Californians are born lucky



Working at a popular hotel on the island of Santorini, I made friends with coworkers and neighbors from Georgia, Bulgaria and Albania. They had crossed into Greece illegally in search of a better life.

Lonis, 18, and his cousin, Soni had left their families a year earlier, paying €2,000 (about $2823) to be smuggled across the mountains on the Greek/Albanian border. They now earned €30 (about $42) for 12+ hours of work a day.

Having taught themselves Italian by watching Italian cartoons on TV, they had picked up Greek in their short time there. Although Soni was usually too unsure to use Greek, Lonis would tease him about his pronunciation, he spoke almost perfect english. Both were smart, quick learners and hard workers.

Lonis would ask me questions about where I came from, and behind his glasses I could see him trying to imagine it all. There was also a little sadness, because of the cost and unlikely chance of ever getting to America. For now, he and his cousin must continue to work.

My neighbor Pada, 25, and his wife had been smuggled across the Turkish border from Georgia, leaving their 3-year-old daughter with her grandmother. In Georgia, Pada had gone to college and became a lawyer. He now mopped fish guts in a Greek taverna. He described the beauty of Georgia, with its clean rivers, fresh air and the large chunks of meat they would cook on skewers over open fires. “Georgia has everything,” he added pouring another shot of the georgian spirit jaja, “but no work.”

Another friend, Lily, was also from Georgia. She came to the airport on the day I left and asked me if I had heard what was happening in Georgia.

“Many people dead,” she said. “That’s my home.” It was day four of the fighting with Russia, and she had already lost several friends. I boarded my flight, very much appreciating how lucky I was to be returning to northern California, a place with so much opportunity. We should neither forget that fact, nor waste it.