This is a continuation of last week's post! You can read Part 1 here.
"Jo, I've never visited the Petra tou Romiou...can we go?"
My aunt glanced at me from the kitchen, where she'd been helping my grandmother crack olives. I'd just gotten off the phone with my mom, who wasn't doing well back at home, and my fingers kept weaving themselves over each knuckle.
"Sure," my aunt had said, eyeing my restless hands. She had also spoken to my mom. "Actually--when Rena gets here-- maybe we could go to these yurts I was looking at."
"Sounds like an adventure." Shakily, I'd smiled.
My aunt had smiled back.
"It will be."
"We'll just have to have a normal day."
It started with my arrival in the airport. As usual, I saw my aunt/godmother, Jo, waiting on the other side of customs, and when we locked eyes: tears. Through snot and sobs, she tried to take my luggage from me; through my own hiccups I tugged it back. We laughed as we cried, and everything that's been happening lately--my fear for the future, my concerns about my mom, dad, and brother--it all came tumbling out of me in an embarrassingly public sob-session. From the airport to our village, Jo and I gave one another updates. She'd heard a bit of what had been going on at home, but there were missing holes; and vice-versa as I'd wanted to know more about the stress she'd been under (that I only sort of knew via eavesdropping on her phone calls with my mom).
It was tense, filled with old wounds opening up. Y'know, the usual drama. My first few days didn't prove to be the relaxing getaway I so craved (as I'd gone to Cyprus to escape the emotional constipation and explosions plaguing my house). Instead, I was running errands and listening to my Cypriot-family's woes:
But it was all okay, I suppose. Somehow, I wasn't as stressed listening to their problems than at home. I just...rolled with it. Listened, read in the mornings, went to the beach (Cyprus beaches are beautiful). Though it was a strange sensation to see each generation of my mother's side dealing with something. My own mother was also hitting a difficult time at home as well. We had a phone call from her that scared me. As I've said, though, there's a lot of this story that's not mine to tell.
Anyway, at this point our Long-Lost-Relative comes into play. Enter Thea Rena, stage left.
I hadn't seen my Thea Rena since I was two. She's not a "real aunt" but grew up on the same block as my mom and her sisters, so it's one of those 'we-call-you-thea-and-we're-not-related-but-okay' kind of deals. She immediately reminded me of several women in my life who I look up to and admire for their no-bullshit, call-it-as-you-see-it attitude. My godmother had planned a mini-road-trip of sorts (after all, Cyprus is pretty tiny; the road-trip should have lasted 2.5 hours, but we got lost). It was to stay in some yurts. For one night. In the middle of no-where Paphos mountain region.
"When Rena gets in on Thursday we'll just have to have a normal day," Jo told me and her younger daughter, Maria. "Lunch with γιαγιά, beach at Fig Tree Bay, a nice dinner, and some coffee--"
"--then squat-shitting in the woods on Friday, right?" I teased. My aunt sent me a glare from her seat in the driver's side. In the back, Maria grew panicked.
"No!" my cousin exclaimed. "'Αμα! Θα έχουν τουαλ έτα;" They'll have toilets, right?
My aunt ignored her question, adding as an afterthought, "Don't tell Ang either."
Straining against my seat-belt, I turned around to tease my cousin some more. At fourteen, she was high school and had only been back in classes for a week. "You'll have to pretend to be sick on Thursday, so your teachers won't be suspicious on Friday." I said in English. "At the end of the day, look sad."
Thursday came with an early start. Maria woke for school at six, Jo argued with Ang about getting some documents done early before she leaves for college, and I went for a run before the comfortable 80 degrees turned into 97. At around ten o'clock I went with Jo to the airport. We were driving back when Jo got a call from Maria.
"What?" she asked in high pitched tones. "You're sick?!"
"Huh?" I asked.
"No! You're not sick! That's tomorrow!"
So we picked up Maria who, when she saw Rena in the car, grinned like the Cheshire cat and waved emphatically. Real sick, right?
Lunch with my γιαγιά was filled with memories of Rena, Jo, and my mom growing up. Γιαγιά teased them for their silly antics and the times they thought they "got away" with doing something bad. I laughed a lot.
But then I got another phone call from my mom. She sounded frail, like her body was fizzling out inch by inch, and scared.
"Can you ask Jo to talk with me upstairs? Away from mom," she asked me. She meant her mom, my γιαγιά. I nodded even if she couldn't see me. I didn't trust the knot in my throat.
