MC's Whispers

Whispering Silences

10 Things we’ve learnt during the Greek crisis

greek_financial_crisis__svitalskybrosFor those in Europe, the past few weeks have been a constant game of diplomatic war between Greece and the EU. With countless meetings, summits and councils convening in the course of just a month, Greece and its international creditors reached a breaking point. An irreparable rift, even if none admit to it.

The Greek crisis revealed a lot:

1) That there is no real leadership in Europe or its member states. No politician has demonstrated their worthiness of being the elected representative of the people. Not when so many have been named and shamed at how on the onset of a financial crisis they were the first to take their money out, when they are the ones who should have protected the economy and the nation state, let alone the entire union from financial collapse.

2) That politics is indeed a dirty game. We see images of EU and member state officials hugging, kissing and joking around before their “crucial” summits every couple of days, conveying a light-hearted atmosphere. Yet, two hours later, they are at each other’s throats, accusing one another of acting irrationally, unilaterally and unreasonably. The institutions (European Commission – European Central Bank – International Monetary Fund) accuse Greece of departing from the discussions abruptly and breaking off all negotiations, thus abandoning any hope of reaching a compromise. Greece accuses the institutions of blackmail and of handing them a take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum for accepting within 48hours their “harsh, absurd and recessionary proposals”. All making one thing clear: that one is out to break the other in an endless tug of war.

3) That solidarity is just a word. With no meaning. No content. Ever since the financial crisis began, “solidarity” has become part of our everyday vocabulary. Everyone is calling for more solidarity. From the EU, from member states, from international partners. Everything is argued to be done “in the interest of solidarity”, yet this is hardly the case. Right now, one state is left fighting for its own survival, pitting itself against another 18 (Euro area member states), who refuse any extension of the current status quo “because there is no will on their part”. However, if after the crucial referendum on Sunday, Greece wants to discuss another bailout programme, “the door is open, in the spirit of solidarity and responsibility”.

4) That the media still has significant power as the fourth estate. Upon the announcement of a Greek referendum on the institutions’ proposals, media immediately conveyed the message that the referendum was a question of whether or not Greece would remain in the Euro. Misinformation that was reinforced and intensified over the week and came to be replicated by EU officials and member state leaders themselves, resulting in widespread fear among the Greek citizens who continue to flock to ATMs, supermarkets and gas stations in what can only be likened to a state of siege.

5) That propaganda is a politician’s greatest tool. “EU leaders urge Greek citizens to vote ‘yes’ to stay in Euro”. This is the featured headline in media around the world, as the institutions launch a last effort to sway the Greek authorities in their direction and accept their proposals. Some even talk of visiting Greece to convince voters first hand. Regardless that this would be a direct intervention into the internal politics of a sovereign member state…

6) That it is easy to say a lot but hard to act on any of it. Like Mark Twain said “action speaks louder than words but not nearly as often.” The Greek crisis was the issue of at least 87 meetings of European Ministers since 2010, with around a dozen Eurogroup meetings being held in the last couple of months alone. Yet they have all failed and we have reached the point where a country “on the brink of default” is striving for a last minute agreement.

7) That Europe started off as a vision of a united continent, joining its people against a common cause and demonstrating solidarity when the need arises. But today, that dream has perished with Europe appearing more divided than ever. And it is nowhere near the initial vision of its founding fathers. It revealed its ugliest side in the midst of the harshest crisis it has ever faced and continues to squabble over things its people still do not understand. As Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times states, “The current crisis is not just a reflection of the failings of the modern Greek state, it is also about the failure of a European dream of unity, peace and prosperity.

8) That Europe has come to be divided into the lenders and the indebted. Where the indebted are left with no choice other than to borrow from the lenders who profit from the former’s very need to survive. From the hundreds of billions of bailout fund received by Greece since 2010, less than 10% was invested in the country itself, as the majority was used to pay off debts. In the same context, the indebted are forced to bow down and approve every programme presented to them by the lenders as “necessary reforms for economic recovery and debt sustainability”, even if this is diminishes their living standards and would lead to their own suffering. Let alone the economic jargon that no-one other than the ruling technocratic elites comprehend.

9) That democracy is a concept that has faded in the modern world. Politicians (overuse) the term to justify actions that in essence cannot be explained. They hold meetings behind closed doors with unelected officials who are not accountable to anyone. Yet it all comes down to one thing: “a clash of democratic mandates — pitting Greek voters’ desire to ditch austerity against the voters (and taxpayers) of other EU countries, who want to see their loans repaid and are loath to let an unreformed Greece continue to benefit from EU money.

