By Iris Samuels
At the foot of Athens’ monumental Acropolis, many languages can be heard as foreigners take in the sights. The steps leading to the ancient Parthenon are worn slick from the generations of tourists who have come to marvel at one of the world’s most impressive landmarks. It is easy to forget that, a short distance away, refugees are treated to a far different welcome.
A child at play in the refugee camp at Piraeus Port (Iris Samuels)
At the Port of Piraeus, 20 minutes away from city center, a thousand refugees have found a temporary home. Ropes strung between highway support beams serve as both laundry lines and makeshift walls. In the heat, every piece of shade is put to use. Men and women sit at the entrance to their colorful tents, legs folded, doing nothing. Strollers are strewn next to empty water jugs. An underwear-clad child runs across the sweltering expanse of asphalt, clutching a water bottle. He stops in front of a makeshift encampment composed of tents, plastic barricades and blankets bearing the logo UNHCR, for the United Nations High Commission on Refugees. Yelling happily, he pours the water over his head.
As the tourist season revs up in Athens, the port docks glamorous cruise ships and large ferries that shuttle back and forth from the Greek islands. But between gates E1 and E2, the view is different: a row of blue portable toilets stand opposite a row of tents, pitched in the shade of an elevated highway. The sun beats down relentlessly, and the sound of cars from the highway gives a sense of restlessness.
A refugee at Skaramagas camp dives into the food-littered industrial waters near Piraeus.
By Hayley Roth
It has been seven days in Athens, and the experience is somewhat like eating an exotic fruit for the first time. Its surface beauty is striking but bite into it to discover the real content. Our task, as six student journalists from Princeton, New Jersey, is to get to the core of the city in five weeks.
On day one, I was picked up from the airport by the soft-spoken middle-aged Mr. Panayiotis, and we walked together into the blistering Athenian heat. It took me about 30 seconds to realize that he was soft-spoken because he could understand only a smattering of English words, and didn’t like trying. But he loaded me and my suitcase into the little taxi and we zoomed inland in silence on a dusty, near-empty highway with a stunning overlook of the white city below.
The city of Athens.
It was midday, and the streets were empty. The heat had driven people into apartments and cafes and even beyond the city limits to the beaches and islands. The buildings, stuccoed and whitewashed, were maddeningly reflective. The sun felt different here– not just hotter, but bigger. Closer. Brighter. The cars were reflective, too. Most are gray, white, or yellow, managing to invoke the colors of the sky and the asphalt together. “Dingy” and “garish” are adjectives that came to mind. But lift your eyes and there is the glistening Acropolis.
Anna Stamou sits in her living room in Athens on June 29. She is the Marketing Director of the Muslim Association of Greece, and one of a small population of Muslims in Athens. (Alexandra Markovich)
By Alexandra Markovich
Just after the sun sets, Anna Stamou covers her dining room table with platefuls of food to break the Ramadan fast. She pulls a stew of Egyptian sausages from the oven and sets it on the table, followed by a bowl of Egyptian salad.
Then, spanakopita, a Greek spinach pie, unexpectedly becomes the centerpiece. When Stamou finally sits down, the table is crammed with an odd collection of traditional Greek and North African food.
Stamou is one of some 600,000 Muslims living in Greece, making up about five percent of a largely Greek Orthodox Christian nation. Stamou, a native Greek, converted to Islam 17 years ago. She is married to Naim Elghandour, who moved from Egypt to Greece 19 years ago.
When I ask her about the food she is serving, Stamou says it is “all Greek.” Egyptian salad—chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions—is just the chopped-up version of Greek salad, she says, save the olives.
Tents at Athens’ Port of Piraeus
By Amanda Blanco
Section E2 of the industrial Port of Piraeus was never meant to be called home. But since closure of Greece’s borders, that is exactly what it has become for roughly 1,000 refugees. Their tents cluster under a highway overpass, squeezing together to escape the blistering sun.
“The image speaks for itself,” says Negia Milian, a volunteer camp director from a Piraeus-based group supporting the refugees. Milian, a former Cuban refugee, emphasizes that her group is not a so-called Non-Governmental Organization, or NGO. However, there are several NGOs working at Piraeus, including the Red Cross and Save the Children.