Indiana University and DIKEMES (the International Center for Hellenic & Mediterranean Studies) sponsor a credit-bearing, three-and-a-half week service learning programme on Paros every summer, taught by Anthro-pology Professor Susan Buck Sutton and based at the Aegean Center for the Fine Arts in Paroikia.
The course teaches students about modern Greece and asks them to work with community organizations to gain a deeper understanding and connection to Paros. The 16 students enrolled in the course this year began what will hopefully become a multi-year project of working with the municipality to advance its environmental programme. The collaboration was organized by Alegre Eskaloni, Director of the Paros Library, Maria Triviza of the municipal tourism committee, Alekos Karpodinis of Anemomylos-Alexander Travel, and the Paros Commercial Association. Yannis Drakoulakis of the Environmental Office and Kosmas Hatizigrigoriou of the Society to Transform the Shape of Tourism were also closely involved. Together these individuals guided the students, and provided transportation and generous portions of sandwiches and much-needed water for them as they worked each day.
For the first week, they cleaned beaches in several parts of Paros. For the remaining time, they began the project of restoring the old stone footpaths.
Beach or Waste Basket? by Rachael Mattice
The first portion of our service project consisted of cleaning trash off several beaches under the direction of the Municipality of Paros. The municipality gave us firsthand experience of the kind of work many Parians do daily. From farming to gardening or walking along the scorching tar roads radiating with heat, it’s tough working in the blazing sun – we give the locals credit.
Neither Aveeno nor Coppertone could do much to protect our sweating skin. As our muscles ached and the SPF faded, we came to see that hardship does indeed make us stronger.
Our first day, we traveled to Krios beach in Paroikia where we met Manolis Kavalis from the Paros Environmental Office who guided us in the clean-up. Our task was to pick up any garbage along the beach and nearby roads. Our group of 22 individuals had a contest to see who could find the most interesting object. It turned into a group win, however, as we were able to piece together enough cast-off clothes for an entire outfit by the time we were done.
We all had laughs from our picking and scavenging that day, and it kept the morning light and cheerful. And we didn’t go hungry: Yannis Drakoulakos, head of the Paros Environmental Office, came by to bring us delicious tiropites for lunch.
This was our first week in Paros and we were getting to see the beautiful coast of the island for the first time. One of my classmates, Erica Edwards from San Francisco, told me that it fitted her picturesque idea of Greece perfectly – with frappe-coloured beaches and more shades of blue and jade in the sea than could fit in a crayon box. Everywhere we walked there were aromatic scents of sage and thyme, with wafts of seasoned salt water.
However, when our eyes focused on the ground in front of us, we saw a different image. Plastic in all shapes and sizes, bottle caps, aluminum cans and cigarette butts were everywhere. The beaches had become giant waste baskets!
After Krios beach, our mission continued to Laggeri and Monastiri near Naoussa where we were greeted by Maria Tripolitsioti and two sanitation workers, Michalis and Panayiotis, who guided us to the beaches. Our last day of beach cleaning was in Aliki where we had a surprise visit from the Mayor who came to shake our hands and thank us for the work we were doing.
During our snack breaks, we usually took the opportunity to lie down and rest (and occasionally snooze). We also exchanged thoughts on how to maintain the extraordinary coastal environment that foreigners as well as Parians have loved for centuries. We hoped our efforts would be noticed and emulated by others.
So it was a great feeling when people started hearing about our efforts across the island and telling us “thank you” or “keep up the good work”. Some honked their horns. Some clapped when we went by. Even other foreigners showed their gratification, and several jumped in to help, one wading into the water to retrieve trash.
It seems the desire is there to keep the beaches clean. We came to appreciate the efforts that Paros is making in this direction, and we also came to see that the responsibility belongs to all of us, locals and tourists alike. This project helped us become more self-aware while also letting us grow as an intercultural family with the people of the island.
The New Old Road by Vasiliki Gianakos
The 1,000 year-old Byzantine road got a makeover this summer.
Along with sandy beaches, shops, and historic architecture, the island of Paros offers some unique points of interest for hikers and nature-loving travelers.
Several foot trails cut across the island, connecting towns and villages. The largest and most recognized path is known as the Byzantine Road. Constructed over 1,000 years ago of large marble and limestone slabs, it connects the historic towns of Lefkes and Marpissa.
Due to the spread of motorized transportation, the Byzantine road is little used by local residents today and has been falling into disrepair. Stone walls flanking the path have been damaged by water erosion, letting more and more dirt slip onto the smooth marble walkways. As weeds grow up through this dirt, and stones from the walls block passage in some spots, the path has become less defined and more difficult to traverse.
For the second part of the Greek anthropology class, students worked with the municipality to begin restoring these paths. This began with a two-hour-long hike to become familiar with the Byzantine road, led by Christos Georgousis, a Parian author and retired school principal.
Georgousis guided the students up the winding path, passing century-old olive trees, family vineyards and picturesque views of stark white villages and monasteries. He told the students to hike the trail using all five senses.
Wild herbs sweat in the hot sun, releasing their oils and filling the air with their aroma. All along the trail oregano, thyme, sage and fennel are abundant. Wind whistles through the reeds, and there are over 200 species of birds known on Paros, many of which can be heard by the quiet early morning hiker.
The students also spent a day making signs at the Eikastiko Ergastirio (Art Workshop) near Paroikia, under the guidance of Argyro Vavanou. The signs will be posted along the trail, making it easier for hikers to keep their bearings as they walk along, passing small side-routes to the surrounding towns and villages.
Most of the student effort, however, was put into clearing the trail of rocks and overgrowth, under the direction of Kosmas Hatzigrigoriou of Lefkes. The students hacked down shrubs and trees that had grown up on the path. They uprooted weeds and moved stones to create at least a metre’s width of walking space along the trail.
With 4km (2.5 miles) of the most neglected, and seemingly the most popular, parts of the trail cleared from Lefkes to Prodromos, only a small portion from Prodromos to Marpissa remains unmanicured.
The rich history of these paths is still alive in the tales told by older Parians who remember using them in the old days, before mopeds and cars became the main source of transportation. Some even continue to use parts of the paths today. Yiannis, an old goat herder who lives just outside Prodromos, says he takes his goats up those trails to get from one feeding ground to another. He also remembers using the Byzantine road as a child to get to the schoolhouse, a small one-room building that no longer stands.
While no one knows exactly how old the paths are, Dimitris Yorgaros of the Dimos Paros is among those who believe they are at least as old as the Venetian period on Paros. “A horse can go on a road like this. The Venetians had horses… Maybe this place is much older than we think... we can only guess,” he told us.