Bucolic scenes are almost common place this time of year in our slice of the Greek Peloponnese. Wildflowers are carpeting the olive groves while oranges and lemons ripe for the picking hang like Christmas decorations from the trees.
|Springtime at The Stone House on the Hill|
This may be - in our collective opinion - the best season of the year here because the countryside's idyllic scenes are a backdrop to villages coming to life with celebrations and events leading up to Lent, or Sarakosti, as it is called here.
|Lemons and wildflowers mark spring here|
Yet, the beautiful scenes and festivities are being a bit overshadowed by events putting a different spin on the season this year. And it all seemed to start during Carnivale. . .
|Kalamata Karnivali banners decked the streets|
Carnivale, Karnivale, is the jubilant period leading up to the start of Lent; a time of celebrations involving eating, drinking and dancing. A time when cities and villages are as decked out and as festive as the party-goers themselves.
The Karnivale decorations were up and posters announced upcoming events in Kalamata on the day we chose to run errands there. By happenstance our trip to the big city fell on Tsiknopempti, 'Smokey Thursday'. Tsiknopempti always falls on a Thursday 11 days before Kathara Deftera ('Clean Monday' the official start of Lent.).
|Streets decorated for Karnivale|
|Sidewalk bbqs in Kalamata for Tsiknopempti|
Coronavirus arrives in Greece
|The bus comes through the village twice daily|
That announcement, last week, seemed a bit of an over-reaction at the time. Two days ago when I started this post there were still only nine confirmed cases of the virus in all of Greece and 13 hospitals throughout the country designated as treatment centers. By this weekend though the number of confirmed cases has jumped to 45.
|Wildflowers carpet the Mani in March|
None of those individuals with the virus are from our area. A majority of the COVID-19 victims seem linked to a tour group that had traveled in Egypt and Israel. The three regions in Greece in which those travelers live have pretty much shut down all activities and events. Residents of those areas are not being allowed to travel internationally at this time.
Ironically, our former home in the city of Kirkland in Washington State, was labeled by the Washington Post newspaper as 'the epicenter' of the virus in the United States. The first U.S. death from the virus was in Kirkland. Several more COVID-19 deaths have occurred there. The state has been hardest hit in the U.S.- so far. Media reports say shelves have been emptied in grocery stores as people stockpile for a possible quarantine, workers are working from home, rush hour traffic jams have disappeared and events are canceled. Friends living there describe the atmosphere as 'freaky'.
|Our village Agios Nikolaos at night|
I'll admit though after having read so many articles about supplies disappearing from shelves, I did decide to buy a box of disposable gloves at our local supermarket. There were three boxes of them (a full stock) and all were dust covered.
The Scribe and The Scout after being held in Greece last year while awaiting our residency renewal, vowed we'd travel more this year. Our first outing is to France the end of April. If we cancel our week's reservations we lose the week - no refunds or changes are being allowed. At this point, we don't plan to cancel and The Scout has plotted four options for getting there and back.
Conflict at the border
We also have in Greece the matter of an increasingly tense conflict with Turkey, our neighbor to the east. These two countries haven't been getting along well for sometime and headlines often call out air space violations and oil drilling concerns.
|Islands mentioned below and our home near Kalamata are some distance apart|
But the current tense situation is caused by the overwhelming flow of immigrants and migrants into the two countries as they flee their warring homelands and seek asylum in Europe. The route to freedom takes them through both Turkey and Greece. My brief recap below doesn't do justice to the situation - full reports can be found on most European and Middle Eastern media. I used several of those media to compile this synopsis:
Turkey is reportedly hosting 3.6 million registered Syrian refugees and immigrants from other countries like Afghanistan. The Turkish president recently announced he was opening the border for them to the European Union - their route via Greece. He's quoted as saying he'll allow 'millions' of refugees and migrants into Greece.
|Immigrants have risked their lives on small boats trying to reach Greece|
Greece, however, is at maximum capacity for housing refugees and has said, 'no more'. The few camps created since the exodus began five years ago are already far in excess of the numbers they were designed to hold.Thousands of men, women and children are being held on three Greek islands -- Lesvos, Samos and Chios -- per a European Union containment policy, while awaiting the processing of their asylum requests.
The migrants are saying 'enough'. Reports of growing vandalism and theft by some of those held in the camps has prompted the Greek island residents to also be crying, 'enough'. Residents for years have rallied donations and care for those who've arrived on their shores over the years.
In January this islanders held protests, demanding help and support from the Greek government. Media report that local vigilante groups are being formed. That was before the Turkish president announced he will allow even more migrants to enter Greece.
This week the American Embassy in Athens and the US Consulate in Thessaloniki issued travel warnings to Americans who are or who are planning to travel to those islands and the mainland's northeastern region of Evros, near the Turkish border. It was reported that the US Embassy had received reports of violence against Americans trying to travel in Lesvos.
|Springtime in Greece|
Thanks so much for the time you spent with us today ~ let us know in the comments below or an email how life is going in your part of the world ~
Linking this week with:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
My Corner of the World Wednesday