DDD's NaJoPoMo - Only In Cyprus #30
(Nov 30, 2011)
Well, that's it - mission accomplished - Day 30 signals the end of the NaJoPoMo challenge. I've enjoyed participating and I hope you've enjoyed the journey with me too.
There were a number of subjects that I had in mind to cover. Unfortunately, one short month was not enough, and although some projects were started (and one or two even finished) they never made the grade. I dearly wanted to do justice to the 'Cyprob', but it's such an emotive and important matter that no journal could ever give it the consideration it deserves. Alongside quirks such as the SBA's, moufflon, Big Mac, Yuri Gagarin and the Troodos golf ball, I also wanted to share some of the oddities that arise on a daily basis and affect both expats and Cypriots alike. Over the last month I've made copious notes and prolific scribbles on countless papers. I've delved into hundreds of web pages and analysed a mass of statistics. I've sorted the wheat from the chaff, the truth from the fiction and feasted on a banquet of facts and figures.
Importantly, I've discovered new interests that prior to the challenge would have just passed me by. Over the next few weeks I plan to build my own traditional 'fournou' - a clay oven - and when it's complete I'll be baking village bread, cooking Kleftico and Tavvas. My wife is also encouraged by the new recipes I've uncovered and she's looking forward to producing new culinary creations.
In short, for me, NaJoPoMo has been an incredibly worthwhile and rewarding experience. When I've caught my breath and tackled some of the jobs that I've recently avoided, there'll be a few prospective Entries that I'll happily write up and submit to <./>PeerReview</.>.
If you'd like an explanation of any of the subjects I've touched on above, feel free to post below or pop over to my Personal Space.
For now, Kali Nichta, and if I may, I'd like to be the first (on the advent of the festive season) to wish you Xronia Polla!
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Latest reply: Dec 1, 2011)
DDD's NaJoPoMo - Only In Cyprus #29
(Nov 29, 2011)
Depending on your viewpoint, one of the major advantages of being a Cyprus resident is its very favourable tax regimes. Cyprus has the lowest tax burden of all the EU countries and it's not just by a trivial margin.
I'll spare you the complex calculations and methodology used, but I'm quoting from a chart prepared by some of the top players in economic research who've undertaken detailed studies and extensive analysis in these matters. In short, this data is accurate - trust me - but it could be open to interpretation if you decide to lob a curve-ball into the modelling technique. For the purposes of this journal, it'll do fine.
Have sympathy for the Belgians who top the list of fleeced countries. With an average salary of €51,295 they get to see the least, losing 58.83% in deductions, and taking home just €21,118. Fairing rather well are UK workers, who starting with €47,118 (converted from £GBP) lose 37.23%, pocketing €29,576. The happiest chappies, are of course, the Cypriots. Although starting with a relatively low wage of €22,778, they are only hit at a rate of 18.65%, leaving €18,530 to donate to their wives as housekeeping.
Permit me, if you will, to bandy around a few more figures. No-one pays personal income tax in Cyprus until their earnings exceed €19,500 - there's some exceptional joined-up thinking going on here; €19,500 is considered the minimum salary required to avoid potential hardship, so no tax applies. Even if you are wealthy, you'll never part with more than 30% of your income in tax; it's the top rate. VAT is pegged at the EU minimum of 15%, corporation tax is just 10% while council/municipality tax (which varies with each administrative area) costs me the princely sum of €91. Per year.
There are some stealth taxes, of course. A €2 levy if you need to see the doctor, 4% import tax on ostrich eggs (not applicable if sourced from the EU) and €0.02 each time you buy a postage stamp. As if the 2 cent charge was not galling enough, you are actually issued with a separate 2 cent stamp, which must be licked and stuck alongside the main postal fee. It's not surprising that many were up in arms when this unfair practice was introduced - not only do you lose further wealth in back-door taxation, but there's also the imposition of enforced labour when having to apply additional stamps without receiving payment for your effort.
