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Tuesday 26 April 2016

Foreign students in Hania: Lasting impressions

This article forms one of a two-part post that will be translated into Greek for dissemination among the Greek media.I've posted it today just before Greek Easter when Hania will be inundated by a lot of visitors, and the summer season is about to start. The article will be edited at a later date, to include photos and more students' comments. 

Hania is a beautiful Mediterranean town with a long history which comes alive through its multicultural monuments. It is easy to be astounded by its beauty even if you are a long-time resident, as you relive the history of each part of the town through each different moment that you pass through it. The town is small enough so as not to tire you getting from its one end to the other. Its compact size enables you to bump into someone you know as you walk around it, so you never feel alone; at the same time, the old town’s hidden alleys enable you to remain anonymous if you so wish. When counted together with its extensive countryside and its magical coastline, Hania also feels quite big in that you have ample choices about where and how to spend your time, and more importantly, to have a good time, no matter what your age or tastes. Hania’s very short-term residents - the tourists - leave their reviews about the town on social networks, and they would probably agree with many of the above points, given that Hania is now regarded as a 'destination' in holiday packages, and it does well in the top choices for European summer holidays.

But Hania also has a sizeable number of medium-term residents, people who come here for work and studies, such as the students of the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Chania (MAICh), one of four research and post-graduate study centres that form part of CIHEAM, an intergovernmental organization made up of 13 Mediterranean member countries. These students come from North Africa, the Middle East, the Caucasus and Eastern Europe, with a small contingent coming from the rest of the world, including Greece. During their one to three years of post-graduate studies at MAICh, they work towards a Master of Science degree in topics of urgent global interest such as: climate change and land cover mapping, food fraud detection, olive genomics, conservation of rare endemic flora, business management in the rural economic sector, and management of biotic and abiotic resources with minimum environmental impact. At the end of their studies at MAICh, these students go on to PhD studies at renowned universities all over the world, and they also take up high level positions in academia, government and private business. So they become ambassadors for Greece in effect, since their study time in Hania has played a significant role in their career path.

MAICh recently asked the students about their impressions of Hania as a place to live and work. Their insights are generally very positive. As a study location, MAICh students are in general agreement that Hania has one of the best combinations that make it conducive to higher studies: a good climate, a peaceful atmosphere, a vibrant nightlife and more importantly, a very human dimension. Here is what they have to say about Hania as a study choice.

Chaima (Tunisia) thinks that Hania exudes a warmth that cannot be expressed in words: "Chania is a perfect location for studies. First of all, the calmness and beauty of Chania are the best combination for enjoying life and building up knowledge towards a career. Since it is a very touristic place, you have the chance to meet new people every day, to see how others are, to learn about them and about yourself. When I finally leave Chania, I will have to leave a piece of me here. This warmth is very special and can't be described: it can only be felt." 

Abdelmalek (Tunisia) says that Hania has given him the chance to be more innovative: "Chania is a small and quiet town, making it very favourable for studies. The institute is located close to the countryside with a calm and healthy environment that provides the inspiration for creative thinking. Of course many students want an urban life style and night life during weekends, which is also available in the touristic part of the town. So, this diversity gives students choices in how they can spend their time." 

Haifa (Tunisia) has noticed the open-minded nature of the locals towards foreigners: "Hania feels like a multicultural community where people accept you as a foreign student and are curious to learn from you. They ask you questions about your country and why you are here. You never feel rejected or disrespected because you are different. Hania is a great location for studies, with its calm and friendly environment. People are also very helpful. You can even study outdoors due to the good weather. The landscape is beautiful and encouraging, so you really feel relaxed and not stressed at all. Hania responds to your needs if you like calm places. When you aren’t busy studying, Hania is great for walks and there are endless places for coffee with friends. But if you want to go partying or have a drink, you can also enjoy yourself with your friends at the old harbor." 

Walid (Algeria) is happy to be studying in what he regards as a very safe environment: "The climate is amazing and I love that the houses have a 'human' size surrounded by many plants and flowers. I often see doors left open, so it feels very safe! You can see families having a peaceful meal together. People's faces do not differ from those of my country. It is such a beautiful town, and I feel it isn't very different from my own home town. The old harbor is one of the most amazing places ever. It has a lot of similarities with the Casbah of Algiers: narrow roads, lots of flowers, lots of cats, an amazing mix of architectural styles and above all, an intense human warmth. Arriving in Chania, I recall my first human contact, with the taxi driver. I was surprised to find that he physically looked like me, and we had almost the same body language, mind and reasoning. I immediately understood that I was not far from home. Crete feels like heaven. The beaches can drive you crazy. You have just to swim at sunrise at the beach in Souda, or take a coffee at sunset at the old harbor, or just spend the afternoon at Agious Apostolous beach, and then you will understand why God never talked about work in heaven! It is so hard to work when you live in such a heavenly island.”

Anas (Palestine) has enjoyed exploring Hania’s landscape: "I think Chania is a very good place to study and live. The weather is really good and personally I love the fresh air that I breathe everywhere in Chania. I like climbing so I especially like the mountain areas of Chania. The people are charming and very easy to get on with. You can speak with anyone at any time and they respond with a smile. I think I will miss being here very much when my studies finish." 

