Pictured above is the most regular of the buskers who plies his trade on Ermou, Mytilini’s main shopping street. He varies his location from time to time (though not by much), and his music is a pleasant and welcome addition to my regular walk to work. There are also other musicians who appear for a short while. When I first arrived, there was a trio – accordion, guitar, and middle-eastern drum – whom I would swear used to follow me about. I would walk past them on the harbour front and make my way to some obscure tavern within the old town, and within five minutes there they were again. They were competent enough, though their repertoire was limited (though I never had to put up with it for long, as they moved on quickly.) But they have now disappeared, so I assume they have moved on to islands new. More recently, a young guitarist appeared on Ermou, strumming his stuff inconsequentially, and largely ignored, so far as I could tell, and he too has now disappeared. (This sounds far more sinister that it actually is, I suspect. And hope.)
There are more actual beggars here than I had expected. There are various elderly women who sit on the pavement, some waving a plastic cup at people passing, others remaining stoically silent. There is one old gentleman who occupies one particular spot, who tugs at his forelock as one passes; I do tend to acknowledge his presence with a nod, but don’t give him any money (and I don’t know whether this makes me more or less irritating, from his point of view.)
Then there are the numerous children. I at first made the lazy assumption that they were refugee children, but actually they are roma. They spend all of their time approaching people sitting in cafes for money, using the international symbol of hunger by raising their hands to their mouths, using a hangdog expression which presumably looks for sympathy. They usually operate in a group, and are the most persistent, sometimes borderline aggressive, beggars. There is no doubt that they are in need, for they are filthy, and undoubtedly hungry, for they will accept food when it is offered, either by customers or waitresses clearing tables. But while I am sympathetic to their situation, I never give them money. If they are ever to escape the lives they lead, they need to find a role (or have a role found for them) that offers them something else.
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