Monday, 25 November 2013

Workers and Helpers

 Workers and Helpers 

Takis and the Traders

Takis found that he had to get used to the local economy, on the island trading was much more personal. He became familiar with the owners of the small shops and warehouses, and they became familiar with his project.  

He discovered that he was known as ‘The Australian’ by building suppliers. And it was because he got a firm quote for materials, and then paid up-front, not waiting until the job was finished and then delaying payment or haggling over the price, he was soon not only welcomed he was respected. He also became known as someone who liked to share a joke but who nevertheless was a straight-talking guy who knew what he wanted. 

However, while engaged on our renovation project Takis’ often found he’s had to work with the shadow economy while not entirely accepting it. For instance, if he had to pay a bill he knew that there was one price if he was willing to forego a receipt and quite a bit more if he demanded one. This was difficult for, as a newcomer, if he demanded different treatment to others he might be viewed as someone setting himself above the local community. I believe it was his persistently honest interactions with businesses that enabled us to finish buying and renovating the house.

Our Workers

Rebuilding the furno

Removing the old furnishings

An excerpt from 

It all began with a watermelon: the project to renovate the old Greek house

Anestis had already been in casual employment with the family for a number of years, and his wife Maria was  employed to do some cleaning for Takis' sister when she lived there. Anestis and Maria are Albanians, one of the latest of the groups of craftsmen and labourers to come to the island, for traditionally people have come from the Balkans to Greece for seasonal work. In the past these sinafia might come from Albania, Bulgaria, Romania, or from the mountains of Greece, to work in the fields or towns during the spring and summer months then return to their homelands in autumn.

Nowadays, though, many were like Anestis and Maria and stay all year, even choosing to send their children to local schools. In fact, after fifteen years of living on the island they now spoke Greek and had been accepted into the Orthodox faith. And their two boys had been baptised, with our neighbours acting as the children’s combari (godparents).

                                      Takis and Anestis Discovering the Fireplace

The first thing you noticed about Anestis was his lack of height, but he made up for his short stature with amazing strength. He was happy to continue working for us, and he and Takis soon bonded. A strange pair they looked, working alongside each other: a real David and Goliath. This swarthy little man with thick black wavy hair and a happy disposition became an indispensable part of our venture. I too appreciated him, especially when I discovered he loved gardening. His friendly temperament was apparent from his first ‘Kalimara’ to his last ‘Yia sou’ at the end of the day.

He came at eight each day and worked on the most demanding jobs until two or three in the afternoon, at which time he left us to go to another job. Maria, his wife, is a pretty woman with curly, light brown hair. She’d found cleaning jobs on the island as soon as she arrived, a little after Anestis, and she continued working in a number of households after their two boys were born. Though she was busy looking after her youngest she agree to come and help us for a few hours each week, and sometimes she arrived with the youngest in a pram. This was a great help as I was then able to concentrate more on the renovating and painting jobs I’d begun.

We were exceptionally lucky to have inherited these helpers, though I found my lack of Greek made things a little difficult. With Maria I managed with only pano banyo, and exi banyo, top floor bathroom and outside bathroom, always supplemented by sign language. And, oh yes, electric scooper was also a very helpful description. With Anestis I found it was important to know the words for water, nero, and cut and don’t cut, copse and mi to copsis. However, when needed, Takis could translate for me.

                                Setting Out the Herb Beds

Two Other Demolition and Rebuilding Stories

I've already mentioned these books by folks doing something a little the same as us, but they are worth mentioning again.

John Mole, Its All Greek to Me! (Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2004). This book is about an English banker who came to Greece and lived there 30 years. This is very much a story of house building in Greece.

John and Christopher Humphrey, Blue Skies and Black Olives (Hodder & Stoughton Ltd., 2010). A tale of house building in Greece, written by a father who is an ex BBC journalist, and who does up a cottage in a part of Greece where his son is already living and bringing up a family.

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