Saturday, 30 January 2016

January 27 - May you be happy?


The white tops of the Lepetimnos mountains tower over the north of the island. Nestled against the mountain, the medieval village of Molyvos, which consists of houses of dark stone with colourful wooden extension is given the look of an Afghan mountain village, exotic and mysterious, by the snowy mountains.

The harbour offers a splendid view of this rare scenery because winters on this island are not always provided with a white blanket. It is marvellous to linger some time there in the harbour where all the boats are tight up at the quays. A fisherman busies himself in his kingdom and volunteers walk up and down, some busy with work to do, others at an easy pace waiting to be called to action.

The sun is as strong as in spring and warms the bones that have suffered so much with the intense cold of the past days. Conversations always roam around the subject of the refugees. What else should one talk about here, in what some call a war zone. And while my body purrs with pure happiness because of the heavenly warmth, the wheels in my brain whirl around, becoming red when a subject passes that agitates me. The stupid political world-theatre makes me feel powerless and angry.

Here on the island you can find the new world, that politicians refuse to see. Instead of the bankrupt state or the failing Europe, hundreds of volunteers have come to act. While the Schengen borders are being closed, they cross borders because they have lost faith in the politics and have decided to act themselves. Meanwhile boats with refugees keep on coming, their timetable not altered by any storm or snow fall, even though some arrivals are a disaster and not everyone reaches safe ground.

It is difficult to choose: shall I make a fuss during a discussion or shall I surrender to the feeling of happiness caused by the warmth of the sun. Much of the time I no longer know what to do with my feelings. When I watch out over the sea, I feel love for this superb surface, that each day offers different views and produces such good food. When a fishing boat passes over the horizon, life seems to be good. But when I see a piece of refugee garbage I realize that the clear splashing water is also a silent killing machine. The fish are no longer the only ones swimming in the sea.

When the sea, as it has recently, is fuming with rage and engulfed in layers of foam, I admire the metamorphosis; then my thoughts take an ugly turn when I remember that people are forced to cross this raging mass to find a safe home.
When the sun takes up her palette and paints the clouds pink and the white mountains ruby red, I can suddenly feel a fear rising for the coming darkness, the perfect cover for illegal sea crossings.
When the friendly smiles of the first anemones appear, your thoughts wander towards the approaching spring, the time that the island will be covered with flowers; but a slice of fear comes up too: am I supposed to enjoy this season, while so many people fight for their lives?

While I snuggle under my comfortable warm blankets, I think of the mud and the tents blown away by a storm in camp Moria and I reach for a book to forget.
When I watch over the pure blue sea and see a bright coloured dinghy passing by and the street fills with all kind of cars, I bow over my computer to continue my life.
When I joyfully sing while preparing nice scented dishes, I know that when the guests arrive, the atmosphere will inevitably change because of heavy conversations about the islanders who are afraid of what is coming.

At the moment, it is not a pretty world for the feelings. This beautiful island offers so much solace but also causes my heart to bounce from ying to yang, from black to white, from positive to negative. The pendulum swings back and forth between happiness and sorrow, between quietness and rage, between life and death.
Sometimes I feel quilty because I laugh, because I sleep, because I eat, because I live. But that does not make the refugees happy. So I put a smile back to my face, I sleep sweet dreams, eat tasty dishes and continue my life, that now that it's connected with the refugees, has taken another turn.

I release my feelings making havoc. Gratitude moistens my eyes in seeing so many strangers who choose to come and help people, and tears will flow when seeing another dinghy arriving full of anxious eyes and screams.

After all the waves have risen out of the blue water, and the beaches are left lonely places calling for the summer; the trees branches get softly lulled in the whispering wind, and the mountains silently observe. Life continues, I know; but time and time again this question rises: are you allowed to be happy in times of so much sorrow and misery?

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

© Smitaki 2016

Thursday, 14 January 2016

January 10 – I want my island back

(the aqueduct of Moria)

Last week on Facebook somebody cried that he wanted back his beach. Beaches that in the summer are shadowed by trees and are popular with Greek families and now are scattered with shipwrecks: no longer a perfect playground for children. And now it was suggested that volunteers could also clean up the beaches.

