As we began our descent into Larnaca International Airport, a familiar wave of excitement came over me. I looked out of the window and I could first see the sea – the sea of home! Then came the coast, then came the gentle, green hilltops, then came the houses with their characteristically flat roofs, water tanks and solar panels, and then came the runway.
Cyprus. Home. While my heart fills with joy every single time I arrive into a new country, the feeling of being home after a long absence cannot be matched. The excitement of being in a foreign land is brought out by the unfamiliar, but at home it’s the familiar that makes me feel alive: hearing Greek being spoken, the sight of Commandaria and Cyprus Brandy at duty free, the fresh air that fills your lungs the minute you walk outside the terminal.
It’s a feeling that makes me wonder, each and every time when I return, why I choose to stay away for so long. And you would think that with thoughts like this filling my head, it would be an easy decision to come back and settle here one day soon.
But it’s not as straightforward as that.
While I was born in Lincoln, UK, I consider my home village to be Ora, Cyprus – a place where the chickens outnumber the humans and where the stars shine bright. This is where my maternal grandparents, great grandparents, and to the knowledge of those who are still alive, my great, great grandparents, were all born and brought up.
I consider my home village to be Ora, Cyprus – a place where the chickens outnumber the humans and where the stars shine bright.
I also lived here from the age of nine to 16. During those first years, I loved it. It was the perfect place for a child – zero crime and endless fields in which to play. We were the only family in the village with a games console, and, as such, we spent most of our time outside, where our imaginations were the only limit to the games we’d play. Summer evenings were spent watching the stars fall in the vast, ink-black sky.
Once I turned 14, though, things changed. My imagination grew at a pace that the village would never match. I started dreaming of lands foreign to my own, and big, thriving metropolitan cities. I wanted to explore. I wanted to make a name for myself. I wanted to live somewhere where I could do more than play volleyball at a makeshift net that was made from tying a piece of string from one house wall to the other.
We left Cyprus when I was 16, and moved back to Lincoln. Although it was hardly the most happening town in the UK, it was bigger than the suffocating village. I planned and plotted – I’d first go away to university and then in the years that would follow, I’d go and live and work abroad. I had an insatiable hunger to discover new places and I couldn’t ignore it.
I wanted to live somewhere where I could do more than play volleyball at a makeshift net that was made from tying a piece of string from one house wall to the other.
I passed my A’levels with flying colours, went away to university, and got myself a degree in psychology. Towards the end of my course, I started writing for the student newspaper, The Ripple. Little did I know that this seemingly small decision to contribute to its pages would be what led to me becoming a freelance writer and ultimately having the freedom to travel the way that Ankit and I now do.
Two years after graduation, I booked a ticket to Dubai on a whim, packed a suitcase and went off in search of a job. I luckily landed one, and spent the following seven years living a pretty amazing life, while also travelling around the Middle East and Asia whenever I had the chance to. And then I met the love of my life and we decided to take the trip that we’re now on.
When I come back to Ora, as happy as I am to be back here, I also get scared. Actually the right word is petrified. I’m petrified of ending up back in Cyprus and being trapped. I’m petrified that as much as I love this island that I call home, that it’s somehow too small for me. I’m petrified that if I live here I’ll never get to see as much as I want to still see. I’m petrified that I’ll end up trapped in the usual routines that people are trapped in – bringing up kids, paying bills, trying to maintain a career. Routines that stop people from travelling.
I’m petrified that I’ll never be happy with what most people regard as normal: being settled.
As I was laying the table for dinner one night, I had a vivid flashback from my childhood. I was staring in a Christmas play that was organised by the village’s youth club, and the scene that came to my mind was of me, saying one of my lines as I lay the table for my fictional family. It’s the kind of flashback that is completely unexpected, and that mostly comes when you’re back in familiar territory – a childhood home, old school, or while looking through faded photo albums.
It’s when I’m here, back home, surrounded by my family that I remember these random moments. We can sit and reminisce for hours, tears – of both joy and sadness – streaming down our faces. And these are the things that I miss while I’m away. And I also feel like by being absent for years on end I’m not creating new such memories with everyone.
Life goes on while I’m gone. And it’s becoming increasingly painful to acknowledge that.
As I was sat with my grandmother one afternoon, she started to tell a story from her past. She usually has a habit of repeating stories over and over again to the point where I believe I’ve heard most of them at least ten times throughout my life. This time round, though, it was a tale I had never heard.
She was telling me the story of when her father passed away. My great grandfather had problems with his heart for a while and suddenly became very ill. She told me how on his last day at home, he asked her to cook him an egg – he also asked that she made one for herself so that they could eat together.
“Did he know that it was the last time we’d ever eat together?” she asked knowing that there is no definitive answer.
That same day, he was rushed to hospital. During the following day or so, he was ill but believed to be stable. “It was my nephew’s birthday, so we all gathered at his house to cut the cake. As we were, singing happy birthday to him, he shouted Bappou (granddad), Bappou, Bappou, as he looked up at seemingly nothing,” she explained.
Following the cake cutting, they returned to the hospital. As they made their way through the corridors, my great grandmother spotted a nurse carrying my great grandfather’s clothes. “The minute she saw that, she knew that he had died. Had my nephew, who was a child and therefore had an innocent soul, seen my dad there watching over us while we cut the birthday cake? Who knows.”
And as she said this sentence, both she and I burst into tears. I went straight over to her and embraced her in my arms, knowing the thing that was not being said as we held each other. And this is the thing that’s also never said when she holds me before I leave again each time.
How long do I have left? Is this the last time I’ll ever hold you?
Our time in Cyprus is slowly but surely coming to an end. The other day, Ankit and I sat down and put together our travel plans for 2015, which we shared in our monthly newsletter. As we listed some of the destinations – Japan, Nepal, Taiwan, Hong Kong – I got ridiculously excited. I realised that I’m not ready to settle down or to put an end to our trip, despite the fact that I’m completely dreading having to say goodbye to everyone.
Truth is, this trip is something I’ve dreamed about for years. I cannot end it just yet. It doesn’t feel like it’s time.
But I’m glad that I feel this way when I return home. It makes me realise more and more what I personally need in order to lead a fulfilling and happy life. I know now that travel has to form a major part of my plans no matter where I am or what I do. I feel stagnate, uninspired and miserable without it. And it’s taken me a good proportion of my life to realise just how important it is to me.
I know now that travel has to form a major part of my plans no matter where I am or what I do. I feel stagnate, uninspired and miserable without it.
On the other hand, being home again makes me realise how I’m no longer happy seeing my family for only a couple of weeks a year. They’re far too important to me for that. Life goes by so quickly and none of us are here forever; you really have make time for the people that you love.
So I now know that whatever plans I make in the future, they will have to include a lot more family time – whether that means living in Cyprus and making sure we are set up in a way that we can travel a lot, or making sure I come here at least two more times a year.
It’s not easy to get the right balance, but at least I’m getting closer to it. For now, though, I’m looking forward to boarding that plane and revelling again in the unfamiliar realms of a foreign land…