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Digital Subscriptions > DIVA Magazine > December 15 > A different kind of beach holiday

A different kind of beach holiday

WELL-KNOWN AS A LESBIAN HOLIDAY DESTINATION, LESVOS IS NOW THE LANDING SPOT FOR THOUSANDS OF REFUGEES
PHOTOS MEL STEEL,TZELI HADJIDIMITRIOU

It’s the end of September and there is glorious sunshine the day we arrive on Lesvos, but everyone knows a storm is coming. It’s been forecast for days and there are worries about how the refugee boats will hold up in the short but precarious crossing from Turkey. The UN refugee agency estimates that 3,000 migrants have died at sea so far this year trying to make it to Europe. The morgue and cemeteries on Lesvos are running out of space for the bodies.

We’re on holiday, although we know that this will not be like any other holiday we’ve spent here before. Eresos, where we are staying, is a sleepy beach town in the remote south-west of the island, best known as the birthplace of Sappho. It’s a good hour and a half’s drive away from the areas most affected by the refugee crisis and, to the casual eye, looks the same as ever.

Look closer though, and everything has changed. The women’s beach is unusually deserted: many of the women coming on holiday this summer have chosen instead to drive across the island to volunteer in one of the several overflowing refugee camps in Myt ilene, the island’s port capital. Posters in the women’s bars and cafés appeal for visitors to donate money, groceries and clothes, and weekly collections are taken directly to the camps and the landing beaches. The Sappho Women’s Arts Festival dedicated its headline events this year to fundraising for the refugees. At Flamingo, a lesbianrun bar on the seafront, notices announce a volunteer rota for those who wish to help out at PIKPA, a small camp tending to those who have lost family members at sea or who have injuries or disabilities. The rota has been organised by Marieke Splinter, a 31-year-old Dutch theatre practitioner. She has visited the island many times before as a tourist but this year, having followed the news reports about what was happening, wanted to help. I ask her why, given the likely antipathy of many of the Muslim refugees towards women and lesbians. “Well,” she says, “it’s a small women’s community here. Maybe we’re more geared towards looking after each other. But beyond that, I felt it was my responsibility. This is a historic moment, and we will be judged by what we do right now. These people are trying to get to Europe, not to Greece. It’s not just up to Greeks to help them.”

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About DIVA Magazine

Kristen Stewart tells DIVA what has been going on for her since Twilight, why she's avoiding blockbusters and what life is like for her in the tabloid spotlight. Christmas has come around quickly! Some of us love it, some not so much, so with that in mind for our gift guide, we’ve scoured the land for queer businesses, artists and crafters so you can buy your loved ones gifts and support community businesses while you shop. Because some of us like our Christmas a little different – with the honourable exception of Susan Calman – we asked counsellor Alena Dierickx to help us with a few suggestions on how to take a more innovative approach to the festivities. We’ve a bumper crop of arts-related features this month. From queer Muslim artist Raisa Kabir’s exploration of what it feels like to be both included and excluded by your own communities to author Andrea Stuart’s beautiful and thoughtful coming out story (in extract) . Author/performer Yang-May Ooi reflects on what it means to be a lesbian Asian woman living in the West. Many of us know what it’s like to be affected by homophobic abuse and Louise Carolin’s powerful feature on this issue reflects how, despite significant legal changes, hate incidents persist. Perhaps our experiences of feeling cast out explains why LGBT people are heading to Lesvos to help refugees fleeing persecution, as Mel Steel discovers. Plus all the very best in life, scene, books, film, music and TV.
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