‘I have three jobs: babysitting in the morning, then cleaning or ironing and after that I work in an Asian restaurant, in the kitchen. Five days a week, from 8 till 8.’
‘So at the weekend you rest?’
‘Yes, but I also work on the farm. I have a lot of rabbits and chickens I have to take care of. The farm owner got me my visa and allows me to live there for free, so I work for him in return. I used to live in a nice apartment in town, but I moved to the farm, on the outskirts of Nicosia. I’m not ashamed of it.’
Christina is from the Philippines, tiny and looks a lot younger than her 40 years. She used to be a nurse, first in Singapore, then in Cyprus, but she lost her job.
‘Because I only speak or write a little Greek I was made Category B, which means second rate, no matter how good you are, what position and experience you had in other countries. I think it’s stupid and discriminating. What should be important is how good you are at your job, that you know what medicine to give or how to wash a patient. This distinction is new. I think they introduced it to give priority to Cypriot nurses, but,’ she says quietly laughing, ‘they’re stupid, very stupid, their nurses. They had to learn from us before they kicked us out.’
She looks around, to check if nobody can hear us, but we’re safe on the patio of the house of a friend of mine, a house Christina cleans.
‘Many Cypriots think I’m stupid because I’m from the Philippines, but as soon as I spoke Greek well enough I told them that I’m not stupid, that I speak English, that I’ve travelled. While they can’t as they only speak Greek. They call me mavro, black. It’s supposed to be an insult, but I love my colour and my heart is white. They’re white but their hearts are black.’
‘Are they all that bad?’
‘No, I’ve found good people too: I have Cypriot friends. I have one friend, he’s a nurse. And he’s gay – sorry to say.’
‘Why do you say sorry?’
‘Well, because here they don’t like gays, especially men don’t like them. He’s discriminated too because of his sexual preference. They’re really backward here: in my country it’s normal, there are a lot of them, it doesn’t matter, it’s the heart that matters.’
She’s silent for a while. In a neighbouring garden a little boy plays in the pool, in the street we hear a motorcycle pass.
‘I miss working at the hospital, but even if they would hire me again, I couldn’t afford it anymore: the salaries have gone down, I would make only 500 Euros a month.’
‘How much do you earn now?’
‘About 700. At this place I make 5 Euros per hour, at other jobs only 2.30.’
I’m glad to hear that my friend isn’t a scrooge.
‘When I first arrived I cried a lot,’ Christina says. ‘My pride was hurt all the time, but I had to stand up and fight, I’m doing it for my son, I kept telling myself, I don’t want him to go hungry. He’s 12 years old now, a big boy, taller than me.’
That’s no surprise: she’s the tiniest person I’ve seen in weeks.
‘At the same time I’m saving money to go to another country. I’m thinking of Australia. Maybe in one year, I’ll leave. I study international nursing, but I have to do the examinations again because mine have expired. I like doing work that requires skills and theory, like nursing, but practical work like cleaning is okay too. You see, I come into people’s houses and I think: “this is my house, I need to clean it.” And how good I do it reflects on my personality. For example, if I’m not able to clean this table, it means I’m a messy woman. Especially people who are good to me, I don’t want to disappoint them.’
‘What do you think of Europe?’
‘I don’t follow politics, I only know that the president now is a good man, because I know him, he was in our hospital. I hope that they’re going to tackle corruption. But why did they join the EU? It was better when they had pounds, I think. Now it’s more expensive, with the euro. And I’m not happy with all the new people. Before, it was very safe here. You could leave your doors open. Now there are burglars, from Rumania and Bulgaria. They discriminate even more than the Cypriots. And they steal from the hospital, Rumanian colleagues did. I saw one stealing medications and asked her: “are you going to risk your job for these pills?” – and they call us mavro, stupid…’