By Hayley Roth
Take a walk down the main street of Mytilene, the capital of the Greek island of Lesbos, and you’ll see freshly-scrubbed storefronts, colorful awnings and potted plants. Hotels, restaurants and travel agencies face the placid waters of the Aegean. Docked boats scrape against the sidewalks. Shopkeepers lounge in doorways, squinting at the sun. But the scene is incomplete.
“We don’t have tourists,” explained Diamonto Kordogianni, a young woman who works at a waterfront kiosk that sells information pamphlets, t-shirts, and trinkets targeted toward vacationers. Its shelves are overstocked and no one is buying. “It’s difficult. We don’t have jobs.”
Kordogianni’s kiosk on Mytilene’s main street is brimming with merchandise.
Lesbos is situated a mere five miles off the western coast of Turkey. In the past year, the island witnessed the influx of more than 850,000 refugees from the Middle East, all seeking asylum in the European Union. According to Marios Andriotis, senior advisor to the mayor of Lesbos, the crisis peaked in September 2015.
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.