Thursday, 31 January 2019

How Will You Find the Time?

We were talking to a few folk in Kalathos the other day. You know how you get into conversation, and it's always of great benefit to listen to what local people tell you. You learn so much, often with the side-effect that it makes you count your blessings too.

There's a lovely older couple who live a little out from the village itself, and we were exchanging views about the weather and the water supply, because the two are connected. I read some years ago about how islands like Rhodes draw their drinking water up from aquifers well down beneath the ground. If the amount of water that's drawn exceeds the rate at which the rains can replace it, the net effect is that seawater seeps further inland deep underground and pollutes the freshwater supplies with salt water. This can have a devastating effect on farming and vegetation in general. And this is exactly what's been happening on Rhodes for the past five or six years of excessively dry winters.

Here on a hillside in Kiotari, we are very lucky to have an unpolluted water supply. A couple of years ago there was a very brief period when our water went brackish, but we learned that the water company had drilled deeper into the ground beneath the village of Asklipio (where our water comes from) and thus had tapped into a still-fresh reserve, and thus our tap-water returned to normal. Unfortunately for the people of Kalathos, it appears that their supply has been more salty than fresh for the past three years now, and the result has meant death for many plants and trees. 

The couple to whom I refer told us that they'd lost a couple of venerable old orange trees, which had produced delicious eating oranges for many years. Plus our friends Petros and Lena, who I talk about quite a lot in the first couple of "Ramblings" books, they have an aloe vera plantation, which has suffered many dead plants from being watered with salt-water. They simply have no alternative.

When we mentioned our gripe that Rhodes ought to have invested in a couple or three desalination plants some years ago, as tourist development was beginning to gather pace and thus, with its insatiable demands, outstrip the water supply, Nikos, the husband of the couple in question, simply replied:

"We're Greeks. We usually wait until it's a disaster before we start fixing a problem. If there's an accident blackspot, for example, once a few people have been killed, then, only then, will the authorities think about erecting barriers, changing the traffic flow priorities, or whatever."

I did mention that we often saw this same tardiness in the UK, just to balance things a little, but he was adamant that it's a Greek trait anyway.

Incidentally, I know I've been there before, but the argument over desalination plants gets on my wick. I've had people tell me, "Oh, no, you can't use water from a desalination plant as drinking water." Well, peeps, try telling that to the people of forward-thinking Halki, where they've now had their own plant for upward of five years, paid back the bank loan, and the water pressure in their taps is brilliant. Plus, most islanders that I know drink the stuff too. It doesn't have the salts that our fresh water has here on Rhodes, either, and thus the kettle doesn't need descaling every flipping week.

On a slightly different, yet partially related tack, our friend Kostas, who has the  sunbeds on a nearby beach (although his son now runs the business, with dad sitting there to keep him company most of the time) has recently spent a few weeks with one of his other sons who lives in Holland. Now, as you'll know if you keep tabs on what's happening here on Rhodes, we're finally having a real winter with rather a lot of rain this year. Yet, even with that being the case, I asked Kosta when he got back from Holland if he'd enjoyed himself over there. 

He replied, "Yes, it was very nice, but I hated the sky."

"You hated the sky?" I asked, already hazarding a fairly accurate guess as to what he was going to say next.

"Yes, because day after day it was grey. It wasn't excessively cold, it wasn't excessively wet, but every day that greyness, I hated it."

See, there you go. We here are (well, some of us) bemoaning the frequency of the rains this winter (even though we desperately need them), yet still the sun peeps through most days, even if we've had a couple of hours of heavy rainfall. Kostas' comment took me right back to those long, grey winter days in the UK which sometimes would go on for weeks. I, for one, am counting my blessings.

Finally, we're in the process of converting our driving licenses to Greek ones. It's not particularly due to fears over Brexit, which, quite frankly I don't fear at all. Life's too short! No, our photos need updating anyway and so we thought it was about time, after more than thirteen years of living here, that we did it. It's the very last piece of the jigsaw when it comes to having all the bureaucracy of living here covered. I'm indebted to James Collins, who unwittingly gave me the impetus to get on with it when he posted a list on his excellent Symi Dream blog some time back. The list showed what was required in order to present the local KEP office with one's application for a Greek license. I printed that out, and we set to with the process.