Just like the Greeks, the Cypriots abhor taxes. While legal avoidance has become a national challenge, illegal evasion is rife. Ask any accountant, solicitor or private doctor for an itemised bill and you'll be swiftly advised that a further 15% will be added on top of the quoted fee for provision of 'a proper one'. Cash, as always, is the order of the day - never insult a Cypriot tradesperson by proffering a cheque, or God-forbid, a credit card.
In concluding, then, I pose the question as to why so many expats are now leaving Cyprus' shores and claiming that she has become far too expensive. For years they have taken advantage of favourable taxation, the cost of living has risen only slightly inline with inflation and commodities such as fuel are still among the cheapest in Europe. Let's have another look at the figures I quoted above.
Your average UK retiree living in Cyprus had an annual income from the UK of €29,576. When adjusted to local conditions it rose to €36,478 - they were living like kings and lauding their wealth among the indigenous population. All was well and good until the £GBP began to plummet against the €uro. From a high of 1.61 to a low of 1.05, they lost 33% of their income, lost their status as kings and found themselves living just above the poverty line. Cyprus, undoubtedly, took the blame.
Cyprus never deserved it. It never became more expensive or any more stringent with taxes. Decisions made in the UK (which, in the good old days, were slated and cited as the reasons for leaving) became the excuse to blame Cyprus for expats' woes.
I'm glad they've gone. The lack of moans and whinges from my fellow compatriots makes Cyprus a far nicer place to be. And it was almost perfect to begin with.
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Latest reply: Nov 29, 2011)
DDD's NaJoPoMo - Only In Cyprus #28
(Nov 28, 2011)
Three years ago I met a man called Calum and his wife Laura. Laura was Cypriot-born and Calum was a New Zealander. I still have no idea of how they both met, but I do know that Laura spent quite some time in Australia, so I'm assuming that it would have been in that part of the world.
Over the years, work has meant that we've met two, sometimes three times a week and exchanged pleasantries, but only ever as colleagues, rather than friends. Calum is a great story teller; full of big ideas and tales that are always fun to listen to but always leaving an element of doubt as to their authenticity. Laura busies herself with homeopathy and bottles olive oil to sell alongside incense and Africana artefacts. Unsurprisingly, both are often dismissed as a little flaky - initially, I was probably guilty of that too - but I think it was because they never conversed about their daily or personal lives, which naturally makes people a little suspicious.
In recent times, both have offered a gradual insight into a series of personal setbacks and as we've slowly begun to unravel the depth of their struggle, my wife and I have found ourselves becoming more and more charitable towards them. Just six months ago, I learnt that they had two sons - one is 12, the other 15 - and I was astounded; this is the sort of information that people impart willingly, often enthusiastically when trying to indicate their social position, life-style and career choices. But no, they are both incredibly private people.
Calum first asked me for some practical advice about a year ago because he knew that my working background was electronics. He had a electric cement mixer that kept blowing fuses and wondered why. I suggested various areas to check, which he said he'd already done, so I casually diagnosed it as a faulty motor and recommended replacement. It was only when he turned to walk away and mentioned in a downbeat manner that he'd replace it when he could afford it, that I thought I needed to make a little more effort. I offered to take a look if he'd remove the motor and give it to me for appraisal, which he did.
It ended up being the start capacitor (which I replaced with an old one I had lying around) and since then Calum has sought my advice on further matters. Currently, he desperately needs a reliable internet connection - the boys' schooling is suffering without one, but they've no phone line and no hope of getting one. I suggested tapping into a neighbour (with their agreement) but was told that the nearest neighbour was 1km away and fed by a satellite connection. Over the last three months, I've repeatedly offered suggestions, parts and ideas but it came to the point where I could only do better with the benefit of a site visit.
My wife and I went today.
What I expected to be a 10 minute appraisal turned out to be one of the most enjoyable days I've ever had in Cyprus. Calum and Laura have 27 acres of smallholding sunk deep into a valley and overlooking the sea to the distance. In addition to the main house, they have a tiny traditional Cypriot cottage which Calum built for Laura's late father, from whom they subsequently inherited the land. The surroundings are utterly breathtaking, perfectly kempt and littered with personal touches that could only come from someone like Laura. We stayed as long as we could, before my wife needed to collect her sisters children from school, and we were offered the greatest of hospitality.
