Life in Cyprus - May 2005

May 3rd:

This last weekend was Easter in Cyprus. The schools were having a break, and many of the shops were closed on Friday and/or Saturday, as well as yesterday. Richard took Friday and Monday off work, but he didn't relax ... instead he was busy building boxes for the PA system he's been putting together for use by Christian groups locally, and ensuring everything worked in preparation for an inter-church concert which took place at the sea-front on Monday afternoon. Tim helped with the soldering, and on Sunday evening all the equipment moved from the office to our house, and various of the electronic instruments the boys own were plugged in to test them.

The concert itself went very well, with the PA working far better than the smaller church system that was used last year. The youth band Narrow Gate did three biggish sections of the program, and there were a few other items in between although Tim - on his keyboard - was on the stage for the full hour and a half, and very tired by the end! Rain had been predicted, but thankfully didn't appear. It wasn't even as windy as it often is in afternoons, and there were plenty of people sitting listening to the whole concert. Others stopped as they were walking by along the sea-front, and plenty of people helped themselves to free literature about Easter in various languages from the book table at the back.

May 7th:

I thought perhaps the annual May Day parade was cancelled this year, since Greek Easter fell on May 1st. In fact I'd quite forgotten about it until about 10am this morning, when the most awful racket of drums and trumpets started up. I didn't even go out to look, since I knew what it would be. It's the only parade that actually goes down the street next to ours, to and fro at least four times.

Cyprus is very keen on parades, we're not entirely sure why. They have them for several national days, and on Good Friday, and at Epiphany, as well as flower festivals and various other events or anniversaries. Daniel marches with the town band for some of the important ones, and he can't really see the point either. There always seem to be school groups, and the Scouting organisations, and sometimes army people too, walking along the streets in uniform. Marching is a euphemism, really, since many of them are unable to keep time with the drums or other music, and those that do don't seem to care much.

There are usually crowds watching these parades, but as Dan pointed out somewhat cynically, the majority are probably proud parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles who turn out to see their little Andreas or Elena marching. Of course there are always a few tourists, too, slightly bemused but enjoying something quaintly cultural. When we first arrived we watched a couple of parades out of interest, then when Dan joined the band we watched a few more... these days we don't tend to bother.

And we certainly weren't very interested in the communist Party parade this morning, which didn't even have real musicians - just a blaring fanfare on one or two notes, and a load of drums going BOOM! BOOM! BOOM-BOOM BOOM!

May 9th:

I must have picked about six kilograms of mespila/loquats today. They're at the stage where some of them are wonderful to eat raw, but we don't get through many that way. The stones are so large that it feels like a lot of effort for not much fruit, and they discolour so quickly after picking, making them looking rather unappealing.

I gave away a bagful to a friend. Then I froze a kilo and a half in sugar syrup. Then I made another kilo into jam. There's still a bowlful of raw loquats on the kitchen table; only a few have been eaten, and although they looked wonderful after I'd picked them, they now look rather brown and unappetising. I think I'll put them in the fridge overnight, then make some more puree tomorrow. I do hope I can give some more away later in the week; there are still plenty on the tree which haven't yet turned orange.

I did an hour or so's gardening this morning too, before it got too sunny. Weeding is never-ending. The 'lawn' (ha!) hadn't been cut for two weeks and was beginning to look like what it is - a collection of tightly-packed weeds with a few blades of grass here and there. There were masses of dandelions, the small variety that evidently flower quite quickly, so I asked Tim to start mowing this afternoon. I didn't want them to turn into dandelion clocks and then seed even further. He cut about half of it, by which time there was quite a bit of shade so I did some more. There's still another hour or so to do, but we decided to leave that till tomorrow as it's the trickier bit around all the trees.

This evening I did my first major watering of the season, pleased that it's early May rather than early April that I'm starting. I'll try to remember to do it on Saturdays in future, as far as possible. It was dark by about 8pm - and getting chilly too - so I came in, pleased that we seem to be having a much longer spring than usual.

May 14th:

this morning as I went outside to do some watering, I saw some tiny kittens, about two months old I suppose, emerging from a climbing/creeping plant that grows against our boundary wall, near the street. They looked reasonably healthy for feral kittens, and there were seven of them, mostly ginger or brown-and-white. That solved something that puzzled me last night: I heard a high-pitched squeaking several times, and thought perhaps a kitten was stuck in a tree. Or had ventured too far from its mother and got lost. But the mewing had stopped by the time I was going to bed, so I guessed the mother had found the kitten again.

