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The Cyprus chronicles: our vanishing island

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‘Soon, it will be too late for us.’ Calling across the miles to Limassol and Larnaca, London and Melbourne, one young creator is attempting to preserve what remains of the true Cyprus finds ALIX NORMAN

“When I lived abroad, hardly anyone knew Cyprus existed!” says Chara Nicolaou.

“And if I showed people my island online, it all came down to this: Cyprus is a divided country that’s great for holidays!

Check out social media, and you’ll find Chara is close to the truth. Influencers tend to either wax lyrical about the sun, sea and sand (usually from a beach and in a bikini), or lament the past.

On TikTok, the most popular posts feature our beaches and parties (and sometimes cats). On Instagram, #cyprus gives you more breasts and bums than you’d find in porn! And the most-watched You Tube video on Cyprus is Johnny Harris’ This Ghost Town was Sealed for 50 years, a detailed exposition of the Cyprus Problem. To date, it’s netted 4.5 million views.

“The world knows our island from the internet, from social media,” says Chara. “It knows glossy brochures and the shadow of conflict. But that’s not the real Cyprus, rich with history and brimming with life; deeply connected to the roots and rhythms of the land.”

In March 2021 Chara set out to create what she felt was missing, launching the YouTube channel Joy of Origins.

A clever play on her name, which translates to ‘joy’ in English, the channel is a quiet celebration of our roots; the customs and traditions that make us truly Cypriot.

feature3 harvesting green olives for preservation
Harvesting green olives for preservation

“As someone who had spent time away from my homeland, I knew the Cypriot heart doesn’t yearn for fun in the sun. That’s a part of it, yes. But what really moves us when we’re abroad is our grandmother’s love, the smell of spring, and the tiny village house your ancestors called home. It’s family moments: preparing a home-cooked meal and sitting down to eat together. And” – she pauses, lost in memory, “it’s the taste of our food…”

Chara recalls a lonely evening in China. “A visiting friend had brought me some halloumi; I ate it with watermelon sitting in my little kitchen. I closed my eyes and was instantly transported thousands of miles, back to the summers of my youth. Watermelon and halloumi: ah, this is the taste of home.”

Chara has spent much of her 29 years abroad. She’s lived in France and Italy and China, studying and then working as an architect; experiencing other ways of life. But in late 2019 she decided to move back to the island. And made a shocking discovery…

While the wider world had no real access to the authentic Cyprus, those on the island were often oblivious to their own rich heritage.

“When you live here, it’s easy to miss the value of the island. Living in the city, working hard to pay the rent and feed our families, we forget the charm of our flower-filled fields; of a walk in the woods; of a mountain stream. We forget our past, our traditions our roots.

“We travel abroad and boast about the beauty of Italy, the sophistication of France. And we ignore the simple joys of our own origins.”

It’s these joyful origins that Chara puts front and centre in her gorgeous videos.

“They’re quite simple, really,” she explains. “I film the fields and forests of Cyprus; the valleys and hills; the places we remember from childhood. I gather and forage and harvest wild plants and herbs. And then, inspired by ancient knowledge, I make something from them!”

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Making loukoumades

Here, we learn how to make cough syrups the way our great-grandmothers did. There, we gather wild herbs and honey, and mix traditional tinctures.

We grind flour, blend spices, pick berries and nuts. We learn how to prepare loukmades the traditional way, and how to wash clothes in the river.

We slow down, we become mindful. We stop to note the land and its seasons, the flowering of the almond trees and the harvesting of olives. And we wait, patiently, while dough rises, cheeses age, and wine ferments.

This is the way of our ancestors. And for viewers, these videos evoke a deep sense of belonging, of peace, of the past.

“There is so much wisdom on this island,” says Chara. “Especially in our older generations. Often, I include my 90-year-old grandmother in my videos. I go to Peristerona and she teaches me the customs of the past. She tells me she feels useful once more; and I cherish her knowledge, stories and memories.”

feature3 making herbal remedies
Making herbal remedies

Joy of Origins speaks to us in Limassol and Larnaca, in London and Melbourne, whispering the words of wisdom we need to hear. It conjures up a life woven through centuries, barely touched by tumult or tourism: attuned to seasons and land, and to the undisturbed, rhythmic existence of our past…

“This is the life our forebears lived,” says Chara. “I think we often forget where we came from: the land that made us; and the people who made our land. Perhaps we don’t speak to our grandparents as often as we should, or we rarely make time to visit them. But their knowledge is invaluable.”

Constantly seeking out past customs, learning from our elderly, and researching ancient texts, Chara is bringing the true Cyprus to the internet. And this year, she’ll also be launching a special series of videos in which she interviews the elderly women of Cyprus.

“The idea is to discover more of the past. More of this generation’s dreams, hopes and adventures of their youth; the joys and challenges of their lives; the knowledge and insights from a different era.

“Soon, our grandparents will be gone,” she sighs. “And it will be too late for us. Maybe it’s too late already; I feel much of our heritage has been lost.

“But while I still can, I will continue to seek out the wisdom and the beauty of my homeland. And share it with other Cypriot hearts.”

 

Discover more on the YouTube channel ‘Joy of Origins’, and the Instagram account @joyoforigins

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