Ayios Amvrosios: A Childhood Paradise
This is an account, it’s about my ‘day return’ pass, after many years as a refugee, to the lands of my early childhood. The whole idea of being ‘allowed’ to spend a day in my family home nearly binned the plan before it began; having to get ‘permission’ from strangers to make a trip to my own home. The event happened last year. However, I would like to tell you about those halcyon days of long ago.
It’s the late 60’s. No. It’s the early 70’s. I was christened late in life, at three years of age. I walked hand-in-hand with my toddler sister to our village church. I don’t remember this but I do remember so much! The blue skies, the beautiful anemone fields, the dazzling sunlight, the sparkling sea breeze, the smell of freesias, narcissi and my granny’s Greek coffee. I was just three, four, five years of age and free. Sounds silly but it’s not. I could wander around our village for ages and not get lost, everyone knew everyone. I was a child running wild through fields, brilliant with colour, poppies and anemones,trampling them down, two a penny, as wild as me. Free flowers for everyone… Free fruit for me, from my Great-Grandmother’s orchard where the sweetest, most delicious apricots, mandarins, mespila and figs were ripe for the taking.
A favourite day out was the bus journey to Pladimati. An away-day treat: just me and my lovely aunty, Efrosini, going to visit uncle Mihalis tending his sheep: sheering, milking and making halloumi and anari.
School. The best bit about school was not the ruler! The best bit was feeling proud in my uniform, making new friends and the bread and jam we were given at break times.
My freedom, the wild flowers, Great-Grandmother’s orchard, Uncle Mihalis’ sheep, the days of my childhood innocence were about to come to a sudden and terrible end.
It was July 1974. I was six years of age. I was ready to go into my second year of school. And then the bullets came, our homes were stolen. We slept under the night sky. We sheltered under apricot trees. We waited…
On day four we were driven to the Six Mile beach near the town of Kyrenia where we were airlifted by helicopter on to the HMS Hermes. We spent three days and two nights on the boat… collecting… 4,000 refugees in all. We eventually sailed to the British Base at Akrotiri, from there we took a Military Transport plane to Stanstead Airport and finally, a bus to Paddington Station, to a new life, in the cold, grey dampness of the northern climes, wearing nothing more than a sundress and a pair of flip-flops.
The return is still a dream. Over thirty years of no home, then, in 2004 we were granted ‘permission’ by the invading force to see the damage, to visit, as guests.
Fast forward to 2006. Much has happened since 2004. The 2004 referendum for one thing, an affront to Human Rights. A referendum which has brought, in its wake, massive illegal development of my land, my family’s land, my people’s land. A flawed referendum rejected by the Greek Cypriots because it was seen as a lose:lose situation.
Now, the day trip. The fifteen mile trip from the Check Point to Ayios Amvrosios takes about forty five minutes. We took the mountain route through Halefka and down into the village. It was a hot July day.
My thoughts. I wanted to locate every memory, to cram as much in as I could, to turn feint into bold. To see my school, the village square, the orchards, the anemones, our home: the birthplaces of my imagination.
My feelings. Excitement, apprehension, anger. In some ways it was like going into the unknown. I was just six years old when we were forced to flee.
There were no orchards, there were no anemones, our pretty Greek village now resembled a Turkish shanty town, everything run down, dilapidated. Only my school lived up to expectations, nearly. It was well maintained. I sat on its steps with all my memories, then I looked up, Ataturk’s statue before me, interrupting me. I spent the whole day on a roller coaster of anger, irritation, frustration.
My home. It’s as I remembered it to be, in every way, (except the ruin). Nothing had been touched, so to speak, in over thirty years, not a lick of paint. The same fitted kitchen, the same three- piece bathroom suite, the floor to ceiling mirrors where I would stand for ages, practising my whistling skills were in front of me.
Our village church, once the proud centrepiece of our little community, stripped bare of its belongings, now a mosque. Streets filthy with litter, the stench of rubbish spilling out of wheelie bins, all around me.
Last, but by far the most depressing, worrying and shocking of all: the rampant development of holiday homes and hotel complexes, all of it illegal and all of it under
our noses. Under the noses of the international community more over. One could argue that a complicated situation is going to become even more complicated. One could also argue that it’s simple: it’s our land, it belongs to us.
Helen, that was a very moving story, I had no idea that you were subjected to such a harrowing experience. Beautifully written, and excellently explained, I absolutely agree with your last comment: “One could also argue that it’s simple: it’s our land, it belongs to us”.
Bravo Eleni mas!