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What It's Like To Sell Weed as a Scared Immigrant

"I wish I could have a normal job, go to work, get my paycheck. I’d like that."

by Laurent Laughlin
Sep 26 2019, 2:47pm

Hunter French

'Hey, You Around?' is VICE's column asking drug dealers not just what they're selling, but how they're doing.

Ele* is a soft-spoken 32-year-old from North Africa who sells weed in Exarchia, a neighborhood in Greece's central Athens known for its tattoo parlors, graffiti, anarchists, open drug use, rioting, and refugee population. Police raids on dealers, anarchists, and squats in Exarchia have stepped up since Greece’s new government pledged to “clean up” the area in July.

VICE: Hey you around?

Hey man.

What do you sell at the square in Exarchia?

I only sell weed. Others sell coke and ecstasy, but I don’t like that stuff so I don’t sell it.

Where do you come from?

I’d rather not say which country I’m from because then everyone will think people that come from my country are bad people. I tried to get a normal job in Greece and I actually found one working for a restaurant, but in the end they couldn’t hire me even though I have asylum here and social insurance. The company that owns the restaurant refused to put me under their insurance plan.

What did you do for a living back home?

I was a hairdresser. I got a diploma for it.

Why did you leave your country?

I wasn’t making enough money. I came here to find a job, to find a solution, to find a better opportunity and improve my situation. It’s not that I had a specific problem in my country but if you want to live a normal life you need to work and get paid at the end of every month. I wish I could live in my country but I didn’t have enough money to start a family, to have kids.

This is an area with big links to the anarchists. Do you ever have any interaction with these groups?

I have no problem with them, maybe they don’t know I’m a dealer because I’m only here for a few hours to get the cash I need. But some of the other dealers think of the anarchists as mafia types. The anarchists are always telling them to stop dealing. But people don’t have enough to eat, that’s why they’re doing this. When the refugees get into fights, the anarchists step in and tell them to stop.

Sometimes the anarchists beat up dealers because they don’t want that kind of activity around. I’ve seen the anarchists beat people up a few times for selling drugs. I managed to get away. They were wearing balaclavas. I saw a guy the next day after he got out of the hospital and I was shocked, he was fucked up. He had a broken arm, broken nose, a scar on his face. Now with a big scar across his face he’ll never get a job in a store or a restaurant.

Do you like what you do?

No, not at all. If I get a job right now and you still see me doing this, you can cut my hands off. If the cops catch you as a foreigner doing this kind of work in this country you’ll pay a big price. I’ve never been arrested and I hope they’ll never catch me. If they catch me, that’s it brother, I’m going to jail.

I wish I could have a normal job, go to work, get my paycheck. I’d like that. At the end of the day you barely have any money in your pocket. It’s tough to sleep, to eat, to live. That’s why I sell.

How do you find most of your customers?

A lot of people know to come here to buy weed, so if they see you standing there they just walk right up to you and ask for it.

How many customers do you get in a day and what is your profit?

We sell baggies with three grams for 10 euros ($11). I sell about 30 baggies a day. For each baggie, I take three out of the 10 euros. I get around 30 or 40 euros a day. It’s enough for me to pay for my hotel room (25 euros a night), some cigarettes and a bite to eat.

Why don’t you rent an apartment?

Because no one will rent to me. The owners of the apartments ask you which country you’re from and they automatically say “no, it’s been rented.”

Who gets the other seven euros for each bag?

The guy that brings the drugs to me. He’s either Greek or Albanian. But he’s just the bagman.

Where does he get it?

The weed comes from Albania and Greece. It’s the Albanian mafia that runs it, but I’ve never seen them directly. The bagman works for them.

Who are your customers?

Lots of tourists but also Greeks. The tourists come from all over: Canada, Italians, Americans, French, Germans. All the people that come here want to buy stuff. I’ve never had any trouble with my clients because I always speak to people kindly. I’m not a mafia type, I just speak to people with kindness. And I never ask people if they want drugs, I wait for them to come and ask me.

What kind of job do you want?

Anything, I’ll do anything.

But do you have a dream?

Well if I could have a barbershop here and loyal clients that would be great.

What would you say to the Greek Prime Minister if you had the chance?

Thanks for asking that. Well, I’m a foreigner in his country. There are refugees here, many of them are good people, and it’s true, some of them are bad. But if these people have a chance to work you won’t see any problems from them. I can only speak for myself really, but that’s all I want.

*Interviews are conducted over encrypted message, face to face or phone and names changed; the interviews have been lightly edited for clarity.

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