Reflections on Kos: the View from Kardamena

A beach in Kardamena, Kos. Photo by Eleni Sakellis

KOS, GREECE – The joke in Kardamena in the summer of 2018 was that the 2017 earthquake was in Bodrum, Turkey, but Kardamena was damaged. There was one balcony that allegedly was damaged from the earthquake, and most residents found sand in their toilets, evidence that the water level had risen, but otherwise Kardamena was unaffected.

Potholes, however, are everywhere. Nothing new to New Yorkers, but in Kardamena, where it isn’t as brightly lit at night as the Big Apple, the potholes are treacherous, to say the least. It’s a good thing the people are not very litigious, the attitude being you should watch where you’re going, whereas in New York, lawyers would be clamoring for justice, and cash settlements, for the twisted ankles of their clients.

The efforts to improve the infrastructure led to workers digging up the streets to bury power lines or work on the water pipes, etc., and then when the work was done, and the streets closed up, they didn’t do such a fantastic job. Maybe they’ll be opening the streets up again soon, so they didn’t bother making anything smooth or level. In any case, the residents would like the streets to be fixed, but instead, they got a fountain in the town square, no wait, two identical fountains in the town square that nobody wanted or asked for. The announcement was made in April of last year and the fountains were built of white marble in the center of the town square where events used to take place.

Two identical marble fountains were installed in Kardamena’s town square. Photo by Eleni Sakellis

I recall many events in summers past, the local children performing dances in traditional costume, concerts by well-known singers, now these massive, identical fountains take up the space where people once strolled. The white marble, not exactly a cheap material, is now stained and turning colors, an unsightly greenish-brown, thanks to the various minerals in the water. If anyone loved the fountains or even liked them or the changes to the town square, I could not find them. The general reaction was disdain, if not open hostility. When asked their opinion, most made a face and launched into a list of reasons why the fountains were a bad idea, apart from the criticism of the aesthetic appearance. One resident said the marble reminded her of the cemetery, and noted that the money could have gone to fixing the streets of the town rather than this unnecessary change to the square. An election is coming up, many pointed out.

As far as the refugee crisis is concerned, Kardamena was not as affected as other areas since most of the refugees were in Kos town waiting for their papers to come in. In general, things have calmed down and residents said there is a procedure in place when a boat comes into Kos, a center has been set up in one of the inland towns, and the people are doing the best they can under the circumstances.

A couple of boats that were filled with refugees and came across from Turkey about two years ago were moored in Kardamena. One was gradually sinking, and while locals were trying their best to keep it afloat, local authorities would not let them take charge of it. One proposal was to sink it further out to create an artificial reef in the sea to attract fish and scuba divers, but no.

The water has already stained the marble only months after the fountains were installed. Photo by Eleni Sakellis

The boat continued sinking where it was moored, reminding passersby of the inhumane way the refugees were set afloat to cross from Turkey to Greece in boats that were not seaworthy and some sunk on purpose without any regard for the lives of those onboard. Most tourists walking along the waterfront probably didn’t even notice the boat or if they did gave it a glance, as they do all the boats and indeed a few yachts as well these days, and then continued their stroll. Obviously, we Greek-Americans are tourists, too, but we occupy a special, liminal space because we return, as often as we can, and keep in touch with our relatives who don’t mind sharing the town news and their concerns on a regular basis. It’s very easy to feel like a resident even after just a week or so. When you get back to the United States, it can be difficult to adjust to the change of pace, especially when jet lag catches up with you and you realize you’ve spent the first week and a half mostly planning your next trip back to the homeland.