There are many things that people complain about when moving to a new country… There are many things that I did complain about when we first moved here nine years ago, pregnant with my first child. I could talk about the problems I encountered with my parenting choices that weren’t standard practice here at the time. I could moan about the driving here (especially in Limassol!), or the lack of public education around issues such as littering, dog mess and recycling. But there are so many things that I have come to love in this country that I have planted my heart in, this place that I now call home.
For the past three years, we have lived in a traditional neighbourhood in central Limassol where the average age on our street is over 60. Where the old folks still leave their front doors open from dusk ‘til dawn and sit on each other’s verandas sipping coffee… Where they still take their morning and late afternoon walks to greet each other and catch up on the day’s news. A neighbourhood where everyone knows each other’s business!
I found it a little stifling at first when we moved to a house in a street like this from the more anonymous living offered by an apartment in Nicosia – the feeling that everyone was watching our every move and knew the ins and outs of our daily life. The fact that there was a ‘code’ of practice that required me to sweep the pathway in front of my house every day (I still don’t manage this one) or the expectation to stop and chat everyday even if I was rushed of my feet.
Very quickly however, I grew to love the fact that my neighbours looked out for us when my husband was away for work, or when our dog escaped in to the street, or when one of the kids were sick. That my plants would be watered when we were away, without us asking or that that pathway would be swept when I once again didn’t find the time to do it. I learnt to appreciate the generosity of our neighbours, who always have a bag of lemons, or a freshly made cake or some home-made bourgouri (bulghar wheat), ground on their veranda and left in the sun for the dust to blow away) waiting for us in the evening. And just as importantly, I came to appreciate the change in pace here – where time moves slower than the rush-hour traffic a street-away and the little interactions that can make such a difference to your day are still held sacred.
Our kids love visiting our elderly neighbours and sitting with them to crack nuts with a stone, or to sieve through a pile of olives, learning which ones to use for oil and which ones to reserve for eating. I love that fact that they are getting the kind of education that they don’t get from us and that they interact daily with an older generation when their own grandparents aren’t always close by. We feel part of a community, which is so very important. ‘Social capital’ is what it is called – the benefits that come from that feeling of connectedness and of being a part of something larger than yourselves.
Home is what I now call Cyprus. It is where our kids were born, where they are being educated and raised. Where we have started, admittedly reluctantly at first, to lay down our roots. As a foreigner here, I have the freedom to pick and choose the best of the cultural habits that I adopt and the choice to reject the ones that I don’t like.
Sometimes I feel like we’re in limbo, with a foot in each country and arms stretched out to the various places in the world that our loved ones live. Yet, I’ve realised recently that with all the changes happening in Europe and America, in the World at large, I’m glad we live here. This little bubble of island-living has so much potential. So much room to grow. A great deal of equality of opportunity, where the child of a manual labourer can still dream of gaining a PhD and where money doesn’t always dictate what you become in life. I just hope this doesn’t get lost, as so many beautiful things in Cyprus are being lost with the inevitable changes that result from modernisation, social and geographic mobility.
Yes, there are things that do need to change. Things that make me pull my hair out on a daily basis (as there were in the UK or America). And there are things that I hope we keep hold of, tightly, as we rush so quickly towards the social models we see elsewhere in Europe. For now, I will make the most of those lemons left on my doorstep, or the wonderful patience, tolerance and love of children that Cypriots have.
We don’t always choose where we lay down our roots and it can sometimes take us a while to realise how deeply our hearts have become entangled in them.
We choose how we make our home and the rules and standards that we live by within our own four walls. We educate our children to think before following everyone else’s behaviour and to be accountable for their own actions.
And in raising kids, you come to realise that there should be no walls, no obstacles to being the kind of person you want to be. That comes from within… And within each of us, there is common ground, if you’re open enough to sit down together on a veranda to sip coffee and appreciate it.