The conversation flowed and flowed as each party disclosed information and life histories that would never be discussed among the general public. I left thoroughly elated and in complete awe of two of the poorest, but happy people I know.
What they have is a lifetime of work, perfectly sculpted and fashioned to produce near-Utopia. What they don't have is money. What they have, I'd give up everything I own to be a part of - I was truly envious.
I arrived as a facilitator, but we left as friends. It was entirely obvious that very few get to ever witness such paradise and share in their lives. We are revisiting on Saturday and instead of working toward a solution, I'll get to kick back, imbibe a few tinnies and appreciate a feast of Cypriot flavours intertwined with a tinge of NZ influence.
You can lead the pension-funded expat-lifestyle, swallowing away your days in the Corner pin or the Kings Sword while complaining about anything and everything and boasting how great your life is, or you can meet people like Calum and Laura and endeavour for perfection that's been crafted from sheer love, dedication to a cause and a lifetime of secrecy.
I know what I'm inspired to do.
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Latest reply: Nov 28, 2011)
DDD's NaJoPoMo - Only In Cyprus #27
(Nov 27, 2011)
Last night's weather forecast promised a beautiful day and predictably it was. My wife and I decided to spend some time in the garden - the recent rains have suddenly brought everything to life and some serious jobs need attending to before things get out of hand.
I'm not a gardener, nor have I ever had any great desire to be, so quite why we chose a plot that's 2000m2 (almost half an acre) I do not know. The vast majority is fully established now and I'm particularly fond of our small orchard which is home to olive, lemon, orange, pomegranate, grapefruit and fig trees. To the front of the house is a typical Mediterranean garden filled with date palms, prickly pear, various agaves, Cypress firs, bougainvillea and all manner of spiky things of unidentified origin. To the rear we have bamboo, carob, and oleander alongside hibiscus hedging. Large expanses are covered by gravel - much as I'd like to plant it all, I don't think I'd ever have enough days in the year if we didn't have some low maintenance areas.
Maintenance is the heart of the problem. Even 800m2 of gravel needs treatment with weed killer 2-3 times a year. You'd be forgiven for thinking that very little would grow considering Cyprus' dry and arid climate, but believe me it does, with a vengeance. Most of my time is spent simply chopping back, hacking down, killing off or generally destroying in order to keep on top of the rampage. If it doesn't get hit this time of the year, come spring we'll be forcibly evicted from the house by the advancing onslaught of growing matter. While I'm regularly seen creating havoc with chainsaws, loppers, scythes and rotorvators, my dear wife will plant yet more colourful pots or create small 'feature additions' in unoccupied soil. They always look pretty but given two years they become ravaging, unstoppable monsters. My current battle against a particularly substantial geranium profusion is being lost - another little centrepiece that was planted just three winters ago.
I've only got a very small window in which to carry out the work. Hacking back is one thing, disposal is another. The only cost effective method is fire, usually a big one, but these are only permitted between 1st December and 31st January. Before I can even strike a match, I'll need to have written permission from the Mukhtar and to have briefed (and received a 'burning certificate' from) the fire department, so I'll need to get my skates on.
While surveying the areas of primary importance, my eye caught the Agave Americana, which if I'm not mistaken is about to do something rather spectacular. I'd estimate that the plant is around 10-12 years old and it currently stands at 2m in height. I was already impressed by this wonder of nature when I discovered from a neighbour that if I had the right equipment and a modicum of know-how I could use it to produce an alcohol known as Pulque. Now, it appears as if it is about to flower.
If it does, then over the next 4-5 months a stem will emerge from the heart of the flower growing to 50cms wide and supporting huge heads of flowers while rising to a colossal 8 metres in height! That's enough to dwarf the bungalow and be visible from a considerable distance.
Regrettably, when it does, all the energy the plant has accumulated over its life will be used in the flowering process. When all is done, the plant will die.
