Travelling to places with substantial historical significance – Angkor, Agra, Damascus – has always excited me. I let my imagination run away with itself as I walk around crumbling monuments and old buildings, the walls of which whisper their secrets to me. But what about the places that hold significance to our own personal life stories? Are they any less important?
I asked myself this very question as I set out on a photo walk of my home village of Ora, Cyprus. Here, childhood memories played out before my eyes as I clicked shot after shot. There may not be any buildings of monumental historical importance, but there are buildings and landmarks that echo my childhood – I see it in the pine tree that I once etched my name into and the weather-worn tarmac that I’d draw a hopscotch course on.
There may not be any buildings of monumental historical importance, but there are buildings and landmarks that echo my childhood.
I lived in Ora from the age of nine to 16. We moved here from England after my parents divorced as my mum wanted a fresh start. My grandparents offered for her to have their house, so we arrived in 1991 with our suitcases full and our minds fixed on the promise of daily beach excursions.
As far as I know, most of my mum’s side of the family hail from this very village. When I was young I used to enjoy the stories that my grandma would tell about how things were ‘in her day.’ While there are only 210 inhabitants now, back in the 40s there were well over 1000, and the now deserted streets were hubs of activity.
What struck me hard as I walked around is how much more deserted it is now when I compare it to when I lived here 20 odd years ago. This was evidenced strongly by what used to be the old coffee shop, which is located in the middle of the village and by the side of the main church. I vividly recall how when you’d walk past you’d see loads of people – mainly men – sat outside sipping their Cypriot coffee, playing backgammon and card games, whiling the afternoon away.
Having closed a long time ago, the same courtyard is now overrun with weeds, and the building is merely a shell. I used to spend a lot of time here, as my friends’ family owned the café, so I’d sit and chat to them while they’d make coffee and take out bottle after bottle of Coca-Cola and plates of mahalebi, aromas of rose syrup surfing the air.
I’d sit and chat to them while they’d make coffee and take out bottle after bottle of Coca-Cola and plates of mahalebi, aromas of rose syrup surfing the air.
Every Saturday they would serve souvlakia – Cyprus’ national dish, which consists of skewered pork meat cooked on a BBQ and served in a pitta bread with salad and dips. As loads of people would also come up from the towns at the weekend to see their parents, it would be really busy, particularly in the summer. If you walk past here now on a Saturday night all you’ll find is emptiness, darkness and silence.
The church somehow looks unchanged to me, which proves the enduring importance of religion in the country. Being in the courtyard always reminds me of Easter – my favourite Cypriot holiday. On the morning of Good Friday all the women congregate there to decorate the ‘epitaphio’ – the place where Christ is laid to rest in church during the evening service – with flowers.
I remember the excitement of opening the boxes to see what flowers had been delivered, while older women from around the village would come to the church with blooms that they’d cut from their gardens. Being one of the younger girls in the equation, I only had the privilege of watching the proceedings and dreamt of the day when I’d get to be in charge of things. That day never came, though, as we left when I was 16.
The concrete is uneven in the middle of the church yard; that’s from the heat generated from the massive fire we light on the night of Easter Saturday, which is my favourite day of the holiday. Service begins at 11pm, and the fire is lit so that we can metaphorically burn Judas who of course kissed and betrayed Christ – an action which led to his crucifixion.
As I left the courtyard and took a look at the church wall I smiled – I slammed into that wall one summer’s evening when I was racing a cousin on my bicycle. We had agreed on a certain route, but he went right when we said we’d go left. I turned to shout at him and crashed into the wall. I still remember the walk of shame back up past the coffee shop as all the old men stared at me and my scraped arm curiously and tutted at how careless us youngsters were.
Walking around my dusty school yard, though, brought back the most memories. When I attended from 1991 – 1993, there were 26 pupils. Sadly, the school closed a couple of years ago, and the village’s kids now go to a school in a neighbouring village.
As I took a look around, the taste of my old school sandwiches (Greek bread, halloumi cheese, ham, tomato, warmed on the stove during break time in the winter) came to mind, as did the sound of a football bashing against the concrete wall as we’d play different games. I thought of all my school mates, some still living in the village, others living in town, and how time has not only started to weather the empty school building, but how it’s also started to weather our own faces.
I thought of all my school mates, some still living in the village, others living in town, and how time has not only started to weather the empty school building, but how it’s also started to weather our own faces.
While in the school yard, I remembered how I managed to convince our teachers to allow me and a couple of friends of mine to open a little shop at the back. Clearly I was an entrepreneur from a young age. We sold sweets and crisps and other things, but we were forced to close when money went missing from our makeshift till (note: I still have my strong suspicions as to who it was!).
Just outside the school was a little mini mart – one of the only two there were in the village – that was run by an old man called Feso. Feso died years back, and the shop is now closed, but I remember my brothers and I getting our sugar fix regularly there in the form of Regis ice-cream and way too many sweets.
I made my way up to the village’s second church and as I walked there my mind was cast back to the summer walks we’d all go on. Back in those days, there was no Internet, and games consoles hadn’t made their way here yet (my brothers and I were the only kids to have one), so we had to use our imaginations to keep ourselves entertained. We’d play volleyball over a makeshift net we’d make – i.e. a piece of string stretched between two buildings in the middle of the road – and we’d have to take it down every time a car would drive past, much to our annoyance.
Just the other evening I was commenting to a friend of mine how the village’s roads are eerily deserted now. You barely see a soul. Back when I was a child, all the kids would be on the streets. We’d be out riding our bikes, playing hopscotch and other traditional games. The Internet came along, however, and took the village’s soul with it.
The Internet came along, however, and took the village’s soul with it.
The evening summer walks were my favourite, especially in August when we’d lay on our backs and watch the star showers. This is where my dreams were first made; it is here that I dreamt of travelling some day, it was here that I dreamt of going away to university, it was here that I dreamt of writing my first book (I’m working on that one, stars!).
This is where my dreams were first made; it is here that I dreamt of travelling some day, it was here that I dreamt of going away to university, it was here that I dreamt of writing my first book (I’m working on that one, stars!).
I also took a quick walk through the graveyard, which always serves to remind me of how fleeting life is; how people who also once called this home have long since departed. I saw the faces of many of my friend’s grandparents staring back at me from the epitaphs, a strong reminder of how quickly time goes by. It doesn’t feel like so long ago that many of these very people would be shouting at us for something we had or had not done.
After I clicked my final shots of the evening, I sat down to enjoy the sunset. As much as I love travelling to far and fascinating lands, I always ground myself here, in this humble village. Yes, it will never attract masses of tourists or the attention of travel magazines, but its importance to me and my life story is unparalleled.
I joke that nothing changes in Ora, but that’s not true. It does change. Buildings get older and crumble. People age and die. But the one thing that remains constant is that this is where home is, and just because I don’t physically live here it doesn’t mean that my heart cannot.
But the one thing that remains constant is that this is where home is, and just because I don’t physically live here it doesn’t mean that my heart cannot.
What place is of significant importance to your life story?