Experiential workshop at Theatre “Topos Allou”, 8 January 2017
INTERVIEW: Ellora and her parents
Ellora’s parents both came to Greece together in 2001, leaving their 3 children (Ellora and her 2 older brothers) in Bulgaria to be looked after by their grandparents. Her parents decided to both come to Greece to work after they had to close their family factory (manufacturing clothes) and one of their two clothing shops in Bulgaria (Plovdiv) due to the economic crisis that followed their country’s transition from socialism to democracy. They thought they had to do something to provide for their children. They thought they wouldn’t be away for long, only 3-4 months until they can come back and continue with their business.
Mother: Both my husband and I didn’t know a word in Greek. We came to work in a hotel in the island of Skopelos, owned by a family (parents and their son). We were told I would work as a maid, and my husband as a technician installing electrical equipment in the rooms – it was all a lie. First of all, arriving there, we had worked for 14 hours and no one gave us any food. I told the man in change with the little English I knew “I’m hungry” but he didn’t pay any attention to me. It was good that I used to smoke back then, and smoking made me forget about my hunger. With my husband for 2 days we had to cut lemons from the trees outside the hotel, just to put something in our mouths. After, they let us eat leftovers of the hotel – I didn’t eat, I went back outside and ate lemons. I was put to work washing sheets etc. at the hotel, and my husband worked as an unskilled worker in harsh conditions. We stayed in small, ugly rooms. I was wondering “Why are these people like that?” We were crying a lot with my husband. He even considered committing suicide – thank God I was with him.
We decided to leave that place. Carrying our bags, we took the road away from the hotel. On the way we entered a super market, where a Bulgarian boy was working at the register. He told us he couldn’t be seen by his boss talking Bulgarian because he would lose his job, but when we insisted that he tells us where to go, he said there was a lady in the area that was looking for a woman to help with housework. I went there to wash dishes. It was the first time in my life I realized I can work so fast – I worked like a robot! The lady liked my work so much that he offered me food and to stay at her place in exchange for my work. Later on, me and my husband started working in a restaurant – me washing dishes and my husband as a waiter. When locals realized that he was talented as a painter, they gave him a lot of work inscribing labels etc. in shops, boats etc. He had work in the winter, but I didn’t, so we decided to come to Athens thinking that we would get a job faster. Indeed, we did a lot of jobs in Athens. I even worked as a cleaner in the Museum of Acropolis for 6 years.
Our eldest son followed us in Greece 1 year after we came, and entered the University here. Ellora came 2 years after we had come. It was hard being away from them. So much pain.. I remember the letters I got from them – there are still stains from my tears on the paper.
To be honest, Greece is now a second homeland for me. It was hard in the beginning, of course, but through our perseverance we managed to make it here.
Father: I remember one day in the beginning, we were led up the mountain to work outside moving rocks. The way they treated us there reminded me of films made about the Nazi Germans during WWII. We had no water to drink – the only water that came out of a faucet there was brown, full of dirt. They didn’t even let us foreign workers talk to each other.
When my parents left I was 10 years old. I was sad, but also young enough to not fully understand and thus to be able to pull through easily. After all, I had my grandparents to look after me and the company of my 2 brothers so I didn’t miss anything – I had all the love and care I needed. I missed their presence of course, I missed sharing my joy with them. I missed hearing them say how proud they were for me – since I was young I made a big effort in school and I was one of the best. I always wanted to express my feelings in writing, so I kept a diary every day. When I followed them to Greece after 2 years, I brought that diary with me and gave it to them to read it. When they read it, they started crying…
How was it when you were finally set to follow your family to Greece? How did you feel? Were you sad for leaving your friends and family (grandparents), your life as you knew it in Bulgaria, to come to a strange country?
I had a life in Bulgaria, my school, my friends, but it was an age that I needed to be with my parents more. I was afraid of taking the wrong path in life, by not having my parents with me. I had older friends that were taking the path to alcohol, drugs, crime etc. While growing up, you get to face many situations – without my parents I was afraid. I was sad for leaving friends behind, but I was looking forward to start a new life with my parents in Greece. I wanted to come to Greece. In fact, the first time I prepared my things to travel to Greece, something happened with my papers and I couldn’t travel..I was very sad I had to postpone it.
When I came here in the summer I remember I was watching a childrens’ TV channel to learn the new language, picking up words and writing them down on paper (afterwards I realized the spelling was totally wrong (she laughs). I was listening to music too, to pick up the language. Then I met another girl from Bulgaria – we became best friends and we are until today. She had stayed in Greece for years and she helped me a lot with the language. In the beginning, all I knew was my name and my address. In fact, first day I went to school they asked my name and I told them my address! (she laughs) I could speak English so I could also communicate with some of my classmates. The rest were indifferent towards me – I think also because I am Bulgarian. There was no bullying – only a few girls that maybe were jealous of my progress in school. I can’t say I ever experienced racism here.
Athens was very different that my hometown – a big city.
How were your parents when you came to Greece? You hadn’t seen them for a long time..
They looked tired…very tired. They had suffered a lot while I was not with them. When they came to see me at my first school play (theatre) in Greece, they were so moved they were crying.
Did you miss the grandparents you left in Bulgaria?
A lot! Now my grandparents on my father’s side have passed away.. May we live and remember them.
Are you thinking of going back to Bulgaria? Would you want to?
No, I don’t want to go back. I visited there 6 years after I came to Greece and I loved it. It is quiet, more relaxed. But I wouldn’t go there permanently. I would only live here in Greece or in Europe.
Girgina Stoikova: The language issue
Before we Bulgarians came to Greece, they already had immigrants working here from other countries. In general they were desperate people with no personality who were willing to do anything, all kinds of work. When we Bulgarians came here, Greeks treated us the same way they were treating these people. We didn’t know the language, couldn’t communicate. We couldn’t let them know that we have a personality, we have education, interests. Later on, when we learned the language well enough to communicate, the Greeks started treating is differently.