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Society

Reflections on Kos, One Year after the Earthquake (Photos)

September 17, 2018

The Greek islands have enchanted visitors for millennia, and if you happen to hail from one of those islands, there is a special attachment you feel even if you spend most of your time thousands of miles away. The stunning natural beauty, the sea and sky, make the islands a paradise on earth in the summertime. Having been away for several years, I must admit that tears sprang to my eyes as my cousin drove us from the airport to the town.

The years had not changed that distinct aroma from ancient pine trees along the road as you speed down the hillside towards the sea. The fresh, clean air… until a motorbike or a huge bus passes by, then you smell fumes, but then the fresh, clean air wafts through the fumes.

The summer is the busy season on the islands and my relatives were all working, which is nice to know in uncertain economic times, but they’re still struggling because whatever they’re paid is not enough to keep up with bills, debts, and taxes. Some are working with pay cuts that boggle the mind.

I had heard that prices were outrageous on some of the islands from friends who had gone and returned earlier in the summer. Personally, I found the prices were pretty reasonable coming from New York City where a sandwich can cost anywhere from $5-13 and up, depending on where you choose to buy your lunch.

Of course, I was taking into account the exchange rate between the dollar and the euro, and still the Greek sandwich was a bargain. The food is always amazing. The quality is unmatched even for a simple sandwich. A person could live quite comfortably here, I thought, if they made a U.S. salary, which incidentally haven’t increased much since the 1990s apparently, but that’s a different story.

Kos was having a record year for tourism when an earthquake claimed the life of two tourists and caused some damage to the main town on July 21, 2017. The harbor was mostly affected and for a time the large ferry boats docked in Kefalos on the opposite end of the island until some repairs could be completed.

Over a year later, there are still cracks in the pavement along the waterfront that have not been fixed, and scaffolding holds up walls of some of the older buildings including sections of the Castle which remains closed to the public. St. Paraskevi Church next to the Agora is also closed due to the earthquake damage.

A sign on the front door in English, tells you so, but the scaffolding and the visible cracks at the back of the structure make it clear. The minaret of the old Defterdar Mosque along with the little dome that covered the well outside the building toppled and have not been replaced. The pieces were placed among the ancient ruins along the road into town and in a parking lot for safekeeping. The small spire with the crescent on top of the mosque’s dome was bent after being hit by debris.

There is a lot of work to do in these troubled times but somehow, there is still an enduring spirit and the hope that, eventually, the repairs will be done. The pace of life is much more leisurely on the island and if you visit every now and then from New York or some other far-flung big city, you realize, to some extent, they have a point.

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