I know more people who want something back: houses, family, lives. I myself would have back the island as it was some years ago, in the pre-European period: when restaurants were still full of happy Greeks who sang about life and danced around the tables, a period that was not in the shadow of history that now races at high speed over the world. We will have to accept that there is no way back, unless a working time machine can be constructed.

Lesvos is a very old island and if I had to choose in which time I could visit the island, I would have to take some time to choose, because there were so many fascinating periods.

According to recent archaeological finds close to Lisvori, 2.6 million years ago people here were already trying to get their lives together. The island was still part of the opposite mainland and lots of monsters still creeped around: mastodons, mammoths and giant turtles. I would not like to meet those for real.

During the siege of Troy (1184 BC) Lesvos would have been a good place to watch all those heroes pass by. Next came a time of different Hellenic dominations, centuries in which the island became a rich naval power, and conquered a big part of the opposite coast. I would have loved to see the busy sea traffic between Lesvos and the then so-called Coast of the Mytilinians. Maybe Eftalou was then a lively village with a fish market.

Then came the Persians, who had an empire as big as the whole Middle East area that is now in conflict. But even that empire was not eternal and was overthrown by the Arabs and the Greeks. Some of the states of Lesvos became divided and declared war on each other, for example Molyvos and Mytilini. Perhaps this would not have been a nice period to visit, although the book about Daphne and Chloë portraits it as a romantic period.

The Romans put an end to them fighting Greeks and promoted the island as a paradise for holiday makers, although they also sent exiled people here. Strange fellows, those Romans, but I would have loved to see them whirling around over my beloved island. I picture them lying with their fat bellies, around tables full of Lesvorian food, tasting flamingo tongues, followed by some Roman delicacy. After which they would venture out on an excursion to Agiasos in order to eat wild boar. But they did find time to build aqueducts, like the one in Moria that survived the centuries.

Again that big empire crashed and the glorious Byzantium arose, but its brocade bestowed leaders did not care about Lesvos and so many power-mad men tried to conquer the island, like the Genoese Gattilusi family, who held the island for one century. That also does not seem a nice time to see the island, because all the coastal villages were very much afraid of the famous pirates who raided the coasts and kept alive the slave trade. It was in these times that the castles of Molyvos and Mytilini were rebuilt as fortresses.

The Ottomans ended both Byzantium and the power of the Gattilusi. But even though the island was occupied for centuries, Lesvos again prospered. In her last Ottoman century Mytilini became a lively merchantile city, definitely worth a visit. It is said that the most beautiful women of the Levant gallivanted through its streets in the midst of a crowd of international merchants. Lots of countries had an embassy on Lesvos and its goods were sent as far as the Black Sea. It was the last Golden Century for Lesvos, because by the time the island could again call itself Greek (1912), luck and money had again left the island and its population could hardly survive. After World War II many people fled to faraway countries like Australia, Argentina and South Africa.

Only when Greece finally came into the hands of Europa, the people began to forget their nightmares of hunger and the shops filled up again. The big empire of Europe was not as cruel as its predecessors, but the new imposed tax system is reminiscent of the Ottoman Pashas who for centuries ripped-off the Greek people.

Now it looks like the Persians have returned. Thousands of refugees from southeastern countries invade the island. This army, the victims of international power games, however is welcomed as humanely as possible. But it is the forewarning of a new direction in history, not only for Lesvos, but especially for fading Europa that neglected Greece and now is on the brink of falling apart.

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

© Smitaki 2016

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

December 20 – Do not forget the island


Wild waves of froth roll towards the island, while the mountains in Turkey, hidden by the shadow of a sun that does not shine, bare their teeth while laughing. The leaden grey water hides many tragedies, but hasn’t lost its majestic look. Nor has Lesvos, that over the past year has had the eyes of the world upon it.

