A true to life tale reflecting on how well most of us have it. If you do not agree, complain not. For if you do, Flora’s story will put you to shame.
Who is Flora?
She is the cleaning lady at the pensione I am staying in on Amorgos. She cleans my apartment and every other apartment in the complex once a day. I do not know the exact number of apartments. The building is four stories high and wide, built into a mountain.
She cleans toilets, washes the floors, changes the sheets and otherwise keeps each apartment neat and tidy. Seven days a week. Eight to nine hours day. For three straight months. Not for $25 an hour. For 4 euros an hour. Six dollars American money.
Floras speaks excellent English. Also, Albanian and Italian.
Flora resides in Albania. She has lived in Albania all her life. She is 41 years old. Single, never married.
Albania is a small country in southeastern Europe. Greece borders Albania to the south.
Albania has an interesting history.
Until 1991, Albania was socialistic. A Communist nation. Being small, it thought it needed the protection of a great power. First, it was in a protectorate of China. Then Russia and Yugoslavia. Following the fall of Communist Russia, Albania became a democracy. A parliamentary democracy.
The language is Albanian. The country is considered a top ten place for visitors.
Religion is a strange combination. Fifty seven per cent are Muslim, seventeen per cent Christian. Only forty per cent pay attention to their religion, however. Albania is ranked the 13th least religious country in the world.
Russia is primarily responsible for the lack of religious fervor. When Russia took over Albania following World War II, it banned religion. All religion. As a result, Albania acquired the distinction of being the world’s first atheist state.
Today’s Muslims and Christians get along well. Tranquility exists between them. Many Muslims are Muslims only because their ancestors became Muslims during the 500 years Turkey controlled Albania. Muslims and Christians intermarry. No problem. Muslim husbands neither dominate nor mistreat their wives as in most other Muslim countries. The partners to the marriage are equal and treat each other accordingly.
When Russia initially took over Albania, the illiteracy rate was 85 per cent. Russia initiated immediate steps to rectify the problem. Within 12 years, the rate was corrected dramatically. Today, 98.7 per cent of the people are literate.
Health care is a problem in today’s Albania. A national health program does not exist. Under Russia’s domination, everyone had health care. Today few. If a person has not money to pay, doctors and hospitals will not provide treatment.
There is very little HIV-AIDS in Albania. Less than 100 cases.
I thought a little Albanian background would be helpful in understanding Flora’s life.
Now to Flora.
Flora grew up under the Communist system. Her father died when she was seven years old. As indicated, Russia made Albanians literate. Education was important.
Flora was a good student. Russia would look at a student’s record and decide what that student would be in later life. Doctor, lawyer or Indian Chief, so to speak. It was determined when Flora was 10 years old that her talents were best accommodated if she became either a teacher or nurse. Teaching became the choice.
High school in Albania is eight years. At age 18, Flora graduated. High school can be described as a professional school. Flora at 18 upon graduation from high school was qualified to be a teacher. She immediately was assigned to a school and started teaching.
She continued her education at the university level. Her college degree did not affect her earnings significantly. She earned just a bit more after acquiring her degree. Money was not an issue for her. It was the security of the job. Albanians are put into a mold and can expect job security throughout their lives. Money, no.
Flora teaches third class. Notice, not grade. Our grades are their classes.
Russia’s drive to eliminate illiteracy obviously helped Flora. Without it, she would not have acquired an education nor have become a teacher.
Without a father, Flora has been her own decision maker in life.
Flora lived under Communism her first 20 years. She says Communism was no good. She and her family, everyone, did not have enough food or clothes. Things have been considerably better under a democratic form of government.
Flora presently earns 300 euros a month as a teacher. Her salary continues through the three summer months when school is closed. Though she says it is not enough, she considers herself middle class. I suspect because she is a teacher.
Twelve years ago, she bought a house. A small one. One bedroom, a small kitchen, a living room area, and a very small bathroom. No tub. Just a shower. She borrowed money from friends to purchase the home. The mortgage was recently paid in full. She now owns her home free and clear.
She related it was not easy to make the mortgage payments. Her first year as a homeowner, she was earning only 190 euros a month teaching. The house was important to her and she sacrificed. She claims, and I believe her, that she ate only beans for a whole year. She could not purchase even a quart of milk.
She has been working summers to help pay off the house. Now that the house is paid, she works summers to renovate it. New windows, new doors and the like.