However there was no sign of any mother and when I went out again later, three of the kittens came towards me, evidently wanting something... very unusual for feral cats, who are usually frightened of humans. I gingerly stroked one of them, but didn't want my scent on them, which might potentially scare their mother. They were still there by the time Dan got home from the theatre for lunch, and he was very worried to see them: apparently a day or two ago he saw a dead cat in the street, which had similar colouring to these kittens. I wouldn't have thought they would survive very long without their mother, and he couldn't remember exactly when it was, but suddenly I realised we might need to do a bit more for them.

Saturday is early closing day in Cyprus, so we couldn't go and buy any Lactol, so I tried giving them a tiny bowl of milk. They had no idea what to do with it. Then we tried yogurt, and they simply walked through it. We tried putting tiny bits on our fingers, and they sucked it off, but still didn't get the idea of actually eating it form the bowl. Evidently they're much too young to be without a mother.

Our neighbour over the street, who likes cats (unusually for Cypriots) came and saw them, and said we should move them away from the road since they seem inclined to follow anybody they see. Not that it's a particularly busy road, but then most people around here aren't very fond of cats. So he brought us a big box, and we moved them further down our driveway. I tried giving them tiny pieces of bread soaked in milk and that was slightly more successful, but it's not exactly ideal kitten food.

They climbed out of the box before long and returned to their nest, so we decided we would need to move them to our back garden - to an area I had cleared just a few weeks ago. Daniel rang a friend who has reared kittens, and he came over and showed me how to feed them cream cheese from his fingers. He also lent me a kitten bottle and said that evaporated milk was better than ordinary milk for them, so I managed to get something into each of them. Poor little mites. I think they're not much more than three weeks old.

May 16th:

the feral kittens we fostered for a while The seven tiny feral kittens have survived two nights now, to my surprise and delight. I fed them more evaporated milk from the bottle, and a triangle of cream cheese first thing this morning and they went back to sleep again. Then I went out to check our PO box. The pet shop nearby was open by 8.30 so I went in there and asked if they had any Lactol or other kitten milk. The owner didn't speak much English, but clearly knew what Lactol was; however he said he didn't have it, or any other milk for cats. He said they had stopped importing it. However he did sell me some dry food intended for very young kittens, between one and three months old.

I decided to try another pet shop anyway, and to my relief I saw two containers of Lactol almost as soon as I walked in! I don't know if this means they're left over from before importing stopped, or whether the first shop owner simply meant that his shop wasn't getting it any longer. Anyway I bought some, and another little feeding bottle as it would be easier to have two.

May 20th:

This morning around 8am I heard the most awful noise - loud car horns blaring, and traffic racing around not far away. Perhaps, I thought, someone had got married? Wedding parties often drive around hooting their horns, but I'd never heard a wedding that early in the morning. An hour later I went out to the town to check the PO box and saw the source of the noise (which hadn't abated at all) - older teenagers driving around on motor-bikes, most of them with holes in the exhaust pipes, honking their horns as loudly as possible.

I'd quite forgotten about this tradition which marks the end of school - mostly, I think, students from Greek-speaking high schools. I'm not sure if the ones who are leaving school end the year before the rest of their schools or if they really have finished for the summer. I know at least one of the private schools is continuing for another couple of weeks, and the British Army Base school will continue right through until mid-July, like schools in the UK.

It wasn't pleasant in the town. There were teenagers everywhere, on and off motor-bikes, making as much noise as they could. Some were at least wearing helmets on the motorbikes, but most of them weren't. They wove in and out of the cars, wobbling to and fro, often with passengers seated behind the driver just holding on around his waist. It was mostly boys but I saw a few girls too, one of them in a bikini waving her tee-shirt like a flag. Quite shocking for Cyprus in the town, although as it's only 100m from the seafront I suppose it's no big deal.

At one point I was almost deafened by a horrendous noise from an exhaust within a few centimetres of where I was walking, coupled with the loudest horn I had heard. The students (or former students, I should perhaps say!) who were on that bike probably wouldn't have been able to hear for the rest of the day. In one of the shops I went in, a helpful lady with only a little English told me, 'The school has finished. The children are happy!'