Ahmed (Morocco) is glad to have had the chance to study away from the ‘rat race’: "Chania is one step in my life that has shaped my future, far from banking empires and industrialization - the Cretans prefer cash! I enjoy being in a piece of heaven on earth. I find the people here close to my culture: warm, disordered, and never on time!" Ahmed (Morrocco)

Bobi ((fYR) Macedonia) had been visiting Greece for a long time before he started studying in Hania, but he believes that Hania stands out among the other places he has visited: "I've been coming to Greece for as long as I can remember, almost every summer for just a few days, because my country neigbours Greece. So I have a wide experience of Greece, but Crete and Chania in particular are something special. The people here seem more open-minded; it is the first place in Greece where I have seen a mosque and a church side by side. Most people are warm, friendly and helpful in every way and they smile a lot. It is worth mentioning that they don't change their attitude when I say which country I come from. Chania is for sure the best city for studies. It is simply amazing. I love how most of the old structures are still looking like the time they were built.  You feel like you are in Greece, Italy and the Middle East all at the same time. You can feel the impact of every nation that has set foot on this island.  It's a great place at the weekend to relax and recharge your batteries after a week of work and study. I feel completely relaxed after a trip into the town of Chania; even if I felt under any stress, it just disappears instantly when I am in the town." 

Ada (Albania) was mesmerised by the ease with which student life melded into tourism: "Hania is one of the best locations for studies. It gives you the opportunity to enjoy yourself even if you have a lot of studies - you can be a tourist and a student at the same time. The climate, the nature, and the people helped me cross every barrier that I encountered throughout my studies."

Rhona (United Kingdom) found Hania to be an inspiration: "I think Chania is an excellent study location. It inspires me for so many reasons: the friendly, kind and helpful people I met, who never laughed at me trying to speak Greek and seemed so genuinely pleased that a foreigner had bothered to learn some; the stunning beauty of the town and its surroundings; the nature, plants, flowers and trees that were everywhere and their scents; the traditional foods, horta and herbs; the long and interesting history and its visible signs from Minoan times to the present all around; the sea and the beaches; the mountain views; the sunny blue skies, the sunsets, the night skies so full of stars; the sounds of nature, goats, sheep and chickens in people’s gardens, and the traditional Cretan music, which inspired me so much that I bought a Cretan lyra a few years after being in MAIX, even though I’m not a musician, so I’m trying to learn that, but it’s extremely hard, especially in England without a teacher. I learnt a lot about Crete during my stay in Chania as a student. It’s a different world there!"

Gohar (Armenia) noticed how genuinely communicative people are here: "Chania is one of the cities where the local community makes you feel so at home from the first day. I was amazed to see a grandma and grandpa going for a morning coffee in a local cafe - we don't see much of that in Armenia. The same with the young generation: when they are out for a coffee or drink, they are chatting and not using smartphones all the time. They are enjoying a conversation with their friends. Chania is a very social community that prefers face to face communication, while other developed cities have now embraced online communication. Since the city has a long history with a diversity of cultures, there is that feeling of a multinational community. Being an international student here, I have never felt discriminated against or treated badly. I can say that I felt safer here than in my home city." 

L'didja (Algeria) is impressed by the pureness of the air, and the uncontaminated nature: "I remember my first trip into the town. The first thing I noticed was how clean the city is: the air seemed so pure and you could smell the sea as you approached the Venetian port. Once you enter the area of the harbour, a spectacular view is offered to you. For me, seeing it in real life was better than any image I had seen on the web. It was something that can’t be translated into a simple picture. What I like most in Chania is the peaceful feeling that it impresses on you. I feel safe and quite far from the stress that you face in a city. I like the beauty and authenticity that I can discover at the corner of each street, its multicultural character which is not only present in the architecture but also in the Cretans themselves, their cuisine, and traditions. I think this is the main reason that makes the Cretans particularly prone to be open to different cultures." 

Zahreddine (Algeria) immediately understood the nature of the Mediterranean when he realized that his North African homeland did not differ so much from Hania: “When I first arrived in Chania, I noticed that nature, the climate and many other features of the town were extremely similar to the ones in which I had lived my whole life. I realized that I had just come to the perfect place for a successful study journey. Chania is a small touristic city with amazing places to visit. When we feel the pressure from our studies, we can come into Chania to wind down and recharge our batteries. As a matter of fact, I consider myself lucky to pursue my Master's in the island of Crete, and Chania precisely, a place that people dream of visiting to see its spectacular beaches, historic sites, and the genuine hospitality that it offers. The old town is just amazing and it reminds me of the Casbah in my country with its calm neighborhoods and yards full of rose bushes. Is there anyone that doesn't like the old harbour? It is a place where one can meet people from all around the world and indulge in real Mediterranean cuisine, especially the seafood which I personally like very much. You hardly ever feel stressed in Hania’s calm atmosphere. The people are so friendly, and there is very little of the hustle and bustle that is often associated with European cities. There are no big buildings or busy metro stations to make you feel sick. For me, one of the best features of Chania is to go to an elevated place with a view of the blue sea, the beautiful Mediterranean town
and the high mountains covered with snow, such a rare mixture that exists in only very few places in the world."