10) That instead of joining forces against a common enemy – the threat of terrorism and ISIS that is gathering like a black cloud over the region – we are instead devouring our own flesh, wrangling with each other and by ourselves destroying the very consensus we are trying to create. And as such we become a people divided – both within our continent and within our own countries. This internal strife is actually worse than any foreign enemy.

The said, the unsaid and the afterthoughts

unsaid thoughts

Those things that were said swivel in your head,

Mixing with the things that were left unsaid.

And now the afterthoughts keep you awake,

Wondering what should have, could have, would have been.

And as you lay there thinking, tossing and turning,

Haunted by all those things,

All you can do is replay in your mind the things that were said,

Those that were not,

And the afterthoughts that lie in between.

Paper books or e-readers?

books vs ebooksWith so many things to read nowadays, we often get lost not only in the material but in the medium of reading. You see people reading constantly and everywhere – paper books, magazines, newspapers, on tablets, phablets, e-readers, phones. Choosing the right medium is not simply a matter of preference, it is also of convenience. So what do you prefer, a paper book or an e-reader?

Don’t get me wrong, I love my Kindle (for many more reasons beyond its practicality), but there is just something else present in a real paper book that cannot be replaced by any screen. And it is not just the excitement of getting your hands on a new book every once in a while (because, really, how many times are you going to buy an e-reader?).

In an era that sees the rapid rise of a “screen culture” we often need to take time off any and every screen. It is just not natural. And it is unhealthy being stuck in front of a screen all day. Get your hands on a book, flick through its pages, smell that odour of print and paper, rub the rough yellow sheets between your fingers, roll your hands over the indentations of the cover, mark the page you left off, feel the agony, work and inspiration that were involved in making that book, and let the magic radiating from each and every page carry you away.

Of course, you can still read the same book on an e-reader, but this digital medium just won’t allow you to completely engage in the relationship between book and reader. Sure, it is more convenient in many ways – for example, e-books are cheaper than paper ones; you can carry your e-reader anywhere at any time, having with you an abundance of books all at once; and quite significantly, you can read anything anywhere surreptitiously without being afraid of being judged, as it is impossible to see what you’re reading and can thus saturate your curiosity for a range of genres.

Reading a book is not just a past-time. It is an experience. A journey into another world. It is a way of getting lost without even moving from your couch. And it is one that will enrich your life.

So in essence, it doesn’t really matter where you read something, just as long as you immerse yourself fully into it. You’ll never regret it. (Unless it is a really bad book, but that’s another story).

How do you clean a dirty cat?

cat-washing-machineIf you were walking on the sidewalk and came across an average-sized cat with enchanting snake-green eyes but with white fur as dirty as the insides of a garbage can, would you stop and gaze at it, let alone pet or feed it? No? Well that is exactly what Janine was trying to convey to Toby.

His fur had become grey from the dirt he was gathering while playing around, who knows where. It was summer too so the heat made it easier to stick everything on to his fur. But, it was embarrassing having a cat follow you around that was so dirty. It was as if she was homeless and this was her pity victim. Janine would have none of it. Toby would get cleaned up today.

There was only one problem. Toby hated water.

Toby was the kind of cat that wanted its independence – so you would pet him only if he allowed you to, would eat only if he wanted to etc. But at times, he would follow Janine around everywhere. Even to the supermarket, where he would wait patiently outside for her to emerge with the shopping bags so they could continue their walk. It was funny really. But at least he could be presentable as an escort.

Today Janine was going to the laundry mat. Toby, unfortunately for his sake, decided to tag along.

As she was loading the laundry into the machine, Toby opted to play around, hiding in the load, then peeking out and hiding deeper. But when Janine was almost done, he came up with the silly idea of jumping in the machine with the clothes to scare her when he popped out. But Janine did not see him and simply shut the door and hit “start”.

Toby was in the washing machine. Loaded.

As the water began to fill up, he began to gulp. And as the motion began, he began to yell as loudly as a cat can screech. It took Janine a minute or two before she realized where that hair-raising sound came from. When she saw Toby’s eyes staring at her as they revolved among the clothes in the washing machine, she nearly fainted. White as a ghost and in an unprecedented state of panic, she was pressing all the buttons on the machine at once in a desperate attempt to get it to stop. But how do you stop this machine?? Could she unplug it? But where was the plug anyway? Not knowing what to do, she quickly dialed 911.

