Cyprus Mail
Cyprus Life & Style

Starting over in a post-crisis world

Coffeeshop owner Jeanette Krzentz

By Alexia Evripidou

Today is International Woman’s Day while next Sunday, March 15, marks the second anniversary of the start of Cyprus’ traumatic bailout crisis.

The Sunday Mail has combined the two anniversaries by speaking to three women about their successes and struggles, and discovering how their resilience has helped them to grow post crisis.

NEARLY two years ago people were left in turmoil following the closure of Cyprus’ second biggest bank and the seizure of uninsured deposits to recapitalise the largest lender, the Bank of Cyprus (BoC), as part of a 10 billion euro bailout package.

Today, people are trying to move forward with their lives, and these three women have found ways to continue and expand, using their transferable skills to create new opportunities during a high risk economic period.

In the unanimous words of all three of them “I had no choice.”

Maria Hadjimichael an IT specialist of 30 years, can today be found in her shop Worry Beads on the corner 33, Alexander the Great Street, Nicosia, crafting handmade jewellery with semi-precious stones.

 Maria Hadjimichael
Maria Hadjimichael

Maria began her career in 1984 as a computer scientist, a time when personal computers were just being introduced into people’s homes. Unfortunately for Maria, the crisis came early, beginning in 2008 due to her company’s involvement in the international financial markets. Cuts were made but when 2013 hit, the company crumbled along with its main customer, Laiki Bank. In February 2014 Maria found herself jobless after a lifetime of work with computers.

A month later, she’d dusted herself off and opened up shop. The redundancy was mixed with relief and fear. She was happy to be out of the perpetual uncertainty of fighting inevitable recession, and fear over how she was going to pay the mounting debts and mortgage. However, her love for art and creating propelled her to seek options that now enable Maria to make a living out of what was once just a hobby.

It all began with an interest in the humble Greek komboloi (worry beads) which expanded into making one-off original jewellery pieces and komboloi. She decided to share the shop’s premises and costs with fellow craftswoman Zea Choutry who specialises in handmade fun knitwear. Both lost their jobs and turned their ‘luck’ around during the thick of the recession by taking a risk and following their passions.

“I was not worried about this decision because it’s something that I love. It was a natural choice,” said Maria.

It’s not been an easy journey. “People didn’t really realise what had happened at first. There was a day not so long after the bail out where I made €400 in a day during a bazaar. But last August I made just €40.” Revenue has dropped drastically.

However, with the help of her market stalls, she’s managed to financially break even this year, which is an achievement for any new company, especially in a troubled economy.

“Business is going up, albeit gradually.”

Maria’s confidence is reassuringly unshakeable.

“I don’t expect a stone to improve my well being, that needs to come from inside, maybe it helps but I don’t rely on the stone, I rely on myself.”

Women’s Day means little to her.

“It’s a matter of personality, not of gender. If you are polite, straight and honest, people have confidence in you and can therefore negotiate solutions.”

Unlike Maria who moved from science to art, single mum Agni Sacca began her career as a musician but has turned to science to make ends meet.

Part-time dental assistant, permanent musician and fulltime mother Agni, is a classically trained pianist from Belgium’s Royal Conservatory of Brussels where she was awarded Belgium’s equivalent of a bachelors and masters degree in classical piano performance, one of the highest awards in central Europe.

She found her calling early in life, inspired by her aunt’s music school next door, where the young Agni requested piano lessons at the tender age of five and never looked back. Her love of rhythm and learning introduced her to world instruments, specifically the Djembe, an instrument that was to open many doors during the harder times of 2013.

Agni Sacca
Agni Sacca

Agni threw herself into private teaching jobs, working with music and children whilst resourcing performance work wherever she could. The year 2009 led her happily down the aisle, but 2011 introduced her to the harsh realities of life as a working single mother with a baby daughter, now four years old.

She was forced to find stable work as a dental assistant, since teaching music and performing was sporadic work at the best of times, and certainly after 2013. Determined to succeed, Agni expanded her skill set and learnt to play Greek music, therefore enabling her to branch out into restaurants, bars, hotels and private functions which helped a little.

In the wake of the bailout, music teachers were among the worst hit.

“Even though we do have a culture of learning here, it’s one of the first things that people dropped,” said Agni. “Students stopped their lessons or asked for discounts.”

Agni once again found herself having to expand. Unperturbed, she applied for musical workshops in schools, got a piano performance job in a Protaras hotel during the summer, and turned to promoting her drumming workshops – juggling work, life, music and bringing up her child as well as studying psychotherapy on the Benenzon model.

Demand for Agni’s drumming classes and workshops have been rising. “Rhythm is a basic instinct. Our archaic memory brings back what we need in our lives, which is a better manageability of our daily rhythms. It’s to do with catharsis and releases of stresses and tensions that you can get more easily with Djembe than with piano,” she explained.

“The miseries that we may think are just in Cyprus are actually happening all over the world; everyone is struggling. The crisis brought all that to our realities here; that we’re all going through the same thing.” That, along with creating a happy life for her girl and leading by example, is what spurs her on.

Determination and a strong survival instinct is a theme that comes up several times amongst all three women.

Coffee shop owner and mother of two thirty-somethings, Jeanette Krzentz runs Ean kai Efoson, on Ippogratous 28 in Laiki Yitonia old Nicosia. It’s a traditional Cypriot coffee shop which also offers organic tea, homemade snacks and Cypriot breakfasts. While she puts in the longest hours, her children also help and sometimes her 74-year-old mother.

Sitting in the cozy coffee shop, the walls adorned with vintage shop signs and other memorabilia, Jeanette talks about finding herself a single mum with two young mouths to feed at the age of 30. This meant she’d work any job she could to ensure her family was cared for.

Her main line of business was as a tour guide of the island. Just like so many, in 2013 business fell like a rock. “As a freelance tour guide, I once used to work a full seven day week including night tours. This month I only did two tours.”

Jeanette’s 80 per cent drop in income and her strong mothering instincts drove her to take a gamble and open her coffee shop a year into the crisis in 2014. “I did it for my children who were jobless. I take the risks because I believe in me,” she said.

Finding funding was tough. Unable to secure funds from the banks, she turned to friends and relatives for loans, which they happily offered. As a woman of her word with a determined drive to repay debts, people trusted her and knew she would pay them back.

“I don’t owe any money to the banks. I once asked a bank for a €1000 overdraft. They offered me €3000 which I refused to accept,” Jeanette announced proudly. “That’s how many people got into trouble by taking more than they needed.”

She told the story of the 340 Syrian refugees who were rescued from a fishing trawler off the coast last September. They were eventually housed in a camp near Kokkinotrimithia outside Nicosia, but just a day or so after they were rescued some found their way to Jeanette’s café. Touched by their plight, she offered them complimentary coffee.

“When you see that there are others with a worse life than you, you can’t complain,” she said.

Since the camp closed down just over a month ago, some of them have come to live in Nicosia and have become loyal and regular customers.

“They are now trying to support us, can you imagine? We didn’t do it for business, it was from the heart.”

 

Worry Beads: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.725896130764141.1073741830.389793814374376&type=1&stream_ref=10

 

Agni Sacca will be performing at the end of the month at the Green Urban Lab event: https://www.facebook.com/events/336765743175127/

Ean Kai Efoson: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Kafenio-Ean-Kai-Efoson/196353657203908

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