I have written before about this, oh that was so long ago, in 2006. Since then I kept as quiet as I could about the fact, I tried to amuse impressions, I clowned, I ignored questions. I can’t do that any more! The word has been said, the evidence is present and the report has been written: We don’t welcome refugees in Ikaria because refugees do not come to our shores alive. This is the devastating truth, the truth that I couldn’t afford to speak out openly about in 2006. I am sorry, readers. I am out of breath. Go on and read John Psaropoulos’ article in the IRIN. Please don’t add comments under this entry. I don’t want comments because no comments are needed. The only thing needed is action and loud protest!
«The unidentified 10- or 11-year-old was one of two bodies that washed up on the Greek island of Ikaria in the eastern Aegean on 19 December. The other was that of a man in his 20s.
Subsequent storms have since reclaimed the dozen-odd life jackets that washed up on the beach at Iero that day; but it is still littered with packets of Amoxipen, Spandoverin and Diclopinda – antibiotics, painkillers and anti-nausea medicine that were among the refugees’ possessions. Turkish fruit juice boxes also litter the shore along with a pair of hotel slippers from the Istanbul Holiday Inn, encrusted with barbed seed pods.»
«Ikaria, and the sea around it, are named after the mythical hero, Ikaros, who plummeted to a watery grave after flying too close to the sun. He and his father, Daidalos, had constructed wings out of birds’ feathers held together by wax – a flimsiness born of desperation not unlike that of today’s refugees, who attempt to cross the Aegean in unseaworthy vessels wearing useless life vests.
The island sits at a relatively isolated longitude exposed to the north winds that sweep down from the Dardanelles to Crete. This means that it acts as a net for the bodies and wreckage of shipwrecked refugees and migrants that shoot past the islands of Samos and Chios to the north and east. For migrants to find themselves on Ikaria means that they have lost their way, and they rarely arrive here alive.»
«More bodies have surfaced recently – some in an advanced state of decay. On 5 January, a young woman was found bobbing in the shallows of the north shore, 10 kilometres from Iero.
“She was completely naked,” remembers Kalliopi Katte, the doctor who lifted her onto a stretcher. “It was an awful sight because although she had her arms and legs, her face was missing. There was no skin or flesh. It was just a skull.” The woman’s belly was bloated, not from pregnancy, but from the gases emanating from her decomposing bowels. Katte believes she had been at the bottom of the sea for about two weeks.
Like the other bodies, it too had to be cut loose from a life vest that failed to save the woman’s life.
The patch of coast where the body was found is so remote. Katte and three firemen had to carry the body up a mountainside for an hour to reach the nearest road.
“The bodies are always found after strong northern winds because they’ve sunk to the bottom of the sea and the weather brings them up against the rock,” says Katte. “The bodies have been eaten by fish – they’re not just decomposing.”»
«Some 3,771 refugees were recorded as dead or missing in the Mediterranean last year. In Greek and Turkish waters alone, 320 people have drowned or gone missing just since the beginning of the year, according to the International Organization for Migration. Yet these figures do not tell the whole story.
Even in death there are degrees of misfortune. Some dead are recovered, identified, and shipped home for burial. Some are listed as missing but never found. Some are found but remain unidentified; and there are those who are never sought and never found, because no witnesses survived their shipwreck, and no bodies washed up. The sea has claimed them without a trace, so they form an unknown statistic.
“Often in the straits we find life vests and other objects from shipwrecks in the nets,” says fisherman Nikos Avayannis. “I once found a backpack. We took it on board and searched for a survivor but didn’t find one. We delivered it to the authorities. It had clothes in it, some headphones from a cell phone and some documents.”
Avayannis believes that the owner of the backpack may have ended up part of that ghostly statistic of unclaimed, undiscovered dead. “If a body hasn’t been hit by a propeller and chopped to pieces, it floats and gets thrown out onto shore. If the current takes a body onto jagged rocks with caves, it’s possible that it will never be found.”
The rumour that fish are now eating dead refugees has turned many of Avayannis’ customers away. “A few days ago, as I was selling fish, two or three of my customers said, ‘as long as people are drowning we are going to abstain from fish.’»
«Greek law demands an autopsy after every non-natural death. After that, the fate of a body depends on whether surviving relatives are available to identify it. “When relatives decide to bury them in Greece, it is usually done in the Muslim cemeteries on Rhodes and Kos. If they are Christians, they can be buried in one of the local cemeteries,” says Erasmia Roumana of the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR. “The other choice is repatriation of the body, usually taken by Iraqi nationals.” For Syrians and Afghans, repatriating the bodies of family members to their war-torn countries is not an option.