Dramatic scenes and the sorrows of so many people have created a veil of tears as deep as the mountain of lifejackets is high; but the green mountains of Lesvos tower higher over this all. History is like a rough sea, with waves that rise and fall. The island has plenty of stories to tell, about people acting badly or as heroes.

Roads and paths cut through a rampant wilderness, hiding many woes long forgotten by the islanders. As a visitor you can ask each stone what it has seen during its century long life. But nature is a master in covering up under its green carpet all that once was, just as the sea keeps on pulsing her water until all the tears and fear have been lost in the dancing of the waves.

The island of the beautiful weaver of words, Sappho, is not in a hurry to reach into the future, nor does it weep for its many deaths at sea. Formed long ago by fire-spitting landmasses, Lesvos challenges its visitors and makes them seem small. It radiates a kind of eternal life and is stubborn about its traditions, only moving slowly towards modern times.

Faraway wars have pushed refugees towards Lesvos and now its north and east coasts are known worldwide, whilst the other regions of the island stubbornly continue their daily life. Men rake the olives out of their trees, jog along behind their sheep or sit in the cafenions looking in the papers for news that happened only next door. Women peel, cut and cook and in their simple kitchens conjure up amazingly divine dishes.

Between the many villages of the island, the treetops bow respectfully to the Gods of the wind, at the same time gossiping about all the mushrooms and wild strawberries that were forgotten to be collected, or about the bold anemones and sweet scented narcissi that have decided to see the light before Christmas: a sign that playful Spring wants to have her entrance arm-in-arm with Father Winter.

Sweet waters from so many sources search new ways to waterfalls, tender green meadows and jerrycans. Holy churches have been named to watch over them, but are also there for other purposes, like honouring miracle creating saints. Faith is as deep as the Lesvorian bubbling core, where the sources begin.

In the South and West many isolated beaches run along the sea, unknown to many tourists, who think that the best holidays can only be taken in the North. Like a medieval Queen, Molyvos towers high above the coasts that are battered by shipwrecked people. While small Sigri, at whose tide lines only real sailors appear, radiates white and innocent like a sweet princess. There, like a gold prospector, the wild wind uncovers in the earth sleeping treasures that only have to be kissed by geologists to show their by centuries' formed beauty.

Steep peeks of sleeping volcanoes form the majestic entrance to Eressos and where Skala Eressou meets the sea, lips of women touch each other. It was here that Sappho rose from the earth like the goddess Venus from the sea and she still is worshipped in the many bars where evenings, full of colourful cocktails, have hearts and tongues dancing.

There where bent pines kiss the foam from the sea, stretches the sandpit of Vatera. So long that it is hard to believe that tourists do overlook this great beach. Large sand plains dappled with stones polished by the sea offer a surprising loneliness with the airy Graffiti Museum as an added bonus.

High in the mountains a small source gathers strength and curls down like an impatient river through tunnels of trees, bushes and dilapidated watermills towards the sea, cutting in half a princely little town. Plomari, growing against steep slopes, consists of rising and descending stairs and streets. There faded glory lives next to the lively terraces at the harbour, looking out over a south sea that only once in a while embraces a refugee.

The lungs of the island – the Bays of Yera and Kalloni – have kilometres' long coast lines, not polluted by rubber boats or lifejackets. They manage saltpans full of pink flamingoes, chatting pelicans and other swimming birds. There where the salt and sweet water merge (and further) you can find amazing deserted aquamarine bays and by trees shadowed beaches.

In the north of this Pearl of the Aegean, Molyvos and Sikaminia, fire-spitting dragons, watch over the safety of stranded strangers. The largest part of the island however stretches endlessly and undisturbed towards the south and east, where history still sleeps and where the appearance of a refugee or a tourist still causes talk in smokey cafenions. Lesvos is far more than an island sheltering refugees. Do not forget that island.

I wish everybody a peaceful, better, helpful, compassionate, healthy and happy New Year.

