Friday, June 12, 2009


Monday was the Cypriot holiday of Kataklysmos – celebrating the Flood and honouring the Holy Spirit. When we were homeschooling, I took Alex and Sophia to the monastery of Agios Neophytos to find out what the holiday was about because I couldn’t figure it out from others’ explanations. Anyway, we found a friendly monk and he told us that according to Cypriot Orthodox belief, the Holy Spirit is linked with water, cleansing, and purification, and is therefore honoured during the celebration that commemorates the Flood.

On a practical level, all Cypriot children know the day as Water Day, and mine usually remind me of its coming for weeks in advance and urge my purchase of the biggest, most garish, and most powerful water guns that the supermarket can provide. They spend the day filling these weapons and ambushing everyone from their grandfather to the goats, the cat, and the Vietnamese helper, and throwing water balloons that we all spend the next few weeks cleaning up.

But this year, because Kataklysmos is not a part of my culture and I was busy with other things, I forgot and they didn’t remind me. So no guns, no balloons, “No FUN!” the Littles yelled indignantly.

Because I hate dealing with the crowds at the waterfront for the traditional celebrations – the bishop throws a cross into the harbour and youths dive for it, retrieve it, are blessed, and then party in the restaurants – I decided to take Zenon and Leo up the road to the Village at Aphrodite Hills where I knew that there would be a small celebration involving a Bouncy Castle and several of their friends from school.

I sat with mothers in the playground – and felt as if I were in a time warp.

Two of the mothers I sort of know – one in a social way (her husband and mine are acquainted), and one because my children and hers go to the school at Kouklia and, mine translate for them and have forged the kind of strong friendships that come from being ‘different’ in a close-knot community.

I felt like a matriarch: the oldest mother there, and the one with the oldest children – Zenon -- at nine -- had a year on the oldest boy there, and most of the kids were two or three. I hadn’t sat with a group like this for at least ten years because Kay has most of the social care of the Littles, and when I do have them, it’s not in a context of smaller children, but of their peers and older. When I said that my oldest son was fifteen, and that I had a daughter of thirteen, a few looks of relief were exchanged among the ladies bouncing small babies on their laps: ‘there is life after babies and toddlers then!’

I did feel a bit strange when I saw all the babies sucking on bottles and dummies. My crowd all nursed our babies to toddlerhood, and we didn’t have nappy bags that matched our push-chairs and inexhaustible supplies of baby-wipes. But we didn’t hang out in the shadow of the ritzy InterContinental then, either! The town park did the job…

Our chat covered the usual parenting topics of foreign mothers in Cyprus: in-laws – for the two of us married to locals, schools, Greek, supermarkets, ‘home’ and how much more pleasant life in Cyprus is than life ‘Back in the UK’.

“You know, looking around here, I can see all sorts of things that just wouldn’t happen ‘at home’,” one of the ladies said. “The trampoline, for instance, would have to have a guard on it; there’s no way that pony rides would be allowed; parents would not be helping children that they didn’t know on the climbing frame or swings; and YOU,” she looked pointedly in my direction, “certainly wouldn’t be allowed in here with a camera!”

Another mother took up the theme: “Since we came here from M (a town in the North of England), I’ve felt like I’ve become a whole new person. At home, I never would have allowed T. outside the house alone (T is eight). Here, every morning, he takes the garbage, walks across the road, and puts in the wheelie bin! I drive around with the window open, and I don’t feel like I have to be quizzing every body about where they are and what they’re doing all the time…”

She is unusual though, in that she and her husband are committed to learning Greek, to keeping their children in a Cypriot community, and to embracing the life here. Her two younger children, already in kindergarten and pre-school, will not have the difficulties that her 6- and 8- year-old are facing with language and playmates.

Most of the English that have come in the last year or two have no interest Cypriots. And now that enough Brits have moved here to create a parallel economy – they can come here, buy land, build a house and fit it out, send their kids to school, socialise, and collect their pension all without encountering a single local – they increasingly hold themselves aloof. (When they die, however, their relatives do have to deal with the local bureaucracy.) Very few newcomers bother to try learning Greek, let alone to understand the place to which they have moved. As long as the sun shines (but not too much!), the beer, wine, and smokes are cheap, and the locals keep to their place, they’re not bothered…

… But I digress and start to rave. This will be a topic for a later post that I feel brewing.

For now, I’ll return to the playground at Aphrodite Hills, its stunning view over the sea, and the breezes that played on the back of our necks as we sat watching our little darlings bounce indefatigably in the ‘Jumping Castle. All day admission free to children under 12’. (“You mean there’s something free here!” one of the women exclained. “Amazing!”) We took turns strolling around and look at the stalls set up in honour of the holiday, munched pizza, drank cool bottled water, and listened to the Greek dance music that floated down from the Exhibition in the Village Square. It was a good day. With Kay off to a wedding in England for a fortnight next week I will be spending more time with the Littles, and I’m looking forward to that. Summer is hot, but not yet oppressive, and school is nearly out!

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