Written by: CLAUDIA HANNA
I moved to my rock, Cyprus, 9 years ago from Atlanta, GA. Tired and beleaguered from having back-to-back children and a corporate finance existence where I spent my time either chained to a cubicle or to a seat on an airplane, the slow, small town pace of island life appealed to every fiber of my being.
That is, until I actually moved here and realized it was going to be much more of an adjustment than I had anticipated.
My husband is from Cyprus and his family instantly wrapped their collective arms around us, welcoming home their “long lost son” and his new American bride. My cousin-in-law showed me the sights and introduced me to neighbors in their provincial village. When I use the term provincial, it is meant to connote images of all things quaint, charming, and small – which it all is, but I am neglecting to mention that the village is also comprised of things a bit less quaint, and a bit more… let’s say, rugged. Crooked, one-lane roads with deep potholes in them, filthy sheep and hens darting in and out of gardens, and ramshackle home structures that are meticulous on the inside, but look like a bomb may have hit them from the outside are all things that I didn’t find nearly as charming in my early island days.
Everyone in the village knows one another. And my cousin-in-law is basically the goddamn mayor of that village. (Okay, she’s not really the mayor per se, but pretty close to it.) She knows everyone, and everyone knows her (let’s call her, O, for privacy). On one particularly balmy Spring afternoon, O suggested we go for a drive. As she was showing me the sights complete with “meet the neighbors” commentary (Dilapidated Home A belongs to my former French teacher from high school; Dilapidated Home B belongs to our second aunt on my mother’s side. On and on, O continued). We came across an elderly neighbor who was warming herself in the afternoon sun. Spotting her, O came to a full stop in the middle of the road, stuck her head out of the car window, and called out to the woman. Then, they proceeded to have a lively conversation in Turkish, yelling to one another from patio to car.
A few moments later, a car pulled up behind us. Remember how I mentioned that this village only has single lane roads? Well, as a result, there was no room for the car to pass. My American belly was getting anxious, believing it was only a matter of time before the car began to honk loudly to try to get us to move forward, but O seemed oblivious. Instead of moving, she yanked the handbrake, and put the car in park. “Come on, Claudia!” She waved at me to follow as she popped out of the car. I opened my car door tentatively, sliding out in full shame mode, and silently apologized to the man behind us. To my surprise, he didn’t seem to have a problem at all. Instead, he simply drove up onto the grass, passed our car, and continued on his way.
O strode into the neighbor’s garden. I use the word garden loosely though because it was more of a weedy expanse of green behind her paint-chipped, wrought iron gates. Perplexing me, O began grabbing handfuls of weeds as the woman smiled and encouraged her to take more.
“You take too, Claudia. Fresh parsley!”
Ah! I finally understood. Sure enough, the long weeds were the most fragrant, deep green Italian parsley I had ever come across. They grow like weeds in the Mediterranean because they are weeds. The neighbor had far more than she could ever eat and was sharing with O and me.
And so came my first lesson in true communal island living: People share their crops.
Second lesson: It is quite normal to stop traffic and have a conversation with other drivers, neighbors, and friends. Contrary to American culture, the rude one is not the one blocking traffic here, but the one who chooses to honk at them. Here, everyone knows the honker is generally the foreigner. Because who else is really in that much of a rush on the island?
Now that 9 years have whizzed by living on my chosen rock, I constantly stop traffic and greet friends, drivers, and others for a quick chat. We ask how one another is doing and how the husband/wife/children/etc are. Gone are the days of endless anxiety over silly things like stopping traffic or always hurrying to get to the next stop.
Living here has shown me just how fruitless all that rushing around really is. Besides – what could be more important than stopping to pick free, fresh parsley anyway?