Monday, 27 June 2016

It's getting hotter

We came back to Lakki on Thursday, 16 June, hoping that Anna’s English lessons would be resuming on the Friday, but she had still heard nothing about a new contract from UNHCR. We got up on Friday morning to find that Lin’s (Kai’s) folding IKEA bike had been stolen from the quay by the boat. We had not locked it because we could not imagine anyone stealing such an unattractive bike.

We asked everyone to keep an eye open for the bike and rented a replacement for Lin for a few days. We thought at first that the bike might have been taken by someone coming in on the ferry from Athens, which arrived at 5.30 am, or by  a visiting boatie from the other marina, Evros. Simon cycled over there are searched the marina but there was no sign of the bike.

There have been thefts in Pikpa and one case of a bike stolen by a refugee so many people, including some of the refugees, thought it had probably been borrowed by a refugee. Simon rode over to the hot spot and searched all around, in the bushes and the woods, but there was no sign of the bike.

We went over to Pikpa to see our friends in the afternoon, before coming back for a swim on the town beach. We had an excellent take away dinner from Marietta before going back to Pikpa to help distribute the post-Ramadan meal.

On Saturday morning, 18 June, we went up to Pikpa and bumped into the UNHCR people, who had good news – the new contract for English lessons has been approved so the lessons can start again, on Tuesday evening because Monday is a public holiday. The kids were really excited that school is back, but it is going to be difficult having lessons in the early evening, especially for the many kids who are doing Ramadan, who will have had nothing to eat or drink since 4 am and will be hot, tired and very hungry.

That evening we had a very good dinner in Ostria with Simon and Christiana, who are getting ready to leave for the hot months.

It has been getting hotter day by day. On Sunday we cycled over to Merikhia for a swim in the morning – Lin was afraid she would not be able to manage the hills on her heavy hired bike, which is much higher geared than the IKEA bike, but in fact she made it with ease. We cycled back for lunch and went for a swim on the town beach before preparing prawn saganaki for Keith, Louise, Al and Kitty, who we had invited to dinner aboard. It was too hot to eat below so we squashed into the cockpit.

We went to Pikpa in the morning of Monday June 20th. None of the children wanted to do writing with Lin – Reger and Rehat were more concerned to go into town to find wifi, because the Pikpa wi fi is now restricted to four hours a day, so Lin talked to some of the kids.

The great event of the day was the recovery of the IKEA bike. Several people had seen a notorious local ne’er do well riding the bike, which was a double surprise because he had recently been reported to have died in Athens. His story was that he had found the bike on a rubbish dump in Athens, ridden it to Piraeus and come back on the ferry. One of our friends knew where he lived, so phoned a neighbour who went round to the culprit and told him to return the bike at once, which he did.

In the afternoon we went for a swim on the town beach. Lin went ahead. When Simon arrived a few minutes later Lin was sitting on the beach surrounded by eleven boys and one girl (a newly arrived Yazidi girl, so not subject to the restrictions imposed on the Moslem girls). They were all keen to come swimming with us, but most of them are at best unconfident swimmers, so they played in the shallows while we swam out to the cooler water.

On Monday evening Claudio and Olga came over from Alinda, where they have just arrived for a two week holiday. After Mousaka at Poppy’s we went to the first of the free concerts organized as part of the Three Moons Festival. The concert was not as good as previous ones we have been to, but many of the refugees from Pikpa turned up and Spiros led them in energetic Greco-arabic dancing.

On Tuesday 21st June we took Lin’s bike in to have the brake mended while Simon was at the dentist having a broken tooth fixed. We then went up to a volunteers’ meeting at Pikpa, 

where we heard more of the horrors from Matina. Refugees are now getting appointments for their asylum claims to be heard, in Athens or Rhodes, but the police will not let them leave the island, so they will not be able to make their claims. The Minister has apparently replaced all the judges on the appeal court that ruled that Turkey was not a safe place for refugees.

We had lunch at Poppy's.

On Tuesday evening school started again at 6 pm and the kids were, as usual, very enthusiastic.

On Wednesday morning Lin’s brother, John, arrived. After breakfast at Poppy’s John went back to the boat for a sleep, while we went up to Pikpa to say goodbye to the four young Yazidis, who were due to go off to their ‘family reunification’ interview (their parents are in Germany) in Rhodes on Friday. It was a very emotional farewell as we have got very close to the kids and are very fond of them. 



