«Russell King, Anastasia Christou and Janine Givati-Teerling Sussex Centre for Migration Research, University of Sussex ABSTRACT This paper focuses on ...»
So there was a difference there, the safety and security, and whilst I was brought up so strictly and thought that everyone else was like that, the reality was, and that’s why they called us villagers and stuff, that they looked down on us, the Cypriots here looked down on us, because they saw us as villagers… I always enjoyed seeing my cousins over here and stuff, even though I got teased as well – they used to take the piss out of my Greek [laughs]… They see us as villagers ‘cause we went, or people left after the war or whatever, and they kept their traditions as tightly as possible… and most of them were village traditions, because they were brought over from the village, whereas they [the Cypriots in Cyprus] had become Europeans, they’d become modern, and progressed, and they see us as being backwards a bit, which I actually find hilarious, ‘cause it’s the other way round. The thing is that actually we are more open-minded, more worldly, than they are. But the other thing I was seeing when I was age 15...
Once again, there are many interesting issues raised here, which we will come back to later in the paper. For now, let us hear two more ‘narratives of freedom’. Although the most striking accounts were related by female interviewees like Theodora, note that, to some extent, the same contrastive experiences applied to young males (the second of the two quotes below).
Um, it was weird because I was allowed so much more freedom here, I mean, I was kept on such a tight rein [in South Wales], I remember being 14 and coming out here… and I was allowed to go to night clubs, you know, and go out with my cousins in Paphos… go to bars, go to have ice-cream outside, you know, in a restaurant at 12 o’clock at night and have a pizza, you know, after the disco, and stuff like that, it was very odd. My parents were around in Paphos having a night out and they’d let us wander around and go off and walk on the promenade and get ogled by all the boys and… I suppose it was just safer for them, and they had more time, I don’t know, perhaps they were just more relaxed, being out here, you know, and they trusted people that were around, the people who I was with… it was so much easier and I don’t know, they were just, they had a better handle on being parents here than they did in the UK, it was quite weird (Maya, 42, GC).
Oh yeah, I remember coming over, my first holiday I remember, I was six, I remember the beach of course. Cyprus was very different back then. I remember the beach, I remember staying in the village, we had a house in the village, I remember staying in the flat here in Limassol… I remember my cousins, playing with my cousins. I remember the food of course… Cyprus was brilliant because you got to play without any restrictions… you don’t have to be home by a certain time, my parents felt safe leaving me out with my cousins, they’d never have to ask where we were. I remember I learnt to ride a bicycle in Cyprus and as soon as I learnt I was out everywhere, whereas in England I wouldn’t have dreamt of getting a bicycle. I remember I wasn’t allowed to play anywhere apart from our garden in England, whereas in Cyprus as long as there’s someone that they knew with me I could be anywhere… I felt a lot freer as a child in Cyprus (Harris, 29, GC).
‘They were going to marry me off here’: teenage and later experiences For some, however, during the later teenage years, views of Cyprus were more mixed.
Particularly in the villages and away from the towns and beachlife, Cyprus seemed a duller place with not much to do. In other cases, interviewees realised that the trips were a chance for family members to introduce them to a potential marriage partner, which they generally did not appreciate.
Yeah, we came here every year for about five-six weeks and we loved it, I mean up until I was about 13 or 14 I loved it, we’d count the days with my sister to come over, because we were freer here… we used to go to my mum’s village in the mountains and we’d just run around all day with other kids… But when we started getting teenager-ish and we wanted to go out, they were a bit stricter; that’s when I started to hate it… I didn’t want to come here any more (Anti, 38, GC).
The first time I came I was six, in 1965, and then I came again in 1972… and ’74… and I didn’t come back for eight years after that, in ’82, yeah… I didn’t want to come here when I was older … because there was pressure from my father’s family, that they were gonna marry me off here, and I just did not want that (Tania, 48, GC).
For Greece the picture is somewhat different. On the one hand there seems to be more continuity of pleasant feelings through the various phases of childhood; and on the other hand we find more young people, particularly in their college and university years, visiting Greece independently from the US, so the encounter with the homeland may be less family-oriented. But, for both Greece and Cyprus, it is difficult to generalise about these ‘older child’ visits because of the diversity of views and
experiences. Three contrasting Greek-American voices:
We got here as fast as we could and my dad would get us out in the countryside… we spent most of the time just visiting family and you know having huge feasts… like these long visits to people and their friends… the relatives… you know often boring visits where we had to wait and wait until they finished talking and stuff and really dull (Dora, 34 GA) … and when we were here… we were always around our Greek cousins and I have Greek-German cousins and they would always come down from Germany and we would always spend time together and … because we didn’t share another language, we would have to speak Greek together so my Greek was emphasised more and I think I really had a great time. I never had a bad experience coming here on vacation. Whether it was with my parents or by myself because I think that when I was around 18 or 19 years-old I started travelling to Greece by myself and every year or so I would come here with friends and we would travel to the Greek islands and we always had a great time… (Loukia, 34, GA).