Liliya (Russia) highlights the importance of the climate in pursuit of personal happiness: "I never lived in such a beautiful town where summer lasts a whole year! It seems impossible for my Moscow friends to believe that in November I can pick mandarins, lemons and oranges directly from the tree, and I swim in the sea while they are already wearing jackets in cloudy, rainy, cold weather with temperatures next to zero! For me it is so important for there to be many warm clear days even in autumn and winter. You don't feel depressed when you look out the window because every day you see blue sky and sunshine! In my first year in Chania I have had more sunny days than I actually had in the whole of the four years I spent in Moscow!" 

Omar (Syria) is no longer at MAICh, but he remembers how good the food was here: "I now live in Sweden, but sometimes I really miss that Mediterranean flair when I see the traditional places they have here. I miss the vegetarian food which was harvested from the same area where we were living. Chania, for me will be always the place which welcomed me to Europe in Mediterranean hands."

Valentina (Italy) really felt at home while she was in living in the MAICh dormitories: "Living in Chania was a bit like being at home. The local customs were close to my own reality as well as the hospitality of the Cretans that made me feel very welcome. Day after day, I would make small discoveries while walking through the small streets of the town Chania is not just a tourist place, but also an ideal place for students. The city can be appreciated all year round."

The foreign students of Hania who find themselves living and working on an extended visit in this enchanting Mediterranean island are a source of pride for the town. They remind us of not just how lucky, but how privileged we are to live in a part of the world that does not exert on us the pressures of modern-day life. The old harbor offers a refuge away from the stresses of the daily routine. The strategic location of the island does not compromise its safety. The climate and history of the town make it a magnet for foreign visitors. The open-mindedness of the community endears the visitors to the locals. The remarks of the students of MAICh are particularly revealing as to what should be preserved and maintained in Hania to ensure its sustainable survival in a highly connected world. Perhaps the time has come when Hania should capitalize on its success in this respect, in such a way that its true assets are disseminated to a wider audience. 

Click here for Part 2 of this article:, dealing with students' perceptions of how Hania can be improved, what Hania taught them about Greece, and how they view Europe in relation to their time spent in Hania. 

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Thursday 14 April 2016

The state of Greece this minute

In the real world all over, we all live and deal with problems that arise on a daily basis, but we also find workable solutions to them so that we can carry on with our lives. In Greece, the opposite seems to be true. It's a very sorry state of affairs in Greece these days, with multiple crises playing out simultaneously and relentlessly. Barely do we hear of the exacerbation of one disaster than another one strikes, so that no single crisis can be mitigated to relieve the losses before the onset of the next one.

The economic crisis of the last six seven years can be summarised in one event: the closing down yesterday of ΗΛΕΚΤΡΙΚΗ ΑΘΗΝΩΝ, a 66-year-old Greek business dealing in the sale of electronic home goods, locking up 45 branches and putting 450 people out of a job. The company's announcement of the closure stated the following:
"Despite the company's continuous efforts, the state of the economy, the further weakening of the purchasing power of consumers, the capital controls, which among other things strengthened foreign suppliers' suspicions against Greek companies, coupled with the attitude of the lending banks, have made it impossible to continue the operation of the company. The business plan, which was co-decided by the banks, suppliers and shareholders in April 2015, had created reasonable prospects for the recovery of the company. The events, from June 2015 onwards, undermined and then canceled everything. The result was a tight liquidity problem, lost market share and an increase in losses. Thus, ILEKTRONIKI ATHINON, having exhausted all possible options, was led to today's painful decision...  The current development is destroying the largest Greek player in the industry, the only one that directly competed with multinationals, which are the only ones coming out favorably from this situation."
The company did not even owe their employees any wages: it simply could no longer cope with the highly competitive (and trusted) multinationals, given the uncertainty and instability of the Greek political, social and economic situation. This is basically the reason why many Greek businesses have closed down or moved their business headquarters abroad.

To make matters worse, the government announced a rise in VAT to 24% (up by 1% from its present 23%):
"A «tombstone» has been laid on any hope for tax relief by the proposal to increase the higher VAT rate by one point, from 23% to 24%, a tax levied without exception on all households."
"If the numbers don't add up, it may be the case that the lower rate of 13% will also be raised to 14%, taking with it the lowest rate of 6.5% up to 7%."
The present high VAT tax rate includes all processed food, even basic items such as sugar, flour, tea and coffee. It also includes things like a can of tuna, margarine, chewing gum, salami, tomato sauce, 'toast' bread (the stuff used to make toasted sandwiches, but never eaten with a main meals), honey, juice and chocolate and beer - in other words, items that make life more pleasant. Services that will also be affected in the same way are taxis, florists, restaurants, the building sector and transportation. In short, it will kill any hope of trade recovery, and even people like myself will have to reconsider shopping at places that will offer me a discount if I don't ask for a receipt. How much more can we really cope with?

The migration crisis seems to have abated in terms of new arrivals - the media reports that fewer are coming. But what can we do with those desperate - and very demanding - wretches that are already here, have set up camp in public spaces, and refuse to budge from the squalid conditions that they have established for themselves? The police have *kindly* asked them to go to an established migrant reception centre - but they don't want to go! The police have informed them that it's better to go there because there are bathroom and kitchen facilities - but they don't believe the police! And so far, above all, the police have not used any force on the migrants - instead, the police are beating up Greeks who stop the police force from executing their normal course of duty! The migrants do not realise that they are being pig-headed by refusing to be taken to care facilities. They think it's their right to block Greek roads, block the railway tracks, trespass on private land, eat/shit/sleep at the ferry ports, break down barricades put up by less-welcoming governments, and refuse to obey the authorities. They are exacerbating the problems they face and have turned ordinary Greek citizens against them.

