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A day in Organi, the poorest village in Greece

By Costas Onishenko

In the village of Organi, in Rhodope, northern Greece, a Greek coffee cost just 50 cents but there are few places left where you can purchase one. Only 501 residents remain there, and according to the tax office’s latest figures, it is the poorest village in the country. Organi is located some 40 kilometers from the city of Komotini and the majority of its residents are Muslims, who prefer to be called Greek Muslims rather than by their ethnic title, Pomaks. The road to the village meanders through beautiful woods and small fields of tobacco, which is the village’s main source of income. The only other source is pensions, and in many cases entire families live off the pension of just one person. Some money trickles in from abroad too, as a good many residents have found jobs in the Netherlands and wire money back home to support their families.

“I make about 3,000 euros a year from tobacco and with the subsidies this amount can reach about 5,000 euros,” 39-year-old Ismail Kulauz, a father of two, told Kathimerini. “This is more or less all the money we have to live on each year. How do we get by? First of all, most people here have a vegetable garden -- tomatoes, potatoes, beans. We spend very little money on food. But, after paying social security benefits, fuel and other bills, there is very little cash left over. However, we somehow survive. I don’t buy new toys for the girls; we’ll borrow them from neighbors with older kids. You see, we all try to help one another.”

The men of the village who don’t work in the tobacco fields gather at the main square. The local school is nearby and there is a minibus which is used to bring in students from other villages. There is also an ambulance parked on the square that is driven by a local volunteer in case of emergencies.

In the past, Organi’s young men would try to get jobs as seasonal farm workers in the Netherlands, but this option is no longer as easy as it once was.

“There is no future here. Most of us want to stay because this is our homeland, but the younger generation will be leaving en masse,” according to 20-year-old Hadji Arif Sedat, who we met at a local cafe, which has a television for screening soccer games and a foosball table. It costs 50 cents for an hour at the foosball table and a bottle of beer costs 1.20 euros. Women do not visit the establishment, as it is frowned upon by the local Muslim community.

Other than this cafe, for entertainment, there are another three, as well as a taverna and a sandwich shop.

“You have to go to Komotini to have fun, but we can’t afford to pay for gas so we just end up hanging out here,” said Sedat, who is a student at the University of Istanbul.

The reason he chose Turkey for his studies, he said, was that it was the cheaper option. “I live in a dorm and the money I need there is a lot less than I would need if I studied in Komotini.”

Unlike the older men in the cafe, who have a more demure stance toward their relationship with the state, one young man is more vehement.

“Things are a little better today than they were in the past, when the Muslim population was often discriminated against because of political reasons. The things that we need today have to do with improving our quality of life. We have been promised a dam or some kind of infrastructure to help irrigate the fields because this is a dry area and that affects production. Before every election, we have a parade of politicians, but afterward, it’s like they just erase us from the map,” said Ahmet Hadjisarif as he offered us a hand-rolled cigarette containing local tobacco. “Try it. It’s like this place: harsh but something we can call our own.”

ekathimerini.com , Friday October 12, 2012 (18:54)  
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