As part of my project for the Talent Grant, I interviewed several inhabitants of Athens’ inner city. Based on their experiences and stories, I wrote a number of ‘biographies of space’. One of the interviewees was A. (35). Spending his days at the rock of Areopagus, located northwest of the Acropolis hill, A. sells water, cola, beer, selfie-sticks and marihuana to tourist who come here to take a picture of the beautiful view on the city.
Some call me the pigeon man. I was born in Kashmir, in the area close to the border with Pakistan. Today, I live with my second wife in Petralona. She is pregnant. Every week, I buy selfie-sticks and Albanian marijuana in the backside of two shops in Omonia and sell this stuff together with my two Pakistani employees to tourists who come to the rock of Areopagus to have a view over the endless city and on Lycabettus hill. We sell the selfie-sticks in low season for 5 euros each and in the tourist season during summer for 10 euros. It is big business.
Both my employees come from the area of Pakistan that is close to the border with Kashmir and our families know each other. M. came here 8 years ago, we work together since. He has a residence permit and rents a basement apartment near Omonia square. H. came two years ago, he has no documents or place to stay, so M. and I are taking care of him. He is depressed about his situation – if you don’t have papers, you are dependent on others.
It is very clear in which area of the rock we are allowed to sell our products and which part is run by a group of migrants from Afghanistan and north Africa. They have relations with the mafia. While tourists have a drink and watch the magnificent city view, not paying any attention to their backpacks that are put behind them, the migrants steal their belongings. They are mainly looking for European passports that can be sold for a high price to smugglers. Therefore, they are less interested in Chinese tourists. We see the stealing happening every day, but we cannot warn the people, because as soon as we do, we will get problems; we will get beaten up and won’t be able to sell our selfie sticks, drinks and marijuana anymore at the hill.
In the mornings, before I arrive at the rock to work, I buy 5 kilos of bird seeds to feed the pigeons of Areopagus. They come when I whistle and I know them all. I could not spend all my days doing business at the rock without them. The pigeons make me feel I belong here. They always come back.