Kos: First Impressions

Kos is situated in the Dodecanese Islands in the south-eastern Aegean Sea. The island is historically most famous for being the birthplace of Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine. Hippocrates’ legacy is an important source of pride for the island’s locals, as well as their emphasis on hospitality. Kos is a major tourist destination for Europeans who are attracted to the sandy beaches, diverse landscapes, ancient and medieval ruins. Most recently, Kos has become increasingly covered in the international media, as refugees, mainly from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, arrive on the island, fleeing their homeland to search for a safer life in Europe.

These three, diverse, faces of Kos were evident within my first 24 hours on the island.

Going above and beyond his duties, a very kind local greeted me at the airport, late on Sunday evening, driving me to my apartment building where the owner of the complex personally welcomed me. First thing in the morning I had a meeting with a representative of the Municipality who assisted me in setting up appointments in order for my project to begin. Cafe owners, smile and inquire about my trip upon hearing my Australian-Greek/Cypriot accent.

Along the coast line, fragrant fig trees provide a subtle aroma for people walking or cycling along the water. Serviced beaches hosting sun beds and umbrellas, restaurants, souvenir shops and beach volley ball attract visitors from all over Europe. A variety of languages; German, English, French, can be found in restaurant menus, street signs and tours of the island. However, one particular restaurant menu opposite the marine walk, stood out; it was in Arabic – a reflection of the island’s current change in demographic.

According to Amnesty International, at least 31,000 refugees have arrived in Kos in 2015, with between 3000-4000 still currently on the island, as of the first week of September. On Monday morning, tent communities, (that have since been relocated), had been erected along the main Hippocrates street, stretching down to join a neighbouring settlement along the water towards the marina. Behind the street named after the Father of Medicine, is a park hosting the NGO: Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), providing medical support to people in need.

These three faces of Kos exist in parallel, contrast and conflict with one another, however, today I witnessed glimpses of benevolence between them. While purchasing a sim card from a telecommunications outlet, I saw a staff member charging the phones of refugees with no access to electricity. Along the marina walk, on two separate occasions, I noticed tourists interacting with refugees among the tent communities along the water. A tourist couple handed water to a group of women sitting by their belongings, while further down, another tourist was surrounded by small children accepting her offers of snacks from a large shopping bag. As I walked home, I passed the tent settlement of three men, I overheard them speaking in English about their search for a ‘new start and a new life’.

Over the next few weeks Community Kouzina will be exploring the food and people of Kos… stay tuned.