Monday, March 4, 2013

Cyprus Adventure: From Paphos to Larnaca

I spent another month in my former home: Cyprus. Yes, it was sunny, and yes, I met my friends and saw places and I got nostalgic, after all I did spent 6 years of my life there. But it all started on the wrong foot. For start, I landed in Paphos; nothing special you'd might say, and it is if you do not plan to go to Larnaca on a Wednesday afternoon or in weekends, cause then you will have a problem.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Perpetual Immigrant


With a feeling that life will change completely, that I am leaving my protective shell and throwing myself into deeper waters without a floating jacket, excited and scared at the same time. I say: "Bring it on!" while my knees are shaking.

I am not going home (though, I believe going home would give me the same feelings), but to a place where incertitude rules. A new place to call a temporary home, new friends, new people, new customs, new life. I try not to think to much of what lays ahead of me.


Spain, middle of the night. Changing from plane to bus and then to train... You find yourself in a lovely city that, somehow, reveals slowly its secrets: opening hours, public holidays, the general willingness to help out or offer information, poor accommodation (unless you are rich, and you can afford a room that can fit a proper bed and desk - unlike mine). It's terrifying!!! The mixture of pros and cons is so confusing that it feels like being under anesthetic.
Sants Station, Barcelona, Spain

    Leaving behind

Every place I have been still has a small piece of my heart, and Cyprus makes no exception. It is more a thing of being adjusted than sheer beauty, but it is still has that little piece of my heart.
The most explosive "No Parking" sign - two gas cylinders, Larnaca, Cyprus

Monday, June 4, 2012

Stay healthy!

  It's always harder to live abroad than in your own country, especially if the language is different. It might help if you're in a country in which the second language is English, like the one I'm in. But it's not the language that will make your life hell's the people. Not the people you see on the streets, but those with which you interact when you need something. The doctors, the ones working in the public sector, anywhere you need some official documents etc. While for the locals these places will be like any other place, for immigrants it's the place to go when you feel the need to be insulted, talked down to or ignored.
  Here's the setting: my wife was feeling some pain in her lower abdomen. I have medical insurance and she benefits from it, too. I decide to take her to the clinic to see what's wrong. The whole process after getting to the clinic is just something nobody should go through. Get up early at 6, be there before 7, get a number and wait. While the opening hours are from 7 am to 5 pm, the place to make an appointment opens at around 7:40. Morning coffee is very important to these people. After they open, everybody gets in line. But not in the order dictated by the number you got while walking in. Nooo! That would be too easy. They shove and push you to get in front. If you say something to them (in English) they just push you away mumbling something in their language. So, just put your head down, quietly waiting for your turn, whenever it may come. You get there after about 1 hour of waiting and after that it's time to go see the designated doctor. Outside the doctor's office, you wait. But not because there's a line of patients. Don't be naive. The reason for your added wait time is because the nice doctor didn't finish his/her coffee and gossip time. They will open at around 9 am. Get in the office in the end, but all they will do is feel the region in which you have pain and tell you that it may be this, but it can also be that, it's better you go to the general hospital because we can't be sure here. Total time : 3.5 hours. Results : 0.
  Next step, the general hospital. Like any big hospital, the feeling you get when you walk in can be summed into one word: Chaos! The steps to take here are quite simple: information office > nurse where the doctor should be > 20-30 minutes of waiting while the nurse tries to get hold of the doctor > go to the office where the doctor should be > wait 20-30 minutes until the doctor comes > the doctor comes, wait another 10-15 minutes until he decides he can see you > the doctor sees you and sends you to the first aid room (emergency) because he needs tests done on you, but he can't be bothered to have one of his nurses (qualified to do those tests) do the tests instead. Total time : 1.5 hours. Results : 0
  The last step is the emergency room. A place in which no person with a sensitive stomach should stay. While some of the cases present there are really an emergency (like broken legs, burn victims and people cut by accident) the rest shouldn't even be there. I'm talking about people that suffer from flu, stomach pain, indigestion etc. These people should be checked up by a doctor outside the emergency room. It's not even an emergency. That's why the notion of triage was invented... Of course, the people having these kind of pain and illnesses are suffering and they might disagree with me about the emergency part, but what I'm trying to say is that they should be treated outside the emergency room, leaving that place for the real emergencies. I've drifted from the point a little, but bear with me. We register there and wait. And wait. And wait. So much that we realised the people in the room changed 2 times and we still haven't gotten so much as a hello. I go and ask them if everything is ok and if we are going to be seen by someone soon. Then I saw something that pissed me off on the spot: our registration paper wasn't even in the same stack as the others. I kept looking to see what happens with our paper when the doctors were coming to pick up their patients....they were reading the names on the paper and they kept passing our paper along. Just because I wasn't "one of them". Haven't these people taken an oath to treat anyone regardless of their origin, social status, race? I guess not. After 3.5 hours of waiting, finally a nurse shows up and invites us inside the emergency room. Sits my wife on a bed, takes her blood pressure, her temperature and leaves. Not 15 minutes after I see that nurse dressed normally leaving the emergency room. Her shift was over. So? What now? Is somebody else coming to see my wife? Sure.....not! We waited another hour while hordes of other people come and go. Finally another nurse comes, takes an urine sample and goes to get the results. Comes back after 20 minutes and gives us the treatment. Total time : 5 hours. Result : job done.
  So, after 10 hours spent running around and waiting, we get the job done. What I would like to know is, IF I was a local, would that time be less? My firm belief is that it would be less. By a whole lot. The moral of this is......don't get sick when you're abroad!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

