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Comparing my experience of Athens’ migrant neighbourhoods — the city being “surprisingly cosmopolitan” — there’s little comparison. You go to a place where there’s Indians, Georgians, Kenyans, etc. and there’s just this sense of gloom you can’t shake. I like to think of myself as sensitive to the “colour of the air” in any environment, and I find “ethnic” Athens depressed and depressing, couldn’t tell which. People know perfectly well when they’re tolerated in the exact sense of the term, and it doesn’t do them good. They actually have mosques here in Britain, with honest-to-God minarets, not leaving me with the surreal image of a mostly Pakistani street behind a drab and awful (and empty) publicly-built, concrete church the size of a small stadium.

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It is expected that converts to Islam should conform to certain preconceived notions of these Muslim communities, from repudiating their culture and denigrating their previous faith, to practising the cultural characteristics of the majority. In most cases, the convert is never equal, but treated like idiots, expected to follow without thinking. The emphasis is adherence to the communal norms.

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Here, I’ve gotten people actually asking how my name is pronounced, and the question “could you spell that out for me?” is something folks regularly exchange. You will see African mothers with strollers, rocking that Timbuktu look, chatting loudly in front of a store in their own language.

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On the road to my flat, I see a 12 y.o. Pakistani girl with broad pants with lahuri designs and some incredible pigtails, circling the street on her roller skate, calling to her friend inside, “Mohammed! Mohammed!” Another shock. Kids named what, now? In Greece, saith the employer to his (Albanian?) employee, “What’s your name, lad?” “Ismail, sir.” “*pats back* I’ll call you Michalis. I like you, Michalis.” (ladies and gentlemen, the mystery of baptism in the 21st century)

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The difference is even more jarring with regards to the disabled, meaning they exist in the West. A good number of public facilities have adaptations for folks in wheelchairs that just don’t exist back home. More importantly, there is a universal perception of rights for these people. A lady in a wheelchair goes up to the bus, and the driver actually stops the vehicle — and the journey of all the people inside — to unfold the boarding mechanism, a full extra minute. He doesn’t do this as an act of charity, but because he knows her rights. No “reh malaka, gia taxi sou me perases?/hey jerkoff, you took this for your personal taxi?”

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