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“To my father and mother I owe the living, to my teacher(s) the better living” Aristotele

Memories of a life are difficult to gather and on a piece of paper or in this case on the screen of a computer. Where are they, when did they happen and why have I forgotten so much that happened over the years and remember just a few bits and pieces?

1953-54 Cyprus

The musicians of Cyprus 1950s

This is when my memories return strong and factual and when I first stepped into a school room just opposite the church of my village. One room, one table for the teacher and desks for about thirty odd of us. I was the youngest because the teacher did my dad a favour and accepted me early in her class. You see, he was the bus driver now, he changed jobs and was more of an authority in the village as he drove them to Nicosia back and forth. I assume the train was stopped by then.

Happy we were in this room and the teacher looked enormous in the eyes of a young boy, who was scared of being beaten up, scared of the first steps into school but very hungry to learn. Far more than that I wanted to play with the other boys, forget about the girls, they were their own group. Playing football with made up by ourselves balls was a luxury. Torn pieces of clothe, rounded up into balls was our happiest moment at school. The damn bell went we all had to line up fast, stay in line and be led into the room for the three Rs to begin again. Fear of being beaten if you could not read the lesson and did not learn your times-tables. The piece of stick was in full view on the table reminding us all what would happen, should we fail the teacher and indeed ourselves.  

No luxuries of music, yes during celebrations, physics, computers etc. Learn to read and write, learn basic numbers and times tables and listen to the stories of Homer in his Iliad and Odyssey. Those were the happy moments we were hanging from the lips of the teacher, using her Nicosia accent and magically telling us and some times reading the events of the Trojan War and the adventures of Odysseus. Ten years until he returned home and took revenge on his enemies.

School over at lunch time and running back home but… where is the bread, where is anything to eat for the majority of us? No lunch at school, only a cup of milk at some point in the morning and that was so sweet because it was made from concentrated milk. Yes, no food to mention but by one pm we were back happy or unhappy, it did not matter, in the classroom to learn in the hope of a better tomorrow. We could hear the wishes of the older people and my grannies ” God bless you my son and hope you become a teacher” was her wish all the time. Somehow I fulfilled her wish against my own wishes that seemed impossible at the time but more about that later.

School over and the fan of meeting in the two main yards of the village to play football for a few minutes and watch the older generation play with a real ball was a treat. The wish was to grow up and be good footballers like them. It was a boring sort of life with no other fan except football during school days but then….

Easter and good weather came, summer and glorious weather arrived and more fan arrived in the poverty of the village that until early 1960s had no electricity, no running water, no asphalted main roads. As for TV, how was it possible to have it with no electricity? How was it possible to spend a fortune on a TV when the village was so poor, most of the families struggled for a piece of bread daily, yes daily!

What did we do as clever kids to help ourselves and ease the pain of hunger, to stop what was punishing our body? When poor, when hungry, somehow you develop skills that children of today and in the cities of then were unable to even imagine, let alone use to have food for themselves and at the same time have fan and team work.

Winter was hunting for the boys. We ran after birds, we trapped birds in the fields, we caught them and made feasts but on top we sold a few for a few pennies. Can you imagine the happiness of catching a partridge by running after it until it got tired and was caught? Can you imagine seeing several birds on your traps in the newly tilled field of corn and burley? Can you imagine shooting down with your sling a bird in a bush or on a tree? Yes, it was great fan but also greater skill that most of us acquired first for survival and then for enjoyment. Alas, no more fields for us now to walk about and remember, all is gone and with that loss remains bitterness of loss, bitterness of betrayal of a cruel, unjust world, enmity alive and kicking inside. I guess this is human as I admit I am no Christ to turn the other side too.

That was the fan and the happy times the young boys of the village used to have during no school times but, it did not stop there because we were independent to do whatever in the village until the afternoon and when the masters, our fathers, returned from the fields or work in Nicosia, lucky ones those that have any work to go to. Yes, we needed to enjoy our achievements and small fires were made to roast a small bird, to roast a bigger one and share it. Imagine the happiness in our hunger, imagine the comradeship that existed between us and of course remained until we grew up and all of us took different paths into adulthood looking for better lives all over the globe.

No drinks but water from the public fountain, no drugs but a piece of bird meat and perhaps a piece of bread, if a mother had just baked fresh bread. Yes, it was a feast, it was a party we all celebrated and we all knew we could have it often enough to keep us happy and survive the poverty of the village, our families and ourselves.

Yes, there was happiness in our poverty, yes there was happiness in the impoverished families and we were all hoping for better, brighter days being the optimists we were somehow blessed with. Thus the first couple of schooling years rolled on but wait until I narrate the second year in school and the memories that I associate with my teachers. School was anything but a happy experience for many of us and after growing up and rationalising,  we …..

Dum Spiro Spero

Peter Constant

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