"Liberté, égalité, fraternité" on trial

I come from Romania. Leaving my affection for that place aside, I have to understand that first things you associate with that beautiful corner of the world are : Gypsies, Transylvania, Dracula, Ceausescu, Housemaids, Beggars, Petty Crime and Corruption, widely spread corruption, melted in the administration with a thick layer of bureaucracy on top of everything, and encouraged (many times in the open) by whoever won the elections (it doesn't even matter from which political spectrum they come from). Some, they make me smile, but many scare  me to death.
Gypsies, for example, are just like any other ethnic group in Europe, some integrated in society, some...not, some addicted to petty crime, some rich, some poor, some educated, some not so very nice... just like any other group of people. Xenophobic tendencies in us all made them representatives of a despicable way of life, by throwing, wrongfully, upon them all the guilt of being... different, of having crime in their culture. I bet, many of us don't know that many of their family names are associated with trades: Geambasu (traders of horses), Lautaru (musicians), Rudaru (gold workers, jewelers and wood workers), Fieraru (metal workers) and many more. Its very wrong to label them all as people of crime, and what is even worse (for me personally), that many times my nationality is associated with that education in the spirit of crime and begging. It is wrong also for Europe to point finger at Romania claiming that we are not doing enough to help them integrate, while Europe itself discriminates against them (best example of that is France, the place of "Liberté, égalité, fraternité"; They didn't even try to find viable solutions with long lasting effects, the first initiative was expulsion.)

Which brings me to the point I am trying to make: wherever I go, I wear those labels stamped on my forehead, in my ID; the only way to get them of is with deeds. Nobody gives me credit, based on my national identity (fair or not), the only credit I get lays in my deeds. I don't even ask any more, I got so used with it.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Rights in the EU

Good morning, Immigrants!

   Clearly the morning is not at all good and I would like to get a load of my chest. As any integrated member of  society, I have need of this invention called a mobile phone. Sure, it isn't that I have just realised we have this invention at our disposal, but as my old phone broke, I decided to buy a new one, a "smart-phone". I set my sights on the new Sony Xperia S, with a retail price of 550 euro. Good! Now, let's get myself to the local phone network company to see what that advertisement with 250 euro off your phone if you get their monthly plan is. The whole idea was that it would have been helpful financially to get that discount.
   Getting there, all my dreams have been shattered by this middle-aged, over-weight sales representative as the first thing she asked me was : "Are you a Cypriot?". Dumb-founded I reply: " What does that have to do with it?". It turns out that you can't apply to their monthly plan unless you are a Cypriot or have permanent residence in Cyprus (this means to have lived and worked continuously for 5 years in Cyprus).As I have been living and working continuously here for 3 years, clearly that doesn't apply for me yet. But, if I want to get that monthly plan I'd have to leave a deposit of 500 euro to them. What's the point in that? If I could afford the cost from the beginning, I wouldn't have needed the monthly plan. I could have just bought the damn phone!
     Here's the problem: as a citizen of a member state of the UE, shouldn't I be entitled to the same rights as the citizens of the state in which I reside? Well, I do! But there is no competent entity to enforce these rights, nor to punish the ones that do not follow these rights. As a lowly human being, even if I complain to the Consumer Protection Agencies, my cries would have died out without being heard by anyone.
     The benefits and rights provided by the UE are all just theories and dreams to be had, because in reality, you are the same as before it was formed. Just another immigrant with no rights only on paper... 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


Well, I was working!.. not very hard, not very focused, just enough to call it work, with a slight feeling of guilt for those money I would cash in at the end of the month. It was one of the first days of spring in Larnaca, and the sun was there, smiling at everybody, trying to reassure us that summer was on the way, after a long and freezing winter. It was midday, and the town paced itself to the lazy way of  a Cypriot afternoon, ready for an afternoon nap. But, somewhere it was very different...