One step in the right direction in the migration crisis was today's arrests of people who describe themselves as 'activists' and members of 'NGOs'. Good riddance to bad rubbish, as far as I'm concerned:
"As tensions flared anew at Greece’s border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on Wednesday, police detained five foreign nationals – a German, a Briton and three Norwegians – who are alleged to have committed a string of offenses while acting in purported solidarity with refugees who want to cross the border. The German woman was arrested near the Idomeni refugee camp after officers found a can of pepper spray in her possession. The other four activists were said to be carrying transistor radios that were allegedly tuned into the frequency used by the Greek Police (ELAS)."
These NGO activists have infiltrated the pop-up camps of the migrants under the pretense that they want to help them. But what they are really doing is spreading rumours that the border will open soon, and telling people to stay put, or - worse still - to gather together and break down the barbed wire fences. These fake activists are the ones that have caused the greatest damage to the work of the police in trying to move the migrants in the most humane way out of public spaces; these self-labelled NGOs deliberately disseminate misinformation among a dangerously determined mob who are still mired in conspiracy theories. This situation has culminated in a degrading image of Greece, as disheveled people with aimless angry looks on their faces squat wherever they find. 

It's hard to tell if the migration crisis has had any effect on tourist bookings for the summer. I can tell you the Crete welcomed A LOT OF people over the calendar Easter holidays, with Northern Europeans flocking here. I don't think we've seen so many tourists before so early in the season, ie late March-early April. I mention the tourism sector, because this is what creates the greatest impact on the revenues of the country. Without it, Greece is pretty much stuffed, as tourism cuts across all sectors. I have read sources which say that the tourism sector *only* accounts for something like 15-18% of Greece's revenues, but these sources are completely fooled: a mainland non-tourist village service station's income for instance will not be included in the tourism sector's revenues, because it's not a tourist-related business. But by renting a car through a car hire firm, a tourist who decides to do a road trip through, say, Arta to Karpenisi, and detours to see, say, the wildlife refuge of Viniani which is close to the desolately empty Lake of Kremaston, when suddenly he realises he is running low on petrol, and then searches for a service station in the closest village of, say, Viniani and finds it closed, so he goes to Marathi and finds it open, by buying for his tourist rental car petrol in some off-the-beaten-track place, he has boosted energy revenues indirectly via the tourist sector. So I refute the idea that tourism accounts for a low percentage of the GDP - absolute rubbish. Thus, we need to maintain a positive image of Greece, so the migration crisis needs to be addressed promptly.I t could be other factors (eg the Brussels terrorist attacks) that have slowed down tourist bookings in Greece (see, but Spain has seen a rise so there is no reason for Greece not to see a rise too, as it is considered a safe and cheap destination. The migration crisis is not helping. 

There has always been an education crisis in this country, but I have softened my stance since my kids started high school. They attend a village school with very caring teachers, and they love it (their village primary school experiences were not at all so loving). But this time, the rotten core is starting to show in the PRIVATE (not the state) sector. The Association of Private School Owners/Operators recently made this announcement: 
"... the Association of Teachers often operate under heavy pressure from several owners falsifying school procedures, counterfeiting scores and timetables etc. It is known to us that most private schools have been established via an unprecedented system of non-freedom, arbitrariness and lawlessness. This situation primarily harms the public interest, as some private schools issue doubtful titles in legal terms, creating inequality among students of these schools, and the private schools which are operating legally, and the public schools."
I've always suspected that the private schools in my area run simply to keep the rich/privileged together and to hand out grades under the table, and now this seems to be proven. The reason why they have made this announcement is because, from now on, private school teachers will not be able to set their final exams in the final year of senior high school - a registered state school teacher will do this, who will also mark the students' papers (see

*** *** ***

Many people blame the current government for all the ills of society and the chaotic state of the country. OK, let's admit it. SYRIZA has made a lot of mistakes, and they keep making more mistakes. Is that a reason to call an election? It depends on the level of hatred that you feel for the government. If you hate SYRIZA, you will call for new elections. If you acknowledge that Greece's problems are the result of decades of social, political and economic mismanagement, you will realise that no matter who is in charge, even if you do prefer the privately educated ranks of the opposition, nothing will sort itself out quickly. This IDENTITY CRISIS will be with us forever, as long as there's still a debt to pay, and no new ways to repay it. 

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Wednesday 6 April 2016

A brave new world - Nea Hora (Νέα Χώρα Χανίων)

On a recent walk through the old town of Hania, I came across a part of the Venetian wall encircling the town which is connected with refugee history. The long black markings on this part of the wall, on the western side near the outskirts the old town, approaching the suburb of Nea Hora, were made by the iron hooks that were nailed into the wall for the makeshift accommodation that housed the refugees from the 1922 population exchange. This is where the refugees set up temporary homes, camping out in this area until they were allotted land where they could build a home and live a semi-subsistence lifestyle by planting gardens.

