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29 Chapter 2 Transnational Rhodes On Rhodes today, the global interconnections that are a hallmark of contemporary transnationalism are everywhere in evidence. They are literally embodied in the island’s population, a fluid and constantly shifting mix of natives and the international tourists that seasonally outnumber them ten-to-one; of thousands of bilingual and bicultural offspring produced by the many unions that have taken place between native and tourist over the last several decades; of mounting numbers of migrants, both Greek and international, drawn to the island’s vibrant tourist industry; and of diaspora Greeks returned from their sojourns in nearly every corner of the world to rebuild their lives on the island. The familiar logos of contemporary globalization are also hard to miss. McDonald ’s anchors a central venue in downtown Rhodes, and there are no less than three Body Shops from which to choose. With the deepening economic integration of the European Union, regional department store chains such as Marks & Spencer, British Home Store, and Zara now offer a much larger selection of goods than the smaller Rhodian shops and boutiques ever could. Yet, however intense and accelerated the current Rhodian experience of transnationalism and globalization may be, it is not entirely new. For much of its history, Rhodes could be aptly characterized, borrowing Appadurai’s term, as a “translocality” (1996, 192). Cross-cultural trade, religious organizations, and knowledge networks have long suspended the island in a cat’s cradle of intersecting ties that extended far beyond its insular borders. Above all, its strategic location ensured that Rhodes was a complex site where people of various ethnicities and religions commingled, their networks, allegiances, and identities often blurring the borders of empire and nation. The ethnogynecology and ethno-obstetrics I describe in the next two chapters are a case in point. Part of a far-flung body of medical knowledge that washed over the island with each new wave of conquest and colonization, local Rhodian medicine was almost as global as the biomedicine that eventually replaced it. This chapter offers an overview of the island’s history helpful for understanding the evolution of its 30 Bodies of Knowledge medical systems, and traces the distinctive contours of its social and economic landscape today. The Place Rhodes is the largest and most populous island in the archipelago province known as the Dodecanese. The name, which means “twelve islands,” refers to the dozen major islands first recognized as an administrative unit under the Byzantine Empire. Today, the province is composed of fourteen islands and many more uninhabited rocky islets, some lying in contested waters only miles from the Turkish coast (Kasperson 1966, 10). Annexed in 1947, the Dodecanese was the last region to join the Greek nation. Since the Ensomatosi, or incorporation , of the Dodecanese Islands into Greece, Rhodes Town has served as the provincial political and administrative center, just as it had for centuries before. With approximately half the island’s total population of about a hundred thousand (Dhimos Rodhion 2002), Rhodes Town is also a hub of commerce , education, and medical care and, in recent decades, the destination of the vast bulk of the international tourism that is the economic mainstay of the region. Rhodes’s pronounced dominance has endowed it with a diversity of opportunities unavailable on the other islands. Still, its economic and social life today is overwhelmingly defined by mass tourism. The dynamism of the tourist sector, together with the city’s occupational diversity, has attracted migrants from throughout the archipelago, as well as from mainland Greece, and most recently from the Balkans, Eastern Europe, and South and East Asia. It has also drawn many native sons and daughters back to the island from North America, Australia, Argentina, Africa, and Western Europe. Thus, while most of the towns and villages of the Dodecanese have steadily shrunk over the last several decades, a few to the point of near abandonment, Rhodes Town continues to swell and sprawl. Rhodes must surely rank among the most heavily touristed places in the world. Since the onset of mass tourism in the 1960s, the volume of visitors has been climbing unremittingly. In 1999, for instance, the island, with an area of just 1,400 square kilometers, hosted 1.2 million tourists, an astonishing one-tenth of Greece’s total number for that year (Rollisson 2000, 3). The vast majority travel on package tours from Northern Europe aboard the parade of charter jets that roar overhead every fifteen minutes or so during...


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