We had to wake Zerevan to say goodbye

It should be an open and shut case and the hope was that they would not have to come back to Leros but would almost immediately get permission and go off to Germany. We heard later that they had not gone to Rhodes because First Reception had not managed to organize their transfer in time (it is simply a question of booking them onto a ferry) and the police had failed to give them permission to leave (although they do not need permission to move around in Greece because they arrived before the March cut-off date). They have a new interview date in about ten days’ time.

We also met Mohammed, showing off his new glasses.

We set off from Lakki about 11 in the morning on Wednesday and motored up to Arkhangelos (the wind was on the nose and quite strong so we did not fancy sailing), where we anchored 

and went ashore for a beer in the tavern, with another visit for dinner after an afternoon chilling (or sweltering) and swimming.

On Thursday morning, 23rd June, we motored across to Agathonisi (wind still on the nose, but now light). We anchored with a line ashore in Spilia, a little bay just to the west of the main town, alongside Sue and Steve, who had already been there for a day or two. We then took the dinghy into the village to have a beer with Frank and Lin (who were alongside the ferry quay) 

and Sue and Steve. 

It was lovely to see Yanni and Voula again, though like everyone else they were suffering from the massive decline in tourism but, as they observed, at least it is quiet. We did not manage to see Maria, who has sold her shop but is still living in her house on the front. Yanni told us that she is still hoping to get to Kalymnos, but it depends on her husband getting a transfer in his job.

We woke up on Friday to the dreadful news of the referendum result. Steve, who hates the EU, could not believe it. We motor sailed over to Arki in a moderate north wind and went onto the quay. We stayed in Arki until Monday 27th June, trying to come to terms with the madness of Britain and the spinelessness of its politicians, reading, swimming and walking to beaches. As everywhere, Arki was much quieter than usual at this time of year.

We came back to Lakki on Monday June 27th. After shopping and washing Simon went over to To Petrino to book a table for dinner and to order some steaks. There was nobody there, but Simon met the owner on the street, just coming back. He said that he did not think he would open tonight – he was too scared to open because an inspector had come from Athens and he was supposed to pay 10,000 euros for each employee – he needed three people in the kitchen because it was not just a grill house. After siesta we went for a swim on the town beach and were greeted by the Yazidi kids, who were surprised and pleased to see us back.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

To Arki and back - again!

On Saturday afternoon, June 11th, we went over to Pikpa to help out. Apparently 300 Pakistani refugees have just been brought to the hotspot and 30 refugees had been brought in by the rescue boat from Agathonisi. During the afternoon a new family was brought over from the hotspot and assigned places in the dormitories, without any reference to the volunteers who are supposed to be managing Pikpa and who have to find sheets and so on. We went home for a quick dinner and came back to help give the post-fast meal out to the refugees. They each had a bag prepared by the volunteers, with help from some of the children, containing flatbread, dates and half a banana to break the fast. The dinner was delivered as a lentil soup and salad for starters, but in very weak plastic containers, one on top of the other in a plastic bag. By the time the food arrived, the soup containers had broken, so that the salad was swimming in a bag of soup and broken plastic, so there was a lot of cleaning up to do before we could distribute it. The main course was a foil container of rice - apparently yesterday the meal had been the same but the food had been inedible –  the rice had a strange smell and taste – so most of it ended up in the bin. Fortunately today Keith had agreed with Matina to allow three of the Syrian women to prepare big bowls of tablouleh, which they spent the afternoon preparing, which was delicious. The plan is to try to pass responsibility for the evening meal to the refugees, but this depends on getting everybody’s agreement to this (including Mercy Corps, who provide the funding for the meal and organize its preparation and delivery), so the tabbouleh is a dry run. After helping to wash up, we went back to the boat.

At the moment Pikpa is full, but there are reportedly only about 700 people in the hot spot, which has a nominal capacity of 1000, whereas most of the other camps in Greece are over-full. Marietta told us that people in the hotspot are ‘selling their bodies’ for 10 euros. Pikpa is also under constant pressure. The mayor of Leros has been an inveterate opponent of Pikpa and he can mobilise some support from the right wing inhabitants (and even bring in the neo-nazis). There is a constant stream of complaints – the latest being about noise in the afternoons (at siesta time), and late at night, so now the doors are closed for the afternoon until 5 pm and there is a curfew, with everyone to be in (nominally) by 9pm. It would be very easy for the opposition to close Pikpa down – they just have to find a breach of fire regulations or some health and safety issue and they can ship everyone to the hotspot.