A new world awaited the Asia Minor refugees in Crete. Most of them had never travelled to Greece before, having lived all their lives in areas of what is now modern-day Turkey. The refugees' first home by the wall must have been very cold, as the wall faces the sea. With the current migration crisis being played out in Europe - paying attention in particular to its suddenness - we begin to understand how refugees are forced to restart their lives literally from ground zero. For the repatriation plan of those new arrivals to be sustainable, the refugees had to be accommodated immediately and without limitations, unlike the case in the present migration crisis.

The suburb of Nea Hora, meaning the 'new town', was named as such since it was the first suburb to be built outside the walls on the western side of the town. It was established some time during the Ottoman period after the mid-1800s, when the Cretan Muslims (Τουρκοκρητικοί - Tourkokritiki) living on the island came here to seek refuge from the insurgencies taking place in various parts of the island after the Greek revolution in 1821. The Tourkokritiki constituted the first wave of refugees to the area. Crete remained under Ottoman rule for the longest period out of all the Greek territories, until the end of the 19th century. After this, it became an independent state and finally joined Greece proper in 1913.

It is not difficult to imagine how Nea Hora must have looked when the Muslims came to live in the area in the mid-1800s: imagine an area completely undeveloped, with sandy soil, cold damp winters and strong winds blowing in from the sea. It must have felt quite desolate. It was also the outpost for the start of the industrial sector of the town. Located near the beach area was the former ABEA soap-making factory, whose chimneys are still standing (a school is now located on the former factory grounds: see ABEA was the first industrial unit in the whole of Crete, built beside the Jewish cemetery outside the city boundaries of the time by a French scientist called Jules Deiss in 1889. The beach of Nea Hora was also used by the people known as the 'Halikoutides' in Hania as part of their May Day celebrations: "... a 'lumpen' Muslim community, ... the local African slave and ex-slave population, the so-called Halikoutides... were a specific ethnic group of the Cretan population, living on the margins of society and mainly employed in despised jobs, such as porters, rowers etc." (see: ).

But by 1923, nearly all the Muslims had gone*, due to a forced migration process under the terms stipulated by the Treaty of Lausanne, when the population exchange between Turkey and Greece took place. Once the Muslims left, a lot of land was suddenly freed up to be put to use for a new purpose. With the area being emptied out by this turn of events, Nea Hora became a natural settlement area for the Greek refugees from Asia Minor who were distributed in various parts of the country, including Crete. Nea Hora then began to take shape under the planning conditions of the time for the relocation of the Greek refugees.

The architecture of Nea Hora shows the origins of the early residents. The area was built up from refugees. (Click here for more photos)
It was not until the war that coastal urban areas were regarded in a more favourable light in Crete, when tourism overtook the economy of the region. Before tourism, the sandy coastal soils were regarded as inhospitable. But a plot of land - any land - was seen - and in many ways is still seen - as an easy answer to the imminent problem of housing and feeding a family. A plot of land is able to provide a roof over one's head and a sustainable way to keep food costs low since the home owner can grow some fruit and vegetables and keep hens and rabbits.

The architecture of Nea Hora alludes to the refugee origins of its early residents. From its present look, what can be inferred is that small bungalow-type houses were built by the refugees, with small gardens where they could plant vegetables and keep domesticated animals. As the town's residents grew, rooms would be added onto the houses, to provide a private living arrangement for the families of the children of the refugees. And as the town became wealthier, these small houses on the small plots of land were turned into apartment blocks, initially for family use: extended families would own the whole apartment block. Nea Hora is now the most densely populated suburb of Hania. Sustainable housing systems for extended families is still the norm in Greece, although this has meant a loss of land for garden plots with the increase in population.
Nea Hora, with a view of Lazaretta islet (right) and Thodorou island (centre) (click here for more photos)
Nea Hora is now a very popular place to go for a drink or a meal among locals and tourists, especially in the summertime. The beachfront has all the attractions of a summer resort: a family-friendly beach, plenty of cafes and restaurants, a range of hotels and rooms to let, and a very pretty marina. The streets behind the beach are worth exploring for signs of the history of the area. In the summertime, Nea Hora never fails to please, mixing old world charm with modern comforts. Fish is the most popular item on the menus of the restaurants in the region.
Nea Hora is now an inner city beachside resort visited by locals and tourists.
(Click here for more photos)
Every Thursday, a farmer's market takes place in Nea Hora, together with a street market full of vendors of all sorts. The farmer's market is also a popular meeting place for the locals, giving a community feel to the region. This again aids in the sustainability of the region, making Nea Hora feel like a picturesque urban village.
The purpose of my visit through Nea Hora was to get acquainted with the laiki (street market) of the area.
(Click here for more photos)
The western side of the moat where the Venetian walls are located marks the boundary between Nea Hora and the centre of Hania. This is also where the old Xenia hotel used to be located, sitting on top of the archaeologically and architecturally significant Venetian walls. Its installations lent a very cosmopolitan feel to the area. It was demolished relatively recently (about a decade ago) in order to clear away the historically important area of modern haphazardly erected unlicensed constructions, to allow for the better protection of the town's Venetian walls.

Despite the many apartment blocks lining the coastal area of Nea Hora, its humble origins are still highly visible in the narrow streets of the suburb. Nea Hora remains a very quiet and pleasant part of the town.

