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It's been a busy day at the market in downtown Volos. Angeliki Ioanitou has sold a decent quantity of olive oil and soap, while her friend Maria has done good business with her fresh pies. But not a single euro has changed hands — none of the customers on this drizzly Saturday morning has bothered carrying money at all. For many, browsing through the racks of second-hand clothes, electrical appliances and homemade jams, the need to survive means money has been usurped. In this bustling port city at the foot of Mount Pelion, in the heart of Greece's most fertile plain, locals have come up with a novel way of dealing with austerity — adopting their own alternative currency, known as the Tem.
Organisers say some 1, people have signed up to the informal bartering network. For users such as Ioanitou, the currency — a form of community banking monitored exclusively online — is not only an effective antidote to wage cuts and soaring taxes but the "best kind of shopping therapy". My oil and soap came to 70 Tem and with that I bought oranges, pies, napkins, cleaning products and Christmas decorations," said the mother-of-five.
For women, who are worst affected by unemployment, and don't have kafeneia [coffeehouses] to go to like men, it's like belonging to a hugely supportive association. Greece's deepening economic crisis has brought new users. With ever more families plunging into poverty and despair, shops, cafes, factories and businesses have also resorted to the system under which goods and services — everything from yoga sessions to healthcare, babysitting to computer support — are traded in lieu of credits.
In villages you'd exchange milk and goat's cheese for meat and flour. Other grassroots initiatives have appeared across Greece. Increasingly bereft of social support, or a welfare state able to meet the needs of a growing number of destitute and hungry, locals have set up similar trading networks in the suburbs of Athens, the island of Corfu, the town of Patras and northern Katerini.
But Volos, the first to be established, is by far the biggest. Until recently the city, miles north of Athens, was a thriving industrial hub with a port whose ferries not only connected the mainland to nearby islands but before Syria's descent into civil war was a trading route between Greece and the Middle East. Once famous for its tobacco, Volos was home to flour mills and cement factories, steel and metal works. Everyone I know has lost their jobs.