Living in Cyprus - January 1998

January 12th:

There are very few second-hand bookshops around. The best one we've found so far is at the Dhekelia Army Base, but that’s 15km away and only opens Wednesday and Friday mornings during term-time - so access is a bit limited. There is one library locally but it’s nearly all Greek books. I’m glad we brought a reasonable number with us - and the boys have spent some of their Christmas money on new books too. Even then there’s only one reasonable bookshop in Larnaca... very friendly and helpful, but I suppose about the size of a third of the basement of Waterstones in Birmingham!

We’re still awaiting our Cyprus residency permits; when we have those we’ll be able to join the library, and I hope to take out some picture-type books for the boys to practise their Greek. There are a few reference books in English there, but we’ve been able to borrow a full Children’s Britannica from a family whose children have outgrown it, and we have Encarta on the boys’ computer and some other reference books we brought with us, so we probably have most of what we need.

dining room of our house in Cyprus We’ve settled back to home-school with enthusiasm. I think we all felt a bit burned-out in December; it was a stressful term one way and another, so it was nice to have the flexibility to decide to stop a bit earlier than we would otherwise have done. We started back again on Jan 7th since the 6th was supposed to be a big bank holiday and the local schools didn’t return till the 7th.

Our friend Brenda is teaching the boys piano and it seems to be going well. She’s leaving (retiring) in April so they’ll miss her a lot. Another colleague may take on teaching them, if she has time. We haven’t yet found a clarinet teacher for Daniel - none of the schools really offer much music, so everything’s going to have to be private, unfortunately.

There’s a music ‘school’ just around the corner so we’re going to enquire there about clarinet teaching, and guitar for Tim since that seems to be his choice. He’s been using a guitar teaching book and CD that he had for his birthday and thoroughly enjoying it, but I think he probably needs the motivation and help of a teacher, at least for a while. I know Daniel does - he’s been practising his clarinet sporadically and has played in Church once or twice, but without having to work at something new for a lesson he’s not very inspired.

January 15th:

We’re getting more involved in the life of the Church we’re attending (Larnaca Community Church). I’ve taken over producing the weekly bulletin/order of service, and Richard’s going to help with the 12+ youth club. Someone is hoping to start a music group, which Daniel intends to join, and the boys are making friends and enjoying Sunday School. It’s a very small congregation, only about 60 people in all, and no pastor at present; the leadership is shared between various of the mission community.

It’s pretty warm in the sunshine during the daytime. We wear warm sweaters but go out without jackets on. However it gets chilly around 4pm so we shut the shutters and turn on our paraffin heater which is surprisingly effective. Last Sunday it felt cold in the daytime for the first time, I think because there was rather a bitter wind. I had to wear gloves to walk to Church, for the first time. It was a pity it was so very cold as one of the congregation chose that Sunday to be baptised - and all baptisms are done in the sea here!! We were having four guests to lunch so I went home after the main service, but Richard took the boys to see the baptism.

Although everywhere around Cyprus looks very Middle Eastern (flat roofs, white-painted houses, etc) the atmosphere is pretty European, with the sea-front a classic Mediterranean-style commercial beach with every imaginable food available, and excellent ice creams. The supermarkets are smaller than the ones in America and there are hundreds of tiny shops all over the place, a bit like an old English village. We’re just round the corner from a fabulous bread shop that’s open from 7am to 9pm 364 days a year! Most shops are shut all day Sunday, also Wednesday and Saturday afternoons.

January 21st:

Atrium of our house in Cyprus I’m sitting here typing with the sky grey outside; it’s starting to rain so I just had to bring in some towels which were on the line outside. Hardly anybody has tumble driers here so in general washing is dried outside - but when it rains it becomes a problem! We have a kind of clothes airer, but of course it takes ages to dry clothes just using that. We’ve tried putting it in front of the kerosene heater, and that’s reasonably effective, so we’re OK so long as the weather is cold as well as wet. But with the rain which suddenly appeared this week (torrential rain and thunderstorms on Monday) it’s also got warmer - about 16C during the daytime, which is very pleasant, so we’ve not used the heater.

