I was from Lefkara once, and a journey back in time to visit it!
By Oz Orman (2008)….
Nikodimou Mylona Street might not mean anything to anyone, but to my dad, it is the pathway home. This backstreet lane holds many memories for my father as do the accompanying roads, alleyways and sidewalks made from traditional Lefkara rock.
The actual origins of this Greek street name that forms an L shape means nothing, as he walks tentatively towards his parents abandoned property. Like an excited schoolboy, he hurries up ahead recounting familiar steps he made many years ago and no doubt hearing past echoes of the Turkish Cypriot presence in this secluded dead end path.
Lefkara is a village separated into two upper and lower enclaves. Dad was born in 1939 and raised in Pano (Upper) Lefkara along with his six brothers and sisters. His father, my granddad ploughed the local’s fields and hills along with his siblings and relatives. This was a Cyprus without conflict or mass tourism and where agriculture was a way of making an honest living. The village had a population of around 2,500 residence and some argued it was the best in Cyprus, due to its heritage, location and lace making skills.
However, the troubles came and the Turkish Cypriot contingent was forced out and made to move to the nearby village of Geçitkale (Kofinou). Dad had earlier moved to Larnaca to pursue his higher education, whilst his parents stayed in the village. My grandfather who was well respected in Lefkara, left some of his earthly possessions with a Greek Cypriot friend. He told him that he hoped to be back for his wears soon and that he should look after them until he returned. My Grandad never did!
So here was his son, some 40 years later meandering through the same village and streets playing out images of his childhood and trying to make me (his son) understand that he was from Lefkara once.
Dad had enthralled his children with tales of the village and with recent border openings it gave his family a chance to witness whether it was fiction or fact. The village nettles between sweeping hills and the actual name ‘Lefkara’ means ‘white mountains’, which encompass the settlement. This though wasn’t a geography lesson, and dad made his way to the family home and past the discarded properties once of friends. The crumbling Lefkara rock and stones which were used in the original construction of these houses now lie shattered on the floor with weeds and shrubs taking prominence. His old house sits at the end of the L-shaped street and on first viewing through the wooden and paint peeled door it appears a sad sight.
Dad observed his surroundings from the front courtyard which has since been overtaken by local flora and fauna. It is more Vietnam than Cyprus, but it is home. The building which once housed a family of eight including livestock looks hardened under the Mediterranean Sun. Who knows when the house last saw a lick of paint? You are first drawn to the outdoor wooden stairs which are an entangled mass and rotting forlornly. These stairs could collapse any time, but it doesn’t stop dad from finding an alternative route to the flat roof. From here he observed the nearby hills and valleys where he would work and collect food with his family. Apparently, at night time his family would light a fire so that it would be visible in the village and reassure my grandmother that the family was safe.
Dad then returned to ground level and investigates the various rooms of the dilapidated property. He identifies and associates them with his brothers and sisters. Some of the doors are padlocked and windows fastened, whilst others are left open to the ensuing elements. The stable at the back still stands and use to house the mules which his father rode on his journeys to the fields. Now only old furniture remains here with some household utensils gathering dust. The empty rooms show evidence of the previous residency with old Greek Cypriot newspapers from 1996. It appears that an old woman lived here with her personal belongings including a bed and fridge still intact. Dad is not overcome with emotion; he left Lefkara when he was 11. However, it might be the last opportunity for him to go down memory lane. According to the Greek Cypriot press, the Lefkara municipality are looking to tear down old homes and want paying for the privilege. Will this be the last act to eradicate any Turkish Cypriot existence in this once flourishing village? There are similar stories affecting Greek Cypriot properties in the North too and the blame game continues.
Dad though looks at the house he once called home and at the outdoor oven which is now a crumpled and overgrown mess. Here his mother made and cooked the finest meals he cared to remember, but there is no room for sentimentality here. Dad knew that the house would be in a bad way and that the cracks in the foundations signified the relationship between both communities.
My father didn’t look back when he closed the front with more flakes of paint falling. His mind was at rest; he had shared his memories with me and expressed them with the same enthusiasm as he had as a child when he scoured these very streets. There was a chance to speak to some Greek Cypriots who had vague recollections of Dad’s father. Stories were shared, but time became a factor. There was a quick tour around the village where buses once meandered through the narrow streets and you could touch the walls through the open windows. The bus drivers were the Michael Schumacher’s of their day able to rotate and reverse through the maze of lanes and backstreets. Eat your heart out Monaco!
The mosque still stands, but there are no followers here. The village’s population has also declined with figures estimated at the 1,000 mark. Only the old and entrepreneurs remain, whilst the young are more interested in pursuing pay cheques in the tourist havens. Here where once my relatives harvested Carobs, Almonds, Hazelnuts, Olives, Apricots, Peaches, Figs, Wheat and a like in the nearby hills and fields lie only ghosts to a once thriving agriculturally economy. Dad and his family members along with other people of that generation knew of the struggles involved in making ends meet. However today’s Cypriot’s have other concerns and only the dedicated choose to plough the fields in the warm and penetrating sunshine and watered by two of Lefkara reservoirs, which are allegedly for sale!
The journey was over and a few photo opportunities were completed. Dad shared a lot with me today and gave me a chance to relive his youth with him. Lefkara is a special place with a climate and views to be believed. I hope that one day I’ll be able to share the same experiences and tell my children. ‘That their granddad was from Lefkara once’.