Gyros at Glystra Beach
We’ve all done it. I’ve done it. I’ve rolled my eyes and shaken my head, sometimes in irritation, sometimes in sympathy and sometimes in disbelief at what’s been going on with European finance and especially with Greek finance. The thing is, sometimes it can be easy for us to forget or ignore what it’s like for the typical Greek, who is just trying to earn a living, look after their family, get an education, be healthy and happy.
You might have guessed by now this is not one of my usual posts. I was moved to write it by my usual motivation though – eating.
I’ve just come back from a break on the island of Rhodes, Greece, where we found a fantastic little beach. Simple and quiet, tucked away in a corner out of the reach of most tourists. When I saw it I knew it was going to be perfect. I’m not really one for ‘wild’ beaches, I mean, I like the idea of them, but to be honest, I like my creature comforts. So Glystra with its little parasols and very simple ‘kantina’ was right up my street.
After all that sunbathing and swimming, of course it wouldn’t be long before I got hungry so I went in search of food. The catering available at this beach is a food truck selling some basic sandwiches, salads and of course the classic Greek gyros with pita bread. This was my first choice, and it was so delicious that I had one every day.
As we sat in the shade of the awning in front of the truck, I watched and listened to the two ladies who ran it. So kind and friendly with everyone, helpful and caring. I listened into conversations and I caught the gist of some issues they had been having with the local council. After a few days I felt like enough of a regular to ask how business had been this season and they told me their story.
The businesses on the beach, such as they are, are owned and run by 5 Greek families. These businesses consist of renting out sunbeds and of course selling food. The ladies in the truck are two sisters. Their father, along with the other families started working there 33 years ago. On their own initiative, they cleared and cleaned up the beach and set up their businesses. Each year they pay for their licences as required to operate, they keep to the rules and fulfil all their responsibilities. Things went well until the crisis. Taxes (VAT) went from 16% to 23%, the extended family has lost jobs and so many more people are relying solely on these seasonal beach businesses. The local schools have no money and parents have to pay extra for cleaners and ancillary services (if the children are lucky enough to have teachers). Doctors send you a bill for each treatment (even if you are insured it is no longer covered). Pensions have gone down from 1100 Euro per month to 700 Euro. The police force has all but vanished from the island,
Panic has set in. The local authorities turned up at the beach at the beginning of the season, 1st of May, and shut the girls down because they said that they didn’t have the correct license to operate and they would need to buy another one. Much to-ing and fro-ing ensued, the ladies drove back and forward to Rhodes town trying to arrange the licence and open their business so that they could have income. They got it, they opened their doors hoping for a busy season that would cover their losses. Not to be. They have been hassled all summer, constant threats – even prison – the local authorities have been holding them to ransom. Turning up every second day, saying that the license they purchased a couple of days ago is no longer valid and they need to pay more, more, more. Symbika told me as she dusted the photo of their father who passed away last year, that she doesn’t know if they will be there next year, they just can’t afford to operate like this, let alone the stress.
I know we can say, and I met Greeks who told me this, that they have made their bed and they have to lie in it – but like this?
I hope, if you are in Rhodes, you will head for Glystra, not only for the fantastic Gyros, the sun and the sand, but for some of the warmest smiles you will ever see.