Interview VIKI NESHEVA – 23-11-2016 (her home)
Duration – 2.5 hours
Interviewed by Dimitris Mylonas
Viki used to live in Sofia, with her family – her husband and her 2 sons. She was working as a teacher in a primary school (Sofia 68) for 19 years, and her husband had a liquor store. Her and her family’s life was comfortable, until in 1989 there was an economic crisis in Bulgaria, and especially people having to repay loans were put at a tight spot. That scared her and her husband, and she proposed that they would immigrate in order to win some money so that they can pay off the loan to their apartment, and also put some money onto the store, in order to be able to offer a more secure future to their sons. They decided to both register to an employment agency that offered opportunities for work abroad. At the agency, they were informed that a key skill in order to find work abroad was speaking a foreign language. Viki could speak Greek (note: Viki’s grandparents on the side of her mother spoke Greek and not a word of Bulgarian, living close to the borders on the side of Bulgaria and later (1926) moved to Greece, and Viki learned Greek at a level adequate to communicate and work from her grandmother).
In a couple of months, the agency called Viki and told her that she could work in Cyprus, as a kitchen helper (but officially registered as a nanny). She told her husband that it was an opportunity for her to go to Cyprus and work for a time of 4-5 months during the summer and her leave from school, see what kind of work would be offered there and the circumstances in order to move there with her husband at some point in the future, and come back again to work in the school. So she went to Cyprus at the age of 39 and worked in a traditional Cypriot tavern at a village in the area of Pafos (mainly working with tourists), for 4 months. The work was hard, because she was used in working as a teacher, not a kitchen helper (heat, volume of work). However she was amazed with the life there and the venues they did to entertain the customers (Cypriot nights, etc.), and overall she had a great time. She recorded videos of her work and life there, and when she went back to Bulgaria, having earned some money in order to repay part of the apartment loan, she showed it to her husband and told him that she had an offer by the tavern owners to go back to Cyprus and work there with a Visa, and they would also find work to her husband within 6 months, because by law it was not permitted to separate couples. Her husband replied that he was not quite ready at the time to move to Cyprus, but if she went to work there and they would indeed find him employment, he would follow. “Are you sure?” “Yes, sure.” So, in that arrangement, on October 1994 she went back to Cyprus in order to stay and work for 4 years (maximum time allowed). After a few months there, indeed she got a job offer for her husband as a driver, but he turned it down saying he could not follow her yet because he had to make arrangements to rent the store first. Instead, she worked in Cyprus and sent money back to him in Bulgaria.
In the summer of 1995, her sons travelled to Cyprus to visit her for 1,5 months (they were 16 and 12 years old) and when they were about to leave, her youngest told her he didn’t want to go back but rather stay with her – so he did. The plan was to bring her family to Cyprus, her husband working there, and she was to work both in Cyprus during the touristic period (and be with her family), and as a teacher in Bulgaria during the rest of the year. In 1996, the tavern owner told her that the tavern was going to close and she would be out of work. She would have to go back to Bulgaria, empty handed, because all the money she had earned by that time, she had sent back to her husband with her eldest son. Fortunately, in the 15 days that she was allowed to stay with a tourist Visa in Cyprus, she got a job offer to work in a busy pastry shop in Pafos, and being the only one among the staff to speak Greek, she would be the owner’s assistant. In the meantime, her eldest son asked her to come to Cyprus and study so that he would avoid his military service in Bulgaria, and she decided to send her youngest back (since her husband was not coming) to her husband and have her eldest with her. Her new boss helped her, using his personal contacts, to get a place for her eldest son in the Tourism College at Nicosia, with an arrangement that she could afford regarding the college fees.
Her youngest son returned to Bulgaria, to go to school for 9 months and finish High School, and come back to her. But she noticed that he was calling her very often on the phone, and realized that there is something wrong. When she asked him, he said that he can’t take it anymore because his father has a lover, and she is living with them at their home. Indeed, she has been living there for a long time.
Her youngest son: “Mom, I can’t take it anymore with that bitch!”
