"Apoustoulel' (nickname of Apostolos): The Indefatigable Worker of Kalloni"
Translated from Greek to English by Joanna Michalakeli
Mr. Christos Stavrakoglou, our own Christos, should definitely be considered a citizen of Kalloni as well (in the broad sense of the term, as he lives permanently in Arisvi). He has taken up a brilliant educational career at the Institutes of Secondary Education in Kalloni, educating hundreds of children from Kalloni and the wider area, children who have only good memories of him as a teacher and as a person.
So, Christos, as a citizen of Kalloni is contributing to a very popular magazine of the residents of Kalloni entitled “The Kalloniatika” (the news of Kalloni), (which our friend, Mr. Christos Tragellis has been editing for many years). This magazine mainly contains studies of the history of Kalloni. However, this time, Christos is outlining the profile of a man of labour in Kalloni in a most elaborate way. Enjoy this text because it is an excellent piece of literature, but also constitutes evidence of a genuinely sensitive psyche.
All those who go about in the streets of Kalloni have probably seen him and he has certainly attracted their attention. He is the young man who sweeps the streets of Kalloni with a little broom, a dustpan with a long handle and a wheel-driven bucket.
He is a likeable, lean and debonair young man with an expression on his face which shows that he enjoys doing what he does.
He bends his head all day long; with quick and rhythmic movements, almost stereotyped, he drags his little broom and removes leaves, papers and the dirt from the gutters and the pavements with meticulous diligence. Sometimes, you can see him at the square, at other times you can see him at the street that leads to Arisvi; after a while you can see him near the schools where outside the railings of the school playground he offers his own lesson to the students, the great lesson of life and the struggle for living.
Many people and cars pass by him unceasingly. Peculiar and noteworthy events may be taking place, there may be a pandemonium. He does not stop even for a moment.
For him, all the events go unnoticed and indifferent. However, this young man has become a rare and strange spectacle to other people who are not accustomed to seeing employees at civil or municipal service work with such a quick rhythm and such meticulous diligence. On the contrary, we can notice a very frequent phenomenon of groups of workmen, whereby one person is digging and the other 3 or 4 workmen are simply standing and counting the times he digs up with the hoe.
One day, I succumbed to the temptation to examine this phenomenon at close range. I intended to supplement my impressions of this lad; I wanted to speak to him, to listen to his voice. I also wished to address a few questions to him; for instance, how tiring this job is, how he manages to do a job, which others consider thankless and exhausting, in such a good mood, if he is satisfied with the money he earns and, in any case, what his real feelings are- as a contemporary “talented” reporter would ask him, pointing the microphone at him.
Thus, I approached him, as he was rising up in order to empty the dustpan and I started asking him some of these questions. He smiled broadly and without looking at me, he headed towards the bucket. I stood in front of him, trying to obstruct him, in order to make him speak to me. “Do not disturb me”: You would think that you were distracting him from something very serious, from an effort that requires concentration, that you were depriving him of a real delight. He passed by me, emptied the dustpan and hastily carried on with his work.
I did not want to cause any further disturbance to him. I withdrew and I discreetly took two photographs of him with a camera that I happened to have with me. I asked some people who knew him well and their remarks confirmed my positive opinion of this young man.
Apostolos Xenitellis is the eldest child in a six-member poor and respectable family. His father, Pericles, is a street sweeper as well, and stands out for his industriousness and his impeccable moral standards. Apostolos is about 30 years old and has been employed in the Municipality of Kalloni for a decade. During all this period, he remains a model of industriousness and conscientiousness. All those people who know Apostolos consider him a lovable young man and they speak well of him. He is very likeable to the students and especially to the fans of AEK (the football team), as they think that he resembles Lymperopoulos, and they call him by this name.
At primary school, he attended special classes as a student with learning weaknesses and attracted the teacher’s attention for his ethos, his efforts and his artistic skills he exhibited. We should also mention that his overall behaviour was the topic of her doctoral thesis.
The case of this young man has moved me and led me to certain thoughts that relate to employment and the employees.
Apostolos Xenitellis is a lad who, as many people of his age, works in order to make an honest living. And he works uncomplainingly, scrupulously, with great zest and devotion and the work he has produced is of considerably higher value than the value represented by the money he earns. We can discern some characteristics that we hope that many of our scientists and the grandiose state and social workers would possess.
However, our society from former times up to this day, rank this job at the lowest rung of the evaluative scale. Indeed, no one wants his offspring’s employment to be the collection of other people’s garbage. Whoever does this job, he does it because of some dire, bread-winning necessity.
