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

Thursday, 1 October 2015

September 28 – Dangerous and extreme

(Sunset in Eftalou)

How dangerous countries such as the Netherlands, France or England have become due to its extreme weather? In Greece we survived the past August full of dangerous high temperatures, far above 30 °C. Though it wasn’t really extreme weather because the mercury did not break any records.

High temperatures are one of the reasons for the Greeks to have a little sleep in the afternoon. According to a study of the Greek Asklipieio Voula hospital a siesta might lower dangerous high blood pressure. Another reason to encourage Greeks to go napping during the afternoon. I also cannot resist an extreme comfortable sofa in the afternoon, especially during the summer heat.

I think that some of those extreme downpours, which are a plague for other countries, can also increase the blood pressure of the Greeks: at the end of the season they dream of many centimetres of rain, because nature has completely dried out.
In the area I live Mary did not drop any tears around her Ascension. We had to wait until the end of September when the gods finally emptied some buckets of water. The traditional August shower however did come down on other parts of the island, like in Mytilini and Kalloni, and blessed the rivers with so much water that already in August they formed a nice paddling paradise for the black storks.

Kalloni is the most dangerous place on the island due to extreme weather conditions: there you will always find the highest summer or the lowest winter temperatures. If the gods decided to pour some water from heaven, it mostly will fall around Kalloni. In the summer the rare showers are received with lots of joy because it means a temporary relief from the heat, in the winter the rains are cursed because of floods.

I have a stunning view over Turkey from my house, where even more extreme temperatures can occur. This summer I observed that the Turks were also spoiled with lots of unreliable clouds. I often saw pitch black masses hanging above their mountains, promising a fantastic Sound & Light Show. I prayed to Maria to push those dangerous looking, thundering clouds towards the island. You saw curtains of rain and sizzling lightning slashing on hill tops and then on sea: you could smell the sweet perfume of this heavenly water, but over and over again those hydrogen nests fell apart to dissolve into the blue sky. So disappointing that high blood pressure could cause your heart to stop.

During the last days of September Turkey again is regaled: enormous white bulging cauliflowers grow and threaten the frontier. I am wondering how the refugees deal with bad weather. They travel through extreme hot Turkey to cross the sea in dangerous boats, even during siesta times, and when heavy weather bursts out they have no homes to shelter.

Would smugglers take into account dangerous weather? Last month there was a strong wind blowing: no extreme force, but I would have let out a weather alarm for those flimsy dinghies they push the refugees on. At least three people that day did not reach Europe.
Now again those cauliflower clouds start colouring black and I am wondering if the refugees are already soaking wet before they even take place on these frightening and overloaded boats, which continue to make perilous journeys.

The nice weather this summer did not care to stop, just like the high temperatures. Until Monday September 28, a well known day for moon lovers and croakers: that morning you had to get up extremely early to see a rare phenomenon. When yesterday evening I looked at the grey sky there were no stars to be seen. Only a small spot of light betrayed where the moon was hiding behind the clouds. But it should have been the shadow of the earth making the moon invisible instead of humid clouds on the brink of bursting into dangerous tears. I was very disappointed, went to bed, closed my eyes and travelled far away behind the clouds to dreamland where I could not see the eclipse of the moon.

The next day the media presented lots of sensational pictures of a blood red moon, the colours she takes when an eclipse occurs, an event to be seen again only in 2033. I have been praying so often for dangerous clouds to come over. But on the island of the sun, on a day that an extremely rare phenomenon could have been visible, a cloudy lighted spot, not even colouring red or pink, was the only reward for a nearly sleepless night.

In Turkey, during the last weeks, a oneway ticket by dinghy to Lesvos has become extremely ‘cheap’. The price sunk from 1500 to 300 euro. It must have been Big Sales Days in Izmir: even in this smuggling business they know when a season ends. But as a bonus the shelters on Lesvos have much improved: rescuers have landed on the island as a flock of birds. Refugees no longer have to endure long walks in rain and darkness, because busses and other transport now finally has been provided for. And if pressure of blood because of dangerous travelling has been risen too high, plenty of medical posts also have been installed in different places.

I wondered if smugglers charged extra money for the fare during the Night of the Superbloodmoon: on such a rickety and dangerous dinghy you were seated first row under the heavens to see this Moonshow. But I guess that even the refugees that night will have been extremely disappointed when arriving at the Lesvorian shores.

Most refugees come from countries where in the coastal region reigns a Mediterranean climate and where in the outback rain and cauliflower-clouds are not a daily phenomenon. They are not used to rain and cold. Most of them want to go to the North of Europe, but they have no idea to what places they are heading: to countries with dangerous and extreme weather conditions and where no siesta regulates blood pressure.

 (with thanks to Mary Staples)

© Smitaki 2015