On Tuesday, I went up to Horio via the Kali Strata and saw little of Yialos. That night, it was cold, and I was huddled under my duvet, a fat cat purring near my head as I fell asleep, still there when I woke the next day. Wednesday, and I went out again to take more photos. This time it was windy...very windy. By the Clock Tower (the Roloi) I took a few pictures of the rough seas and then, huddled in my coat, I turned to come back...it was miserable weather and SymiGreece would have to make do with fewer photos than usual that day. Under the plastic awning in front of Glaros rent-a-car, a dozen or so of the refugees were huddled together, one with a crying baby. They spent that night there, and the next night,...and the next. At the time of writing this, I wonder how many more nights they'll stay there, with such a poor shelter.
Today, waiting for the Proteas to arrive, a resident of Symi spoke with me about her disgust at how these people, after all they had been through, were spending night after night under a plastic awning protected from the rain and the worst of the winds, but still out in the cold. I've defended Symi and Greece's treatment of refugees in the past; that at least the people aren't locked up like they are in the UK; but like the lady who spoke to me, I'm apalled that the best that can be done for these people...in January of all months...and in storms!...is a blanket on a concrete floor in the open and chill air.
So where should I turn to point a finger of blame? At the people of Symi? At the Council? the Police? I know that the people do what they feel they can, that the council has asked for funding to temporarily house these people and has been repeatedly snubbed, and that the Police are doing the best job they can; refugees land on Symi by the hundred all year and every one must be interviewed and recorded, and then allowed to go free. The refugees are fed and helped by the people here, but nobody should be expected to take responsibility for these people-in-need by bringing them into their own own homes. Hotels remain mostly empty during the winter, so should they be expected to accommodate so many people at no cost given that the Council has no funds to pay them? Are there council-owned buildings that could have been used? school halls? public buildings?
Whatever the answer to this question (and I do not know the answer), I can't help but think of the one organisation above all others that should have stepped in right at the start. They are people who preach charity while giving none, who take money from the credulous with little given in return, who appoint themselves as the mouthpiece of the ultimate moral authority and condemn you for disagreeing with them, who moralise against people's preferences and choices because of their own choice to believe in an imaginary all-powerful superbeing, and who demand obedience without question. I am not a religious man; I find the whole concept of the male-only, heirarchical, bigoted church to be an insult to human dignity...and the same for all the other religions and schism-born fractions of religions too, come to that. The fat and puffed-up churchmen who preach their drivel and take the people's money so they can live their lazy lives...where are they now when a grief-striken group of refugees need shelter? Why wasn't the Cathedral Church opened so that these people could sleep the night out of the winds? When all the pilgrims' cells are empty at Panormitis, why haven't these people been housed and fed there? Am I cynical to note that there is plenty of food to share out in the days surrounding the Panormitis Day Festival among the Greeks who visit the monastery (and who stuff their euro notes into the collection boxes) but nothing for the (almost definitely) non-christian refugees? What use is the church if it can't act when it needs to act, and instead does nothing more than put on shows for the people on several dates during the year?
Really, it is of no use at all.
The Orthodox Church is no worse, maybe, in its hypocrisy than the churches in the rest of the World who all, without exception, preach life-destroying, soul-crushing, sexist, divisive gibberish. I'm sure many will want to criticise me for singling them out for blame in this blog, but nobody else on Symi is preaching Charity and Love-thy-Neighbour from the pulpit every week (and getting well paid for it), while exhibiting no charity themselves and ignoring those neighbours who don't happen to share the same faith as them. The Orthodox Church (not only of Greece) has ever looked after its own and turned its back on others.
Whatever force for good the church played in the past in keeping the Greek people united during centuries of occupation, that force is long spent.