When bodies are found, they are taken to Ikaria’s hospital. There, doctors pronounce death and take hair and tissue samples, which are preserved in brine. The entire package of paperwork and DNA evidence is then forwarded to the nearest district attorney – in this case on the island of Samos.
Surgeon John Tripoulas is still haunted by the experience of examining the body of an eight- to 10-year-old girl who had been in the sea for weeks, and was so close to disintegrating, rescue workers had to lift her up by her clothes. Her flesh was “saponified” he said – a term meaning it had literally developed a soap-like consistency.
“I’ll never forget what she was wearing,” says Tripoulas. “Pink sweatpants with a Mickey Mouse patch; white boots and a pink overcoat. Her facial features were not visible – [they] had been lost to the sea.”
This information, included on the death certificate, is perhaps all that is known about the girl; but even this may prove vital in one day informing her family of her ultimate fate.
“We use anything we can for recognition, such as clothing or jewellery or a manicure,” says Katte, the doctor who recalled helping to retrieve the young woman’s body on 5 January.
The only identifying objects on her faceless corpse had been five carved gold bracelets, now buried with her in a mass grave at Ikaria’s cemetery.»
Let me repeat: don’t comment.
Befriend with sorrow and act.
Ikaria, February 18, 2016
I am publishing here a translated version of a recent post from lifo.gr firstly because Lefteris, the hero of the article, is a «new Ikarian» who, the same as Xenia, happens to be a member of KANGA, the partnership of local guides which I wrote about in April, and secondly because I think that what he does, besides being a guide, is very interesting. Lefteris is a modern food gatherer, specializing in samphire. He has been gathering this tasty and nutritious wild plant which is very abundant at the rocky shores of Ikaria, since he moved to the island nine years ago. In the following interview given to Dionissis Anemogiannis in June, Lefteris talks about his work, about the value of «kritamo» (samphire or sea fennel in Greek) and about living -and making a living- in Ikaria. Not only have I tasted his delicious little jars, but I also totally agree with his opinions. I wish him the best and I hope that you too, after reading the article, will share the same feeling.
There something in this view which hides in the many hillsides of Ikaria, those dressed in olive trees and those which are barren, full of rocks, something that sounds like a call repeated with the voice of the cicadas. Sometimes it is the echo of ourselves as we long for relaxation, for a humane way to live our of lives. Sometimes it’s just the rough beauty of the landscape and the unworldly silence which we forget encaged as we are in greyness and noise. To such a call Lefteris Trikiriotis responded when he took the desicion to leave Athens and move back to the island of his ancestors to seclude himself in an old stone house inside the gorge of the river Charakas in Rahes. After years of experimenting and familiarizing himself with everything that nature provides, Lefteris feels that he has succeeded in his purpose: to content himself with little and to live from the land, through gathering and through culitivating one of the less known treasures of the land of Greece: samphire.
«With nutritional and therapeutic properties acknowledged since antiquity samphire is a wholesome aliment, secret of the Mediterranean gastronomy, able to add taste to almost everything.»
Samphire («Kritamo» in Greek) is a succulent plant which grows on the coastal areas of the Mediterranean. In the Greek kitchen it is used to garnish dakos or as a base layer for cooked fish, usually processed as pickles. However, Lefteris’s wild samphire isn’t pickled. The fleshy leaves of the plant are seasoned in a mixture of wine and vinegar which keeps them fresh and highlights their intense and crisp taste which has a distinctive bitterness in the background like the taste of wild green herbs of the mountain. With nutritional and therapeutic properties acknowledged since antiquity samphire is a wholesome aliment, secret of mediterranean gastronomy which can add taste to almost everything. During a break from his work which in this time of the year keeps him busy for more than 12 hours a day, we talked with Lefteris and he shared with us his tastes, his thoughts and his goals, making come alive in frontt of us a sustainable solution to the crisis: the model of «undergrowth», which is about men and women who pursue a new relationship with themselves, with nature and with money.
— Lefteris, how did you decide to move to Ikaria? How difficult/easy was this decision for you?
«I grew up in a small «Ikarian colony» in the neighborhood of Perama near Piraeus but I didn’t live all my life there. I moved to the island where my family comes from when I decided to resign from a well-paid job in an industrial environment in the summer of 2005. After I spent one year in Crete working as a book peddler, I visited Ikaria on holidays as I was doing almost every summer, and a sequence of events kept me on the island till today. In the nine years that I live here I have done many jobs, as it is usual in Ikaria, among them herb gathering and outdoor guiding. It wasn’t difficult for me to go on with my life outside Athens. I followed my inner voice and allowed myself to shape the course of my life in the way I felt and not in the way imposed to me by the model of modern consumer society. As I left Athens I knew only one thing, that I didn’t want to work as an employee for any financial compensation whatsoever as long as that choice was against my conscience and did not cover the needs of my soul.»