The fire fighters were there in less than three minutes (their station was two blocks down from the laundry mat).

Their first reaction was naturally a giggle. It was kind of funny seeing a shrieking cat turning 360 degrees in a load of whites. But they quickly got to work: one of them tugged the machine forward and the other managed to unplug it. Then they used five different tools to get the door open and let the water rush out.

Toby sprang out with all the energy he had left. He was a poor sight – a wretched, soaking wet cat. He shook off the water from his fur and jumped into Janine’s lap. At least both now could relax.

The firemen were still laughing as they departed.

But Toby’s adventure had two outcomes: his fur was now clean and silky white as snow again; he stopped following Janine everywhere and instead spent more time inside the house – you know, to avoid getting too dirty and be mechanically washed like that again!

11 thoughts that keep you awake at night

tom_awake at nightIf you’re not one of those people who fall asleep as soon as their head hits a pillow, then you know what it’s like to toss and turn through the night wondering when you’ll finally fall asleep so you can stop thinking. In moments such as these, there are usually a million things cramped in your head. And it’s not just the sheep you are trying to count in the hope of dozing off.

Here are just eleven of the thoughts that may keep you up at night:

  1. Did I turn off the lights/lock the door/shut the fridge door? (Yet always too lazy to get up and check)
  2. Did I feed the dog/cat/fish?
  3. Why hasn’t s/he called today?
  4. What if s/he doesn’t want to talk to me/ isn’t thinking about me as much / doesn’t care?
  5. Why didn’t I be more aggressive at the meeting this morning? Subtleness is only understood by intelligent people and that was clearly not the case.
  6. Was I productive enough today? I should do more exercise.
  7. What if I had taken that job in Hawaii two years ago?
  8. I wondering what (ex) is doing now…
  9. I’m tired. Maybe I should call (friend) for drinks tomorrow and a chat. I need people to talk to.
  10. What am I going to wear tomorrow?
  11. If I fall asleep right now I will get roughly four hours of sleep.

What keeps you up at night?

A Dog Named Bob

cute_brown_puppy_dog_with_big_begging_eyesHe was a mischievous one. It was reflected in his eyes if you looked closely enough. But they fell in love with him as soon as they saw him as a newborn puppy sitting silently in a box, wagging his tiny tail and gazing at them with those adorable black eyes. How could you say no to that? Have you ever seen what real puppy eyes have the power to do?

They never regretted taking him in. But they would soon find out how mischievous a dog named Bob can be.

The Hamleys were a family like any other. With three children and everyone always going about their daily business, going in and out of the house at their own pace and gathering once a day for dinner. That was usually when Bob too would manage to scrape some real food out of the family, using, of course, the power of his enchanting black eyes. It is not that he was not fed during the day. But a cooked family meal always outdid any processed can food. One day they neglected to give him a piece, as they were quarrelling about something, but Bob managed to discretely steal a large streaky piece of bacon from the youngest member’s plate. Nobody even noticed. That is how busy they were…

Bob’s favourite pastime in the mornings was running up to the mailbox and waiting for the postman to appear. For some inexplicable reason, dogs always love to chase this poor man who is delivering letters. Bob would never harm him, mind you, but he would always wag his tail happily, waiting for some attention, and manage to transmit this happiness to the mailman. Which was always delightful.

Another day, Bob noticed a bluejay sitting in the tree outside the house. He was sitting underneath it staring at it for hours. Until he decided, he would ask the bird to come down to play. So he barked the neighbourhood awake as he jumped and screeched up and down the bark of the tree. The bluejay got so startled that it flew into the house through the open kitchen window and fell into the bowl of syrup the mother of the family was using to bake something – nobody ever found out what it was, as the syrup had to be thrown out following the bird incident. The bluejay is OK by the way. It flew straight back out again, and presumably passed by the river to clean up.

Bob was a strangely adorable but very mischievous dog. What is not known though is that he is very famous too. Because one day, the father of the Hamleys decided that his dog’s adventures were too funny and priceless to be kept sealed inside the house. So he sat down, got out his ink markers and began scribbling away. That is how the most famous book describing a beloved dog’s adventures was born. From a simple dog named Bob.