When Jo came back downstairs, phone closed, she wouldn't tell me what my mom had said. I wasn't to hear from my mom until I got back to New York.
To get my mind off everything, Rena regaled me, Ang, and Maria with more stories. My γιαγιά yelled at Ang for her ripped jeans, and I joked about getting full sleeved tattoos to get the heat off my seventeen year old cousin. We went to the beach--to Konnos, a picturesque beach just off Cape Greco and flanked by sea caves. We got some margaritas. Swam. Just...anxiously pushed back the jab of something being wrong.
Lost Roads and Abandoned Homes
The next day proved to be the adventure Jo promised. We broke the trip up by stopping in Limassol for lunch. Afterwards, it was only supposed to be a forty minute drive to the yurts.
We got lost.
We got directions from a Paphos businessman, a gas-station owner, an old farmer herding his goats, the weavers of Fyti who'd stopped their looms to help, and the owner of the Yurts too. At one point my aunt even drove into someone's driveway in some deserted mountain town. The more lost we became, the more bewildered Rena and Ang seemed.
"Where the hell are you taking us Jo?" Rena yelped as a tree branch swung into our car. I nudged Maria with my elbow and winked.
"Rena, did you bring a shovel? You might need a shovel to shit."
We all did love stopping by the weavers, though. Fyti is known for their Fythkiotika, and I was happy to buy some authentic, traditional hand-woven bags and pillowcases. Ang and I even learned that the little old woman who owns the shop we stopped at teaches classes to Paphos children on the weekends.
But then we messed up her directions, so like...moot point. We ended up at an abandoned Cypriot-Turkish village, Evretou.
In my last post, I briefly mentioned The Cyprus Problem, and I guess at this point it deserves more context. Because I don't study politics, here's a video that explains it all pretty well:
We found the village because my aunt, from one end of the mountain, saw a trail of water snaking through the valley. She'd pointed to it excitedly and said, "Yurt guy told me they're near water! It had to be there!"
We did not find yurt guy nor the yurts. We did, however, almost get stuck at a dried up reservoir because Jo's car was by no means equipped to handle off-road terrain. Driving as far as we could, Jo eventually had to stop the car, get out, and rethink her sense of direction. She and Rena conversed, Maria tried to do some homework, and I explored with Ang. Mostly, this exploration was for a photo-shoot. Ang is great with cameras, and I spotted this awesome ledge. Her footwear was perfect for tramping through the gravel and weeds, but my flip-fops left my skin exposed to thorny ground-ivy and glass. We stepped carefully around the debris, and it was then that the silence hit me.
I've been around the quiet before. My dad's home-island in Greece, Erikoussa, is one square mile and practically abandoned in the winter. My New Zealand hikes had led me through hours before seeing another person. Even in New York you find forgotten side-streets that hardly share a whisper.
This silence, though, felt haunted. I held my breath for fear it would be too loud. The sun was crawling lower in the sky, stretching across the valley from mountains to dam and casting gold and shadows around the crumbling houses. I jumped when, in the distance, dogs began to bark. Maria came running to find Ang and me; Rena called for us to get going.
Strange as it seems, I wanted to stay. I'd grown up with The Cyprus Problem hanging off my family's shoulders--a war-hero uncle who'd gone missing in action and has been commemorated in statues, the nearby Famagusta ghost-town and the look-out point ten minutes from my grandmother's house.
Famagusta had always been the big black mark we talked about--especially with tourists. It used to be the vacation destination. I've lost count of how many times a British expat bemoaned the forgotten beaches. In Famagusta, one older Londoner once told me, you really saw the beaches and thought: this is it...this is Aphrodite's island...and for an island of love, hate got in the way. I'd gone to the lookout point a few times, read about the frozen 1970s resort town; but it was always easy for me to turn away from the telescope, to close the article. Not because I was immune, but because they talked about the glamour that was lost.
Yet in Evretou, Wasn't this part of Aphrodite's island, too? Didn't the goddess of love witness divisive hate here as well?
But Rena and Maria and Jo were calling us.
"Come on, Lena," Ang said, jogging to the car.
"Wait!" I laughed nervously. "This is creepy! Don't leave me!" But as I ran after her, I felt a breeze on my back, like a hand that told me, turn around--stay longer.
In the car, I craned my neck to keep the village in sight.
We'd followed a lost road to abandoned homes, and I wasn't ready to leave them.
I think, maybe, I wasn't done mourning.
From guides to rants.