Archives for posts with tag: Aegean sea

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Our rescue dog Nellie being adored by refugee children who have just arrived on Lesvos, by rubber boat. Nellie is such a sweet girl and so gentle and the children are immediately drawn to her. 

Last week I returned to Sydney. It took around thirty-three hours’ door to door. I travelled from My Greek Island Home by car to the airport and then took three planes before being chauffeured to my final destination, my apartment in Potts Point. I was fed along the way, watched a couple of movies and slept comfortably. On arrival I was greeted by my Mum, Dad and my best friend friend Mary Lou. My apartment was clean and warm and there was a scented candle burning and white roses had been placed beside my bed. We drank wine, nibbled on some delicious, cheeses and chattered.

I felt safe and loved.

So why am I telling you this? Because I have been trying to process a situation that has been unfolding daily, an enormous human crisis.

My journey began on The Greek Island of Lesvos, the third largest of the Greek Islands. My partner, artist, Matthew Usmar Lauder and I have had a house there for the last ten years. Lesvos is a beautiful island situated in the Northern Aegean and up until recently an island that most people had never heard of.

Now not a day goes by without it being mentioned on the news as thousands of refugees flee their homes, from countries where they are longer safe. They risk their lives travelling across the Aegean in over crowded and unsafe rubber and wooden boats in the hope of finding a safe place in Europe for themselves and their families.

On a late spring morning two years ago Matthew and I were walking our rescue dogs along the dirt track which winds out of our village for five kilometres to the Aegean Sea. It was a beautiful day and we were enjoying our walk in the sunshine. The sky was clear and we could see Turkey. On this particular day we saw something unfamiliar, a group of people in the distance, usually we only see a few of the local farmers. At first I thought it was an organised group of walkers but on closer inspection we realized they were refugees. We were shocked, really shocked. There were about thirty of them and the group included woman and children. It was so out of the blue and so out of context. We stopped and spoke with them, a couple of the males spoke English. They were Kurds and Somalian and they did not no where they were, let alone that they were on an island. They wanted to get to the nearest police station. This was our first encounter with refugees and we had no idea at that time of the avalanche that was to come.

Every day is a challenge, a struggle an emotional roller coaster. There are between two thousand and five thousand people arriving daily and there is no end to it, it’s like ground hog day.

The world is aware that Greece has its own problems, the economy is in shreds and there is little infrastructure. But despite this people on the island have been remarkable and generous beyond belief, meeting the boats, cooking food, collecting clothing, doing everything they possibly can to make the refugees safe and comfortable. The Greek people have always been welcoming and generous and the foreigners living on the island are doing remarkable work too.

Since February men, women, children, old people and disabled people have walked in the rain, wind and searing heat for four days to the islands capital, Mytilene. There they are registered enabling them to board boats to Athens and make their way to new countries where they hope to be safe and build new lives. Some of these people have witnessed members of their families dying. These people are unlikely ever see their homelands again. Can you imagine what that must feel like?

It is impossible to ignore the plight of these people, they come in their thousands everyday. Everyone is effected here. It’s extremely traumatic.

I saw a man carrying his pet dog under his jacket walking the road towards Mytilene in the rain, this made me break down completely. One image set me off crying, tears streamed down my face and I found myself sobbing uncontrollably. I was beside myself with an unbelievable sense of grief. Later I felt the most enormous amount of guilt. Why did I not stop? Why did I not take him and the dog to the vet to get the dog chipped medicated and a passport for it to travel further? What made this the thing that tipped me over the edge? When I speak with other people they say the same how just one thing can make them cry uncontrollably.

Witnessing this daily has been unbelievable, everyone is traumatised.

This is the reality. The refugees leave Turkey to travel across the Aegean Sea in overcrowded, rubber and wooden boats some barely seaworthy. They pay traffickers from 1000 to 3000 dollars each to make the journey. The Turkish authorities turn a blind eye to this. If the refugees hesitate because they are terrified the traffickers hold guns to their heads forcing them onto the boats. Some of the rubber boats are being made so fast that the glue has not had time to set. The boats are completely packed, there can be as many as 50 per rubber boat and probably none of the occupants can swim. Sometimes they are told to throw the little possessions they have off the boat. One refugee is given the responsibility of steering the boat, not only can he not see where he is going because the boat is so overcrowded but he has never seen the sea before. Crossing the Aegean can be very dangerous particularly at night. There are many tankers and the sea is rough. Some refugees land with broken and dislocated limbs. Some don’t make it and drown, mostly children and babies.