Viki (thinking he is speaking about a dog that her husband brought in order to mate with their male dog): It’s OK, son, usually it takes 2-3 days, be patient.
Her youngest son: “Mom, are you playing simple? I’m not talking about a dog! I’m talking about a woman! A whore!”
Viki: What are you saying???
Her youngest son: “What am I saying? My brother didn’t tell you anything because he is ashamed. Dad has her here and all the apartment block is laughing at us!”
“At that time I don’t know how I survived”
Her husband’s girlfriend had been living in their home for 1,5 years already, and no one had told her because they were either scared, threatened by her husband, or they were ashamed. Viki, following the first shock, kept contact with him and in fact told him that she can forgive him and start all over again if he is willing to take their son and come to her in Cyprus. When there was no reply, she decided to start the divorce procedure. He didn’t want to divorce, because that would mean that she would stop sending money, and Viki went through a lot of verbal abuse from him and his girlfriend.
So Viki got both her sons in Cyprus, both of them studying in Nicosia and her working in Pafos in order to support them and every Monday, in her day off, going to Nicosia to do the housework for them. Close to completing 6 years in Cyprus in the summer of 2001, her boss had prepared a surprise for her – he had applied for her to be given the Cypriot citizenship without her knowing.
However, an unexpected event forced her to leave Cyprus: Her youngest son, wanting to avoid to study in the Lyceum (Upper High School), and while travelling to Bulgaria for summer vacation, didn’t declare in the immigration office that he was to start school in September and that his mom is legally working in Cyprus, and as a result he was blacklisted – meaning he would not be allowed again to return to Cyprus. So Viki had to leave her job and friends in Cyprus, and return to Bulgaria to be with her sons – her eldest was already there for vacation. While in Bulgaria, her husband told her that the mafia was onto him, and they had to sell the apartment in Sofia that they had paid off. They indeed decided to sell the house and they divided the money. Viki decided to take her sons and go to Greece, because a friend she had made in Cyprus lived in Athens and she could help her with finding a job and a school for the younger son. So on the 26th of October, the St. Demetrios day, Viki took her little golden cross, had it “read” (=blessed) in the St. Demetrios church, and went off with her sons to cross the Greek-Bulgarian borders. While she expected to get a visa as a Sarakatsani (= an ethnic group of Greek origin living in parts of north Greece and south Bulgaria), because of her mother’s origin, by paying 3.000 leva, they only approved a 10day tourist visa. The alternative was through the Mafia, and she was scared to approach them because she was afraid they would rob her. On the bus to Thessaloniki, the bus was stopped and Viki and her sons were asked to step down by the police. They were taken to the Serres police department for questioning, but they were released. They arrived in Athens.
There, Viki and her sons applied for Greek citizenship declaring their Greek descent, and they got a permit to live in Greece for 3 years, as a prerequisite in order for their application to go through. Her eldest son got a job in a hotel in Kos, and her younger son joined the Lyceum to finish High School, while Viki got a job in a restaurant as a kitchen helper. Soon she quit that job, and through a friend she got a job as a nanny and to care for the elderly of a family. One day, Viki escorted a Bulgarian friend of hers to the Red Cross Hospital in Athens, in order for her (the friend) to attend an interview for a job as a cleaner. There, at the interview, she helped out as a translator (most of the applicants were Bulgarian and didn’t know Greek). When the interview was over and they got ready to leave, the lady in charge told her “And where are you going? Aren’t you going to apply for the job?” and she encouraged her to apply as a cleaner in the surgery rooms. When she got back home, her younger son convinced her to give it a try, and, she started her afternoon shifts as a cleaner in the surgery rooms of the hospital.
