Second in a series of reports from the Eastern Mediterranean
By Churm Media CEO and OC METRO Publisher Steve Churm
Standing on the pier in Mykonos, Konstantine Perraivos is at a crossroads. Not unlike many of his generation in this part of the troubled world, he hungers for better days. But on this morning, this highly educated and ambitious Greek is herding a group of foreign tourists fresh off one of the pearl white cruise ships anchored just beyond the harbor of this Greek island. This is the high season for tourism in the archipelago of Greek isles and Mykonos is a coveted destination. Young and old are drawn to this legendary spot in the Aegean Sea because of the translucent waters, shopping and night life. Perraivos is here to greet them; a guide leading tours through the maze of narrow streets and alleys of this port town.
This idyllic settling, much like a Trojan horse, hides the gnawing fear for Perraivos and his peers that Greek’s economic woes will rob them of a stable future. In this nation where 1 out of every 3 Greeks under age 30 are unemployed, Perraivos feels lucky to be working. But is he happy? “Many days,” says the handsome, dark-haired guide. “But I worry – often.”
Born into a professional family in Athens, Perraivos’ father is an attorney in the capital. Perraivos has a degree in graphic arts but found the pay and work to be unsatisfactory and fleeting. He turned to tourism, a pillar in the Greek economy that otherwise has crumbled in recent years under the weight of expectations after joining the European Union. He went to Crete and earned a license to guide and then landed on Mykonos, where he visited often as a child to escape the August heat of Athens. It is here that Perraivos now works and waits for his next opportunity.
On this day, along the bustling waterfront, it’s near impossible to sense a national economy on the edge or the worldwide jitters of a new recession. The tavernas are already filling and the streets are coming alive with pedestrians. Mykonos has a year-round population of 6,000. But it can swell to more than 10 times that number during some summer weeks, Perraivos says. This year is different, however. The Italians, by far the most frequent visitors to this island, are coming in fewer numbers, Perraivos says. So too are the English, Swedes and Germans. And those that are traveling are spending less and coming for shorter stays.
“They used to come for two and three weeks. Now only a week,” laments Perraivos.” They used to buy jewelry. Now they buy refrigerator magnets. Some restaurants have closed and many shopkeepers wonder what will happen, come fall.”
The concern is magnified in Athens, just eight years removed from a national highlight as host of the 2004 Summer Olympics, an event that restored luster and world interest in this country. Now, the capital has become a repository for illegal immigrants, particularly Africans, says Perraivos. Homelessness and crime are on the rise because many immigrants trying to reach central and northern Europe in hopes of finding jobs, come to Greece first. Many lack visas or other documents and are stopped.
“Our country is increasingly the bus stop for this part of the world,” Perraivos says.
Still, Greece is his home and he wants to stay. He is hoping to improve his status as a tour guide, perhaps joining the Ministry of Tourism in some capacity. That will take more training and patience, something he is learning slowly.
“Younger Greeks are not as patient as our elders,” he reflects. “Our fathers had a road map for life and they follow it. Today we want to change things faster. It is a clash of old and new.”