You have to have a Greek translation of your UK license, stamped by a lawyer (ker-ching! There goes 50 Euros...), plus a photocopy of your passport, also stamped by a lawyer (ker-ching...), plus a couple of other things, including proof of payment of a thirty Euro fee (each, of course), which can be paid either in a bank or a post office.

So, a couple of days ago, we went to Arhangelos to pay our thirty Euros each. We went early, so as to avoid the all-too-regular scenario of waiting for three hundred years to get to the teller in any branch of a Greek bank. We managed to negotiate our way into the Arhangelos branch of the Ethniki Bank, which, of course entails getting through that reinforced glass 'booth' which involves a lot of button-pushing and waiting for little lights to change from green to red. Those booths seem to me to be deliberately designed to make it almost impossible to be in there, between the two doors, and actually be able to open one without becoming a contortionist. Then, just as you notice that the light for opening the next door is green, you go to push the door, only to find that you're supposed to pull that one. So then you start pulling and, since it won't budge, you then become aware that the flaming light has now gone red again because you lost your 'slot', as it were.

We made the basic mistake of trying to get into the booth and through both doors together (as in: us two together, not both doors at the same time). We almost had to make it look as if we were going in for an obscene act in public view in order to make room for the door behind us to close properly. And of course, if you don't have one door closed, the other will never open at all. Then you have to account for a couple of impatient locals also attempting to get in there with you, even though you'd need an adjudicator for the Guinness Book of Records present if you were to let them in.

Anyway, once we'd finally made it into the tiny 'banking hall', we were ecstatic to see that we were the only ones in there. There wasn't any point in tugging out one of those annoying little numbered tickets from the machine. We presented ourselves at the counter and announced that we were there to pay our thirty Euros each to apply for Greek driving licences. This was all going too well.

"Ah, where are your 'Parabola'?" the teller asked us. Now, the word "parabolo" literally means 'fee,' but it seems that the teller was referring to an A4 printout that needs to be presented at the bank (or post office) when attempting to pay this fee.

"Oh, we didn't realise we'd need anything. Where do we get those from then?" we asked, and he answered: 

"You have to go to the KEP office. Do that first, then come back with your 'parabola' and you're in business."

To be fair, he was being helpful, it was just, well, why didn't we realise that it wasn't going to be plain sailing? I mean, nothing ever has been before.

So, smiling as enthusiastically as we could, we thanked him, contorted our way back out through the glass booth from hell (or perhaps borrowed from a particularly sadistic TV game show) into the street, and set off on foot the five minute walk to the local KEP office.

Now, the last time I'd been to the KEP office in Arhangelos, the bloke who'd served me (not an appropriate expression in his case) had been a fat slob who was ignorance and unhelpfulness itself. Thus, I wasn't looking forward to a return visit, but needs must, and all that. Arriving at the office and going in, we were relieved to find that there were no other customers in there. Well, it was still only about 9.00am, so our attempts at being early were paying off to a degree. I've never been so happy in my life to see a total stranger, but sitting behind the desk was a slim man of around forty, with the usual 5 o'clock shadow and a leather jacket on. If he'd just got off a tractor I wouldn't have been surprised. Yet, as soon as he spoke he revealed that he was, in fact, an erudite and intelligent man, who knew a little about people skills and how to treat your fellow citizens in need of assistance.

He complimented us on our Greek, but, in view of the fact that he needed all the usual from us, AFM and AMKA numbers, father's first names and passport details, he quickly asked what part of the UK we came from. He was ecstatic to learn that Bath was our home town. He'd been to university in Bristol and had visited Bath many times and loves the place. Yippee, a pleasant conversation ensued while he processed our 'parabola.' I have our friend Brenda, from Pilona, to thank for the fact that we now don't go anywhere without our trusty vinyl folder. You know, the sort with lots of transparent A4 pockets inside, in which we carry not only our original AFM (Tax Number) documents, but our health cover documents, our AMKA (national insurance) documents, photocopies of our passports and driving licenses, residency permits, you name it, it's all in the one neat folder and we simply grab it and take it with us if we're going out anywhere. It was Brenda who showed us her folder and we were stunned at how simple an idea it was, yet how much more practical it was than having all that stuff loose, or in various different holders, envelopes and folders.