Learn more about Nea Hora: "Urban reconstruction of the district of Nea Chora in Chania" in this link: - which leads to a download of a file (in Greek).

*Not all the Muslim population of Crete left the island. The last Muslim from this period to die in Hania was in 1967. Salis, as he was known, was a Sudanese who was loved very much by the local community and well known for his benevolence. To avoid forced emigration, he took on English citizenship, which caused him some problems during the Nazi period. He is buried in Hania in the town's Christian cemetery as a sign of the great respect that he was shown by the citizens. See:
For more information about the Jewish cemetery, see

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Monday 4 April 2016

The Social Kitchen of Hania (Κοινωνική Κουζίνα Χανίων)

This post also appears in Greek (scroll down), as translated for the local and Greek press, and published in websites (eg zarpanews). 

Poverty, homelessness and hunger are all relative in the world today. The Mediterranean island town of Hania is not known for any one of these states of being. But there are always pockets of society that need more help than others, having reached a level close to one of these states of being for various reasons that cannot be easily explained. Many times, other problems that these people face have forced them into difficult circumstances which force them to experience a certain degree of poverty, homelessness and hunger, even though they may have a roof over their head.

Poverty, homelessness and hunger in Hania are all tackled in various ways. A number of state-sponsored schemes help people in need with basic food items and rent subsidisation. About 40 homeless people in the area are given shelter for the night at a children's summer campsite during the winter. And certainly, no one need go hungry in a food-rich society such as Hania, and Crete in general. One of the NGOs that help in this direction is the Κοινωνική Κουζίνα, the 'Social Kitchen" of Hania, which runs a small soup kitchen in the town centre on Tsouderon St.

In the frame of showing solidarity, last Friday, 1st of April, the graduate students of MAICh, in collaboration with the chef of the Institute and the President of the Cretan Gastronomy Network, undertook the preparation and distribution of 150 meals offered to the Social Kitchen of Hania. This is the second year that this event has taken place. As a local Institute with a strong multicultural character, MAICh's interconnection with the local community is a major component of academic and research activities, and welcomes initiatives promoting volunteer activities and community service. MAICh welcomes opportunities that make its multicultural character visible in the town.

Today the students of MAICh spent their afternoon preparing meals for the town's Community Kitchen. In the early evening, they distributed it to those in most need.
Posted by Maria Verivaki on Friday, 1 April 2016

Through this voluntary action, both MAICh and the students wanted to express their effective support for the work done by the Social Kitchen, their sympathy and solidarity with the underprivileged residents of our city. In the undoubtedly difficult times that we are living in, every citizen deserves the necessary support to allow them to live a dignified life. In this way, MAICh participated in and strengthened social structures based on the principles of collective responsibility and self-organization engaged in satisfying inalienable human rights, such as access to good nutrition.

Together with the MAICh chef Mr Yanis Apostolakis, the students organised themselves in small groups to provide help in the preparation of the meal, always in collaboration with the MAICh kitchen staff.

A decision was made to pack the portions individually, unlike last year when the pots full of food were taken to the Social Kitchen and distributed there. This indivudalisation of the portions added some cost and waste to the meal (in the form of packaging), but it was done with very good reason, in the belief that an individually wrapped meal will give some dignity to the recipients of the meal, so that they can take it away with them to eat in the comfort and privacy of the place they call home.

The Social Kitchen operates daily in Hania on a volunteer basis. Various people in the community prepare and cook meals in their homes, and take them to the Social Kitchen at serving time. Others collect food and ingredients which can be shared out to the recipients or used in the prepared meals. MAICh's contribution was made in the same way. When the time came for the food to be distributed, the students helped to load the food into the vehicles, and then to unload them at the Social Kitchen. It is not the Mediterranean way to provide cans and boxes of processed foods to feed the needy - people are given the same kind of food that people would prepare in their kitchens. Food banks also do not provide processed food to recipients of the scheme - they are more likely to be given the ingredients needed to cook a 'proper' meal (see:

Recipients of the meals know when the Social Kitchen operates, and the students watched in trepidation as they arrived. Who are the poor of Hania? What do they look like? Why are they poor in such a food-rich society? For some of the meal recipients, the migration dream did not turn out well for them; most of the meal recipients were foreigners. But there were also some older Greeks, people who have ended up alone in their older age, people who do not make enough income to afford the necessities of life, people with a roof over their head but perhaps no power supply, people that lack the skills necessary to be able to look after themselves completely. The descent to personal chaos has many forms, and each case is unique. But the Social Kitchen is not there to question or judge; it simply provides a service that is needed, without any strings attached. It is not affiliated to any religious group.

The students of MAICh were surprised to realise that many of the recipients of the meals were in fact Middle Eastern/North Africans/Eastern Europeans like themselves. Most of this year's intake of MAICh students speak  Arabic. Some come from Lebanon, a country with a refugee population ratio of 1:3 - Lebanon's population is around 4.5 million and it has 1.5 million registered refugees in the country which is roughly a little larger in size than the island of Crete (which has a permanent population of about 600,000). Some come from Palestine - Palestinians make up 600,000 of Lebanon's registered refugees. It is obvious that MAICh's students understand the refugee issue well.