One pregnant womans waters broke in Turkey and was forced onto the boat and gave birth on arrival on the beach at Lesvos. The Greek coastguards do what they can but don’t always have petrol to go out to meet the boats this leaves the local fishermen and volunteers. The fishermen cannot turn a blind eye to sinking boats and rescue people. Unfortunately, their boats are to small to take everyone and they are left to make the decision on who to take and who to leave behind.

Why in this day and age when they can send men to the moon is this happening? This is history repeating itself and some of the very old locals remember this trip themselves as children, during the cultural exchange. It’s a nightmare.

One of my friends told me that a boat arrived crammed pack with people and there was something different about them that she could not put her finger on, they seemed more traumatised than usual. After they were all taken from the boat she saw the dead body of a woman lying on the bottom. This woman had died before boarding the boat and her family did not want to leave her so her body was put in first and the men women and children placed on top.

Last week there were many lives lost in the sea because of storms it is just the saddest thing and there is absolutely no need for this to be happening. Bodies were washed up onto the beaches, a large number being children. These people have been through enough and deserve to be transported safely and treated with dignity. As the winter descends on us the situation will only get worse. I woke up in the middle of the night a few weeks ago feeling sick to my stomach at the thought of the thousands of men, women and children being exposed to terrible storms, pounding rain, wind, thunder and lightening, with no shelter.

The island itself cannot cope as there are only few ambulances, rubbish collections are scarce and the coastline is strewn with with fluorescent life jackets and rubber boats. There is litter all along the roads. People are volunteering to help with all this but it does not stop building up with new arrivals.

Nothing could have prepared us for any of this. And certainly nothing could have prepared the millions of people who are now called refugees for what they have had to endure to date.

As I sit here writing this from the safety of my Sydney home, looking out over the harbour I fail to make sense of any of it. Each day I am haunted by what I have witnessed. I realise that where you are born impacts so much on how your life unfolds. I question world leadership and political motives and my concern grows for the beautiful Island of Lesvos and its generous people. I realise that this situation is so enormous that it will not end any time soon. I understand that people no matter where they come from or what their religion are all the same.

I have encountered such warmth and gratitude from those I have transported in my car. Usually we hug to say goodbye and the depth of this hug is huge.

It’s important for everyone to see and understand just how fragile the world. It is equally as important to see how wonderful the human race can be when they work together for each other.

Thank you to all the Greek people of Lesvos who are sharing everything they have. Thank you to the non Greek locals who have been brilliant working as hard as they possibly can and thank you to the volunteers who have come from all over the world to help.

And to the refugees the beautiful people I have met I wish you safety and love and that you find peace and another place you can call home.

Please, please don’t let this put you off coming to the island, come and share all the wonderful things that Lesvos and its people have to offer. It is such a special place and it needs not only volunteers but tourists.

#lovinglesvos

 

I am constantly asked how we are being effected living in Greece in this crisis.

The fact is for us life goes on as normal and we have the option of leaving at any time.

The sun is shining the birds are singing and at the end of the day the sunsets are stunning. Whilst I write this I hear children playing in the streets and vendors touting their wares over loud speakers as they make their way through the village, it’s just like normal.

The people here are living day to day, some hand to mouth but they are still as generous and as warm hearted as ever. We are still finding bags filled with fresh cucumbers and courgettes hung on our gate from our village friends.

The Greek people are strong, proud, independent people and their tenacity has to be admired.

Each day brings with it more challenges and more hardships, it’s never ending and demoralising and there is no quick fix.

This week I had an email from my best Greek girlfriend she writes from her heart. She shares her deep concerns along with an article written by John Humphry for the Sunday Times on June 28, ‘Let me slay the big fat Greek myth’, an article worth reading.

I have asked my friend Elpida if I could share her letter. I thank Elpida for her love and friendship and for being in my life.