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

© Smitaki 2015

Sunday, 13 December 2015

December 7 – Saint Nicholas

(Saint Nicholas saving people; photo from internet)

Christmas on a Greek island still remains a bit odd. In daytime you can enjoy the sun in a Christmas tree decorated t-shirt. But once the sun kisses the sea, a wintry cold creeps up from the ground and then a hot spiced wine (glühwein) taste as sweet as a Christmas angel on your tongue, just like past Sunday, when hundreds of people came to the Christmas market in Molyvos.

You may throw a party on the 6th of December in honour of the little Holy Baby in his manger, but this day remains first and foremost the Names Day of Saint Nicholas, in Greek Ayos Nikolaos. He is amongst others the patron saint of children and of everybody travelling over water. I’m sure that all Greek islands have a church dedicated to him. On Lesvos you even may find a Saint Nicholas church in each harbour, and that is very much needed, because saving lives has become a daily matter here.

The Holy Nicholas originally comes from Patara, nowadays in Turkey. As the Bishop of Myra he helped poor children and saved people from the sea. Now that masses of refugees use Turkey to come to Europe, he will be the saint responsible for a safe journey over the Aegean Sea.

European politicians may have celebrated this childrens’ event (especially in Holland), eating lots of sweet and with their hearts at peace, because they shifted their guilt to Greece and they have dropped an enormous bag full of money in Turkey, so that no refugee dares to enter Europe anymore. Naughty kids in Holland can end up in the big bag of the coloured helpers of Saint Nicholas and I think that those Peters should cram those politicians playing Judas in their bag and transport them to Lesvos. There they will have to participate in a cold night wake in order to see what their faulty decisions have caused: devilish Erdogan has caused the refugee stream to dry up, just to show that he is the boss over Europe and that he has sent his smugglers for a Christmas Holiday. Those few not obeying Erdogan will have to play at being real smugglers, using the night as their cover: now the refugees do the crossing mainly in the pitch-dark, regularly choosing the longer route to Mytilini, which makes the journey even more dangerous.

As far as I can see Turkey does not have a patron saint, but Greece does: Saint Nicholas. Now look at the Greek people! Entirely in the spirit of their patron saint and with the help of lots of gifts from abroad, they are trying to give the refugees dignified shelter.

The patron saint of Lesvos is the archangel Michael (Taxiarchis), who normally is pictured like a fierce fighter out of a modern computer game. He regularly uses his weapon. According to believers the last time he took up his shiny sword was during the Cyprus crisis (1974), when his mural painting at the Mandamados Monastery disappeared. It reappeared within a week and several Greek soldiers vow that in the time between, they fought their battle against the Turks side by side with Michael.

This combative archangel also is no stranger to Muslims. Mikal is known to have fought against the devil. That he did not win that battle proves all the evil that still is around. Since the death of Mary (who died in Ephese, also now in Turkey) Turkey has been the centre of several powerful empires, like the Byzantines and the Ottomans. Today someone else is enthroned in Turkey dreaming of another megalomaniac empire.

These days feel like we are in the world of Game of Thrones, where rulers and politicians are blinded by wealth and trample their people; they play dirty tricks and fight each other, while in the background, not a new Ice Age, but the warming of the globe is the real enemy.

Jesus’ father Joseph is the protector of a long list of people, amongst them the refugees. But he has so many to protect that it seems he may not be up to his task. I think the refugees better stick with Ayos Nikolaos, who, believe it or not, was the precursor of Santa Claus. Lighting a candle for this white bearded man could be a good idea.

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

© Smitaki 2015

Sunday, 22 November 2015

November 18 – Strange birds on Lesvos

(The pelican of Skala Loutron)

The refugees are not the only illegals on Lesvos. Many birds, unseen and without passports, cross the Aegean to land in Sappho's birthplace. On the other side of the sea, there are plenty of Turkish nature parks from which also birds take a short flight to nose about this beautiful and quiet island.

In spring a large, international army of birdwatchers, armed with cannon-sized cameras, wait for the migratory birds along the island's coastlines. While even in autumn there are plenty of illegal arrivals, November becomes less popular with both birds and their admirers.