Next year (2002), her eldest son decided to visit a girl he was in love with in Norway, and soon after he decided to marry her and stay in Norway. However, a few months after the marriage, she started to get strange letters from her son, and realized that her son had mental problems (persecution complex and depression) Note: His Norwegian wife had a big sum of inheritance money, which she could only claim if she would be married. Viki’s elder son, her new husband, after he found out and made queries on the matter, claimed that he was poisoned – and the mental problems came as a result to this poisoning. Viki, scared for her son’s well being, sent a letter to the family of the girl in Norway and begged them to let her son return to Greece. Indeed, after a couple of weeks, she got a phone call – her son was “sent” to Sofia, Bulgaria. Her younger son went to Sofia and brought him back to Athens. Unfortunately, her eldest son’s mental problems were acute – a doctor in Athens advised them to make sure he spends time in the sunlight and that these problems would go away. Indeed, one day Viki sent him out to the market to buy groceries – when he returned home and he opened the door, Viki realized it was “her son again” (“the son I sent to Norway, not the one that came back”) – her son was cured, and soon got a job in a hotel in Crete.
In 2003, their application for citizenship went through, but this meant that her sons would have to do their 6 months of army service, which they both wanted to avoid. In the meantime, there was talk about Cyprus going to join the EU, and Bulgaria was soon to follow. Viki, having her siblings living in Cyprus by that time, decided to move to Cyprus to be with them and get her Cypriot (EU) citizenship. She gave notice to her job at the hospital, and got the rest of her leave days before she was to stop. However, she was not to return to Cyprus. While on the way to work, she and a colleague of hers had a serious car accident (while waiting to cross at a traffic lights, a car hit them). That caused her a serious leg injury that didn’t allow her to move like before, or work. Moreover, the court trial for the accident took until 2010 to be completed. Viki had to stop working and get a disability pension. Meanwhile, in 2009 her younger son got a job in Cyprus in hotel management, but got a drugs problem there. Viki brought him back in Greece and tried hard to help him get over it. Finally, her son managed to get over it, and decided to follow his brother to the UK to work there (Viki’s elder son had moved to the UK with his new wife and worked there). Since then, they both work and live in the UK, and her elder son has a family and a small daughter.
Viki had a heart attack and her sons want her to move with them to the UK, “and since 2015 I am trying to become English but I can’t make it! I am living there with them for most months of the year, but I miss Greece”. Her husband died last year and they all went back to Bulgaria for the funeral.
Viki and her sons have nothing to tie them to Bulgaria anymore and they don’t go back, except for the elder son – his wife is Bulgarian and he visits his in-laws. Viki wants to buy a house in Greece, in Crete, as a summer home, for her and her sons.
On the emotional part, Viki answered some additional questions:
What do you remember from the last day before you left your home in Bulgaria to go to Cyprus?
I remember my husband didn’t escort me to the airport that day.. and I thought “This man, always being jealous of me, married for so many years, how come he didn’t come to the airport?
In retrospect, I think what I did (to leave) was a big mistake. I shouldn’t have left my young sons behind, my family. Now…did I have to do it? I don’t know.. I had my job. I understand it if you are so poor that you struggle for food, to leave your country. But in another case..no. To lose your roots..that’s very hard. Now… I love all people. I am a good person, and as a result I have met good people who have helped me. But you’re always the foreigner. You always find yourself thinking “do they behave like this because I am a foreigner?”
Like now, in England, people you meet are serious, cold..”Morning!..Morning..”. Here, it is easier to talk to each other, to open up. I feel that Greece and Bulgaria are close in terms of culture.
What did you think was different in life in Greece and Cyprus compared to Bulgaria? Good or bad.
Look.. I think that wherever there is sea, sun and a smile, there is no bad. All countries have their difficulties, their unthoughtful governments. I, here in Greece, adore their love for freedom. I also love Greek music – when I listen to Greek music I feel like I open my wings.
What I don’t understand, is why in some cases there are people who hire immigrants and give them a plate of food and have them working in their house like a servant..a lesser person. I don’t understand that. Here in Greece there are not many people who do that.
What of the future?
I love my granddaughter ..she comes first for me now. My sons are scared..they want me to live with them but I don’t want to go to that country (England). We’ll see.. My youngest son wants me to write down our story, so that my granddaughter will read it when she grows up.
If I asked you to show me an object that is important to you, regarding your immigration and family separation, what would you show me?
I would show you my golden cross, but I have lost it..
Photographs, of my family. One in particular, that is me, my husband, and your younger son and both of us kiss him.
And one of our dog back in Sofia, named Dino.