I learnt how to cook at least 5 great new recipes just from asking the question ‘what on earth do I do with all of these potatoes?’

Need I add what an incredible saving it has been for all of us? Plus having so much made it possible to be generous with others too. Its really nice to be able to give away a weeks worth of potatoes to those whose pensions have been reduced, or to families who live a hand to mouth existence. And you have to give them away quickly because its damn hot and the potatoes get softer every day. So one grabs an old supermarket bag, fills it with potatoes and gives it to whomever does not have any…and if you give extra to them, they in turn get to give away to those they know are in need too. And all before the race to eat the potatoes before they rot is finished

A single act of goodness, such as the farmers selling at cost, becomes a sea of kindness that spreads out to engulf everyone in need. A single helping hand that becomes a chain of support until one realises that if any country can survive this economic crisis, it will be Greece. Families and friends help one another here. Even strange farmers help…