Her home is everything to her. She describes it as “…..the most beautiful place in the world.” She says, “I find peace in my house.”
Simplicity best describes the previous paragraph. It also reflects well on the state of her soul.
She is glad to have summer employment on Amorgos. It is hard work as she describes it, however. She works long days. Earns four euros an hour. Her employer pays half her rent. Flora does not live in the pensione complex. She rents a room elsewhere. She describes it as dingy. But it works for her.
Her share of the rent is 90 euros a month. She also pays the utility bills. Her employer provides her with lunch each day. That is all Flora eats. She buys no other food. She does not go out after work. She saves every penny. Her sole source of enjoyment is viewing the ocean. She claims in the absence from her home, it gives her peace.
Flora is obviously on a mission. Her home. To put together enough monies for its renovation.
Flora’s widowed mother is 76. She lives with Flora. They share the same bed.
Medical is a major concern. Flora puts some money aside to pay doctor and hospital bills in the event her mother becomes ill. As she put it, “…..if you have no money, you die.” No medical attention is available without money up front.
Interestingly, Albania provides her mother with a pension. Sixty euros a month. Ten of those euros are retained by the government to cover the mother’s prescription drugs. Her mom has a bad heart.
She would like a husband. She stated it in no uncertain terms. “I want a husband!”
I was curious as to what she was looking for in a man. She is 41 and still unmarried. By the way, Flora is an extremely beautiful woman. Looks 30. Thin. The face of an angel. Magnificent eyes.
Flora says money is not important in her selection of a husband. She prefers “…..a good boy…..a good person…..one who works.”
Do you go out evenings and try to meet a man. “No, no!”, she responded. She never goes out evenings. I am not sure if it was because she did not want to be considered a bad girl or could not afford it. Her sole out of the house activity besides teaching was coffee in the afternoon with female friends.
Her best friend is a 20 year old niece.
I inquired what she liked to do best for pleasure. Dance was her response. If you do not go out evenings, how do you dance? At parties. How often do you attend parties. Two times a year. Teacher parties.
Teaching gives her the next best pleasure. Especially students who may be handicapped in some fashion. She presently has a boy who cannot hear well, but has the ability to speak. She has another boy who is mentally slow. She works extra time with them both.
Flora claims there is a benefit to her summer jobs. She gets to travel, to see the world. Last year, it was Italy. This year Amorgos. She considers Amorgos “…..a wonderful place.” She believes that people on Amorgos live better than she does in Albania.
Her health is good. She tries to take care of herself. There is no money for medical attention were she to get sick. I asked about yearly check ups, she laughed. What check ups?
I asked this simple woman what she would like to have that she does not. Her answer came quick. “A car!” She “…..dreams to have one.” She walks everywhere, even to work. If the trip is too far, there are buses. Small vans.
I asked about vacations. She responded, “For poor people winter is all year, there is no summer.”
The cleaning job is the most difficult she has had. She has to move swiftly to get all the rooms cleaned. The hours are long. She is tired all the time.
I was curious how she got to Amorgos from Albania. First a 16 hour bus ride and then a big ship. The trip took three days. Not bad, she said.
Besides a car, what else would make her happy? To only work one job with more pay. She went on to point out that the money here in Amorgos was better than her previous summer employment in Albania. In her home country, she worked every day in the summers for three months from six in the morning to midnight. For 150 euros a month!
Teaching hours are not bad. She teaches four hours in the morning. Then is expected to spend three hours at home in the afternoon preparing for the next day. However, she has been teaching third grade for over 20 years and so preparation does not consume that much time.
She told me prices in Albania were no different than on Amorgos.
She neither drinks nor smokes, except for an occasional wine at those two teacher parties a year.
Her English is self taught. She wanted to learn. Started with children’s books and worked her way up. She speaks and writes the language well.
Her home town is called Rubik. She tells me it is large. Four thousand people.
Such is Flora’s story. She has less and wants more. A universal desire. She is working toward her goals. She will attain most of them, if not all. I wish her a car, a husband, and good health at the very least.
Americans as a whole have more than most of their brethren world wide. Flora is an example. We complain. Some of us do have less than others. Some very little.
In the overall picture of things, Flora makes up for less with hard work. There are no social agencies, welfare, governmental help or Stephanie Kaples for her. She continues without complaint.
We could learn from her.