The students regarded this event in a positive light, saying that they learnt a lot of things which they would not have known if they had not seen it for themselves. Poverty, homelessness and hunger are not always immediately visible, but we only need open our eyes to see what is happening and to be looking in the right places. The main thing is that almost everyone is in a position to help alleviate the effects of such situations, in their own personal way.

Η φτώχεια, η έλλειψη στέγης και η πείνα είναι καταστάσεις οι οποίες εμφανίζονται όλο και  συχνότερα στο σύγχρονο κόσμο, ίσως για να μας θυμίσουν πως η ανάπτυξη της τεχνολογίας δεν αρκεί για την καταπολέμησή τους.

Στα Χανιά, μέχρι σήμερα, τα φαινόμενα αυτά δεν είχαν λάβει μεγάλη έκταση (όπως σε άλλες  μεγαλουπόλεις της Ευρώπης). Ωστόσο,  υπάρχουν πάντα 'τμήματα' μέσα στην κοινωνία μας που χρειάζονται περισσότερη βοήθεια απ’ ότι άλλοι άνθρωποι, έχοντας φτάσει σε οριακό σημείο, για διάφορους λόγους που δεν μπορούν εύκολα να εξηγηθούν. Πολλές φορές,  τα προβλήματα που αυτοί οι άνθρωποι αντιμετωπίζουν, τους αναγκάζουν να ζητήσουν βοήθεια στις δύσκολες περιστάσεις που βιώνουν.

Είναι αυτονόητο, βέβαια ότι δεν χρειάζεται να πεινάσει κανείς σε μια κοινωνία όπως τα Χανιά όπου είναι πλούσια σε τρόφιμα, όπως και στην Κρήτη γενικότερα. Μία από τις εθελοντικές οργανώσεις  που βοηθούν προς αυτή την κατεύθυνση αυτή είναι η Κοινωνική Κουζίνα Χανίων, στην οποία λειτουργεί ένα μικρό συσσίτιο στο κέντρο της πόλης στην οδό Τσουδερών.

Την Παρασκευή 1η Απριλίου 2016, οι μεταπτυχιακοί φοιτητές του ΜΑΙΧ σε συνεργασία με τον Σεφ του Ινστιτούτου και Πρόεδρο του Δικτύου Κρητικής Γαστρονομίας, ετοίμασαν ένα γεύμα (150 μερίδες), που πρόσφεραν στην Κοινωνική Κουζίνα Χανίων. Το Ινστιτούτο και οι μεταπτυχιακοί φοιτητές του, μέσω της εθελοντικής αυτής δράσης θέλουν να εκφράσουν την έμπρακτη στήριξή τους στο έργο της Κοινωνικής Κουζίνας, τη συμπαράσταση και αλληλεγγύη τους προς τους άπορους κατοίκους της πόλης μας. Είναι η δεύτερη χρονιά που η εκδήλωση αυτή έλαβε χώρα.

Στις αναμφισβήτητα δύσκολες εποχές που ζούμε, αξίζει να υποστηρίζουμε, να συμμετέχουμε και να ενισχύουμε κοινωνικές δομές που βασίζονται στις αρχές της συλλογικότητας της αλληλεγγύης και της αυτό-οργάνωσης που δραστηριοποιούνται στην ικανοποίηση των αναφαίρετων δικαιωμάτων του ανθρώπου, όπως η σίτιση, εργασία, παιδεία, υγεία. Άλλωστε, το ΜΑΙΧ, ένα διεθνές μεταπτυχιακό Ινστιτούτο με έντονο πολυπολιτισμικό χαρακτήρα, αντιμετωπίζει τη διασύνδεση του με την τοπική κοινωνία ως κύριο συστατικό των ακαδημαϊκών και ερευνητικών του δραστηριοτήτων και χαιρετίζει πρωτοβουλίες και δράσεις εθελοντισμού και κοινωνικής προσφοράς. Με τον τρόπο αυτό, το ΜΑΙΧ συμμετέχει και ενισχύει τις κοινωνικές δομές που βασίζονται στις αρχές της συλλογικής ευθύνης που ασχολούνται με την ικανοποίηση των αναφαίρετων δικαιωμάτων του ανθρώπου, όπως είναι η πρόσβαση στην σωστή διατροφή.

Μαζί με τον Σεφ του ΜΑΙΧ, κ Γιάννη Αποστολάκη, οι φοιτητές οργανώθηκαν σε μικρές ομάδες για να παρέχουν βοήθεια στην προετοιμασία του γεύματος, πάντα σε συνεργασία με το προσωπικό της κουζίνας του ΜΑΙΧ. Αποφασίστηκε να συσκευαστεί το γεύμα σε  ξεχωριστές μερίδες,  με την πεποίθηση ότι μια ατομική συσκευασία γεύματος μπορεί να δώσει κάποια αξιοπρέπεια στους αποδέκτες του, με την έννοια ότι  θα μπορέσουν να το πάρουν μαζί τους για να το φάνε σε ένα δικό τους χώρο, όπου θα υπάρχει άνεση και ιδιωτικότητα, ένα οικείο περιβάλλον που για αυτούς αποτελεί το σπίτι τους.

