By Annette Chrysostomou
A new book offering fascinating insights into life in a mining community 90 years ago is now available on Kindle.
“Mining Memories on Cyprus 1923-1925: Photographs, Correspondence, and Reflections” by William J Everett tells the story of his American grandparents’ two-year stay near the Skouriotissa mine. Its publication as a Kindle e-book also gives the author a chance to share 116 evocative photos which were taken during their stay.
Charles Jackson, the author’s maternal grandfather was superintendent of the ancient copper mine from 1923 to 1925. He and his wife Ruby arrived on the island with their nine-year-old daughter Betty and six-year-old son Frank after a month-long journey.
Everett, Betty’s son, was surrounded by his grandparents’ memorabilia of documents and photographs from Cyprus from an early age, but it was only when he retired that he began to take an interest in his grandparents’ stay at the mine.
And for his 30th wedding anniversary he and his wife finally made their way to Cyprus to see the place for themselves in 2012. He was the first member one of his family to ever come back since they left in 1925.
Even though Everett’s grandfather died when he was five, he heard plenty about the years spent in Cyprus from his mother, Betty, and grandmother, Ruby.
“My curiosity became a work of memoir. I became a miner of a different sort, unearthing memories buried not only beneath my own awareness but, as it turned out, that of many others,” he says in his book.
What he did find, armed with the old photos, when he made it to Skouriotissas in 2012 was the church which is still open to visitors and the monastery with its distinct neo-classical columns where 90 years ago visitors and employees stayed. Nowadays, due to Cyprus’ division, it is in the buffer zone and used by UN soldiers as barracks.
Apart from the photos, which form a unique collection, Charles and Ruby’s attitude about life in Cyprus is also captured from letters they wrote home to America.
Despite their American rather than British heritage, the couple display a strong sense of colonialism and superiority when they describe their contact with Cypriots. For the modern reader, it can make for uncomfortable reading.
“Nothing was more jarring to me than reading passages in her [his grandmother’s] letters about the peculiar customs of the ‘natives’, the author remarks.
As he says, they were living a life “in colonial splendor”.
“We have fine things to eat,” Ruby Jackson at one point wrote to her brother Harold. “My cook is great. I don’t even order the food.”
“I like titled people. The ones I have met are very nice and just like everybody else,” she commented. By ‘everybody else’ she certainly doesn’t mean the Cypriots, as another comment hints at.
“The school [the American Academy for Girls in Nicosia] is run by some very good Christian young women from America. I am not worrying about it at all.”
When it comes to learning Greek, her main sense of achievement seems to be that she can communicate with her servants.
“I can give quite a few orders in Greek now,” she writes proudly.
The numerous servants are commented upon quite a few times. “We had a five course dinner [for Thanksgiving]. It was cooked by Theodoros and served by Polycarpos.”
In another letter she writes: “The house boy is proving to be fine, I do not turn my hands to do one bit of house work, he makes the beds and opens them at night and I just give orders.”
Ruby also employed a governess for the children and local seamstresses.
Charles Jackson was not as happy with his workers in the mine as his wife was with the servants in the house, probably because there was a shortage of available workers and he didn’t have much choice in who was employed.
Even bearing this in mind he seems to have held strong views. “They [the Cypriots working at the mine] are very tricky and the most consummate liars in existence … they try all sorts of tricks to get money for doing nothing,” he writes.
Conflicting interests and expectations as well as differing patterns of cultural and religious life likely didn’t help and Charles Jackson laments both Easter when “the Greek men all leave the mine without even asking if they can go” and Turkish holidays when the Turkish Cypriots didn’t work. He himself, according to his wife, even worked at Christmas.
They also had a romantic view of the Cyprus landscape and way of life which would have differed from the average Cypriot who had a harsh existence work in the island’s often unforgiving environment. It is frequently referred to as a religious setting, but not only that, as biblical.
“It surely is a place for the gods,” Charles Jackson says about Mount Olympus. “The life, dress, people, houses and villages, camels, donkeys and simple shepherds remind one so of the biblical stories and pictures that the latter became very real to us.”
The photos are a wonderful addition to the book, ranging from those of the family at the elite colonial the club house in Troodos, to the poorly dressed ‘natives’ at work in the mine and at church.
Beyond the apparent laziness that Jackson wrote about, his record of what went on at the mine highlights the hardships the miners faced. More than a few were killed by fires, and other fatal accidents were common. The accidents, the number of strikes and negotiations for pay that the superintendent reported reveal a community in a desperate struggle for survival.
“Mining Memories on Cyprus 1923-1925: Photographs, Correspondence, and Reflections” by William J. Everett is available on Amazon Kindle