Interview by D. Mylonas (21-12-2016 at a café in Athens)
Girgina used to work in Bulgaria as a Physics professor for 25 years in a high school in Sofia. She lived there with her two daughters. Her husband had died earlier, when she was at the age of 36. She had her job, and in a few years she would retire, however both her salary and her pension (after she would retire) was too small for her to provide for herself and her two daughters who were studying at the time. A friend of hers from Bulgaria that had been living in Greece already for a year, told her that the salaries were good in Greece, so in 1996 Girgina decided to come to Greece and give it a try. In Bulgaria the economic crisis had already started in 1989 with the transition from socialism to a democracy.
Girgina did not intend to stay in Greece for long. She didn’t know how much hard work was demanded in the new line of work that she was about to enter. Before she came to Greece, Girgina had in her mind a beautiful, shiny image of Greece. She had studied and admired the ancient Greek culture and philosophy, and she was looking forward to visit Greece and see for herself the beauty of the country. That shiny image of Greece disappeared when she first came to Athens and visited the city centre at Omonia. The beautiful things she had heard from tourists and visitors of Greece in the past, came to direct contrast with the image she was facing now: a dirty city square and a historical centre visited by thousands of tourists daily but looking completely abandoned and run-down. She could not understand why the city that in her mind is the centre of a glorious ancient civilization, was abandoned by the Greek state. In fact, she wrote a poem about it:
Oh Pericles, my heart is bleeding to see Athens shine again
The road that takes me to the Acropolis stinks
With slaughtered lambs and spoiled fish
The Mayor smiles and doesn’t care
The tourists go by and smile
(Ω Περικλή, η καρδιά μου αίμα στάζει να δω πάλι την Αθήνα λαμπερή
Ο δρόμος που με πάει στην Ακρόπολη βρωμάει
Με αρνιά σφαγμένα και τα ψάρια αλλοιωμένα
Ο Δήμαρχος γελάει και δεν τον νοιάζει
Οι τουρίστες περνάνε και χαμογελάνε)
Girgina’s first job in Greece (Athens) was to look after an elderly woman (90 years old). She lived in the family house and looked after the family’s granny, as well as doing all kinds of house choirs. She could not go out of the house much because she was an illegal immigrant, she couldn’t see other people, and she felt imprisoned.
“I became insignificant… The Greek middle class, at that time, had started to earn more money, to feel like bosses, to think they can humiliate us”.
She worked there for a year before she returned to Bulgaria. During that year, her daughters had a hard time without their mother, but they managed and they finished their studies while also working at the same time.
“I had prepared them to be strong and independent.”
When Girgina returned to Bulgaria, she continued her work as a Physics professor (she had taken leave for a year to work in Greece), however the economic situation got worse there, so in 1998 she returned to Greece, this time provided with a certificate that allowed her to move freely in Greece. This time she got a job in a house again as a nanny, looking after the children – however, she also did all other house work like cleaning, cooking, ironing, etc.
“I was so tired that every Sunday, my day off, I didn’t have the strength to do anything. I remember one Sunday I went to a park in the centre. I sat down on a bench, and soon fell asleep.. A voice woke me up. It was a man who thought I was a tourist and was trying to chat me up in different languages. “Do you speak English? Parlez-vous français? Italiano?” It was so funny.. I pretended my bus was leaving soon, got up and left. I would have talked to that man, but I was too tired to..”
In 2000, Girgina met a Greek gentleman and they got together. However, she had to return to Bulgaria for 3 years (2000-2004) in order to work and get her pension. After she retired, she returned to Athens where she has been living with that gentleman till this day.
Why didn’t your girls follow you to Greece after they finished their studies?
“I didn’t want them to come here, because I didn’t want them to become slaves. You (Greeks) do not allow foreigners with knowledge and studies to move up. You respect the ones who have money.”
How about your parents? How did they take it that you left Bulgaria?
“I only had my father – my mother had died when I was 30 years old. My father…he suffered a lot with me immigrating to Greece. Why? Because at that time in Bulgaria they said that all women who come to Greece become whores to earn money. My dad didn’t believe it, but he couldn’t dismiss it either. He used to cry all the time. He told me “what is it you’re missing here? I have a plate of beans soup to offer you..don’t go there”. I think that later he understood, but still it weighed heavy on him. Last time I saw him, he was crying. Then he died, while I was here in Greece. I was notified that he had a stroke, and started for Bulgaria, but on the way I was told he died…and I didn’t have the chance to see him one last time. And I feel…bitter.
Do you blame yourself for being away?
No.. What could I do? I had my daughters to look after. I didn’t have a husband. Life led me here.
Do your daughters come to visit you in Greece?
Yes, of course. They have come to visit, for holidays. They like Greece. My youngest daughter comes every year for a week. Both my daughters live and work in Bulgaria.
Do you work now?
No, now the gentleman I’m living with sustains both of us. We live at his owned house. My pension from Bulgaria is only 100 a month…for 27 years of work (she laughs). Do you understand? That’s why I came here. I hope you (Greeks) won’t end up like this.
You told me before about your first impression from coming to Greece. It was quite negative. How about positive impressions? Where there any?
Yes. Following that first impression, I admired the archaeological sites here in Greece. They are an inspiration for me. I used to visit Acropolis and Parthenon every chance I got, in Athens. And when I visited Ancient Olympia… I could feel the energy of that place. It felt like I had some kind of connection to that place, maybe from a past life.
Another thing is the conversations here in Greece. When I started to understand the language, I appreciated the conversations here..interviews, talks on the TV about the problems. In Bulgaria they covered up a lot of the problems. Here, you (Greeks) talk about everything in detail. But you only talk. You don’t act to change things.
Do you remember your last day before you immigrated to Greece?
Yes.. I remember I was terrified. I was shivering. Would they let me in at the borders? I faced that fear every time I was about to return to Greece, until I got a permit. In Bulgaria, during the communist period, we were forbidden from going to the church. After the transition to democracy, this changed. Before I started out for the first time for Greece, I went to the church and prayed that God would help me to come to Greece. And so it happened.
How do you feel in general about immigrating to Greece? Are there any regrets?
No. I believe that Man should live and go through things in his/her life, things that help him/her reach a higher plain, until through many different lives he/she reaches divinity.