And for everyone out there who asks if there is anything we need, we need you to come to Greece to enjoy all Greece has to offer from the beautiful crystal waters to the generosity of its people.

Support and love Greece.

elpida and yiannis

A LETTER FROM ELPIDA

My dearest friends, mentors, soul mates and guardian angels,

I don’t usually write in this way because I love communicating separately with all of you however this is an article a British friend sent me and given the circumstances I decided to sent it to all of you to read. 

You all know me pretty well I think after all this time and you know how hard I’ve worked and how much I appreciate life, a good laugh, love and friendship. For the first time in my life I’m lost for words, I feel terrified and I don’t know what to expect. I know that within the euro we’ll go through unbelievable austerity and difficulties and that no would be the a proud voice of Greece towards our creditors but on the other hand loosing the sense of security this hard currency affords us is quite a step.

Personally, I don’t have a bank account, a credit card or bonds that can be cut or taken away from me. I spend the money I earn and it might not be much but it has allowed me to offer my son and myself some kind of normal existence and safety. Tomorrow I’m asked to vote if I want more austerity measures or not and it’s this or not I would like to know what it means. But nobody can explain and I’m scared! I have a small business I’ve created with lots of hardship and work with no loans and in these austere times it’s been slowly and gradually growing. I don’t make much but I make enough to sustain myself. The same goes for my husband and a dozen more people who run small businesses in the area. We all depend on stability and tourism. The minute we go out of the euro nobody can guarantee anything. We will have austerity and recession and our currency will have no value at all. How many years will this last one two three four? How many?

 I’m 43 and getting older and I know some of you might smile thinking that this is nothing in comparison to older age but I’m tired overworked and disappointed. Furthermore, I live in a very sensitive area and in times of turmoil predators are always around looking out to grab the best piece. Thus if my country leaves the false protection of Europe who can guarantee the safety of my business, my land, my family, my life for that matter? I fret the moment we’ll be left alone, isolated trying to find allies who will give us credit to buy petrol, medicine and food. Unfortunately Greece produces very little on its own and we import almost everything so it will take time to find our way into survival. Cuba, Sudan, Argentina and many more countries are there as examples of what I don’t want my life to look like. I don’t mind hardship within reason I mind unreasonable hardship that will drive me to do everything manually because there won’t be enough petrol to support the National electricity company and appliances will be completely useless for example. I mind being forced to live in conditions that my grand parents and their parents lived in. I remember what it was not to have many things to go about and unlike other people I praise technology because it has made my life so much easier. I mind the black market that will thrive and  the fact I might have to live in conditions that Bulgaria and other Balkan countries lived in until some time ago. I mind the fact that I’ll have to stand in queues to get some bread and that I’ll have to buy things that matter with dollars or Euros that I’ll be happy to own if I can.

No government and no politician can guarantee me anything right now. Most of them have money abroad and the minute our currency changes they will become unbelievably rich while me and people like me will have lost everything overnight. Last summer we were all hoping that things had started to change and life had started to seem a little bit lighter. Now there’s a black cloud over me that I pray every single night to go away. Tomorrow I’ll go to vote with this cloud over my head hoping for the best. But don’t ask me what that is because I have absolutely no idea anymore.

What I want you to know is that I love you all so much, beyond words. You’ve made my life so much richer, fuller, interesting and bearable with your love, guidance, wisdom, laughter and more love all this time that despite the situation I feel blessed and hopeful because you’re there.

Love xxx and warm hugs,

Elpida

 

I photographed a little peak of Matthew and my life here on the island of Lesvos for You Magazine a couple of months ago and here it is. Thank you  Clare Nolan for loving our lifestyle and Fiona McCarthy for  your kind words. Greece is the word 1

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As promised another one of Vassilia’s beautiful Greek rescue dogs we met.This is Bessie and she is looking for a beautiful home. She is a little larger than a medium sized dog and weighs about 20 kilos. She is 4 years old, VERY affectionate and good with cats. Lets us know if you need more info on Bessie, office@clairelloyd.com.