However, if the value and the prestige of each profession are judged, to a great extent, according to its utility and its social content, then the profession of the street sweeper has been unacceptably wronged. It has been treated unjustly because its utility is deemed petty. Tidiness, health, adornment and civilization are not trivial. If our ancestors did not value the utility of this profession, their attitude would be justifiable; they lived at a different era, under distinct conditions. Their education was different, as were the criteria, with which they evaluated and determined the priority of their needs; their environmental education and conscience was also limited, if not non-existent.
Nowadays, we have the potential and the fortune to aspire to a better quality of life, higher aesthetics, to respect the environment and to appreciate the work of those people who offer this environment clean and healthy to us.
Besides, we live in consumer societies. We throw away practically more than what we consume; thus, the arrangement and handling of garbage has become a major problem and those who are engaged in this job should be considered to offer significant social work.
If the streets remain unclean for two or three weeks, with the rubbish lying in a heap, we will certainly comprehend the value of the profession of the street sweeper. “The dustmen” with their recent mobilization have offered adequate lessons to the “upper strata of society” of big cities and have paid back the disrepute that has been attributed to them in the most appropriate manner.
Thus, it is not proper or fair to undervalue and disdain certain professions, to such a great extent that those who ply these trades would be ashamed even to mention it.
The fact that intellectual professions have evaluative supremacy over all others does not essentially denote that we should overlook the significance of manual professions. During my professional life, I had the opportunity to collaborate with a great number of colleagues who carried out their educational duty with notable conscientiousness and success.
Now that I have retired, I remember all those colleagues with much affection and appreciation. Nevertheless, apart from my colleagues, I also remember some other people who offered their services to the education of Kalloni from a different post. I cannot forget Mrs. Diamanto Petrianou who had been taking care of the school for many years, as if it was her own house. She had been working hard in order to offer a tidy and clean environment to students and teachers, with a scanty salary in recompense of her services. And, indeed, I am glad that I have the opportunity to award public accolade to her by means of this publication.
Everyone can offer valuable services to other people from any post, from any profession, provided that they have the inclination to offer, dignity, devotion and an alert sense of professionalism. And some of our ancestors were certainly mistaken as they respected those engaged in intellectual tasks, while they were speaking disdainfully of manual workers; they were also considering manual work to be the slaves’ responsibility. That is the etymology of the word “äïõëåéÜ” (work) (äïõëåßá: slavery). [See characteristic views: (Aristotle’s “Politika” C’, 3, IA and E’ 1-2. Plato’s “Gorgias” 5120 and Xenophon’s “Oikonomikos”, 4, 2-1)].
Manual labour, as every labour, is not a job that is compulsorily imposed on slaves, dependent people. It is a job of free people, who consider it their utmost social and moral obligation. And they do not only consider it an obligation, but also a right that is directly related to the right of life and happiness; this right should be safeguarded by every well-governed state, under conditions of dignity and self-respect.
I should also mention that I cannot fully comprehend the saying of the Bible whereby God, removing man from Paradise, laid a curse upon him to work and toil, in order to make an honest living. “With the sweat of your face, will you be able to gain your daily bread”. Does this saying denote that even laborious work is a curse? But if our theologians insist on interpreting this excerpt in this way, then the honour and the glory belong to man who managed to transform the divine curse into a blessing and vindicated his existence as a free and superior human being.
Work in itself, as an element of human presence is a blessing. It indeed becomes a curse in unjustly governed states, in inhumane societies and, unfortunately, in the modern, the self-styled advanced societies, where progress coincides with development, the increase of economic indices and the employee is the instrument who has to improve them constantly, toiling under unacceptable conditions, with inadequate payment and insurance, without the necessary sanitary conditions. It has been stated that, every year, two million people die of diseases that are caused by insanitary working conditions. And this will continue to be the case, as long as the financially strong remain untouchable and the technocrats substitute for the illuminant politicians whose aspiration is to be beneficial for other people.
For this reason, the prevalent humanistic claim of our times remains the following: respect towards the employee.
Just participation in the reaping of the benefit of their hard work is the prevalent claim. As the sight of the ant which is carrying by instinct, in order to gather its food, fills us with interest and emotion, how can we remain unmoved and indifferent to the person who toils, in their attempt to accomplish- besides the satisfaction of their life’s needs- higher values, to create civilization. And such respect is the obligation not only of employers but of each one individually. The awareness of such an obligation encouraged me to cite these few comments and pay the least tribute to Apostolos Xenitellis.
To a very likeable figure in the microcosm of Kalloni. A young man who has identified his life with his job, to such an extent that you are not sure if he works in order to live or he lives in order to work. This creature of God who drags his little broom every day reminds us that simple and modest people also deserve our appreciation and our praise.
(Posting date 30 November 2009)
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