The trip was meant to be more business than pleasure. I had agreed to accompany my mother to Cyprus – where I was born and emigrated from in the ‘60s – to help her deal with some family property. I had been back a number of times before, including several visits with my Cypriot-born husband and my Canadian-born children.
Until I moved with my parents and siblings to Canada, I had lived with my paternal grandparents in a small town away from where the rest of my family lived in Nicosia. Family circumstances had determined that staying with my grandparents was a more sensible option than moving around with my nuclear family who were chasing a better life.
Since leaving the small island country when I was ten, I had become increasingly detached from the place and always considered Toronto my home. But the language I had learned, the school had I attended, the friends I had made all figured large in mind and the details of that time persisted as they tend to with memories from one’s youth.
During this most recent trip, we were to transfer the property from my mother (who had inherited it) to my siblings and me. Just one of those things that need to be taken care of in middle age – mine, not her’s. But I was happy to travel in February, away from the Toronto winter to the temperate climate of the Mediterranean.
The bureaucracy we encountered was at times mind numbing but we managed it with the help of a resident relative, well versed in the arcane, complex transactions. Our final stop in the process was a council building in the small town where I spent most of my childhood and where the property was located.
We were greeted by a charming woman called Anna who quickly located the information we needed on her state of the art computer that sat on a sleek desk in her light-filled office. Ever the small-town genial ambassador, she offered us coffee and chatted about the goings-on in the area. Not surprisingly, she mentioned people I had known when I lived there and suddenly realized that she had known my grandfather. Then it came to her who I was and she asked incredulously, “Are you Miroulla?” I had not heard that name for decades. A sweet term of endearment coined by my grandparents, it was their nickname for me. I had not always liked it. It was infantilizing and a little embarrassing. But when Anna called me that, I connected to a part of me that I had not only forgotten but also denied. It was to the small-town girl that left so many years ago to live halfway around the world and to some extent re-invent herself.
Not to get all Proustian, but I imagine that we all have similar experiences while visiting our earliest home. While we leave, we re-invent ourselves, whether it’s dropping a nickname, a reputation, an attitude, a way of seeing.
For me, it was the first time that I embraced that nickname and all its connotations. Although I have many connections to Cyprus – culture, language, relatives and some property – this term of endearment somehow connected me to my childhood more effectively than anything else.
Feeling relieved and liberated after dealing with all the tedious property business, my mother and I spent the rest of our time there visiting friends and family and enjoying the green splendor of a Mediterranean winter. We talked a lot about ‘home’ and how pleasant the visit was. We even touched on the idea of maybe building something on the family property that we had been fussing over.
All this in spite of nasty rumours and glum predictions of the economic disaster that would strike later in the year. Closed shops and abandoned construction sites were bad signs but we left on the optimistic note that our tiny island would deal with whatever was to come. Very recent reports from relatives tell us that things are starting to look ever so slightly better.
Both my mother and I have been away from this small country longer than we lived in it and we both know we could never live there in any permanent way. But the foundations, connections and formative experiences are still all there, right where we left them, waiting for a name to call us back to our first home.
– Miria Ioannou
Photos by Miria Ioannou