I'm thoroughly excited about this potential growth extravaganza. It will, undoubtedly, be an experience to savour, remember and relate in later life, though I feel sorry for the poor plant and its eventual demise.
Actually, no I don't. Guess who'll be left to hack down the rotting corpse and pay for the skip? For sure, there'll be no burning certificate available when you really could do with one.
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Latest reply: Nov 27, 2011)
DDD's NaJoPoMo - Only In Cyprus #26
(Nov 26, 2011)
On Friday, just before my wife headed out to run some errands, she asked me to pop into Kokkinos Yperagora to pick up a roll of carrier bags. I still have no idea why she wanted them or even why she couldn't get them herself since she was passing the door. Regardless, I did as I was instructed, traipsed around the store inquisitively and eventually located them (as one would expect) behind a stack of pasta. I sighed heavily as I joined the queue at the checkout; six in front - lose an hour.
When I finally got to pay my €1.90, the checkout girl insisted, despite my protestations, on putting them into a carrier bag. Picture, if you will, a roll of carrier bags, overwrapped by a secure plastic label proudly stating "100 durable carrier bags in convenient roll-format for easy transportation and handling" being inserted into another carrier bag to further complement my previously-eased transportation and handling. The situation was so surreal that I could offer no adequate resistance and I decided to quietly exit the store with my carrier bags securely stashed inside the carrier bag.
Imagine my horror, when just a few moments later, I stopped at the Periptero for a 'Cyprus Mail' and the attendant insisted on placing my newspaper (Yes, you're ahead of me aren't you?) into a carrier bag!
You see, Cypriots are obsessed with carrier bags. Absolutely everything, it would seem, should be conveyed via plastic and I've never understood why. I can partially comprehend branding and I therefore expect to see an expensive pair of Prada (TM) shoes touted in an equally expensive and luxurious relocation device, but knowing the counterfeits and knock-offs that are plentiful here it's more likely to read "Prodo". Just last week I went to 'Home and Wood' for 25 litres of matt emulsion. The paint was neatly stored in a giant plastic tub complete with user-friendly carrying handle. The ensuing struggle at the payment desk to insert it into an undersized carrier bag took longer than the selection, conveyance and reimbursement process.
Why is it then that everyday, innocuous, products need such protection? Our under-sink kitchen cupboard is filled, to bursting point, with redundant high-density polyethylene bags. As much as I try to recycle them as bin liners, filling for pillows and makeshift balloons at birthday parties, more come in on a daily basis than leave.
I'm now having to dispose of them with the general refuse but there is one slight snag. The skyvalloforo won't accept anything unless it's in a bag.
I'll be back to Kokkinos on Monday to buy some larger plastic.
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Latest reply: Nov 26, 2011)
DDD's NaJoPoMo - Only In Cyprus #25
(Nov 25, 2011)
If I was asked to nominate just one aspect of Cyprus living that topped all the others I would categorically state crime, or the sheer lack of.
Cyprus is an incredibly safe country. That's not to say there is no crime at all, but my chances of being murdered, attacked, burgled or sexually assaulted are almost zero (though in the latter case, should any young female care to oblige, I promise not to report the incident).
Cypriots have an overwhelming sense of community, they demonstrate acts of human kindness on a daily basis, they have an immeasurable understanding of true morality and are, above all, incredibly good people. I am honoured to live among them.
It is, then, quite extraordinary how scant the regard is for law. I'm not talking about big stuff here; every Cypriot knows that you don't kill, maim, plunder or open your shop on a Sunday but in all other respects Cypriots will only obey laws that suit them. In January 2009, parliament enacted a smoking ban that prohibited puffing away in all public buildings, restaurants, nightclubs and cars inhabited by under-16's. As expected, the presidential palace and parliament buildings were exempt and there was much wailing, gnashing-of-teeth and a huge outcry of public opinion opposing such Draconian legislature that interfered aggressively with daily life. All this showmanship proved to the EU that Cyprus was falling into line and adopting common policies. In reality, nothing much changed. I can still happily kill myself after an enjoyable meal and when I visit my accountants (which for some strange reason reside in the same building as the Paralimni courts) I can battle through the smoke-laden, fog-filled, corridor cheerily calling 'Kalimera sas' to the gaggle of policemen all out from court A for a 'swifty'.