And because my mom has so many sisters we met every summer and spent our time between [names a series of places where various sisters lived]. We spent a lot of time near Plagiari [close to Thessaloniki] because it was closer to the beach and there was more room to stay. So there I have [names her aunt, her cousins and their children], it’s just one big happy family. Easter-time we’d skewer lambs in the yard, summertime we’d have lunch all together after the beach, oh, it was just great, wonderful. In Athens I have [names another aunt and cousins] … and I’d spend half my time there… we went to the beach… and every evening we’d go out, you know, when we were younger just for a coffee, juice or a walk, and then as we got older in high school for a beer or clubbing, this and that. Agrinio, I stopped going to Agrinio [her mother’s rural village] in high school because it was boring. Can I talk about my memories [of Agrinio]? (Magda, 36, GA).
‘We took a bath with the chickens’: on tradition, backwardness, authenticity and nostalgia The question at the very end of the last extract leads into the next key theme from the childhood narratives, reconstructing what was seen as a traditional and now
disappeared (or fast disappearing) way of life. So Magda’s retrospective continues:
My favourite memories of Agrinio are, I guess, it’s culture shock, coming from San Francisco in America to a house that had no inner plumbing, and today I have an extremely irrational fear of bugs and I swear to God it’s from that house. There was a hole in the ground… with spiders and cockroaches, ants, big ants, I’ve never seen ants so big, moths at night, mosquitoes, all kinds of creepy crawly things, and you had to squat there. It was awful… every time I went in there, there was the stench and the bugs. That was a bad experience but looking back I think it did me good. I don’t know how, but I like it that I have the memory of that… The good memories I have from that house is playing in the yard with the chickens, yeah because the back of the house was a hencoop and I didn’t mind waiting for the water to heat up on the wood-burning stove and to pour it into the tin buckets to take to the bath in the hencoop [laughing]. We took a bath with the chickens! […] I remember my grandmother, old lady just in black with long braids, and I was always kind of afraid of her. She looked scary to me; missing teeth. I have images of her chasing a chicken round the yard and finally grabbing it, cutting its head off and that thing running around headless until it dropped. I had been looking from the window, I was so … mesmerised, shocked. And I would tell these stories to my friends back in San Francisco and they thought I was lying […] I remember the taste of the food; it was so good; the chicken had a different texture and a different smell and some flavour, and the bread, there is no bread like that… the smell of bread baking and the wood-burning stove… anything that was cooking just tasted so good. I was always a stick because I never ate in San Francisco but when I was in Greece I always ate and put on a few pounds. I loved the food, the chicken, the tomatoes, the cheese, the fruit; I remember eating pizzas and ham… and just getting soaking wet from the juice of the pizza.
Sights, sounds, smells and tastes all emanate powerfully from this evocative account, tinged with nostalgia on the one hand and more than a hint of scariness on the other – the toothless grandmother, the headless chicken and the foul-smelling toilet. The quote resonates closely with Agnew’s (2005:10) remark about migrant memories being ‘surrounded by an emotional and sensatory aura that makes them memorable’.
Such reminiscences emerged time and again from the accounts of early visits, especially of the older participants whose childhood visits were in the 1960s and 1970s. The villages, especially, are remembered as sites and spaces of consumption, gifts, hospitality, food and family warmth. Here, ‘our Greek (or Cypriot) cousins’ figure prominently, both because they are generally so numerous from families of this era, and because they are the obvious same-age kin members with whom to play and ‘hang out’.
Some more quotes from the narratives, first on the themes of family love and
It was always a fantastic experience, because I came here and I had aunties and uncles and cousins and they adored me; you know, I was their brother’s son or their sister’s son, and they’d spoil me and give me a lot of attention (Angelo, 36, GC).
Loads [of family]… yeah, they’re like cockroaches… my mother is one of nine children, so there’s lots of aunts and uncles and cousins, extended family, great aunts, and even neighbours that we’d call uncle and aunt… Everybody made such a fuss of you, all aunts and uncles, pushing money into your hands, that was always a good thing! [laughs]… and eating everywhere you went… In Cyprus you get that sense of welcome… of hospitality… you must sit down, you must eat… (Marc, 35, GC).
Some expressed nostalgia for a rural way of life that has all but disappeared:
…when we first came here in the 70s, like Greece was so different… We would go to the village… we’d ride donkeys and… it’s not like that anymore… When you come to Greece [nowadays] you’ve still got beautiful places, but in the 70s, for instance there was almost no trash back then, people didn’t use packaging, like they would re-use it, like the cans that they put flowers in… it was a different context to the States where we had grown up [where] there were all these consumer things and the packaging and trash (Dora, 34, GA).
Others were particularly struck by the sensual experiences of these childhood and
earlier-life visits – the colours of the landscape, the smells, heat etc:
…and those years later when I was in Germany, there was one thing that still attracted me to Greece: the colours and odours still stored in my mind since my childhood. I mean the thing most people like in Germany is the dark green colour of the German forests – I never liked that. I remember the light green colour of trees in the summer, the dried-up land… (Lydia, 34, GG).
Every time I got off the plane and that heat hit you in the face, and the smell of Cyprus, the dust, it was strange, very strange, I can’t describe, you know, it felt like I’d been away and come home, instead of the other way round (Mike, 57,GC).