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2021.02.24 08:00

‘If you are destined to burn, you won’t drown’ – interview with Vilnius tour guide-turned-courier

Darius Ivancovas, LRT.lt2021.02.24 08:00

Marius Galadauskas is a Vilnius native with Jewish roots. Having worked as a tour guide for many years, he was forced to leave his comfort zone due to the pandemic and get a job as a courier.

He spoke with LRT Novosti about his experience, the nastiness of some people and how the work of couriers – essential workers during the pandemic – is highly underappreciated.

How long have you been working as a courier and how did it start?

Before the first quarantine [last March], I worked as a tour guide, I had been doing this for more than seven years, this was my only business, I’d built a reputation, and I did it from morning to evening, all year long.

[When the pandemic halted tourism] I had to do something, because there is a Jewish saying: “If you want to be successful, you have to have something in your head and something in your pocket.” There is enough in my head, but my pocket needed to be refilled.

I was offered work as a courier at the Lithuanian Post. First, to deliver small parcels by car, and since everything was closed, this was very needed. I love to drive, and I also know Vilnius like the back of my hand, so I thought “let's go!” I started working on the second week of the first quarantine.

How has the quarantine affected your business and the tourism industry in general? What are your prospects for this year?

I am an optimist and hope that everything will be fine, but the tourism sector is in a coma, and recovery will take a very long time. We won’t have the numbers of tourists we had before the pandemic at least until 2022-2023.

There will be no tourists this year, it would be self-deception to think otherwise. The small recovery between the first and the second quarantines helped us a little, but local tourism is incomparable with international.

Since I work with Jewish heritage and history, I have had many guests from all over Lithuania who were interested in the Jewish history of Vilnius and other tours around Lithuania, but locals will never pay enough to cover all the expenses. They also work, which means tours are booked only in the evenings or weekends, while the 5-6 day tours that foreign tourists book are gone. At the roughest estimate, I lost 95 percent of my income.

Was it difficult to switch to a new job? How did your family and friends react?

Changing occupations is not a big deal for me. First, I don’t like paperwork, so sitting in an office for 10 hours is not for me. Second, living on a 257-euro allowance isn’t an option either, as bills will not pay themselves. I needed money and this was the most reasonable option, although, of course, the risk is also great. Communicating with different people, moving around, wearing a mask all the time, sometimes up to 10 hours a day – but humans can adapt to any inconvenience.

How are couriers treated in Lithuania?

People have prejudice, they don’t appreciate the work of others, you can forget about tips. Only about 10 percent of people tip, most often with two or three euros, though once a famous former Lithuanian basketball player gave me 50 euros.

People look down on you and think that working like an elephant and carrying 50 kilograms up seven floors is alright. [...] It’s always been the same, people in higher positions look down on those who do such work. During the quarantine, both former directors and former top managers came to work as couriers, [...] mostly these are people who are looking for any way to make money in such difficult times. No one is going to earn millions or make a stunning career.

You get tired both physically and emotionally. You need to communicate with people, and they can be very different. Once, I arrived at street outside the city and all my GPS devices showed different directions. I phoned the recipient of the package and politely asked how to find his house, and he started to scoff and almost sent me off [...]. We don't have to know all the corners of the city and when people don’t come out to meet you, it can be offensive.

How did the quarantine affect your clients?

During the first quarantine, when everyone was staying at home, it was easy, because there was no traffic. Now it's more intensive, people aren’t always at home, and we have to deal with some unpleasant things, like situations with clear traces of domestic violence.

Once I called the police because a woman asked me. It’s really difficult to be locked in the same place for a long time and this affects people's emotions. During the second quarantine, this can be felt even stronger. People are losing patience, most of them ran out of money and common sense. Couriers must be ready for absolutely anything, it's good that some people don't send dogs after us.

Are you not afraid to get sick?

There is a saying, “if you are destined to burn, you won’t drown”. Of course, there is a risk, I have a coronavirus app, but I don't see much sense in it, every day it shows that I was around 2-3 infected people. I cannot be sure when the risk of infection is high, when it’s low, I don’t even know if I was infected yet or not, but I didn’t feel any symptoms. We joke among ourselves that we all already had a virus, because we constantly have to be among people who do not follow the rules.

What does your work involve?

I must say right away that people blame couriers for all the delivery problems and delays. We are the people who only take the goods from the warehouse to the client's door. We never check the goods, we don't know what's inside. Every fifth person asks, what is the package? What is in there?

My working day begins with measuring my temperature and filling out documents, then you collect parcels and load them onto a minibus, they are large and heavy. After that, a route plan is drawn up, during the day you must deliver all the parcels, and you also collect parcels from business partners that will go to their clients. So during a day I load and unload 650kg, and another 200-300 kg on top of that. On average, more than a ton per day, so you can imagine how difficult it is physically.

I find it funny and sad when I have to transport a small box three days through forests and two days through fields to someone's home – I don't see any logic in that. I’m often stressed because I don't know whether I will get stuck in muddy roads, I have to watch out not to get into traffic accidents.

You can forget dinner, only if someone prepares it for you. My wife cooks for me, for which I am very grateful. Otherwise, you eat kebabs, fast food, these things can kill you. You have 15 minutes for lunch and need to stick to the schedule. This isn’t a job for everyone who has spare time, you need to communicate with people, load and unload, and it is not paid very well.

Has your financial situation changed a lot from before?

I cannot speak for those who work in food delivery, because they have a completely different payment system. They are self-employed, pay taxes, cover transport costs, and keep what is left. Those who claim making 2,000 or 3,000, in fact keep 700 euros or 1,000 euros at most.

Postal couriers normally get a fixed salary, which is approximately 700 euros per month. It can depend on the cargo and your schedules, but it’s below 1,000 euros.

As a guide, I used to make more in a week than I make in two months as a courier. Roughly speaking, during the peak season my average income was 3,000–5,000 euros. Now I work in order to cover life expenses, taxes, and there is no chance to save up anything.

How does the weather affect your work, especially in winter?

An SUV had to pull my car out of snow twice. During the blizzard [in January], we had eight cars stuck, and when a car gets stuck, it takes an hour or an hour and a half to get it out. We have shovels, sand, but sometimes we are powerless. Not all roads had been cleaned. I work in Antakalnis and Valakampiai, which looked like after a hurricane, it was impossible to deliver parcels, there was a large tree on the road.

People don’t realise that when they park their cars incorrectly, they make it harder to get around. This winter is a nightmare for couriers, especially for those who drive minibuses. It takes a lot of effort, a lot of time. The funniest thing – I noticed that roads in some villages were better kept than in the prestigious parts of Vilnius.

What can people do to make your job easier?

First, stay at home, we will reach you and we won’t have to chase you around town. Moreover, shovel your yard once a day.

If a courier calls you and asks to come out to the main street, please be so kind, you will help the courier and yourself. And don't be angry, because undelivered parcels are as bad for the courier. Nobody wants to hold your parcels, steal or break them. Any damage is deducted from our pay. If you come to meet us, your package will definitely reach you.

What have you learned from your experience?

The problems of alcoholism and domestic violence have grown significantly, both couriers and the police notice that. You can also see how people’s purchases have changed. During the first quarantine, we mainly delivered masks and disinfectants, and now most deliveries are toys, cosmetics and alcohol.

I don’t know if it’s only the case in our company, but there are much fewer parcels with books. Maybe people get them in other ways, but when I worked for the Lithuanian Post, there were a lot of books, but during the second quarantine we have almost no books.

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