Η Κοινωνική Κουζίνα λειτουργεί καθημερινά στα Χανιά σε εθελοντική βάση. Διάφοροι άνθρωποι  προετοιμάζουν και μαγειρεύουν τα γεύματα στα σπίτια τους, και μετά τα μεταφέρουν στην Κοινωνική Κουζίνα την ώρα που γίνεται η διανομή. Άλλοι συλλέγουν τρόφιμα και συστατικά που μπορεί να διανεμηθούν στους δικαιούχους ή να  χρησιμοποιηθούν στην ετοιμασία γευμάτων. Η συνεισφορά του ΜΑΙΧ έγινε με παρόμοιο τρόπο. Όταν ήρθε η ώρα να διανεμηθεί το φαγητό, οι φοιτητές βοήθησαν να φορτώσουν τα πακέτα στα οχήματα, και στη συνέχεια να τα πάνε στην Κοινωνική Κουζίνα. Δεν είναι στο πνεύμα του Μεσογειακών λαών να παρέχουν κονσέρβες και κουτιά επεξεργασμένων τροφίμων για να ταΐζονται οι άποροι. Είναι πιο ανθρώπινο και σίγουρα συνυφασμένο με την κουλτούρα μας να προσφέρουμε το ίδιο είδος φαγητού που και εμείς θα προετοιμάζαμε στις κουζίνες μας.

Οι παραλήπτες των γευμάτων ξέρουν τις ώρες που λειτουργεί η Κοινωνική Κουζίνα, και οι  φοιτητές τους παρακολούθησαν όπως έφταναν. Ποιοι είναι άραγε οι άποροι των Χανίων; Γιατί δεν έχουν να φάνε σε μια τέτοια κοινωνία πλούσια σε τρόφιμα και υλικά αγαθά; Για μερικούς από τους αποδέκτες τους γεύματος, το όνειρο της μετανάστευσης δεν πήγε καλά. Οι περισσότεροι από τους παραλήπτες ήταν αλλοδαποί. Αλλά υπήρχαν και Έλληνες, άνθρωποι που έχουν καταλήξει μόνοι τους στη ζωή, άνθρωποι που ίσως δεν έχουν αρκετά έσοδα για να ανταποκριθούν στις ανάγκες της καθημερινότητας, άνθρωποι που μένουν σε σπίτια που μοιάζουν σαν τα δικά μας, αλλά ίσως δεν έχουν πια παροχή ηλεκτρικού ρεύματος λόγω χρεών, άνθρωποι που στερούνται τις δεξιότητες που είναι απαραίτητες για να μπορούν να φροντίσουν τον εαυτό τους. Η πορεία του κάθε ανθρώπου στο προσωπικό χάος που ζει έχει πολλές μορφές, και η κάθε περίπτωση είναι μοναδική. Αλλά ο ρόλος της Κοινωνικής Κουζίνας δεν είναι ρόλος δικαστή, δεν κρίνει, δεν αμφισβητεί.  Απλώς παρέχει μια υπηρεσία που είναι απαραίτητη, χωρίς δεσμεύσεις. Δεν είναι συνδεδεμένη με καμιά θρησκευτική ομάδα, εθνότητα, χρώμα και φυλή.

Οι φοιτητές του ΜΑΙΧ έμειναν έκπληκτοι όταν συνειδητοποίησαν ότι, εκτός από Έλληνες, αρκετοί από τους παραλήπτες των γευμάτων ήταν από την Μέση Ανατολή, την Βόρεια Αφρική και την Ανατολική Ευρώπη. Δηλαδή προέρχονταν από τις  ίδιες χώρες με αυτές των φοιτητών! Αρκετοί φοιτητές του ΜΑΙΧ μιλούν αραβικά. Μερικοί έρχονται από το Λίβανο, μια χώρα με αναλογία προσφύγων  1: 3 - ο πληθυσμός του Λιβάνου είναι περίπου 4,5 εκατομμύρια ενώ υπάρχουν 1,5 εκατομμύριο εγγεγραμμένοι πρόσφυγες στη χώρα αυτή που είναι περίπου λίγο μεγαλύτερη σε μέγεθος από την Κρήτη. Μερικοί έρχονται επίσης από την Παλαιστίνη - οι Παλαιστίνιοι συνθέτουν αριθμό 600.000 επί των   εγγεγραμμένων προσφύγων του Λιβάνου. Είναι προφανές ότι οι φοιτητές του ΜΑΙΧ έχουν καλή κατανόηση του προσφυγικού θέματος.

Οι φοιτητές αποκόμισαν πολλά από την προετοιμασία της προσφοράς αυτή. Ήταν γι’ αυτούς μια εμπειρία μοναδική με ιδιαίτερη συναισθηματική φόρτιση.  Η φτώχεια, η έλλειψη στέγης και η πείνα δεν είναι πάντα άμεσα ορατά, αλλά το μόνο που χρειάζεται κανείς για να τα δει είναι να ανοίξει τα μάτια του για να δει τι συμβαίνει και να αναζητήσει τρόπους για να επιλυθούν τα προβλήματα. Το σημαντικότερο είναι ότι σχεδόν όλοι μας είμαστε σε θέση να συμβάλλουμε στην άμβλυνση των επιπτώσεων τέτοιων καταστάσεων, με το δικό μας προσωπικό τρόπο.

Learn more about the Social Kitchen of Hania - Μάθετε περισσότερα για την Κοινωνική Κουζίνα Χανίων:
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