Chios Island in Greece
Wilco Van Herpen
Greek islands are situated just a couple of sea miles away from the mainland of Turkey. Sakız Island is heaven on earth for finding tasty sakız.This week I am writing a story about Turkish people and the dispute with the Greek people or vice versa. At least that is what some people try to make other people believe.
As a tradition every year, at the end of Ramadan we go to İzmir’s Balıklıova. This year we went early to escape from the hectic and sometimes deadly traffic that happens every year during the time that people get in their cars to go to a happy and sunny destination. In Europe we call this black Saturday, the time that all the drivers are confronted with hundreds of kilometers of traffic jams and accidents. Taking the ferry from Yenikapı in Istanbul to Bandırma helped me getting a bit more rested, and after arriving in Bandirma it is just a five-hour drive.
The first couple of days we spent in Balıklıova. We discovered a new beach near Çeşme. Driving through Çeşme on the way to the beach, passing the harbor, I saw a sign that pointed out boats going to Greece. What if we go to Chios this week, I wondered.
A couple of kilometers later there was a sign that said Ramo beach. Following the signs, the road became very narrow, the tar road turned into a dirt road and then, finally, there it was, Ramo’s place. The sand was like silver, the sea was crystal clear. Another very positive point, at least for me, was that dogs are allowed on the beach as well.
Another advantage of the beach is that it is very shallow. Slowly the water becomes deep which makes it perfect for people with children. The feeling I got here was a little bit like Kelebek Vadisi (Butterfly Valley) a very alternative place near Fethiye. The Turks have a beautiful name to describe the situation of such a place: They call it “salaş” (Bohemian).
A couple of days later some friends of mine and I set off to Chios, Greece. In Çeşme I bought my tickets, 20 euro per person, and off we went. It did not take long before we reached the island, actually, to pass through customs takes longer than the boat trip. Once you manage to pass through customs it is a 15-minute walk into town. The white and blue houses, cafes and restaurants in the harbor and scooters, many scooters, are the first thing that attracts your attention. This time no big island tour, it is just going to be one day in Chios, just enough to do some shopping and have a nice late afternoon lunch at one of the many restaurants.
Following their advice I visited places like Alexandropolis and some Greek islands that are situated just a couple of sea miles away from the mainland of Turkey. Our first aim was to find sakız (mastic gum), the reason for the trip, with a very specific taste. Many years ago you could find those trees in and around Çeşme, but unfortunately all those trees have been cut down and therefore Sakız Island is heaven on earth for finding this beautiful, tasty sakız. Being with friends who also wanted to buy sakız, I went from one place to another. Either the sakız was too expensive or it was sold out.
Then suddenly, when we had started to lose hope, someone advised us to go to a shop not far away from the place we were. The owner welcomed us with a smile and asked where we came from. He had a lot of Turkish customers, since in Turkey there was no way to find mastic gum, and was happy we made it to his shop. It turned out that he was a wholesaler and most of the souvenir shops bought the mastic gum from him. He offered us something to drink and soon we found ourselves in a deep conversation about the past. “It is a pity that the politicians are mixing and stirring things,” he told us, “because actually we are brothers. My grandfather, may he rest in peace, used to live in Alacatti, but after the forced ‘return’ he settled here in Chios.” We bought the mastic gum, paid him and thanked him for the hospitality.
Now it was my turn. Being in Greece I did not want to miss the opportunity to buy some feta cheese and nice sausages. I was lucky, not far away from the place where we bought the mastic gum I saw a butcher. Outside freshly made sausages were drying in the sun. When my friends and I entered, there was no room left for any other customer, and it was almost time for him to close his shop. You know the Greek people place importance on their afternoon rest, and in five minutes he would close the shop. Seeing all those beautiful different kinds of sausages and meats it was hard to make a choice.
Without asking any questions the butcher started talking about the old times. “It was such a nice time with all the people living together, no matter what their religion was. Unfortunately the times have changed, but we are still doing good business with our Turkish friends. A lot of people come here because they want something else,” he told me. He took his big butcher’s knife and started to cut big pieces of sausage, which he offered us.
“You should try this one, this I sell to all the restaurants here on the island,” he said and offered me a thin sausage. Not able to choose I decided to buy all the different kinds of sausages he had on display and a kilo of bacon. Very nice for my bacon and eggs breakfast, I thought.
Our daytrip to Chios was finished but all of us had a good time. On the boat I discussed the Greek-Turkish problematic relationship. Seeing what I experienced today on Chios combined with my experiences in Turkey, where in a lot of restaurants and shopkeepers play Greek music, I came to the conclusion that this hate-projected image was not right.
I think a lot of people actually would like to see the “old” Turkey back; a time when people were living next to each other no matter what their religion or political color was. There are no feelings of hatred from the “normal” people, just another political tool that is used whenever it is needed.