Many migrants live in the village; Albanians, Egyptians, Rumanians, an Italian and of course me. Mostly they are young men and they find work as builders or carpenters. Some of them are highly skilled. There are two Africans in the village; tall, young, slim and very black. They are refugees from Senegal, sad to be away from home, but glad to have work even in this strange place. Such people arrive in Europe often after long and dangerous journeys. Newspapers are full of compassion when they show us the dead bodies washed up on a beach in the Canary Islands, Malta or Southern Italy, but they just want to sell papers so they do not tell the full story. For centuries West Africa had a thriving fishing industry, sustainable and employing many local, skilled young men who went out daily in their pirogues, drove through the surf and fished with long lines and nets. They sold fish in local markets, they salted fish and sold salt fish regionally. It was dangerous, hard work, but they made a living. This was a local indigenous industry, employing thousands and feeding tens of thousands. Then the fish ran out. Not in Africa, but in Europe and Japan. Governments did what governments do. They avoided the truth. They hid behind the belief that the seas are abundant, a limitless resource. They did not seek to preserve fish stocks at home, instead they subsidised the large companies to build large and supposedly efficient ships to use the latest technology and catch fish in other parts of the world. For a few hundred thousand euros into discrete bank accounts, permission was granted for these factory ships to exploit the seas of West Africa. Soon the local population saw these large boats off the coast; fishing and dredging day in and day out; destroying the sea, the sea bed, the local environment and the local economy. The ships provided no work for the local people, they just took away their fish. The destruction was as cruel and massive as the clear cutting of rain forests. A crime against the environment by the haves for the haves, paid for by the have-nots. Soon the fish ran out and most of the ships moved on, leaving behind an unemployed and resentful population with boats and the courage and skills to drive them across the seas. Now the sea brings a new harvest; young black men who end dead up on the shore or are taken in to the underworld of crime and drugs and prostitution and money going into the same discrete bank accounts. In different ways the scenario is repeated across the world. A problem that will not go away and which has no solution under the current economic and political structure.
Here in Greece the government seeks to alleviate the pressure on Athens by dispersing refugees away from the capital and subsidises villages who take them to do work in the local community. Dinos the mayor arranged for the Senegalese to come and stay. They are so tall and athletic I wondered if they were part of our new basketball team. This turned out to be prescient. They are good footballers and should be in the village team, but there was a major row with the other villages on the island who insisted that the 'one foreign player only' rule should apply. They look the same so they take it in turns.
One of the Senegalese, Moustapha has become my friend. He has impossibly long, flexible limbs, like the young Muhammad Ali. He laughs a lot. Wearing a tattered baseball cap pulled low he has a wondrous smile, but only occasionally shows his dark, intelligent eyes. Moustapha speaks his tribal language, Wolof, as well as French and a little English. I am teaching him Greek. How many Senegalese speak Greek?
Moustapha is a sensitive man, but rather shy and finds it difficult being one of only two black people in the village.
All eyes are on me, he says. The only black man in the cafeneion.
He makes jokes about these things but, if you listen, you can hear the pain.
I am black, I am malakas. So I am balakas.
Moustapha can be very funny and also perceptive. We meet for a coffee in the morning at Gabriella's. One time she arrived late, obviously in a bad mood.
Gabi is sad, Moustapha said softly.
Problem with the heart. He paused.
Problem with the head.
Then a longer, delicious pause.
Problem with the body.
And he laughed his sad melancholic laugh. An African man far from home. A black man, but not balakas.