Thursday, August 02, 2012

Itenerant Vendors and Beggars in Piraeus, Greece

28 July 2012.  
It is not difficult to personally experience the challenges, widely reported in international media outlets, that the Greek economy faces.  One needs only to join other vacationers at the Piraeus Port ferry terminus, awaiting transport to one of Greece’s renowned Mediterranean islands.
Following my early arrival - the experienced traveler always begins a new experience with an early arrival - I settled myself on a hard metal seat with other prospective passengers.  We immediately attracted itinerant vendors and beggars the way a newly blossoming flower attracts honeybees.  The principal objects de vend were wrap-around dark glasses with colored plastic frames and various small plastic toys.  For the most part, the vendors were not intrusive, or only politely so.  Each seemed to have some delimited territory within which they approached waiting passengers repeatedly.  Most were young, reasonably well-dressed and dark skinned.  They responded passively, perhaps even philosophically, when the proffered goods were refused.  I wondered what a day’s profits might be, whether they had dependents and what paths had brought them to their present circumstances.  Being ignored or having prospects shake their heads “no” all day must be disheartening.  I know I found prospective customer refusals to be so when I was a salesperson. 
The small number of beggars were different. They were older, less well dressed, more intrusive and persistent.  In relating to beggars, I have been guided by the Dalai Lama’s and Lord Buddha’s teaching that a principal goal of giving is to accumulate merit.  Giving money to a beggar, with the intention of alleviating his suffering is one way of doing so, though one can never be sure that the intended beneficiary of almsgiving will, in fact, benefit.  
Interrupting my reflections, crew members eventually announced departure of the “Flying Porpoise” hydrofoil to my destination, the Island of Spetsis and other Greek Island retreats.  On Spetsis, I was later told, the effects of the financial crisis were less severe.  I saw few itinerant vendors and no beggars during my stay.  There I spent a joyful and relaxing time with my son, my grandchildren and delightful, sophisticated family friends who were hosting them. 
Human society is imperfect.  Despite these imperfections, I see no reason not to live joyfully  savoring good times with family and friends.  I believe it is possible to do so while seeking to redress imperfections as best one can and not dulling one’s consciousness to the privations of those who suffer.

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