As I may have previously mentioned, we've had some additions to the main house in recent times. The proposed work actually went through the planning department, which I gather left the employees there quite shocked. Apparently it's been sometime since their services were utilised; most citizens build illegally and then wait for the 10-yearly planning amnesty to come around again thus automatically legalising their new abode. Before work begins on building new houses, it is common to drill a borehole for water extraction - all that free water comes in useful in the summer for irrigating the gardens and trees - but of course the extraction requires a licence and payment of a fee. The extent of non-compliance was severely demonstrated in the summer of 2010. After a succession of dry winters and long hot summers, water rationing was introduced. 50,000 illegal boreholes were pumped dry resulting in large swathes of the water table becoming contaminated by seawater. Estimates suggest that some of the water table will remain contaminated for between 40 and 80 years.
There are so many examples of ignoring the law that I really should share (in fact I could fill a book), but regrettably they are too numerous to mention inside this short journal. When laws are enacted that Cypriots cannot avoid the people become most cunning.
Cyprus adopted the Euro on January 1st 2008 and the exchange rate for the old Cypriot £Pound was fixed at 1.712330757, i.e. £1 would buy you €1.71. Overseen by EU commissioners, an army of over-zealous civil servants were tasked with ensuring that the conversion rate was adhered too in order to prevent profiteering. One lowly restaurant owner was forced to replace his newly-printed (and CTO approved) menus because he had rounded down the previous price of £3.95 to €6.75 when it should have been €6.76. Pointing out that this was of benefit to customers, and refusing to replace the menus, he was duly prosecuted. Despite a strong defence, he was found guilty and fined appropriately.
He then countersued the government. All the recently replaced road signs that said "Littering on the motorway is an offence - fine, if convicted, €855" (previously £500) had to be torn down and replaced, yet again, at an estimated cost of €27.4 million.
It's still quite common to see the new signs. I always have a quiet chuckle to myself (and continued admiration for the man who made a stand) when I see "Fine, if convicted, €856.16" on the motorway.
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Latest reply: Nov 25, 2011)
DDD's NaJoPoMo - Only In Cyprus #24
(Nov 24, 2011)
The trip to Limassol went swimmingly. The business I needed to conduct was completed in under ten minutes and that left my wife and I plenty of time for lunch and shopping. Unfortunately for me, the time allocated for each activity was biased more toward shopping, as were the funds, but it was an enjoyable day nonetheless.
As expected, I did see some imaginative driving skills on each leg of the journey, but nothing that I'd normally write home about or even raise an eyebrow to now. I've become desensitised, you see, and fully expect to witness the entirely expected. There was the usual tailgating, undertaking, mobile phone use and speeding, but these are all normal occurrences, as were the tractors, mopeds, JCB's, quad-bikes and tourist buggies that were all seen at regular intervals along the motorway. These vehicles are, of course, banned from using the high-speed roads because they are inherently dangerous when plodding along at 30km/h while others commute at 100. I did get rather a shock when a Kawasaki ZX screamed past at around 200km/h, but only because the riders passenger was wearing nothing but a bikini. Admittedly, she did have a helmet, as did the rider, yet neither of the safety devices were positioned on their heads where one would reasonably expect them to be. Fear not, because both rider and passenger were complying fully with the law in this respect which states the wearing of helmets is compulsory. Unfortunately the law does not state on which part of the body said devices should be positioned so an arm is, therefore, adequate.
There's also very little chance that the twice-limit speed at which they were travelling would be challenged. Until late 2008 Cyprus had a comprehensive network of speed-cameras but these were found to be lacking in many technical respects. Although successful at capturing images of speeding pigeons and grazing goats, they were less reliable at recording the speed of moving vehicles. If you were unlucky enough to be summonsed to court for a speeding offence, all you had to question as part of your defence was reliability statistics. The cameras have since been removed and the network mothballed.