The continuing warm and sunny weather might be to blame for still encountering those large brown and yellow European hornets (Vespa cabro), which slowly move through the air like old drunkards. I also met a fat, dark brown caterpillar, armed with a horn on his head, who was looking for an escape from of a gang of snails that were boozing away on the rich dew of these autumnal days.

These days the best wildlife can be seen around the Gulf of Kalloni, where the saltpans at Skala Kallonis and Skala Polichnitou attract many birds like black storks and lots of flamingos. I wonder if this year the flamingos received a travel warning for Lesvos: in the midst of September there were none to be seen and now there are just a few daredevils swinging on one leg. There is no reason why they should be afraid of refugees: these people do not land in the saltpans nor do they shoot birds out of the sky.

Because they are big and fat, pelicans appear far more sturdy than those fragile white and pink acrobats. They seem to have ignored whatever brought about the absence of so many flamingos and probably just think: “What luck not to have any competition for all those shrimps!” Last week there were as many as 44 Dalmatian pelicans and 4 White pelicans lounging on the Gulf of Kalloni.

There are plenty of Greek villages that cherish a pelican as an inhabitant. This was the case on Lesvos. In Skala Kallonis there used to live a couple of pelicans, spoiled by tourists and islanders, but one of them died in a car crash and a few years later the partner also disappeared. In Skala Loutron there used to live another one, I've no idea what happened to him. I say: grant all those pelicans a residence permit, give them a house and plenty of fish, because the island could use a new tourist attraction. It will be a pity to send them back to Turkey.

The presence of a Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) on Lesvos will – I am afraid - only attract some entomologists. In America these Jugenstil-like winged insects are a common butterfly, but on Lesvos they are as rare as a refugee on the North Pole. Now that most of the migrants coming to the island are from The Middle East, this butterfly may even have come all the way from Africa. Two of them have been detected in the Mesa swamps.

I was highly surprised to hear that these fragile insects also could be illegal immigrants. Monarch butterflies are the champions of long-distance-butterfly-flying: they can go for thousands of kilometers. They undertake these travels in enormous flocks, for purely economic reasons: to be able to eat Milkweed
 (Asclepias). These lengthy flights often prove lethal: the elderly can tire and just drop down and it may occur that only a new generation reaches the final destination.

Friends who last week observed all those winged immigrants on the island came up with another strange bird: The Black Throated Diver (Gavia arctica). The second word in the Latin name gives away their natural home: in the northern cold areas. What is this exotic striped bird doing on Lesvos in such a warm month?

I am not one to gossip and I'm not suggesting that this duck is distributing flyers discouraging the refugees from coming to Sweden or Denmark; I have no respect for these flying activists. It is more likely that these swimming birds are also economic immigrants or, taking advantage of the low presence of flamingos, they all booked cheap holidays to Skala Kallonis.

It is fascinating to learn that more birds than tourists travel around the world. Just like all other animals they have the right to cross borders without restriction, unlike human beings who need a passport to cross any border. And even then, there is no guarantee they will be able to continue to their final destination. Sometimes it just might be better to be a bird.

(With thanks to Eva and Wulf Kappes and Mary Staples)

© Smitaki 2015

Monday, 9 November 2015

November 7 – The angels of Lesvos

(Ship wrecks on an beach in Eftalou)

Lesvos once used to be a haunt of Pirates. The famous and powerful Barbarossa actually came from the island. Now when you drive along the shores, you might easily think that the island has returned to the blooming days of piracy: the shorelines are scattered with the wrecks of ships that lie like useless playthings in the lapping waves.

Now with the weather tending towards winter, the Turkish smugglers are offering more luxury and real boats, that on first sight seem to be trustworthy, but in reality are just sinking tubs that when overloaded can barely reach the other side.

The destroyed rubber dinghies are regularly picked up from the beaches, but the once colourful tourist boats, saved from the Turkish dumps for an olive bag full of money, are more difficult to remove and remain sad witnesses of risky rescue operations.

On the sea the pirates have re-appeared. Cowards that they are, they do not hoist the skull and crossbones but, hiding behind masks on fast speed boats, they attack the floating refugees to take their money and cell phones and sometimes to destroy the motor – or worse – the inflatable dinghy.