While enjoying the day, I get the first sign of fire: smell of burnt plastic... than, I see a column of smoke rising... and no alarm, no siren... what is going on?!... I wait for a minute, while trying to figure out where it's all happening, and its close, maybe a couple of hundred meters from my workplace. And still, no siren, no sound of fire engines rushing to the scene. What's happening?!... I decide to call, and dial 112 trusting someone else was faster than me, but it's better to make sure.

"-Alo! I would... " is all I get to say, before the voice of a man interrupts me almost angry at me for daring to dial the emergency number
"-Ne, re, xero... xero" (as in: "yes, mate, I know...") was the reply to an unspoken question

I tried to tell him that I want to report a fire, and he dismissed me very quickly, not even trying to figure out if I am talking about the same fire as he was. I had to insist in telling him at least the area of the incident. And, I ask myself, is this guy paid from the taxes that I pay? That thought was scared away by the sound of the fire engine rushing to the scene. They were coming... finally!

I shook my head in disbelief. You can explain delays in procedures, you can say it is expensive to run an emergency service, or any other public utility company, but you cannot explain attitude! you cannot explain failure to appropriately answer an emergency call! A life, or someone's life savings might depend on that call; it's almost as if I see the power plant explosion all over again, and it's this sort of complacent and relaxed approach, together with a spark, that makes disaster happen. I would not forgive a dispatcher who rushes me, saying he already knows all about it, and sends the ambulance to a wrong address, while a member of my family or a loved one dies. I would not forgive a job so poorly done! Would you?

Saturday, March 10, 2012


The sun fails to shine! And even when it does, it has teeth, caresses my need of warmth with a cold smile... I'm here, but not here, it seems to say...

It was a long  winter in Cyprus, long and terrifyingly cold, and not only so because of the weather. The effects of the weather can be felt only outside, and we don't live outside. I, personally felt cold and uncomfortable the whole winter. I thought it was just me, but when I asked around, everybody felt the same and nobody had cure for the chronic chill. Why was that?

Hmm... got me thinking! People live in worse conditions, and I don't hear them complain; I come from Romania, a country with both proper Winter and Summer, and I didn't feel like that before! What was so special here that made me shake everyday, keep me so cold I couldn't even use the computer at times (that's how cold I would feel sometimes). Air condition unit, clothes, hot tea, winter shoes, nothing could cure the bone deep feeling of cold I had, apart from the occasional sunshine invading my bedroom. The air condition would make it better , but has to work continuously, and that would make the air inside so dry, my sinuses would explode of pain. The minute it stops, the temperature will race towards zero at an alarming pace and it would stop at around 7-8 ºC, exactly how much it is outside, making me go through 15ºC difference in half an hour.

The secret of this performance lies in the poor design of housing. Cheaper to build - better profits for the constructor! The outside walls of many buildings are 20 cm wide, and have no thermal insulation, making it from the start an energetically inefficient environment (which combined with the latest rise in the electricity prices, gives us a huge burden). On top of that, the wooden boxes housing the blinds are poorly constructed, giving gaps, and making a direct way of air communication with the outside. Sliding, single pane windows, that just rest in their track make it an even bigger problem. It's not one building like this, but a lot, even in the newest ones. they are made with no consideration for energetic efficiency, it doesn't matter if we talk about winter or summer. And electricity doesn't come cheap in Cyprus, especially now, with the biggest supplier blown up!

It would be simple, if done properly from the very beginning! Insulation is not hard to apply, windows (if designers and contractors think of it beforehand) can be thought of well, blinds can be removed or designed to be housed on an external box, doors properly sealed, floor made of wood instead of tiles, and that alone should bring down the electric bill by 30%, and remove the need of continuous use of the air conditioning unit, in both winter and summer. But it takes money to do so, not much, but it takes some...

I reckon, with an increase of less than 5% of the build cost (lets remember that in Cyprus, from the main contractor to the guy that actually does the work is a long list of subcontractors and "maestro's", that add each a certain percentage only for having their name added to the list of those milking the big cow, literally screwing up 2 types of people that should be very important to them: buyers (who's bill is becoming indecently big - guess, why?, and the actual worker (who gets paid 5 euro/hour, and most of the time he has no idea if the employer  paid the contribution to the social insurance, or if he is getting paid on Friday evening, when he finshes at 7, after 12 hours of work, 5 days a week, and often with overtime forgotten by the "maestro"). But this is another topic I will take in a future article.