For many people, travelling is a luxury. It’s the pleasure of seeing new sights and trying new food. In my case, it’s the sensation of entering one of the numerous shops in London on a yearly basis and spending most of my income in one purchase. Every year we make it a point to visit new sights and try new things, but what really captured my attention in my most recent visit is the noticeable growth in cultural diversity of its residents when compared to the previous year.  What is it that makes us want to flee to another country? Is it always a case of desire, or is the economic situation of a country so bad that the only means of survival is to leave your family behind and move to a more stable one?

First Impressions

I arrive at Gatwick airport and make my way to airport security. Behind the desk, a friendly- looking man awaited. He checked my passport and welcomed me to this great city with an accent that wasn’t exactly British, possibly Arabic? On the train, a woman with what sounded like an Indian accent asked me for my ticket, checked it and moved on to the next set of passengers. As I emerged from the station, I could hear conversations between people occurring with a language far different than the English that I expected.  It is safe to say that throughout my journey from the airport to the hotel, I did not talk to one individual with a clear British accent. Upon entering the hotel, a young woman welcomes us with a warm smile.

Mona: The Italian Receptionist

hotel reception

“Good afternoon”, she said in a clear Italian accent, “I’m Mona, how can I help you this evening?” A response in her language on our part led to a sigh of relief on hers and a cheerful switch to Italian.  The inevitable small talk led to my mother’s usual patriotic speech given to each foreigner we encounter about visiting our country because it’s so wonderful and picturesque. Her response was a reason why she couldn’t say the same about hers.

“Italy is finished and anyone who wants to make a living has to leave the country. I have a son to care for and being a single mother I have to hire a nanny,” she said with half a smile. She expressed her dismay about having to leave her relatives behind and continued on to say that “although the pay isn’t great, it’s much more than I would’ve got in Italy. My son is surely better off here and he’s the biggest reason why I’m doing this. I have much less to gain than he does,” Mona concluded before showing us to our rooms.

Savvas: The Cypriot Waiter

boyfriend + girlfriend in front of a sunset

On my third day, a pang of hunger but lack of funds led me to the nearest fast food joint in sight. I go in and am immediately greeted by a very sympathetic smile. Name tag: Savvas; doesn’t sound British. He asks me the number of my party with a very non- British accent- mine isn’t either so upon response he enquires where I’m from and I reciprocate; he’s from Cyprus.

“I love Cyprus, but the number of opportunities here are too good to pass up.” He continued on to tell us that he is currently studying to become an IT engineer. Savvas pointed out that while the schools there are adequate, a degree from a British school would provide him with a better pay. Working in a fast food restaurant is a far cry from any computing work, but that doesn’t dampen his spirits. “I don’t mind it since I’m here with my girlfriend. She’s currently doing her PHD and contributing to a study that aims to find a cure for diabetes”, he proudly stated as he distributed our plates.

“I’ve been here for five years and plan to spend at least two more. I’ve saved enough to go back to Cyprus but she’s here doing something for the community. Taking her away from that would be selfish on my part”.

His love for travel, he says, “is what truly helped me make this life-changing decision. My life would be very different if I had not left Cyprus.” Savvas and his girlfriend travel around 5 times a year. “I like the place but it’s not a place I see myself spending the rest of my life or more importantly, raise a family in; it’s too busy. Maybe I’ll visit Malta next” Savvas said, and with that my mother’s face lit up and she began reciting once more her patriotic speech about our magnificent country.

© 2017 – VIDA Magazine –Anthea Formosa