Have you ever felt lucky? You must have, if you’ve never experienced what it’s like waking up a 30 something with nothing to show for it.
Less than five years ago, this would have seemed inconceivable in Cyprus, a place that survived and socially outgrew an invading stab in its soul almost 40 years ago. But its here and unemployment drags people down, taking away every last gasp of their future and forcing them to seek survival within a system that chooses to spit them out.
It’s hard on the ears but these stories need to get out there. Last week I met a young man just a few years my junior. A friend suggested he was a good gardener. He spent most of his 20s struggling to secure the bare means for a respectable life.
He told me he studied journalism. At 32, he finds himself unemployed, angry, disappointed but mostly disillusioned. His name doesn’t really matter.
But his story is a slap in the face for most of us, who in spite of wage cuts, still hold a job. And a job today, merely a job, is a blessing.
He tells his own story, without interruption, we’re just the bearers of the tough social realities plaguing thousands today. Let’s call him Andreas and here’s what he told The Cyprus Daily.
“After 11 years of hard work to succeed as an individual, have a decent life, get ahead, I experienced the nightmare of unemployment at 32. Most of us have gone on to some kind of higher education following army service and the natural course is to come back and seek employment,” said Andreas.
“I studied journalism and worked at the job for about a year. I found the media business malicious and hard to withstand all the pressure, the insults, the injustices that are part and parcel of it.
“You need a rock breaking stomach and your personal life is not your own,” he added.
He said after a long wait and many in and out sales jobs, mostly as a temp, Andreas got a break in 2006 - a store manager for the grand net amount of €1600.
“I begun to pick up, I even took the brave step of buying a small one-bedroom apartment, finally escaping that growing mould smell in a rundown studio I was renting.
“These were five good years, but too good to last.”
In the summer of 2011, the management informed Andreas he was getting a 35% wage cut.
“I didn’t panic, I had been waiting for it; after all, I lived in the real world and knew that the global crisis would land here sooner or later. I had to adapt.
“I dropped the summer holidays, scrapped the once-a-month Chinese restaurant and took to counting coins for the basics.”
In February last year Andreas found himself unemployed.
“’Our company regrets to inform you...’ It was the classic note. I was half expecting it, the company was shrinking the whole time and soon enough it would have to close down.”
It was April 1, 2012 - it was not an April fools’ prank.
Andreas was officially made unemployed.
“I felt kind of up and down actually. I needed a bit of a break, I’ve been working since late primary school and haven’t looked back ever since. On the other hand, I had no time to take a breather”.
The unemployment benefit only lasted six months and payment starts some two or three months after losing your job.
“So there I was on the job hunt again. But at the same time, cash was hard to come by. So I took it upon myself to start handy jobs, a skill I had developed back in my teenage years. Anything to get along. Gardens, painting jobs, fences, cleaning weeds... Even these kinds of jobs were not easy to find. Desperate and yeah, hungry times...”
Two months later, the unemployment benefit arrived; two thirds of it just went on the mortgage, so Andreas was basically in the same boat.
“Electricity, water, petrol, just the basics, were choking me and I turned to God’s blessing for a solution.
“It didn’t really help to borrow from friends and relatives as this put me more in debt.”
“I asked for a postponement of the mortgage for a few months, a breathing space. I could then pay the rest of the bills with the benefit, which sadly ended in October 2012.”
Andreas’ prayers were answered. He got a positive response on one of his job applications and started working again in November on much lower pay.
“I couldn’t really moan. It was better than nothing.”
However, the new job turned into worse than unemployment. The owner kept promising payment from day to day and it took more than a month and a half to get his first pay cheque. It didn’t last more than six months.
“You simply can’t survive if your pay cheque is months late. Just days before I got the redundancy notice, I realised that my wallet was empty and my car without petrol. So I stayed at home.
“The only positive to take was that I had worked for six months so I could claim another six months of benefit. Since then, I’ve found the odd handy work, but nothing that can maintain me.”
It’s been another jobless six months for Andreas.
“I really don’t know what else to do. Where should I turn? Stealing? Leave my country? I feel I am part of a cruel detached society, where desperate cries are growing louder and the state is unable to heed them.
“I really do wonder why it has come to this and whether it’s really a bad dream. Is everyone conspiring against us or are we hopeless? I want to wake up now.”