On Sunday, June 12th, we went in the evening to Anna’s end of year concert and award presentation for the Greek children in her language school. The event took place in the restored cinema 

and was great fun (and not too long). The different age groups sang a couple of songs and then those who had achieved the various levels came up individually to get their certificates.

After the concert we went back along the quay to see the travelling theatre company on the Estonian schooner, Hoppet, who had invited the refugee children from Pikpa onto their boat 


Lin  and Nagm

Reger and Ahmad

and then organized games and music and dancing for them.

Reger filming

Some of the kids filmed the dancing.

Aweda filming


Meanwhile Anas and his dad Mohammed were fishing along the quay. They had caught one little fish.

On Monday June 13th we left Lakki early to take advantage of a rare southerly wind and sail up to Arki for a couple of days as there is no school until Friday. Strong wind was forecast for Monday night and Tuesday and Arki is one of the few places sheltered from a south wind. We got to Arki about 10.15 to find that there was room on the inside of the quay, where it is quite a squeeze to get in because there is a shallow mud bank only about 30 metres offshore. As we motored slowly into position an irate Englishman yelled at Simon, calling him a prat, and claimed that Simon had touched his anchor chain with his keel – if he did, it was insignificant, no damage was done and we managed to drop the anchor on the edge of the mud bank and get securely onto the quay. The Englishman was expecting a friend, whom he advised to come between his boat and ours, but before the friend came Richard arrived with his grandchildren, Daisy and Elliot, and took the space, giving the Englishman even more opportunity to rant and swear as Richard maneuvered his unwieldy boat into the narrow space. We had a really good couple of days with Richard, Daisy and Elliot, though Richard was finding it increasingly difficult to cope with repeatedly losing to Daisy at backgammon.

The cloud built up through Monday afternoon and we had a bit of dirty rain overnight before the wind got up on Tuesday, blowing hard in the afternoon before dying overnight. We are glad we came up here – apparently the marina in Lakki was barely tenable in the blow.

On Wednesday morning we motored down to Arkhangelos (no wind) to meet Simon and Christiana, who were coming up from Lakki. We went for a long lunch to Stigma, our favourite taverna on Arkhangelos. Only Georgios was there – Evropi, Dimitra and Tassos had been in Lakki the last two days because it had been too windy for any boats to anchor off. Georgios produced a wonderful lunch and the others returned with a boat load of shopping before we went back to our boat.

A butterfly flitted around us for the whole of lunch.

We were very pleased that they had put the christmas card, made by Charlie, and our photos which we sent them for christmas on their noticeboard.

Dimitra told us that there had been two small earthquakes over the weekend (3.8), centred off the East coast of Leros (though this does not appear on any of the earthquake monitoring sites). Simon and Christiana went back to Lakki. We had planned to eat aboard in the evening, but Dimitra told us that Georgios was making his stuffed pork for the evening, so we went back and shared a plate. It was even more wonderful than we remembered (belly pork stuffed with feta, red peppers, oregano, lots of garlic, with a bit of mustard on the outside and a glass of white wine) and the view over the bay in the evening sun is always stunning.

On Thursday morning, after a quick swim, we motored back to Lakki (again no wind) and tied up in the marina. Apparently refugees have started to arrive from Turkey again, with three boatloads arriving on Farmakonisi. The hot spot is now full, with a lot of people brought in from Lesbos, and tension is high in Pikpa, where there have been quite serious fights between some of the men, over trivial issues. There are a couple of men in particular who create most of the problems. Everyone is reluctant to involve the police, but there are no other sanctions if the men will not see reason.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

With the Refugees in Leros

Since we have been back in Leros we have not seen any of the refugees going to the beach for a swim in the afternoons. We thought this was because of Ramadan, but apparently First Reception has decreed that no children are allowed to leave Pikpa without explicit permission and then only with their parents (which presumably means that unaccompanied minors cannot leave at all) and few if any parents want to take the children to the beach.

On Thursday, June 9th, we cycled over to Merikhia for a swim.

Simon went in up to his knees and decided it was too cold for an enjoyable swim, but Lin struck out. 

