Treis Elies Re-visited

This week I was lucky enough to receive my copy of ‘Treis Elies A journey in Spring’  by Ethan Hubbard. Ethan Hubbard who lives in Vermont is a writer and photographer who for more than thirty years has been visiting remote parts of the world to observe the daily lives of indigenous people. By observing the inhabitants as they go about their daily lives , he learns about himself. The subject of his thirteenth and latest book is Treis Elies where he arrived during his search for “European peasants” whose way of life would not have changed much for centuries. He wasn’t hopeful, after travelling all over Northern  Cyprus and then exploring Troodos he feared there would be no vestige of such a life left in existence until he happened upon this remote village tucked up in the West corner of Troodos.

As I started to read about the various villagers he meets and over his many weeks stay gets to know as friends, I realised that a third of these people no longer live in the village, as the numbers have decreased from nearly 60 souls to just over twenty. It is a community of old people on the whole, although many visitors come at weekends to visit their family homes and since Androula has been living there, renovating them.

I live in a village in West Sussex and by contrast, today I have just attended a meeting about the future of our village. The concerns here are that due to  government  directives our village could double in size in a few years as there is a plan to build 1,000 more homes here. This will put an enormous strain on our infrastructure and is in danger of swallowing up surrounding fields and green spaces leaving us with an urban jungle.  The Parish council is being pro-active by getting the community involved in developing a plan whereby we lay out what shape  we want  the village to be, what facilities we believe we need to have in place for the village to work as a community, making it a desirable place to live not just a jumble of houses plopped down in various pockets of land with no overall consideration as to how it all works or looks. We at the moment have two food shops a church and a petrol station together with a health centre, village hall and a school. This plan, If put together correctly and goes through the correct channels and is approved could turn out to be a blueprint for further development and showing that the community is behind it.

It is a sad state of affairs that so many remote mountain villages are gradually shrinking to virtual non-existence and one the Cypriot government has tried to address by getting regeneration schemes off the ground. Who knows what the future may hold for this particular community, what I find extraordinary is that this tiny village has inspired not only two people to write about it but many more to visit through Androula’s efforts to promote the attractions that can be found in this beautiful and tranquil spot.http://www.spitiko3elies.com/

Reading Ethan’s book prompted me to re-visit my photos of Treis Elies and I have posted a small selection above. I hope you enjoy them.

Here is a bit of information about the history of the village. http://www.thevillagexpress.com/cyprusvillage/profile/253

 

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A Frisson of Excitement

That is what I get when something captures my imagination and I see an idea that has captured someone elses’. When events push us and the chips are down, all is gloom and doom around us, it’s great to see those daring souls who follow their star believing anything is possible. I visited Cyprus this year at a very stressful and confusing time when the banks and the Cyprus economy looked as if they were in meltdown. But the thing is even if the news spells disaster life goes on, it has to. People have jobs to do and standing still wringing your hands is not going to achieve anything.

What delighted me the most was the people I met who were following their passion. They had set up small businesses based on a lot of hard graft and love, the universal principle among them seems to be to support each other, not compete. offering a product /service  of value. Because of this they have high chance of thriving in the present climate.

I learned of two herb gardens, one in Larnaka Cyherbia http://www.cyherbia.com and one in Pano Akourdalia, Heaven on Earth Herbals http://www.heavenonearthherbals.com that I found truly inspiring. Although on different scales they are both working with nature and both get involved in passing on the knowledge of herbs to children. The conditions in Cyprus are  ideal for growing top quality herbs, the lack of water produces a very high concentration of volatile oil up to 33%. These are then used either dried in teas or distilled to use as balms and tinctures. Pano Akourdalia herb garden, Chrysoeleousa, is indeed heaven on earth, sitting in the garden I felt a huge sense of peace and the scenery is truly stunning in this part of Cyprus. I had paid a visit to this garden a few years ago when researching for my book and was disappointed to find it deserted but this visit I was delighted to discover it fully functioning.

The setting up of the garden was originally funded by the Laona Project which was conceived by the Cyprus Friends of the Earth. To quote”to demonstrate the feasibility of ecologically sound development in an area of outstanding natural beauty, the Akamas Peninsula and the nearby Laona Plateau. It ran from 1989 to 1994.   Securing the interests of the local people has been vital to the successful protection of this unique and beautiful region, so the Laona Project sought to revitalise the declining economies of nearby villages by introducing sustainable development.” The garden is based around the old schoolhouse which was restored and now serves as the main work area for sorting and distilling the herbs, as well as an organic and healthy cafe selling gluten-free cakes. I enjoyed a chat with Caroline and a refreshing and delicious cup of verbena tea along with a slice of gluten-free yummy cake. Harvested, dried, herbs were being picked over and the shelves were packed with jars of all manner of herbs. Caroline has clearly found an ideal spot to carry out her profession of master herbalist and naturopath and has a thriving practise.

