Erntehelfer Jacko auf dem Olivenhain.

Guest arti­cle about the harvest

The dress code is casu­al, some­thing bet­ween cow­boy and roofer. We’re mee­ting at 5:30 in Ber­lin Schö­ne­feld Air­port, plea­se don’t bring too much lug­ga­ge, ever­ything will get dir­ty any­way, we’ll also have three bags of film equip­ment, which won’t all fit under Simone’s seat. At the gate, two rounds of dou­ble espresso.

Alt­hough I’ve been friends with the guys from OEL for a long time and have alrea­dy heard many sto­ries from pre­vious har­ve­sts, I have no idea what to expect. It’s the start of Decem­ber 2019, the first year in which not­hing has come up, the first time that I can final­ly be the­re, at this stran­ge event that nobo­dy can real­ly clas­si­fy. Befo­re the har­vest, when the call for dar­e­de­vils (they call them har­vest workers) went out to friends and acquain­tan­ces, the mes­sa­ge said that they were offe­ring a won­der­ful chan­ge, out of the city, fresh air, the Pelo­pon­ne­si­an sun. You can see the sea from the hills, they said, almost a vaca­ti­on. If the oli­ve har­vest is so idyl­lic and rela­xing, why do I always see the guys hun­ched over for days after­wards, with scrat­ches and blis­ters on their hands and sore mus­cles in their arms? And why do they go back every year? Har­ve­s­ting olives is a pain in the ass, that much I know. 

From Athens, we dri­ve to Kala­ma­ta and then strai­ght to Ama­de­us’ grand­mo­ther. Her trees must be har­ve­s­ted first. It’s almost 20 degrees, not a cloud in the sky, the sun shim­mers through the lea­ves, the ground is rocky and brigh­ter than at home. Ama­de­us’ grand­f­a­ther sits on a sack of olives and takes a break. Grand­mo­ther is mana­ging ever­ything, car­ry­ing bran­ches from left to right. She says some­thing to me in Greek that I don’t under­stand, but I somehow have to go this way. She pushes me to Ama­de­us, who is sit­ting in a tree with a chainsaw.

the mes­sa­ge said that they were offe­ring a won­der­ful chan­ge, out of the city, fresh air, the Pelo­pon­ne­si­an sun. You can see the sea from the hills, they said, almost a vacation.

Someo­ne pushes a rake into my hands and we’re off. Just hit the bran­ches, dama­ge the folia­ge as litt­le as pos­si­ble, but the olives have to go. It’s actual­ly easy. But this move­ment is new for my arms. They’re not sure about the ang­le, but seem to get used to it. It’s going fas­ter than expec­ted. We eat stew out of a trunk. I don’t qui­te know who coo­ked it. Then we’re off to the house of an uncle of an uncle, whe­re the har­vest workers are stay­ing, we brief­ly put down our lug­ga­ge and then make a quick detour to their own trees, up on the hill. The view is stun­ning. Over count­less oli­ve gro­ves, I can see sand-colo­red cliffs. And when I push the bot­t­le of Tsi­pou­ro asi­de on the car roof, I can actual­ly see the sea, much blu­er than in the pho­tos. In the evening, we eat in Kala­ma­ta. They know us in the tavern, even me — har­vest workers are all the same here. Ama­de­us greets the owner. Ever­ything has been agreed. More and more dis­hes are being ser­ved, each one tas­tier than the next, plus wine and water. I fall asleep in the uncle’s house befo­re I can even say “sore muscles”. 

The next morning, at sun­ri­se, all my fears are excee­ded, and I bare­ly make it to the back seat of the car. It goes on like this for five days, from sun­ri­se to sun­set. I hear a voice say­ing, was it mine? Marc, did you say some­thing? No? I’m con­si­de­ring thro­wing mys­elf out of the moving car. If I sur­vi­ve, I might be able to hide here some­whe­re, the win­ters are mild, and the peop­le are nice. In dire straits, I can eat raw olives. But no, I don’t want to do that. And I can see from the faces of the others that they are all in the same boat as me, may­be worse. Marc says: you have to get back into the swing of things every time, but it gets bet­ter at some point. And he’s right. We beat the trees as if the­re was no tomor­row. We laugh tog­e­ther and cry secret­ly. At noon, we sit in the bran­ches and smo­ke Kare­li­as. Greece is a breath­ta­king coun­try. I swe­ar to arran­ge ever­ything so that I can be the­re every year. I will beco­me an acti­ve holidaymaker.

I was hoping the­re would be some mus­cles left.

And then came the pan­de­mic and the rea­liz­a­ti­on that the har­vest will not take place in 2020. And in view of two lock­downs and so much sit­ting in front of a screen, I rate my fit­ness for 2021 as rather poor. I was hoping the­re would be some mus­cles left. But I also think that we are all in the same boat, and we will hope­ful­ly rake, suf­fer, and laugh tog­e­ther again next win­ter, and move the­se cur­sed olives from the trees to the mill in this beau­ti­ful place with all the won­der­ful peop­le. Until then, we must be satis­fied with OEL from the canis­ters. At least that is easy on the arms. 

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