This afternoon some of the boys' friends are here as their mother is at her Greek class. They all seem to get on very well - right now they’re all playing some computer game so I’m taking the opportunity to write some letters and keep up with this journal. With the house being a bungalow, I can hear everything that’s going on in the other rooms, which is reassuring - though of course now the boys are older I don’t have to worry much about what they’re up to with their friends!

On Saturday we went out for the day with some colleagues and visitors of theirs from Wales. We drove into the Troodos mountains, where the group Richard is working with has a camp site. Of course it’s not used at this time of year, but apparently in the summer it’s very pleasant to escape from the heat of sea-level into the mountains. It was a lovely area, rather reminiscent of Colorado Springs with bare soil and pine trees, obviously rather dry with not much rain. We saw the camp site and the cabins where people can also sleep.

At New Year one of the families went up there to stay in a cabin for a few days, and were able to do some sledging but most of the snow had gone, although the boys did manage to do a little sledging and have a snowball fight - of sorts! It was quite cold; we’d taken gloves and our warmest jackets, and the boys were fine as they were running around, but Richard and I felt distinctly cold at times. Sometimes, I gather, there’s enough snow for ski-ing but it’s not predictable so it can’t be made into an international ski resort, although there’s some discussion about making artificial snow, like they do in America. But that would take up water, and water is scarce.

We’ve finally got through the last of the oranges from our tree. They began to be ripe about mid-November and we’ve been picking them to eat and to give away as much as possible - there were hundreds! At the end of December the only ones left were out of my reach, so Richard got the ladders out and picked the last of them. Once they’ve got so ripe they fall off the tree they’re no good any more.

However we have masses of lemons instead, which of course aren’t so easy to use up so quickly as you can’t just eat them! But they do keep for months on the tree, so I’m told, so I’m just picking a few each day. Every time we have guests for a meal I make a dessert using lemons, and I’ve enjoyed making things like lemon curd and lemonade which use a lot of lemons. They are mostly smaller than the ones we buy in Britain, and it’s a bit of a nuisance doing all that grating and squeezing: painful if I have a cut on my finger! But I seem to have got it down to a fine art now, and we all enjoy the home-made lemonade, although it disappears rapidly.

It will be interesting to see how long they do last on the trees. There are two fruiting lemon trees, and several other tiny citrus trees which were only planted a couple of years ago. In the summer when it’s very dry we’ll have to water them fairly thoroughly, although I believe the big ones can tolerate a fair amount of drought. We do also have a tree with some kind of tangerine or satsuma but it’s not had much fruit as yet. When we tried them at first, around the time that the oranges first became ripe, they were bitter and unpleasant despite being orange and looking ripe. So that rather put us off! But more recently they’ve become sweeter, so I suppose we just tried them too soon.

We cleared away some of the back garden rubbish and weeds and planted a bit of grass seed just near the patio. I noticed today that it’s starting to come up, presumably due to the rain we’ve had recently. I don’t intend to water it; there should be rain for the next few months and then in the Summer it will have to fend for itself! But I remember the American grass would turn brown in the Summer when it wasn’t watered, and then turn back to green almost immediately when the first rain fell in the Autumn.

Our bedding plants in the front garden are doing well. We have some petunias, some alyssum and a couple of antirrhinum. I also bought some pansies, not quite believing that bedding plants would really flower through January and February, and they are also doing well. Really there’s far too much garden to do anything with.

January 23rd: 

This morning Richard got our official residency permits, which was a relief. We couldn’t get them before as we had to prove we had ‘sufficient income’ to live here first, which of course meant opening Cyprus bank accounts and ensuring we transferred enough money over a couple of months. Due to various things, both our UK account and our Cyprus account looked extremely healthy at the last statements, so we had no problems. Just as well! 

Unfortunately some new colleagues hadn’t transferred so much money (they’re staying in someone else’s flat so haven’t had to pay rent or buy furniture yet) and were refused their permits. So they have to leave the country temporaily, with their children, next Monday. They’re going to visit to Lebanon and deliver some video tapes - which needed doing anyway, but not necessarily by four people at short notice!

Cyprus diary December 1997 -  Cyprus diary February 1998