Aegean islanders go into virtual hibernation, fishing, playing cards and shopping trips across the water

Early in the afternoon, Kastellorizo’s small permanent community of just over 100 souls is in a flurry of excitement around the waterfront, awaiting the arrival of the Proteas, a small passenger ferry that comes from Rhodes every second day. As the ship docks, islanders crowd on board, emerging a few minutes later laden with packages and crates. A new washing machine is carefully off-loaded, workers cart off building materials for the new medical center being built just outside the port. A utility vehicle bumps off carrying crates of drinks, while seamen pile up more goods on the wharf. Dr Evita Karipidou has come to pick up a bag of pharmaceuticals. «When the ship comes in, the island comes alive,» she says and turns to greet Leslie, an American woman who has moved to the island and has a small jewelry store. Among the few passengers are the handful of army conscripts based on the island, some leaving, others arriving to take their place. An Australian who has just come ashore describes the voyage as a painful experience. It’s true that when the sea is rough, the little ship certainly rolls. There are flights to the nearest large island of Rhodes every day except Tuesday and Thursday, but transport is a sore point with the locals. «The ministry canceled direct links with Piraeus. But neither the sea nor air schedules suit the village,» explained Paraschos Maliafis. «The air links are extremely important for the island,» said the Olympic Airlines pilot who flies in the De Havilland from Rhodes. «It helps families to stay together. Imagine having your family based elsewhere and having to travel for days to see them. Even Rhodes is five hours away by ship. And sometimes you are cut off by weather.» The island’s geography and remoteness create particular problems. There is a water shortage, and the rocky island is not suitable for agriculture or livestock breeding. So the community gets all its drinking water from tanker ships and fresh food from the market in the Turkish port of Kas, 20 minutes away by caique. Yet some of these problems could have been resolved if projects had been properly carried out. For example, a water reservoir was built above the village but found to have problems and has not been used. It would have increased the water supply 80 times over. The 27 homes built by the Workers’ Housing Organization are not habitable, according to locals. Still, the difficulties have not deterred the residents, who spend the winter stoically awaiting the summer influx of visitors that will bring the island to life again. Tsikos Maliafis and Michalis Samsakos, two members of the younger generation on the island, say half-jokingly: «There isn’t a woman to be found here – why don’t you write that, so that they’ll come!» «You won’t believe what goes on here in summer. But seriously, the island suffers from many shortages. There is nowhere to get a haircut, or buy clothes or shoes. You should also write that we don’t have a football team. The authorities said they would subsidize one, but nothing has happened.» Hotelier Antonis Patiniotis describes the transformation that comes over the island in summer. «The port fills up with yachts and the whole island is full of life. Most of the tourists are foreigners, mainly British, Australian and Italian. Many of them are descendants of people who emigrated to Australia and who are gradually coming back here to rebuild their forefathers’ houses,» he said. The reconstruction effort has provided jobs and enabled the community to hang on to some of its temporary residents. Ali from Pakistan and Charles from Nottingham have settled here after finding work at the local carpenter’s. «I made the decision when I wanted to make a change in my life,» says Charles. «I lived on Rhodes for six years then moved here seven months ago. There is less pressure at work and the pace of life is more humane, although I don’t earn as much. But I keep on doing the work I like and I am learning the locals’ methods.» As the sun sets, Dimitris Achladiotis’s caique chugs among the rocky islets between Kastellorizo and Kas. In winter, the fish catch is sent to Rhodes, but in summer it is all consumed on the island. Achladiotis has been a professional fisherman for 15 years, having stayed on in the hope that the island would develop. «But nothing has happened. The island is only what it is because of Kas.» Ten meters further off are Turkish waters, 10 meters the other way they are Greek. «Things are quiet here. We have a few disagreements with the Turks, but they are little things. Sometimes they don’t let us fish within their borders.» As to what the island lacks, he replied: «A pediatrician. We have two children and we have to take them to Rhodes to get their vaccinations.» The medical center has three staff, Evita Karipidou, Elisavet Moraiti and Sevi Flytzani. «We have vastly improved services. The number of patients having to be flown out has been reduced to just two in recent years,» they said. Visits to the center, mostly routine cases, have greatly increased. This is one of a series of articles on Greece’s border settlements that appeared in the April 7-8 issue, the result of months of research by staff and associates of K, Kathimerini’s Sunday magazine.