— How did you decide to start cultivating and gathering samphire?
«For many people in our country the environment is like the black box of an airplane. When I started to explore the island as a professional guide as well as for pleasure, I came to discover a literally new world. My gradual familiarization with plants brought about the first tastings and the first attempts to process local products; one of these was samphire. I adored this plant as it is durable and thrifty and I believed that I could work with it towards practicing a successful trade in the long term. Later on, after research and trials in reproducing the plant, I made sure that it can be multiplied, so at a certain point I decided to try to cultivate it with the help of my companion and a friend.»
— What does someone need to cultivate samphire and how easy is it to find it in the wild?
«One needs to know the existence and the edibility of this self-sown summer herb and to afford to be as crazy as to cultivate something that noone else cultivates. In some islands of the Aegean and coastal areas of Greece and the Mediterranean it grows in large populations, while in others it is found only scarcely or not at all. I just happened to have frequent encounters with the particular plant which grows along a good part of the rocky coastline of the island.»
— Which are the difficulties that a modern food gatherer may encounter?
«The profession of the food gatherer is rare, more or less vague and undefined by the law, while its insecurity makes it difficult to provide a long term viability to anyone who is interested in this business. Also, bureaucracy does not allow the unobstructed practice of this particular activity as there is no national administrative plan for wild nature in Greece. As a result, even when someone wants to practice food gathering lawfully with responsibility and respect, he or she faces intractable deadlocks. Thereupon one needs to have imagination and decisiveness to create a living space that hasn’t been anticipated or classified by the authorities. One also needs to wrestle against several imaginable or unimaginable public services with totally rigid and outdated mindsets. Practically, the profession requires a deep love and respect for nature which offers generously to us rich sources of food inside its various ecosystems. One can find many of these ecosystems even in a small island like Ikaria. To become a food gatherer you have to explore a place for years, you have to experiment and to taste the various self-sown edible plants of the place. The wild herbs, fruit, crops, mushrooms, bulbs and even seaweed may give you new ideas about our diet and about new cultivations. Especially in Greece where we have one of the richest floras in Europe in relation to the size of our country, there are many species of plants waiting to be discovered and put to value.»
— What is your daily routine on the island? Can you describe an ordinary day?
«There is no ‘ordinary’ day on the island, and by this I don’t mean that there is no repetition. In Ikaria, like everywhere in the countryside, life follows a more natural course depending on the season, the agricultural activities and the whims of the weather. A winter, for example, can be rainy and windy and the result sometimes is that you have to stay indoors for days or weeks. Food gathering is not a routine job and I chose it against the advice of friends and relatives. When someone chooses this profession there is no pay safety. On the other hand, there is enough freedom so as to be able to improvise, to go on working with joy and to shape my daily schedule at will. The culture of a simple way of life and the pursuit of quality leisure time are two keystones which characterize to a great extent life on the island. I share this point of view with my companion, so for the last two years we have lived together in an old stone house inside an olive grove in the gorge of Charakas river. This particular time of the year I am working more intensively and I don’t have time to think about a lot of things. However, there are times when the machine crashes and then we escape for a while to some beautiful lonely cove or to some natural pool of one of the many rivers which carve the slopes of the mountains. After working hard I usually look forward to going back home to see the progress of my vegetables, the fruit trees in the orchard and to hug with my companion. I am looking for some rest and the company of my friends to end the day smoothly until the following morning when hard work will start again. The thought which often comes as a capping stone of all this effort to cover my financial needs is to ask for the least and content myself with little.»
— How would you characterize life on the island?
«Life in Ikaria is hard, difficult on the economic side but rich in the social side. Its rewards are scarce but they keep you alive and of course, the way someone will experience a place depends mainly on his or her personality and not on the social environment. Walking through a foggy forest of perennial oaks, hunting mushrooms in a cloudy autumn morning, is enough to bewitch you and make you risk everything to stay there forever. Every place has a lot to offer, natural landscapes, social relations, pleasures, hardships, as long as you decide to expose yourself to the place and experience its qualities.»
— What are your plans for the future?
«After nine years of hard work every summer I would like to find some time for a holiday at the end of August. I also intend to add more seedlings of samphire to the plantation that I have started. I want to build a house with natural materials to shelter my flesh and fashion the land around it to make it suitable for permaculture.»
— How do you like to eat samphire?
«Raw, the moment I gather it, with salt to add to the taste and with iodine to color my fingers. Also, fresh steaming hot together with vegetables from my garden, with natural rice or cereals, inside a simple tomato salad with a lot of olive oil and lemon, in a quick omeletith fresh eggs from the vagrant chicken of my neighbor, or in a fresh sasandwichth kathoura (fresh local white cheese from goat milk) and tomato, minced into a puree of legumes (split peas, broad beans, chickpeas, lupins, etc.»