Also part of Daily Prompt: A Dog Named Bob

The reason things happen

lotus_flower_in_blooming_at_sunset-2560x1600People come into your life for a reason. Even if they are just passing by or here to stay for the long-term, they all have a purpose for doing so. From the old woman you help across the street, to the kind newspaper boy, the caring waitress, the rude civil servant, the cheating landlady, the dishonest lawyer, the profane bus driver…

No matter how soon or how late something or someone appears, you need to trust that their timing was ideal. There are so many sayings that “everything happens for a reason”, “you get what you give”, “if it is meant to be it will be” and so on, but what we all truly need to believe is that there is a purpose in everything. In things that happen and those that don’t. Even the slightest of coincidences can turn out to be something remarkable. A serendipity of unbeknown beauty. We just need to be open enough to accept it all.

People come into our lives for a reason. You may not remember everyone who has been part of your life, and likewise they probably won’t remember you either. But what about those who make an impact on your very being? Who leave their mark on your heart? Who help develop your personality, your passion, your character? The very essence of who you are?

There are some people with whom you develop a tie stronger than a sailor’s knot. One that no matter how far you run and how much you try to break it, it only tightens and brings you closer. It is with people like these that time is never enough to talk about everything you want. You can spend hours on end discussing unconnected issues, yet later you will always remember something else that remained unsaid. It is equally with people like this, that even if you have not seen each other for months, it does not matter; you pick up right where you left off, as if a chronological gap never occurred. With no awkwardness, no embarrassment. Just honesty.

People come into our lives for a reason. We might be blind to it and first. But then, those moments arrive when we sit in silence and reminisce about all we’ve been through, when all those persons and all those moments pass like a film reel in our mind, virtually spilling out a stream of memories – good and bad – demonstrating how we’ve grown with and because of every single one of them.

Karma brings people and situations in our lives for a reason. We can chose to ignore them or learn from them. Either way, it will make our lives richer for the experience alone…

“An invisible thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle but it will never break. May you be open to each thread that comes into your life – the golden ones and coarse ones – and may you weave them into a brilliant and beautiful life.” – Chinese proverb

The breaking point

11146-broken-pencil-tip-1680x1050-photography-wallpaperHarold was a man with exceptional patience. He possessed the remarkable ability of retaining his calm even in situations where it was most likely to lose all control and begin to scream, either out of panic or of agitation. Yet, he managed to radiate a tranquility that was truly rare in such times of increasing uncertainty and turbulence.

That was until one Friday. It was also the 13th.

Things started out badly that day when he broke the mug he had been drinking coffee in for the past few years and which had become his favourite. He should have seen it coming then, the streak of bad luck, but he chose to ignore it. Optimism was always the best course of action. He convinced himself there was no use worrying over anything he could not change, and especially a mug, which could easily be replaced.

But then he went to work. And that is where it all fell apart.

On his desk he found an invoice charging him an extravagant amount for services that supposedly were provided, but he recalled very well how last week he had a row with that specific manager for not delivering the agreed services, forcing Harold to in the end do all the work himself. Why was he expected now to actually pay for work he himself did?

Harold began to fidget nervously, feeling his heart beat increase significantly.

The next blow came when he realized that he was literally robbed of cash from his bank account because his Internet provider had on a whim decided to increase the cost of services three-fold.

But the real “icing on the cake” came when his boss stormed into his office infuriated, blaming Harold for something he had not done. Or rather something Harold had advised not to do, yet no-one listened to him, and now a major client had withdrawn investment. Someone always had to be blamed. And it was usually the calmest and quietest one that gets chosen as the scapegoat.

Harold erupted.

That was when he began to constantly feel angry and irritated. About everything. It took even the slightest of sounds to tick him off. He was fuming about the injustices that always fell upon him; how he was always blamed for things that went wrong, even when it was not his fault. He was annoyed at how nobody ever did their job or at least what they proclaimed they would do but always wanted to be paid the full amount no matter the quality or quantity of what they delivered. He was livid about how others always wanted you to adhere to your part of the agreement but never lived up to their own. But most of all he was enraged about how corrupt the human soul really is, having no qualm or remorse whatsoever in outright stealing, cheating and deceiving the other.

Harold had changed over the course of just a week.

He could no longer sleep at night, haunted by these thoughts that swarmed his mind like Erinyes. Even when he did manage to doze off for a while, he would wake up drowning in his own sweat with his heart racing, suffering panic attacks in his very sleep.

Nothing could offer any consolation any more. It was the curse of realizing no matter how good you are the bad somehow always end up getting their own way. He was tormented by things he was wronged about and, although he knew nothing could be done to change them, for some reason he could not let go or forget about them.

