Insight: In Greece, a painful return to country roots
By Deepa Babington and Lefteris Papadimas
KONITSA, Greece (Reuters) - Thirteen years after abandoning rural Greece for a career in graphic design, Spiridoula Lakka finds herself in the last place she expected to end up - watering a patch of lettuce and herbs in her sleepy village.
As Greece sank into its worst economic crisis since World War Two, Lakka had already given up her dream of becoming a web designer. Even waitressing seemed impossible. She faced a simple choice: be stranded without money in Athens, or return to the geriatric village where she grew up plotting to escape.
At age 32, Lakka, an office clerk who also juggled odd jobs, joined a growing number of Greeks returning to the countryside in the hope of living off the land. It's a reversal of the journey their parents and grandparents made in the 1960s and '70s.
Data is scarce on how many people have made the trek, but as people angered by austerity head to the polls on June 17, anecdotal evidence and interviews with officials suggest the trend is gaining momentum. In a survey of nearly 1,300 Greeks by Kapa Research in March, over 68 percent said they had considered moving to the countryside, with most citing cheaper and higher quality life. Most expected to move permanently.
"A year ago, I couldn't imagine myself holding a garden hoe, or doing any farming," said Lakka, as she watered the herbs she grows in the village of Konitsa, which nestles among snow-capped peaks near the Albanian border.
"I've always wanted to leave the village. I never imagined I would actually spend my whole life here."
Her experience has been far from idyllic. The arrival of young, city-dwelling Greeks is being watched with a mix of pity and hope by those who never left.
"Those who have returned are desperate. They aren't coming back because they wanted to," said Stefanou Vaggelis, a 50-year-old distillery owner as he threw back tsipouro - a strong spirit favored by locals - with friends in the village centre dotted with taverns. Continued...