You can find the Wild Samphire of Ikaria in selected stores around Greece. You may also purchase it from ikariastore. You may contact Lefteris Trikiriotis at 6974042417 or his facebook page. The photos of the article are by Niko Dayandas from his film «Little Land» produced by ΑΝΕΜΟΝ. You can download the film from here.
.A gift to our followers. What Nana and I have blogged about in 2014 as seen in Google Image Search. This is our archives exposed. 😳
Enjoy with thought and care. ❤
Warm greetings to everybody from a stormy Aegean sea!.
Happy New Year!
With this commemorative entry Eleni and I would like to thank all our visitors, especially those who didn’t just browse but took a minute to read one or two entries of our sisterly blogs during 2014. It was another difficult year for Greece but neither of us blogged much about that lately. That wasn’t our topic. We were more involved in doing things and influencing others to do things. We were involved in moving ahead, following visions and creating visions. And that’s what we hope to go on doing in 2015. Good heavens, this island helps our trade. Don’t ask how, it’s hardly possible to explain it in words. Instead, let’s turn to the power of images. Use Google Image Search to see samples of what we have blogged about last year. We are saving you the typing, so here they are: this link is for…
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⭐ ⭐ ⭐
(cropped from source)
You know, the last thing Ikaria is known for is church life and monasticism. The people are very religious in a natural, casual way, indifferent of formalities, nevertheless always showing a sincere and full respect of higher forces which control our destinies. Whether one believes in the salvation of the soul or not, religion provides consolation because, salvation taken apart, it does speak about the soul while economics do not. And believing in the soul, the existence of a soul, whether this soul is immortal or not, is something very important in the life of the island. Religion also provides occasions for celebration and community gatherings. It also offers an explanation for natural things as well as for «luck» : God’s will. And natural things and lucky or unlucky circumstances are also important elements in the consistence of Ikarian life. To cut this short, we have churches – a lot of big and small churches. They are, so to speak, our guardians, houses of God, houses of the spirit (soul) of the community: «be good and be good to each other» (be good to God).
But what about monasteries? Thereupon we are a failure. Although there are a few monasteries, there is no monastic tradition in Ikaria, at least none as strong as in some other islands. In my opinion, besides our natural dislike for discipline and formalities, the most important reason is that the island is poor and cannot sustain monastic communities. The rocky soil produces hardly enough for the population so the Ikarians, even though devout believers, could not afford, so to speak again, professionals in prayer, experts in salvation. Like everything else in Ikaria, the tending of the soul had to be done by the poeple themselves with the occasional help of an educated priest or solitary monk.
Yet, there are exeptions. If monasteries didn’t thrive, small hermitages were abundant in the slopes of Mt Atheras. But let’s not think that these retreats were inhabited by anchorites who pursued unification with God like in Mt Athos or Sinai. Though little is known about the lives of these people, it’s obvious to me that they were more or less ordinary men and women who either by some misfortune or simply because of taste, discarded the joys of the marital bed and the comforts of village and family life. They walked away from the world, seeking solitude, entrusting their fate to their labouring hands, to good God and to Mother nature. I am all respect for them. It’s hard to believe that in am island as virgin and wild as Ikaria and in a time when most settlements were of the kind of «lost villages» (see, entry), there were people who sought even more solitude and peace! Out-of-the-worldness must be some sort of second nature to us. The outer the better, the further the better, the remotest and most inaccessible is the best, ask my friend Nana & co about it!
Anyway, this entry was not meant to be a dissertation of the religious ethics of the Aegean. I have come to Ikaria for the winter and recently my friends, the explorers of OPS Ikarias, in the course of a project to create a long-distance trail from one side of the island to the other, have been in love with a wild area under the tops of Mt Atheras where according to local legends various groups of monks lived in different periods of time from the 15th century to the 1800s. I saw the photos and I found these landscapes absolutely enthralling.
What made men and women walk out of the world and settle in places like this? What kind of experiences were they after? Were they looking for God? Did they want be gods themselves? Was it because of a practical reason such as piracy, oppression, social disorder and percecutions? Or is it something inherent to the human nature? Escapism? Some people just drop everything and go?.. Is that it? 🙄
I have always been too committed to everything I do and to everybody I love to even think about escaping. But as I am growing older, sometimes I am tired of the world and this makes me wonder. Until I sort this out, you take a good look at those rocky wildernesses. Take a good look at those vast views to the mountains above, the sea straight ahead and the skies all over. I am inviting you to find your answer.