We did not go to Pikpa, but that evening fourteen unaccompanied minors were taken from Pikpa in the evening to the hotspot. This was on a decision of the local representative (‘First Reception’) of the Interior Ministry, who informed the police and the ministry in Athens of his decision. The children were distraught – three of them immediately tried to climb the fence to get out of the hotspot. This was in response to an attempt of one young man from the hotspot to board the ferry with a forged Bulgarian passport, who was immediately detained by the port police and is now in gaol in the police station in Agia Marina. Apparently there have been several occasions on which people have been trying to sell forged passports in Pikpa. Probably as a result of this all volunteers now have to complete an application and provide a photocopy of their passports to be allowed to help.

Today (Friday June 10th) we went to Pikpa in the morning, as there was no school, and talked to some of the kids. One of the mothers was sitting nearby when the First Reception representative walked across with an interpreter and read out a long lecture to her about the responsibility of parents – to take responsibility for the children, not let them make too much noise, not to let them wander onto the road, not to leave Pikpa in the evening etc. 

By the end the mother was in tears, she thought that this lecture was some kind of admonition of her behavior (she has five young children). Eventually Gillian, a volunteer from New Zealand, and Lin managed to comfort her and explain that this was not directed at her. 

Ahmad and Rehat joined us.

Ahmad is an excellent student, who is making very good progress with his English. He is also learning Greek and has learnt a bit of Hindi from watching Indian films. 

A family of four unaccompanied Yazidi children, three boys and a girl aged from 13 to 19, have had a tough time. Their parents are in Germany and the 17 year old girl has serious health problems. Yesterday the whole family went to Rhodes with a doctor and nurse for her to have a brain scan, which showed nothing untoward. The younger boys had not enjoyed the journey – apart from any memories of their previous sea crossing, they were sea sick.

We helped hand out the lunch, which is more complicated now that Ramadan is under way. About half the people in Pikpa are not fasting, either because they are children or they are not moslems, so we have only half the amount of food delivered at lunchtime. However, some of the older kids try to take food and hide it in their rooms until the evening, so we have to check who is fasting and who is not.

In the afternoon we cycled over to the hotspot to see if we could contact any of the kids who had been moved over there. 

The hot spot is a dense collection of air conditioned boxes, with little open space, and a tough wire fence with vicious barbed wire on top. 

The gate was not locked, but half a dozen police sat nearby and we did not even try to go in. A small group were having a Greek lesson with the two young women who work for Save the Children. A few refugees came out and walked down the road, to sit by the sea. We walked around the perimeter of the camp, but did not see anyone we knew. As we got back to the entrance we meet a local guy who is employed by UNHCR to ferry people between the hotspot, Pikpa and the hospital. He told us that it had been decided that Pikpa would only be for families and he thought that the kids would be looked after in the hotspot, but he did not sound convinced or convincing. We cycled on around the bay and had a look at the building that was reputedly Mussolini’s villa, then the central building of the mental hospital, which is now derelict, the marble steps and floors deep in goat shit. 

When we got back to the hotspot Imtiaz, a young Pakistani boy, spotted Lin and ran towards the fence to talk to us. He said that it was bad in the hotspot. Nobody had told them what was happening and they had no food until Matina brought some over last night. Soon after we started talking a man came up to us and asked us who we were and what we were doing. We explained that we were volunteers at Pikpa and Lin had been teaching some of the kids who had been brought to the hotspot. The man was obviously very nervous that we might unfavourably publicise conditions in the hotspot.  He asked Imtiaz if everything was OK and he said yes, good. We asked the man who he was and he said that he was the manager who was responsible for the hotspot and for Pikpa. He warned us to be careful what we said because we could get him into trouble.

In the evening we went to the performance by the theatre group travelling on the Estonian schooner. It was essentially a very athletic modern dance performance, in an amazing venue in a part of Platanos that we had never ventured into before. The stage and auditorium seemed to be the adjoining flat rooves of houses built into the mountainside with a view across to the floodlit castle.

Le Monde today has published a blog by a French photographer who spent the winter here, including one photo of Anna and some of the children that Lin helps her to teach.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

A weekend in Palionissos

On Thursday afternoon, June 2nd, we tested the outboard by motoring to Merikhia for a swim. We did not go to Pikpa, but we met Eveline in the afternoon who told us that there had been a big argument that morning because a bus had been organized to take the kids over to the beach at Alinda in the afternoon. The kids were very excited, but some of the parents objected to boys going and seeing the girls swimming (though both boys and girls go to the town beach together). There was a long argument and in the end a compromise was reached which allowed boys up to 12 years old to go. The older boys had to walk down to the town beach. Ramadan starts next week, which is likely to be chaotic. Some of the refugees (the Yazidis, younger children and less devout Muslims) do not fast, while the majority can only eat between 8.30 pm and 4 am, whereas the evening meal is delivered at 6.30 pm and no food is allowed in the dormitories. The woman who organizes the food has agreed to deliver the evening meal at 8.30 pm, but that will leave the non-fasters hungry and the small children will get agitated, so there will probably be a lot of bad tempers next week.