So, a mere fifteen minutes and - amazingly - no depletion of funds later, we were striding back to the bank to get the fees paid. The KEP man had printed out our forms and presented them to us like he was a magician. He almost was, in comparison with how these procedures so often go. 

Now, when we'd been to the bank not more than twenty minutes earlier, it had been empty. When we got back there this time, though, it was crawling with locals. There was a scrum to get in and out through the double-door booth, often coming to a grinding halt while people tried to go both ways at once. Add to that the fact that half the population can't remember which way the doors are supposed to swing, or even that they need to watch the little light change to red before attempting to rip it off its hinges, and you go some way to understanding how crestfallen we were at the sight that greeted us. Once we eventually got inside, and took our little ticket from the machine in the corner, we only just managed to procure ourselves a couple of seats while we sat and waited. the digital signs over the cash desks were reading (both working, a miracle) 96, and our ticket was 106. We nodded to one or two faces that we recognised ( while exchanging those "who the hell is that?" looks between ourselves) and sat there to try and develop the quality of patience.

It's while you're sitting in a bank in a country village that you get to observe the locals without distraction. For starters, everyone knows everyone else. That includes the two staff members behind the desk. This means that everything takes longer than it should because everyone has to greet everyone else, often involving double-cheek kisses and handshakes, plus enquiries after the health of the entire family and expressions of dismay over someone's malady or recent sad loss. Then there are the cheeky chappies, who have that kind of face that tells you that they're always the one with the cheery disposition, which helps them no end in queue-jumping. Several of these came in, grinned at everyone else (and most were seventy if they were a day) before leaning over the shoulder of whoever was already at the desk and butting in to get their nephew (in all probability) to change a fifty note for some smaller ones while this cheeky chappie had a customer waiting for change in his fruit and veg shop.

I found myself side-whispering to my wife about what a sad collection of human specimens they all were. Even the younger ones of the clientele, who were probably only in their forties, were an assortment of shapes and sizes, none of which resembled in even the remotest way a mannequin in a clothes shop window for overall dimensions. I thought, "If I were God and I'd made man in my image, I'd be hard-pressed to find one amongst these to hold up and say, 'Yup, that's it!"

My beloved whispered back, "It's amazing isn't it? I mean, there's no one in here who's much under seventy years of age, and yet every single female has a fine head of thick, black hair." She was right, the only grey heads to be seen were topping male bodies. Small wonder there's a huge section for hair dye in every local supermarket aisle on the island, probably the country.

That struck us as something you don't see as much in the UK. Women of the more mature age groups are far more likely to simply go grey with dignity than they are in Greece. It wouldn't be quite so noticeable, had they not all gone for jet black as their preferred colour. If they'd plunked for auburn, or mousy, they'd have looked a tad more natural. Still, if it makes them feel better, who are we to judge?

Finally, our number came up and we vaulted out of our seats, fearful that someone else would simply amble up to the desk before us if we didn't look sharp. It had taken us so long since the first time we'd been in there that I don't think the teller even remembered who we were. So, we paid our thirty Euros each, watched as he rubber-stamped our forms, signed the dockets and emerged almost unscathed to fight another day.

Next, it was a trip into Rhodes town to see a lawyer, so that he could sign and rubber stamp our passport copies and translate our existing licenses. 

You know how retired people so often say, "I don't know how I found the time to go to work"?



  1. Thanks John--a lovely read on a cold--minus 5--morning. The doors at banks have obviously been deigned by a sadist. But it IS nice to go into the tiny bank in Tilos and greet everyone there--even if, at my advanced age, you can't recall their names!
    Agree with you about Brexit--it won't impinge on OUR lives at all--even though apparently 12,000 more people will die from strokes because we won't be able to import lettuce!!