On many beaches rescuers tumble over each other to welcome the boat people to safety and warmth. They swim to boats that are in trouble close to shore, or jump into the waves to assist boats arriving full of screaming women and children. Afterwards they are as drenched as the people thanking Allah on their wet knees for their safe arrival in Europe.

The village, which in the summer is a vision of scantily dressed people, is still offering that image with people dressed as for summer. Many of the rescuers come from cold countries so they are still embracing the beautiful autumnal weather as hot summer days. From under my woollen hat I sometimes have to peek if I see gooseflesh. But these people are so full of adrenaline that the autumnal wind with a cold winter pitch does not seem to get a hold on their bare arms and legs.

Spying from behind their curtains the elderly of the village must be wondering at the sight of this parade of young people. The age of the visitors has significantly gone down. I guess that the average age of these helping hands is around 30 years, just a little older than that of the refugees. Some villagers think that these young people are gold diggers, not understanding that for no or little money they have come to this island to rescue the near drowning people. In Greece they are used to solving their problems on their own.

The men look like sturdy pirates: nowadays having a beard is fashionable and thick sunglasses have replaced the eyepatch. The women parade with colourful hair or with a modest head kerchief. They come from all corners of the world, and as such all religions now are represented here.

It must be their young blood, which sometimes make them behave like road hogs  (in Holland we say: like road pirates). The rented cars – more used to the grandmothers pace of the usual 50-plus tourists - are stretched as never before, even on dirt and dusty roads. The vehicles on give the image of participants in the Dakar Rally.

Now the North and the East of Lesvos and the capital Mytilini have all become hot spots for rescuers. If you go to other parts of the island, then the unusual stir is not present, and there the old Lesvos-feeling still exists: the peace and quiet of the island that does not fear time carries on as undisturbed as it has always been. Now is the time to gather the olives; no refugees will ever change that.

This is an island with century old traditions and inhabitants (many who were so poor not long ago that they walked barefoot). Occasionally the olive nets may change colour and now more and more people, if they can afford it, buy little machines to shake the olives from the trees; but the hand-held long stick (dèbla) used for centuries to remove the olives from their branches, remains the most used tool.

The unstoppable and increasing stream of refugees however has taken part of the island out of its lethargy. Tourism nearly collapsed at the end of the high season, but then the auxiliaries arrived: many businesses beginning to close for the season would re-open their doors and flights to the island again became overcrowded.

Rescuers are no tourists: they work so hard that they barely know where they are. The largest number of refugees run ashore in the regions around the most touristic and praised villages of the island (Molyvos and Skala Sykaminia). The international troop of helpers is only left to guess what other treasures the island is hiding. They just get a tiny taste of the Greek hospitality and the sun.

You may call Lesvos a bit anarchic: no authority ever gets a hold on the life here. Some islanders quarrel eternally about the best way to help the refugees and reached as much solutions as Europe did with its endless gatherings. Other groups did what all those rescuers did by coming to the island: when politics fail, you do it yourself.

And so it is that Lesvos will face an historic winter. Molyvos and Skala Sykaminias can forget about their hibernation and Mytilini will have an extended season. These villages and the capital will fizz with activities and will be for once in the centre of world news, if only because they have become such tragic places. The refugee dramas  will keep on building, the graveyards are already full; the island however will be helped by these young and decisive helpers, who like angels from heaven have flocked in numbers to the island.

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

© Smitaki 2015

Monday, 26 October 2015

October 23 - The Museum of Refugee Garbage.

(Photograph: Internet)

People fleeing war do not come just for money or shelter. They want to work, live in a house, shop or go to a restaurant: they want a human life. All European countries where the uproar over immigrants is getting more and more common, should instead welcome their coming as the opportunity to renovate their economy.

On Lesvos there is also a minority that complain about refugees. They do not realise that this drama has made their island known around the world, all the way from Timbuktu to small villages in the Australian outback. No supersonic Olympian promotion team could have done better.

