Garbage Collectors

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Older dense neighborhoods in Athens have a solid waste management system that provides inspiration for Eastern Market.

Every block or so in the older, you find a pair of modest sized dumpsters for residents to dispose of their waste. One for garbage the other for recyclables. Simple, straight-forward, and efficient. The dumpsters are set in the street within the parking lane to not interfere with walking or driving. While not especially attractive, smaller containers, more frequently emptied cut down on the noxious fumes.

The full ecology of the waste management system also includes an extensive collection of Sunday Garbage Collector’s Markets. That’s what the locals call a series of flea markets that happen in a largely vacant, older industrial section of the city where thousands of sellers offer countless items many of which were recently thrown away

Over the past decade, as the economy has worsened, these markets have flourished growing from one to ten. Organizers play a game of cat & mouse with the authorities with their need to raise tax revenues from what is a proudly a part of the informal economy.

Markets run from about 8am to 4pm. Vendor fees range from 10-15 euros. Early morning traffic includes the seasoned antique/collectible buyers looking to pick up undiagnosed high value items for a song. By late morning, when I got to the Sunday Markets, those buyers were long gone and the customers looked a lot like the vendors. Immigrants, gypsies, and those who needed to stretch meager earnings to make it through the week.

 
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Kaliatsousd was the first vendor I encountered. He immigrated from Egypt and became a Greek citizen. Life in Greece was vastly better than what he left behind. For him the Sunday Market is a sales outlet supporting his storefront location in the neighborhood where I am staying.  He had a wide variety of goods including some high end antique Soviet-era cameras that looked like their German and Japanese contemporaries but weighed five times more. I purchased an old Drachma bank note. Greek currency before the euro. The 5,000 note was introduced in 1984, and was worth about 15 euros when that currency was adopted by Greece in 2002. In those days, I’m told, you could have a pretty good time on 5,000 Drachmas.

My Albanian friend was next up. Never did catch his name. He was among the most hawkish of the vendors in the second market I visited. Selling a variety of cell phones, cell phone batteries, and other items of low value. True immigrant’s lament. He felt home neither in Albania (“too corrupt – they make the Russian’s look good”) nor in Greece (“nice people but few opportunities”). He was a proud man with bad teeth. Especially proud of one of his daughters who vowed to fix his teeth when she graduates from the medical training program she is enrolled in.

 
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He augments his income by helping with one the city’s neighborhood markets.  This market runs for ten blocks every Wednesday where I ran into him a few days later. My guess is that he helps vendors set up and tear down in exchange for food. He’s posing with a rather big fellow who was one of the vendors he plundered a few items each so that he could send me on my way with a bag filled with apples, oranges, and bananas.

Thank you my Albanian friend.

Dan Carmody

Carmody Consulting, Detroit, MI 48207, USA