Another very different garden is one set up by the Utopia group of young like- minded people who started a collective shop and cafe in Utopia collectiva Lefkosia.  Wanting to live in a healthy and sustainable way they also started a community garden on an old disused railway track in Kaimakli where they are starting to grow their own food http://collectivebahce.wordpress.com  This has produced a cohesion of community as well as getting them in touch with the soil and learning how to grow and cultivate; something very close to my heart as regular readers of this blog will know. My brother when he lived in Cyprus used to say you can just throw seeds on the ground and they start to grow without any encouragement, a fertile land indeed.

A different kind of community is being nurtured on Facebook by Heart Cyprus, another group of young people whose motivation was to draw Cypriots and Cyprofiles together in unity and support. This has now developed further and a new website has been set up with a more substantial idea of showcasing the best that Cyprus has to offer by collaborating with businesses to promote Cyprus as a quality destination. http://www.heartcyprus.com/. These may seem small ideas to some but small projects can grow and encourage others to start their own ventures which in turn generate not only income but  quality of life.

Pressure

I have been back in the UK for a week after my trip to Cyprus, one quite miserable week, as my ears and nose have been completely bunged up and my head felt as if it had been stuffed to the gunnels with cotton wool, my throat , sore and itchy. My nose at times, seemed like a tap with a worn washer, drip, drip, dripping; and no spare washer to fit in its place? Thankfully today I can see light at the end of the tunnel, in fact not only that, I see sunshine in the garden. My sinuses are sensitive and I have trouble with my ears when there are changes in pressure, particularly when coming to land in an aircraft or coming down mountains by car; why is it only coming down that is the problem and not going up, I would like to know?

This trip was different in many ways to my previous ones, not just because of how it ended, as the circumstances were exceptional. The financial crisis which has been unfolding for some time, came to a crisis  in Cyprus a week before my departure from the UK adding an edginess and sense of uncertainty to my trip. I had tried to read as much as I could about what was happening before I left but even so the picture was complicated and confused.  When I arrived my friends and family were trying to get to grips with what was going on and to understand how Cyprus had come to this.The news was full of discussions and endless debates going round and around the problems with no solutions on the agenda. The government was announcing even more bad news as every day passed: so many jobs being lost and benefits cut, taxes increased and savings slashed, banks in crisis.This scenario is repeated in countries around the world but in Cyprus the results have been heaped on the community in one big deluge of disaster nearly drowning them in despair.

Cyprus always seemed to me to have a strong economy and despite many setbacks they always seemed to come out fighting and making a success through disaster. There is a tenaciousness, maybe sheer bloodymindedness to the Cypriot character and an innate gift of commerce, that gets them through. What has so impressed me throughout this particular time is how the Cypriot people have rallied together and supported each other. There have been some public demonstrations of course a lot of anger but no riots, no civil unrest. Instead energy was focused on more positive actions. Massive free concerts were organised in the main towns with many guest artists from Greece taking part, asking the attendees to donate, food clothing and daily necessities to be distributed amongst the ever-growing number of people struggling to get by. The organisation has been efficient and the donations huge. Registered charities have been set up in many major towns and districts, co-ordinating the collection of donations and over-seeing distribution to all those in need that fall outside official guidelines. These are not governmental bodies and are privately run by groups of volunteers wishing to set up a network of support for the community. The community is organising itself and getting on with it in spite of the government’s debacle.

The Liberty Monument

From the tourist’s point of view there is not much changed: the sun still shines, the beaches   are still as inviting the sea as blue, the scenery beautiful, the wine still flows and the food plentiful. There are no shortages in the shops although there may be fewer of them. There is less building going on ( this, to me, is a bonus) but plenty of accommodation, in fact a really good time to visit because you could get a bargain. Cyprus needs the tourists more than ever at the moment.

You would think, indeed I thought, this is not the time to make a trip to promote a book, who will be interested? I was wrong. What I found was the book was really appreciated and the people I met wanted not only to buy it for themselves but also promote it.

I met a diverse mixture of people from many countries, Lebanon, Finland, Iceland, Germany, Italy, America, Russia and of course the UK. Quite a few of them settled in Cyprus because they married Cypriots. Most of them have a quality of life in Cyprus that they would not get in their homeland. The things they love about Cyprus and which made them settle there, haven’t changed and because it is such a small place there is more sense of community. Networking is an integral part of Cyprus business, it is important who you know if you want to get on. Contacts are King, but then isn’t that the case anywhere? Bigger countries by necessity will work with what  you know rather than who, if you have contacts as well you’re quids in.

The most interesting thing I discovered on this trip is that there is a healthy and varied mix of small enterprises dotted all over the island and more popping up by the minute. Apart from the artisan bakery which I mentioned in the previous post, I visited a wonderful herb garden which is the base for a herbalist and naturopathic practise; I met the fabulous Elena Savvides who is a living dynamo, full of generosity and ideas, running a catering business as well as cookery classes and supper clubs with a larder full of pickles, preserves and jams. There is another organic herb producer in the Larnaka region as well as a multitude of specialist food producers dotted over the island.The topic discussed the most with all those I met, was that Cyprus is rich not only in natural resources and gifted people but also in a very well educated younger generation. This is the climate which could incubate new and enterprising businesses that harness the assets of Cyprus and turn them into lucrative ventures showcasing the best that can be achieved. Here’s to the Future.