Happy New Year

news: Happy New Year

Judy Sharp reflects on life and her world – as she sees it.

OH, FOR heaven’s sake, it’s 2005 already! Doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun? I had to look through a couple of old diaries recently and that was interesting. I don’t keep a proper diary any more, I just scribble notes and comments in the business diary I carry around with me, and that was bad enough. But, looking through some of those scribbles, reminded me of people and places now long gone – it was as though I was somewhere else completely.

Do you remember the Millennium? Someone commented, over Christmas, on the stars on top of my Christmas tree and it reminded me of when I was on the Island of the Sun, 4,000 metres up in the Bolivian Andes on Lake Titicaca. I spent three months there at the end of 1999 and start of 2000. Christmas doesn’t really exist there at all. The lovely people worship Pachamama, which roughly translates as Mother Earth, and the Sun. Imagine…a delightful little island in the middle of nowhere, with no running water, no electricity, no transport and none of the nonsense of Christmas either. It was wonderful! But, I have to say, a bit strange as well, and I found myself making some basic decorations for my little room from the grasses that grew around the island. I made three stars – I stopped when I realised that I had no way of hanging them from the walls! How different, I thought, from the glittery gold and red draped tree that is keeping me company this year! Life on the island was simple and not easy, but the people were content with what they had. There was no crime and not a single policeman on the island. Doors were left open and people respected each other and their belongings.

It used to be like that here in the Algarve – didn’t it? – but not any more. Sadly, in the run-up to Christmas, I heard about a whole spate of break-ins. Robbery is on the increase and there is no point trying to sweep it under the ‘everything is lovely in the Algarve’ carpet. Everything is not lovely any more and we need to take a long, hard look at the reasons why. Many people are laying the blame for this new crime wave on the immigrants from Eastern Europe and, in some cases, this does indeed seem to be true.

Cleaners and odd job men get to know the houses and the people, and know when the owners are away. Because the neighbours are used to seeing those people at the house, it does not arouse suspicion. One lady had her house completely cleaned out like that, while she went back to Germany to visit her sick mother. At one place, whole window frames were removed to make entry clean and quiet, but it seems thieves are not always so considerate. Call-outs to repair teams to board up windows or front doors that have been smashed in are becoming more common. What is going on here? Is it just a seasonal crime wave, or is there something more serious underlying it?

Personally, I think it is a trend that is the end result of the economic downturn that hit the Algarve in 2004. I do not wish to point the finger at Eastern immigrants. Many have settled down to stable jobs, with bosses who pay a fair wage for the work they do and who treat them with respect. But let’s take the case of an immigrant who falls foul of a construction company, which does not pay his wages regularly at the best of times and, when the contract finishes, chucks the worker onto the street. Is he going to find another job? Not unless his paperwork is in order. Did the previous boss give him a contract? Not if he could wriggle out of it. So, we are left with a guy, with no job, no money and – if he lived in a portable cabin on site – nowhere to live either.

Restaurants have been finding it tough, too, and, when they shed staff, the first to go are generally the immigrant waiters and kitchen hands who were the cheapest and easiest to find. Again, no job, no contract, no money. Imagine that these guys have been here for several years and have actually brought their wives or girlfriends over to join them. Perhaps there is a baby to feed, too. Life has been reasonable for a while and now, suddenly, these people have nothing. Desperate people do desperate things and that includes stealing. I am not making excuses, merely floating one possible hypothesis for a situation that now, sadly, exists.

I know that 2004 was a tough year for many people, especially those with small companies, and the feeling I get is that 2005 will not be a bed of roses either. In every way, we have to be prepared for that. As we roll up our sleeves and prepare for another year, I wish each and every one of you all that you would wish for yourselves. And I would add my own special requests. Respect yourselves and everyone else. Before you do anything, think about the consequences of your action. Put yourself in the other man’s shoes and look at the situation from where he is standing. And, most of all, enjoy the natural delights that surround us every day.