Continuing the blog posts telling the story of my visit to the Greek island of Lesvos in December 2016 to collect a refugee’s life jacket for Manchester Museum…
After taking receipt of life jacket or ‘sosivio’ from the Town Hall in Mytiline in Lesvos, I visited a centre for refugees called Mosaik with Dr Yulie Tzirou, a lecturer at the University of the Aegean, to see how life jackets are recycled to make into bags. There I met Martina, the Greek lady in charge of the workshop.
So many refugees have made the crossing to Lesvos and abandoned their life jackets on landing that piles upon piles of life jackets and inflatable boats have accumulated on the shores of the island. Both Greek volunteers and refugees work at the centre. There are also creative activities and language lessons, and access to legal advice. The refugees now on Lesvos can’t leave the island until their claims for asylum are processed with takes a long time. Without centres such as Mosaik there would be relatively few opportunities for them.
The sheer number of life jackets that have been abandoned on the island represents an environmental problem on a massive scale and one that the Deputy Mayor in charge of cleansing, Mr Kantzanos, has worked extremely hard to clear up. The life jackets that were lying on the beaches were also having an impact on tourism, which is an important source of income to the island during the summer. Making the discarded life jackets into bags helps deal with the problem and raises some money for the voluntary organisation that is trying to help the refugees.
In between visits to the Town Hall to collect the life jacket and to Mosaik to see recycling I found time to visit the Lesvos archaeological museum to see the beautiful Roman mosaics from the House of Menander. One shows Orpheus playing music surrounded by wild animals. Another smaller mosaic shows a large octopus stealing fish from a fishing boat. Although this is from a later period in Roman history it was a great opportunity to take some photographs for the temporary exhibition about Pliny the Elder and Roman Natural History scheduled for 2018. The octopus, in particular, is reminiscent of the story in the Natural History about a 60lb monster that raided fish farms in the province of Baetica in Southern Spain. A fence was built to keep it out with no success (what is it with Romans and walls?) and finally it was cornered with dogs and killed and ended up on display pickled in the governor’s residence as a sort of tourist attraction.
The next instalment of this blog about my visit to the island of Lesvos to collect a refugee’s life jacket will be released shortly.