By Hermes Solomon
GREEK TOURISM booms good value for money this summer while ours struggles to keep afloat.
This past two weeks, Cypriots outnumbered Russians and British on our beaches, the loudness of our dialect dominating. If there is one distinction we possess above all others, it is our ability to out-talk, cry, scream, drown out and negate all competition.
Before the ‘crisis’ we were ‘palikaria’ and ‘mun-kes’ (ruffians and spivs), stubbornly right to the very end, our media’s annual August brainwashing feeding us past ‘glorified’ defeats (indulging our yesterdays without giving any due consideration to our tomorrows) employing a surfeit of words betrayed by a dearth of actions.
But this summer a special quietness reigns. The loud mouths have calmed and brash patriotism has been replaced by timidity. We are again our old selves. We are poor…
Last Sunday morning an elderly gentleman crept around my deserted Nicosia suburb at sunrise carrying plastic bags.
From my fourth floor hawk-eye overview of the neighbourhood, I searched for any sign of a dog on a lead, but there wasn’t one. Instead, he entered private gardens picking figs from neighbours’ trees, eventually disappearing among the shrubbery with two bags full.
He was scrumping, something I did as boy during those days of Coxes Orange Pippins and Victoria plums; a handful of fun back then but theft if committed wholesale.
The Greek islands are being invaded by the unemployed in search of self-sufficiency; bearded ‘intellectuals’ reroofing ruined stone houses and tilling land to produce their own food. Few of the islands are hospitable, but several can offer or eke out an existence for the determined.
Former computer engineers, software writers, teachers, journalists, bank/shop workers and office clerks are all at it, knowing full well that austerity measures in Athens will leave the vast majority with nothing to live for – no future, so why not ‘get the hell out of town’?
Icaria is a Greek island in the Aegean ten nautical miles southwest of Samos. It derived its name from Icarus, the son of Daedalus in Greek mythology, who fell to his death in the sea nearby.
Today, Icaria is considered one of the world’s five Blue Zones – places where the population regularly lives to an advanced age (one in three make it into their 90s). This is supposedly due to healthy diets and active lifestyles.
Theodoros from Athens moved there last year with his frugal savings, bought a stone ruin in the hills for a song, then sweated tilling the soil. His partner, Sophie joined him making jams from neighbours’ excess fruit. They survived together for a few months, Sophie integrating with the locals, leaving Theodoros alone after his allotment well ran dry.
He was a computer engineer and tried to become a smallholder. Now he fixes/reformats islanders’ laptops for a crust.
Farming is hard work and his hands soft, his farming knowledge limited and experience zilch. He belongs to a lost generation of keyboard tappers who are about as much use on a survival course in Icaria as waxed wings were to Icarus.
There are thousands of hectares of cultivable land lying idle in Cyprus, many hillside villages deserted. A prescient government or church could return five hectares of land to each struggling family along with the means to survive – as did Napoleon after the French revolution of 1789.
Tomorrow is about food and water, not gas or oil!
Scrub fires could be avoided if wastelands were ploughed or fed to sheep and goats, whose milk makes the finest of cheeses. This wasteland should be made available to our lost generation of soft hearts and hands, who idle in cafés or downtown squares on welfare handouts, disillusioned and smoking pot!
We have water, adequate infrastructure and, unlike Theodoros, we all have several family members inhabiting the hills and valleys blessed with basic agricultural knowledge and livelier than usual survival instincts.
Cyprus had the richest and most fertile land of all Mediterranean islands. It can be so again. Smallholder facilities could be made available on the outskirts of towns as well as in the countryside. Government must stop looking for yet more ways to tax the people in the vain hope of eventual gas/oil resuscitation of our desperate economy. Government must see that our future lies in self-sufficiency; growing our own food and producing our own solar energy. Our island’s true wealth stares us in the face; agriculture, sunshine and tourism ahead of banking and construction.
Pantelis is as old as time, plump and jovial. He drives from his Paphos District smallholding every Wednesday and Saturday morning at 3.30 am to arrive at Oxi Market in downtown Nicosia by 5.30. He sells the finest figs in Cyprus, purple black or pale green, sweet like honey at half the price of those bottom olive oil stained varieties at supermarkets.
I purchased a tray of them last Saturday at 8.00 am. He gave me 20 per cent discount on his home-grown delicious mangoes after I hinted they were pricier than imported crap.
He sits immobile at his cash till in the 40 degree shade of the stall awning until sold out (usually by midday) then returns home.
Try to tax him. Try to VAT him. He is a statue of self-sufficiency and impervious to extortion whether enmeshed in that spider’s web of troika taxation or not. He is what we were and must again become – independent of bureaucracy, welfare services, form filling and government/bank rip-off merchants. He is the past in control of his present.
The water supply pipeline from Turkey to northern Cyprus will be operational by the end of this year. Talk to them somebody, please! Agricultural co-operatives and ‘selective’ co-operation among islanders is the only way forward. The alternative is one third of the working population unemployed and endless misery!
Abundant supplies of fresh water will save the planet – gas and oil destroy it.