Refugees as well as the hundreds of recently arrived rescuers and press have awakened the middle class who were in a kind of lethargic state due to the crisis: a new economy has been born on Lesvos because the summer season has been stretched out to November and, who knows, maybe we will have a real winter season with plenty of visitors.

Refugees not only are responsible for the arrival of so many helpers, volunteers and photographers, they also have brought meter high mountains of garbage. Once all assembled, the municipality probably will burn all that. Most of the plastic then will be saved from the fishes, but what cancerous air will that create?

We live in a century where techniques are developing so quickly that I am sure that one day a smart inventor will combine all that refugee garbage in one huge recycling pot to produce some marvellous new things. It could bring the island a fortune as large as that being made by the smugglers.

But no ingenious person such as the young inventor Boyan Slat, who found a way to clean the oceans from hundreds of kilometres of plastic waste, has yet to present himself (or herself). So for the moment we have to deal with all that plastic in a more simple way.

When a rubber dinghy arrives it immediately is slashed, but it offers up some wooden floorboards that are taken by locals to make sheds or to finish off other timber jobs. The rubber parts are welcomed as a waterproof roof for dilapidated little buildings or as a cover for woodpiles. The motors are stolen by vultures or stowed away by the municipality.

The black inner tubes (for children you may find colourful plastic rings) that are supposed to, along with a life jacket, make the sea journey extra safe, are a bit less popular. But that rubber has plenty of opportunities for recycling: you can use it to weave or knot waterproof floor mats, it can be cut in pieces to make trendy jewelery or handbags and you even can use them to make live-size, frightening animals, as has the Korean artist Yong Ho Ji.

Life jackets are somewhat more difficult to recycle. The plastic blocks that are supposed to be inside (although there are cheap 'drown jackets' filled with grass), may serve as building blocks. We all used to play with lego and this is as easy as this childrens' toy. In Bejing they used plastic blocks to build a teahouse; a nice way to welcome the refugees here. For people who may have forgotten to play with lego, just start with a simple house for a dog, a cat or some chickens.

The refugees arriving here on the island may have something different to do than being creative with plastic blocks (do you suppose they grew up with lego?). They can economise on the life jackets. They just need to collect some empty plastic bottles. For a floating jacket you could dress yourself in a big plastic bag, attach 3 to 4 bottles to your breast and the same amount to your back, and then tighten the plastic bag around your belly with a piece of rope. You can also use a fishing net to keep the bottles in place. If I look at the life jackets strewn on the beaches of Lesvos, these home made bottle jackets would probably be as trustworthy.

There are also some refugee dogs and even a cat that dared to cross the Aegean. A life jacket for a dog is easily made: just bind some bottles to his back. A cat can put on a sweater to which you can bind some bottles, see the second picture.

Plastic bottles are anyhow the best garbage you can get. Not only refugees create heaps of plastic waste,  all the thirsty tourists and island inhabitants also join the building of alpines levels of waste. Refugees should not board dangerous dinghies provided by smugglers who are getting rich, but instead should build their own boats with some hundreds or even thousands of bottles. I bet Turkey also is full of bottle waste. Boats of bundled bottles seem to me as seaworthy as those rubber things they come in. You could argue that then the waste piles here on the island were growing even faster, but those big amounts can offer other opportunities.

Fill a plastic bottle with smaller plastic waste and you have an EcoBrick, a sturdy plastic ‘absorbing’ building block. A great idea for the island to fight against its economical crisis: producing them and using them to build. I think there now are so many bottles on the island that you could build a reproduction of Athens with them.

I personal would prefer to find an entrepreneur who would use those hundreds of  thousands of bottles to create a new island in one of the Gulfs of Lesvos: a floating island of plastic bottles, which mixed with driftwood could soon create plenty of possibilities. You could start there a Museum of Refugee Garbage, with plastic bottle sculptures like giant fishes and those great rubber sculptures of Yong Ho Ji. It could attract a new kind of tourism and at the same time be a monument to all those thousands of refugees who have reached the so-called safe Europe through Lesvos.

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

© Smitaki 2015