Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Day of the Albanians

The first of May is a public holiday in Greece just as in other countries. For most countries the first of May is Labour Day. In Greece it is the Day of Flowers. You would agree with this because on this day most of Greece, including Lesvos, is covered with flowers. The natural world is at its most beautiful. Beautiful green with thousands of flowers make some spots so incredibly beautiful that they surpass the famous flower fields in Holland.

Women make garlands of flowers and exchange small first of May bracelets that bring luck for the whole year.

While in France thousands of people go onto the streets to attend the various First of May demonstrations, here on the island most people take a ride around the island. They go to Molyvos or other special places, they take a walk by the sea and they go out for lunch. They may not even know that the first of May is also Labour Day.

Last century Greece was a country of emigration. Between 1944 and 1974 about a million Greeks left the country to look for a better life elsewhere. They mostly went to America and Australia. In the sixties a lot of them went to Western Europe, especially to Germany. Even though on many occasions there were also opposite streams of immigration, emigration was always greater than immigration.

Immigrants were mostly Greeks returning to their country. They had to flee the country they lived in, they'd earned enough money or because life had improved in Greece. On Lesvos for example you will find a lot of Greeks who lived for some time in Australia or Venezuela.

However in the last 10 years Greece got to know a quite different phenomenon: a stream of 'foreign' immigrants started flowing in. A growing economy made better schools possible and the Greeks could embrace modern prosperity. This meant that there developed a shortage of labour, especially for low paid workers like in the building industry and agriculture.

The biggest group of immigrants in Greece are from Albania, the poorest country of Europe and also a neighbour of Greece. Then there are also a lot of Romanians and Bulgarians. Legal or illegal, they form the new working class that keeps the wheel turning of the Greek economy. For example, without these foreign workers Greece would never have succeeded in staging the Olympic Games. About 60% of the people working on the new buildings for the Olympic Games were foreigners. And now they work on the land, pick the olives and build the new houses the Greeks finally have the money for.

Also on Lesvos there is a shortage of low grade workers and the demand is mostly filled by Albanians. Not only for work in the agricultural sector, or in the developing building sector, but also in the restaurants and hotels. Greek chambermaids, gardeners, waiters or dish washers are becoming a curiosity, because the better educated Greeks do not want those jobs anymore.

If Greece had its Labour Day, it would have to be the Day of the Albanians. They work day and night for far less money than the Greeks. On this Day of the Flowers they clean the rooms of the tourists, they take care that the garden is done, they work on the land for your salad, they wash your dishes in the crowded restaurants and they take care that all hotels are ready to welcome their clients.

Because the season has now really started. Even though a wall of the kitchen of hotel Alcaeos collapsed so the guests had to take their dinner in the neighbouring hotel Sunrise, even though in some hotels all apartments are not well equipped so that the guest have to do with only one fork and a plate in the kitchenette, even though some of the tour leaders arrived on the same plane as their customers, not having been very well prepared and even though in Hotel Panselinos they found a leak in the water pipes, so that the first day at the pool was not that great.

Just for the record: it is not only the Greeks anymore who make you have a wonderful stay in Greece. I wish you a very nice holiday and a great course in Albanian.

Copyright © Smitaki 2007

No comments:

Post a Comment