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When My Mother Was Alive

Photographer: Yannis Kolesidis


Iakovos is a regular man who used to belong to the middle class. He worked as a contractor at the Hellenic Post (ELTA) and later as a school guard until the end of 2011. However, his economic situation changed dramatically during the Greek financial crisis. First he lost his job and later, in the beginning of 2012, he lost his mother, who was his last living relative.


His parents, who had lived a good life before they were also affected by the economic crisis, as well as his favorite uncle, who had also passed away, left him two apartments and a summer house.


Iakovos, who was by now unemployed, collected rent of 500 euros in total from the apartments, which was his only income. But according to the new tax criteria, because of the property he owns, he is taxed every year for an estimated income of 13,000 euros, although his real annual income is no more than 6,000 euros.


The result of this tax policy is that within a year, Iakovos had accumulated a debt of 6,700 euros. The tax authorities then sent him a note warning him that they would seize his property if he didn’t repay his debt, so Iakovos was forced to sell his summer house, where he had spent every summer with his parents, at a very low price.


To supplement his income and pay the bills, he collects aluminum cans. Unable to make a living, every Friday he waits in line at the soup kitchen organized by the church, and sometimes the neighbors drop off some food. Since he has no income to spend, he’s trapped in his own house, spending most of the time in his kitchen, watching TV. He avoids turning on the light to keep electricity bills as low as possible, meaning that people passing his house at night think no one is home.


"When my mother was alive, things were very different," he used to say. "We had her pension, we could pay the bills, I could find a home-cooked meal. It's very bad not to have anyone in the world. If someone told me three years ago I'd be collecting aluminum cans for a living, I wouldn't believe him, I'd think he were mad."