I thought it was a bit sad that they feel such a need to celebrate, as if they're getting out of prison. But perhaps it feels like that to them. When I left school (in the UK) I was terribly sad about it. What's more, the boys here - who were the noisiest - all have to go into compulsory army service within the next few weeks, so they've only exchannged one form of control for another.

May 30th:

We've had some visitors for a long weekend, which has been great. They're friends we've known for years, who go to our church in the UK. Their two sons are a little younger than ours, but the four of them seem to get on quite well. Our friends' younger son was captivated by the feral kittens and spent many hours outside playing with them. They were only with us for the weekend, plus this morning, because the only reasonable flights they could find were to Paphos rather than Larnaka - and inclusive of a hotel apartment. So they arrived in Paphos on Thursday and rented a car to drive here Saturday morning. Mostly we just talked... it's so good to catch up on news.

The weather has been incredibly cool for the end of May. Today it's only about 25C. There have been grey clouds overhead since lunchtime, and there were even a few drops of rain about an hour ago. Our friends said they drove through a thunderstorm and quite a bit of rain on Saturday, when they were near Limassol. Amazing! Usually there's no rain after the end of April, and we're starting to use the air conditioning by the end of May. But other than about three days earlier in the month when the temps got to 30 or more, it's been extremely pleasant. Long may it last!

May 31st:

This morning dawned bright and sunny as usual for the time of year. After lunch it did cloud over a bit, as it has done for the last few days, but although I thought we might have a few drops of rain - as yesterday - I was more interested in the way the sky looked. There were a few rumbles of thunder evidently getting closer....

Suddenly it started raining, but not just spotting - it was proper rain and sounded quite heavy. My first thought was for the feral kittens - their only shelter was a cardboard box but that would turn soggy very quickly. It was under some trees, but not enough to stop rain pouring through. So I grabbed a kagoule and rushed out, to find some very wet-looking kittens! One of them managed to find a dry place so I moved some of the others there, but then the rain got so heavy that even that place was getting drips. So they all climbed on my lap and I sheltered them for a bit, assuming it would be five minutes of rain at most.

After about ten minutes my legs were getting cramped and my jeans were soaking, and I realised I had only six of the kittens on me. I managed to gather them all up in my arms and move to the steps outside the kitchen, which is pretty well sheltered. I found the seventh kitten already there, mewing rather pitifully, looking as cold and sodden as the others. Daniel brought me an old towel so I was able to try them one at a time, while the rest sat in a huddle on my lap, gradually warming up. There was thunder echoing all around which slightly worried them, but they were more concerned about being warm and dry; once they were dried they started washing each other and purring.

rain!I stayed where I was for about half an hour, with Tim chatting to me sitting on his windowsill which overlooks the steps. We were amazed at the quantity of rain that was falling - heavier than we've seen for many months. There were several leaks in Tim's ceiling, so he found buckets and cool boxes to catch what he could. He also found a slight leak in the dining room so covered all the computers with plastic sheeting. Of course he had switched their computer off at the first sign of a thunderstorm, and I hadn't turned mine on yet - but we still didn't want them getting wet.

The patio was soon flooded, and it looked as if our entire back garden was turning into a mini-lake. I suppose that's because the ground was so hard, the water just sat on top. Eventually it soaked in. Of course it's very good for the garden - maybe our grass will even turn green again - and I won't have to do the watering I had planned either tonight or tomorrow! In fact I might not even water on Saturday as it's been so thoroughly drenched today.

After about forty-five minutes the kittens were getting hungry so Tim passed some food out of his window for them, and I decided to go inside. So I folded the towel and left it on the steps, and they curled up to sleep there once they had finished eating. The rain continued heavily for another hour or so, and then it rained lightly for a while - it was over two hours worth of rain in all. Rain at all is almost unheard-of this time of year, rain like this was just incredible. Dan said the roads were flooded several inches deep.

By about 6pm the sun was poking through the clouds, the rain had stopped, and the floods had abated. So Richard found a couple of other cardboard boxes for the kittens, I found them a replacement old plastic tablecloth to put their food on since the original one was so muddy and dirty it was unrecoverable, and I found another one to put over the top of the cardboard boxes just in case it rains in the night. At least it should protect them somewhat.

(For even more detail, general rambling and some other photos - with the most recent at the top - see the May pages of my Cyprus blog, from which this page is condensed)

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To read more about our current everyday life, you can read the most recent posts on my Cyprus Blog