He had to move on.

All it really takes, is to find one person who will demonstrate that not everybody is the same. To be able to restore your confidence in humanity, your faith in kindness, and bring back the smile on your face.

For Harold that would arrive a month later. At a bar a few blocks from his house. In the form of a beautiful brunette who had also suffered many injustices in her life and who described herself as “walking bad luck”. Combined, they would change their destinies.

The leather bag and the half-ticket

Bus ticketEvery time the smell of leather filled his nostrils, he remembered that incident on the bus. He was well aware why he had associated this pungent smell of processed skin with a means of transport. It was all because of the new leather bag the woman sitting on the front seat held full of pride that so dominantly inflicted its scent onto his subconscious. Whatever the case, despite the churning of his stomach every time that smell encountered his nose, he could not help but smile as he recounted that particular episode.

It was a day he was heading off for the airport for a business trip. He had scheduled his parting time from the town promptly, in order to arrive at the departure lounge with plenty of time to spare. There was always some unexpected adventure to happen on the way. It was bound to occur with his peculiar strand of luck.

And it did.

Once on the bus, he presented the driver with 1.5 times the amount for the ticket, as he did not have the precise change. The driver searched his pockets, his fanny pack, his side-lockers to find the right amount of coins to give back. All the while, our traveler waited, trying to hold on and not go sliding down the bus aisle due to the clumsy driving that was taking place at the same time. That is right where the woman with the pungent leather bag was sitting. He remembered it precisely because she wore a huge black hat with a black feather sticking out on the right side, and he recalled wondering what on earth was in that bag that could actually fit the crocodile out of whose skin it was made.

The bus reached the next stop and the driver was still frantically searching for change. He turned round and asked the passenger sitting behind him if he had some cash. Then he asked the traveler for some too. The traveler remained dumbfounded. If he had the cash, would he not have given the exact change needed in the first place and avoided this commotion?

Change was finally found and deposited in the traveler’s hand. Now all that remained was the ticket.

“Hold on. It’s not that simple”. The driver seemed confused and in disarray. So was the traveler. What on earth was going on?

At the fourth stop since the traveler had embarked, the driver got out of his cabin, took a ticket, validated it in the machine, tore it in half and gave one end to the traveler and the other to the old man sitting behind the driver. “I’ve run out of reduced-price tickets, so you’ll have to share one,” he said as he calmly returned behind the wheel and continued his shabby driving, satisfied he had sorted it all out.

The traveler gazed at his half-ticket in amazement. This was a first. But, he simply took his bag and moved a bit further down the leather-smelling front to finally sit down for the rest of the bumpy ride.

Even after disembarking from that bus, he could still smell the leather bag right until he entered the shower later that evening at his foreign destination. He had also kept the half-ticket. Just in case no-one believed him when he recounted this story.

Also part of Daily Prompt: Smell You Later

Lara and the balloons

balloon burstWhen Lara was a little girl, she used to anticipate her grandmother’s visits like a swallow looks forward to spring. Every time her grandmother came, she would bring her something. No matter how small or seemingly insignificant, Lara loved surprises. One day her grandmother came with a bag of balloons. Lara could not sit still from the excitement. She immediately drew out a red balloon and started blowing it up. It took so much effort and almost all the air in her lungs to do so, but she could still recall how happy and proud she felt when she saw that big balloon now flying from her fingertips across the room.

She spent the whole day chasing after the balloon; carefree and happy.

But she could not understand one thing: why had her grandmother brought her a whole bag of balloons when all she needed was one?

The next morning, she woke to find that the red balloon had deflated slightly. But that did not stop her from spending as much time as was allowed throwing the balloon into the air and running after it.

But then it happened.

The balloon flew into a cactus, fell onto a thorn and popped. All of a sudden, it was gone. All that effort and excitement to blow it up, to inflate it full of dreams of what could be, were all suddenly ceased. All it took was the sharp end of the smallest of things.

Lara stood in shock, gazing at the remnants of the red balloon lying in demolition on the cactus.

She heard footsteps rushing from behind her. Her mother came over, grabbed her shoulder and hugged her. She then offered her the little bag of balloons her grandmother had brought the other day.

“Now you see why balloons come in groups? They are so easily burst. But you must never give up. There are always more. And as long as you have air in your lungs, you can always fill another and be excited again”.

Lara smiled at her mother, grabbed a yellow balloon from the bag and began blowing air in it again, hopeful that this time it would last a bit longer.

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