On Friday morning Lin went to teach in school while Simon pottered around doing odd jobs (emptying and drying the bilges, derusting and painting the engine mounts and keel bolts) and shopping. On Friday afternoon we finished off cleaning and polishing the boat ready to set off on Saturday morning. On Saturday morning, June 4th, we motored down to Palionissos, as there was no wind at all, passing Mike and Ann, who were coming back, on the way and arriving about 10.20. There are now 14 buoys laid by the two tavernas, but when we arrived there were only two other yachts there, though others came in during the afternoon. 

We immediately went ashore and walked along the hillside, gathering what we thought were sage and oregano. 

When we got back we went up to the taverna for a beer and Pothitos told us that what we thought was sage is in fact mountain tea and what we thought was oregano is in fact unripe savory, which will not be ready to pick before July. He pointed out the oregano bushes in his garden and offered us some, so we cut some sprigs and threw away the savory.

On Sunday morning we finished the polishing of the back of the boat, that we had missed in Lakki. We went ashore for beer and a wonderful burger for lunch at the beach bar, then swam and chilled for the afternoon. While eating a bit of burger Lin felt a tooth go – she thought it was a filling coming out, but later discovered that it was a broken tooth. We phoned Frank to find out about his wonderful dentist in Pothia, who was setting up a clinic in Lakki, but it turned out that the dentist had got a rare disease which affected his back and was not now working in Lakki. We did not want to go to Pothia, so decided to check out dentists when we got back to Lakki.

Monday was another day of swimming and chilling and an evening meal at the taverna (if you moor on a taverna’s buoy you are morally obliged to eat there, which is no penance!). We checked the bilges for water and they were pretty well dry, so it may be that after ten years we have conquered all our leaks.

On Tuesday morning, after three days’ rest in Palionissos, we set off sailing back to Lakki. The wind was light and the way back was directly upwind. We sailed a long tack out to sea, to get out of the wind shadow of the islands, then tacked back, but the wind soon died to we decided to motor so that we could get to Lakki in good time to look for a dentist. We arrived at midday and were welcomed back to the marina, but we were placed at a point where there was a break in the quay for steps, which made it very difficult to rig our passarelle so that we could get on and off the boat comfortably. Simon pinched a piece of wood from the neighbouring navy building site to bridge the gap, but Lin had no confidence in Simon’s engineering skills, so after a beer at Poppy’s with Richard and Sue, we pulled the boat closer to the quay so that we could reach terra firma.

On the town quay was a magnificent Estonian schooner, built in 1927, which is here as part of a cultural tour of theAegean. They will be performing in Pandeli on Friday and Saturday evenings.

Lin went in search of dentists. Anna in the marina did not know of a dentist because she did not trust local dentists and went to one in Athens. Poppy also goes to the dentist in Athens, but told us of one that she had heard was good. Lin texted Anna, the teacher, who texted back details of an excellent woman dentist she goes to and Marietta recommended another woman dentist who worked above her shop, who she thought was cheaper than others. Having eaten out every night in Palionissos we eat aboard on Tuesday evening.

On Wednesday morning Lin went off to teach the refugee children while Simon did more repairs (the sink drain had sprung a leak again; the shower drain cover was falling apart again and he took up the floor to wire up the new instruments). Lin’s first class with the younger kids was excellent, but none of the older students came – they were probably all sleeping because Ramadan has started so they had all been up to eat at 3 am. It seems that Omar has gone to Athens – as usual nobody knows why, but we will miss him.

Before Lin could decide which dentist to go to, Anna’s mum had booked her an appointment with her dentist for 12.15. We went along to the dentist in good time, but his receptionist/nurse told us that he was fetching his daughter from school. About half an hour late a shiny bronze BMW drew up – it could only be the dentist. He summoned Lin in and told her that she had a broken tooth that would eventually need a crown, but could be fixed for now. He fixed the tooth and charged 30 euros. We then went for lunch at Poppy’s where we met Mike and Ann, and came back to the boat for siesta and reading.