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Recollections of my early life and migration to the UK

By Ismail Veli……..

Our early experiences and feelings often tend to shape our lives, thoughts and aspirations. Unless a traumatic experience affects us, we often forget the hardship, sweat and toil and concentrate our memories on nostalgia.

Most immigrants learn to adapt, embrace and integrate into their new environment, they rarely forget their original birthplace and that of their ancestors. Such is the yearning that we return time and again to simply relive our childhood. It seems embedded in our psyche to the point where it almost seems impossible to let go. It’s true that the reason for leaving is in most cases due to poverty, deprivation and war which all play a part in forcing people to abandon their ancestral homes in search of a better life.

Emigrating and the human desire to better themselves is not a new phenomenon, it’s as old as mankind itself. Human nostalgia manifests itself most powerfully in the dream that one day we will return. The vast majority however never do. In our hearts we all know the difference between reality and nostalgia. Holiday visits to our birthplace are often brief, some replace this desire with the search for our roots who are very important to us. Who and where we come from is very important to us. Who were our ancestors? what were they like and how did they live? Knowing how our grandparents worked and toiled in atrocious conditions just to earn a meagre living brings us to the realization of how fortunate we are to have escaped working in the searing heat and remember the most basic of amenities which we had.

My first few months in the UK. I just turned 7 years in this photo

These thoughts had never left my mind when I left Cyprus in 1962 as a six year old. My thoughts have always shaped my insatiable desire to learn more of my roots. Some cobwebs may be found along the way, but what I found was the amazing courage, perseverance and immense diversity of what was essentially a small village of which the world or even Cypriots knew very little about.  In the search for my roots the discovery that such a small community of a few thousand had such diverse backgrounds like Bosnian, Albanian, Arabic, Turkoman, Turkish, Greek, and God knows what else (Only DNA genealogy can establish our distant past)  has left me with a strong feeling of knowing from where and how we arrived to the 21st century.

Some of my roots were of strong military background which eventually collapsed into one of rural poverty, forward a hundred years into the second half of the 20th century and we find ourselves spread far and wide. At one point our community seemed to have been decimated, the modern internet however seems to have been the great equalizer.

My early life in the UK were as far as I remember happy, but there was always an emptiness and yearning for the rural simplicity, hills, vineyards and having all my cousins around me to play in such beautiful surroundings that Lurucina offered. At that stage in my life the work and toil or suffering of my parents was not something that I understood, I was too young to fully comprehend. I did notice my parents worked very hard to provide their 3 children with the best they could. I was very observant and took note of their beliefs, attitudes and principle that their children were first on the priority list. I was always proud of my mother’s amazing hard work and her ability not to concede her principles on how she brought up her children. My father, though a bit softer, was a hard working and amazingly talented man in the telling of ‘Biimada and  Tsiatista (epic stories and poems). Though illiterate he would respond with a poetic answer at the drop of a hat.

With no computers and little television, family get-togethers were always a great time. Adults and children often gathered to hear my father’s poems and love stories in poetic form, which being in Greek often ended in tragedy. As a result we were and still remain a very close knit family.

I guess my story is not much different to others, I simply love reading and hearing about other people’s experiences which always leaves me happy as we soon realise we all have one thing in common, that is the desire to help our children and grandchildren to have a better economic future, but never to forget how and where we arrived in foreign shores which we now accept as home.

My cousin Sermin getting married circa 1967-8. Everyone in the photo were from Lurucina

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