THE BLOG

The Sex Worker and the Dream

16/01/2015 13:05 GMT | Updated 18/03/2015 09:59 GMT

The building itself was like a sanctuary. Peaceful. Quiet. Sunshine on a crisp autumn day and not much else but the sound of the breeze and one lonely wind chime. Kittens wandering through rose bushes and men pulling up inconspicuously in old BMWs. I could quite happily have spent the day in the yard of Soula's brothel in Larissa.

It didn't really have the atmosphere I thought it would. It was light. Calm. At least the space outside was. A place where those arriving left their worries at the entrance gate.

Inside was red. Red lights and silk sheets and statues of half clothed women in every corner. Paintings encapsulated classical Greek sex scenes, but they were more pornographic than erotic. Security guards waited and watched our every move.

It wasn't dirty or frightening or painful to be there. Just dark. The air smelt of sex and perfume and secrets. It was a place, Soula the owner told me, where women tolerate. The drunk, the violent, the ugly, the ill, the perverts. Everyone.

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"Still" she insisted, "there is a romance about it".

I'd been told by various psychologists that in Greece people were becoming less interested in sex. That the men who paid for it were paying less. The women who depended on it for the rent were giving it up.

But at Soula's brothel, women were apparently queuing for work. Married women.

"I ask them - are you single?" Soula told me, her voice getting louder with every sentence. "No? Then I'm afraid you can't work here. I can't insure married women. It's illegal and my place is legal." The number of married women coming to see her has doubled since the crisis began.

"But all I want is to feed my kids, they say. I've lost my job. My husband has lost his. And they plead and plead and plead. Until I turn them away and they are forced to walk the streets".

One woman who'd been in the industry for 30 years told me stories of women selling themselves on the side of the road in Athens behind white cotton bed sheets for 5 euros at a time. On a slow night taxi drivers have told me they take women home for the price of a blow job.

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"What can you do?" Soula told me exhaling her cigarette smoke and sighing. "You have kids who need books and breakfast. Women are not fatalist like men.. They're decisive"

Georgia is decisive. She is focused. When she speaks.. She is matter of fact. Scarred, But not weak.

She is 32. A doctor, and now with the crisis, an escort too.

She told me she's searched high and low for a job to help cover the expensive healthcare bills of her parents, but there are none. Her private clinic brings only three patients a week now. But Summer in the sex industry brings tourists with plenty of cash.

She's applied for a job at a hospital abroad and every day says she runs to check the post for a reply. "I just want to start my old life again."

To cope with what she describes as a "sort of personality disorder", she compartmentalises everything. Yes, she has to spend nights, sometimes weeks, doing things she never thought imaginable but she's managed to convince herself she's strong enough to see herself and her family through this tough crisis period without them being affected.

In short, she says she'd rather suffer the pain of what she does, than her family suffer the pain of the Greek economic crisis.

"I pretend I'm an actress playing different roles. At least that's what I tell myself when i cry myself to sleep after each job."

Soula believes each girl in the sex industry has a dream. It's what they focus on when the four red walls close in on them forcing them to question who they really are and why they're there.

Without a dream, the hours, she told me, pass like hell.

It can be difficult to understand the reasons why these women do what they do. Why Georgia does what she does.

But, living in a place where unemployment is now at the highest rate of any country since the second world war, where depression rates and poverty levels are the highest in the Eurozone, where suicide attempts, HIV infections and infant mortality is soaring rapidly... Where there is no future, because you can't plan for your future... I can see how the main concern of these women is not a reputation, but a survival strategy.

Soula does not care what people think. Although, she has tried - many times - to donate money to schools for stationary, photocopiers, school books and her money is always turned away.

But, I don't see shame at the "house of tolerance". There is only a resounding strength amongst the women there, who appear determined and focused.

As the men enter the brothel gates struggling to forget their reality, these women are already inside working at creating a new one.

As they play the seductress and unbutton their tops, mentally they are already somewhere else planning a better tomorrow.

They continue because they believe they are strong enough to do it. Because, they never forget why they are doing it. Because, in their eyes, it could mean the difference between freedom or no freedom; Healthcare or illness; A roof over their heads or a life on the streets. There are other avenues they could take or could have taken of course.

But, like Georgia, for the sake of trying to keep up their old life - their pre-crisis life - these women have desperately resorted to creating another one. A secret, which only they are allowed to keep.

And in the end it is a simple dream, which keeps their souls fighting for survival. The dream of new beginnings. That promise of hope in the most hopeless of times, that continues to flicker inside the dark red walls of Soula's brothel...

To hear more from Soula and how others have been affected by the Greek economic crisis watch the documentary Love in the time of Crisis by Theopi Skarlatos and Kostas Kallergis here:

https://vimeo.com/ondemand/loveinthetimeofcrisis