Yesterday was a superb day here on the island. We seemed to have skipped spring and just gone straight into summer. Just back from Sydney I had woken early and Matthew and I decided to take the dogs along the track towards the sea, a familiar and beautiful walk, especially at this time of year, with the abundance of wild flowers bordering the track. We took off on our walk with three very excited dogs, Hector, Nellie and Tollie. Quite some way down the track probably about 1.5 kilometers we saw a group of people heading towards us. At first we thought it was a walking group but on closer inspection realized it was a large group of refugees. There were about thirty of them, young women and men and two children. They had risked their lives crossing the Aegean Sea over night on a small boat from Turkey. Matthew and I stopped and spoke to them, a couple had some basic English and we learnt they were from Somalia and Syria. These people asked where they were. They had no knowledge they were on an island let alone in Greece. They were beautiful people with nothing more than a few possessions carried in a bag or rut sack. They were tired and thirsty and anxious to find the nearest town where they would present themselves to the police, they were still a long way from that. People often say to us that we are ‘Living the Dream’ and in some ways we are but as Matthew pointed out on seeing these people, they are the ones ‘Living the Dream’. Their dream is escaping their homeland, risking their lives to find a better life without war and persecution. The meeting was a thought provoking experience and I have to admit to a sadness that has hung over me since. We did what we could, loaves of bread, cheese, bottles of water, biscuits and chocolate for the kids but it’s haunted me that it wasn’t enough. Where are they now? Will the find a place to settle and make a new life for themselves, will there be any opportunities? I leave you with one image today an image of the end of the day where the water is still and calm and my thoughts are with the beautiful people.

BOAT 2/Claire Lloyd

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My Greek teacher Elpida asked me if I would come to the school and talk to a group of her students. Elpidia was preparing her students, 5 girls ranging in age from 12 to 15 for their English exams. I was thrilled to be asked and took with me my new book, ‘My Greek Island Home’ and my first book, ‘Sensual Living’. The girls were bubbly and enthusiastic and also great company and I talked to them about my career in London and also about my books. It was a lovely way to spend the afternoon and I enjoyed their company enormously. In fact I enjoyed their company so much that I invited them to come to visit me at home. Only 4 of them could make it and we spent the afternoon together. I took some photos of them and these are what I am sharing with you today. Enjoy! Thank you girls you were great fun and great models.

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So exciting, on my dog walk today I saw the first poppies of the year! Whilst those of you in Northern Europe are freezing your sox’s off, here on My Greek Island Home’  we are getting some lovely sunny days and at 18 degrees outside I can walk without a coat. In the garden hyacinths and camellias are opening up and along the track, leading out of the village there are tiny, tiny, delicate, deep mauve, wild flowers bursting up through the soil. Spring is here. I won’t shout to loudly as you never know when there could be a change. I don’t expect we are over the winter quite yet but I am enjoying these days a lot.

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We took a trip to Skala Eressos today and it was like a ghost town. It seems a lifetime ago since we were sitting along here in the last rays of the summer sun sipping cocktails. The effects of the winter have been harsh, but there is still beauty to be found.

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After heavy rain, thunder and lightening there is a break in the weather. Blue skies encourage me out of our warm village house and into the countryside. I decide to take the dogs, Nellie and Hector out along the track down to the sea. The walk is just over an hour and all down hill so it’s an easy one. Matthew will meet us in the car and we will collect driftwood on a nearby beach for the fire, so the uphill part, which I really ought to be doing on foot, will be on wheels. It’s a beautiful walk, although it’s cold the air is fresh and feels good. The sky is so clear and blue and I can see Turkey in the distance. When we get to the sea there are other canine friends to meet us and the dogs run up and down, they are excited! All goes according to plan until Nellie rolls in the most enormous runny cow pat, its her idea of Channel No 5. She is covered. I hold her by the scruff of the neck her body trembling with fear whilst Matthew douces her in sea water. This alone will not be enough, baby shampoo and a shower is the only hope. The trip up the hill in the car is smelly to say the least but it is to get worse…….. I look back to find Hector vomiting on the back seat. He had decided not to roll in the runny cow pat but eat it! And no it didn’t agree with him. So out of the car I get with the two dogs walking the rest of the way home. Matthew is left to drive back to the village and clean the car out. Is this an alternative to children I ask!

A beautiful painting of the Aegean, close to our village house by Matthew Usmar Lauder. matthewusmarlauder.com

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