It's midnight in Athens, and Apostolis can't sleep. He just watched a BBC reporter count down the Greek default on an International Monetary Fund payment like it was New Year's Eve. He's rightfully fumed. But it's more than just the annoyance of blatant schadenfreude that's keeping my ever-cool Athenian cousin awake. He has a decision to make Sunday, where one choice is bad and the other choice is really bad.
We never talk about the crisis in Greece. Our conversations happen around birthdays or big news, and consist of sports trivia or important family updates, like the state of his dad's honeybees in our village. We keep it light and self-deprecating. He stumbles over American idioms and I struggle to answer complicated questions in Greek like, "How are you?" But lately, Apostolis is scared.
"All of this is about 11 million souls," he told me last night, just after his country became the first developed nation to default. "We are the ones that are going to suffer the consequences of either voting yes or no."
Apostolis is like any 26-year-old I know and like. He grabbed hold of the latest styles: thick-rimmed glasses, a beard, and plaid. He goes to bars on weekends, but still makes fun of ridiculous club music. He'll study economics in London in the fall, hoping to get an edge in the tight job market by coming back with a graduate degree. He's funny, driven, and smart. But when we spoke, he sounded resigned, and even at times desperate.
Greek-Americans have similar conversations with relatives in Greece. It's hard for us to remove ourselves from the crisis. We also feel resignation and desperation, but mostly guilt. We can't vote Sunday in a referendum intended to stop the implosion of a country. We can't stop the collapse of banks, higher unemployment, and generalized suffering. We're scared too.
Apostolis weighs the idea of more austerity with the threat of leaving the eurozone. Neither option sounds appealing. I don't envy the decision he has to make. But his careful, methodical reasoning doesn't sounds like the callous stereotypes that Greeks have taken on here at home and abroad since economic disaster hit.
The crisis was a colossal humbling that burdens a very proud people. But as they head to polls, people like my cousin will know that they have family here walking with them.
Matt Vasilogambros is a staff correspondent for Next America.