Despite irregularities in some of the driving enforcement procedures, some positive thinking has now been enacted. As an example, all hire cars (the transport of choice for tourists) are fitted with red number plates, front and rear, making them (and the occupants) easily identifiable. Sceptically, I have now formed the opinion that this is no longer to indicate that the tourist drivers may be frequently lost or unaware of local road layouts, but more to inform the tourists that any other colour of plate is likely to be under the control of a moron.
Tax discs and MOT certification is now no longer permitted to be displayed in the windscreen lest it should impeded the drivers view. This could be considered a positive safety move but again, sceptically, I fear that the safety advantage is undermined by the 30% of cars that do not have a current MOT, the 23% that are not taxed, the 19% that are uninsured and the 11% who do not possess (and have never possessed) a driving licence. At least they are anonymous now.
There's also the issue of the recent 'white-plate issue' where newly-registered cars are now required to be fitted with white registration plates on both the front (previously white) and the rear (previously yellow). When one-way streets are frequently ignored, how does one now determine who's on a collision-course, aiming for you, at night? Is it a new white-white, an older white-yellow, a trade-plated white-red/white-red, a tourist red-red, a UN blue-blue, a 'T' white-white taxi, a 'T' white-yellow taxi, a 'T' white-white-blue bus, a 'T' white-yellow-blue bus, a black-black vintage, a white-yellow/banded-red from up north, simply not plated (illegal, unregistered, fallen off) or belonging to the president (who for reasons of diplomatic-immunity) does not require one?
You'll be pleased to hear that we got back safely and spotted the president no less than four times. In times of austerity, we were amazed at the number of vehicles he utilised on his important parliamentary business; a 1989 Peugeot 306, a 2003 Ford Transit, a Mercedes-powered 40-footer and a Massey Fergusen tractor.
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Latest reply: Nov 24, 2011)
DDD's NaJoPoMo - Only In Cyprus #23
(Nov 23, 2011)
I have to go to Limassol tomorrow to conduct some business but I'm thoroughly looking forward to the trip. My wife is joining me and we plan to have leisurely lunch and do a little shopping while we are there. Limassol is a 120km drive away and almost the entire journey will be done on modern motorways. If I stick to the speed limit of 100km/h (which I can assure you I will) we'll be there in just under an hour and a half.
I made mention of this to Andreas today in a jaunty conversation which then abruptly stopped. "All the way to Limassol?" he uttered while shaking his head in sympathy, "That's a long, long way."
You see, all Cypriots think in this manner. Anything further than the next village is considered an arduous trek that will require months of forward-planning and in-depth preparations for an overnight stay. When I was living in the UK, I journeyed a similar distance twice a day, five days a week. It was called 'going to work' and when I explained this to Andreas he couldn't understand why I didn't work in the village in which I lived.
It was one of those inexplicable moments when, suddenly, you both realise that there is such a cultural division between each party that no matter how much talking and explaining you do, neither will ever fully comprehend the others reasoning. I'm sure that Andreas will relate this humorous tale of 'the crazy Brit' to all of his friends at the Kafeneion this evening, much as I am doing here with you.
On our way tomorrow, I fully expect to see some driving. Driving in Cyprus is an experience, that for some, is so troubling it will eventually force them off the roads. For the rest, statistics indicate that you will, at some point, be forced off the road whether you can deal with the experience or not. Cyprus has one of the highest accident rates (per head of capita) of any country in Europe. That's not necessarily surprising when you consider that just 30 years ago, the primary method of transport was a donkey.
I'll cover more on that subject tomorrow, but for tonight, I need to wrap this journal up. It's rapidly approaching 9.00pm and I've got a tortuous journey to undertake in the morning. I'm taking Andreas' advice and allowing 5-6 hours, each way, for the odyssey. He's also given me a number for Elefteri (his cousin who lives near Limassol) just in case there is a need for an overnight stop.
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Latest reply: Nov 24, 2011)
DDD's NaJoPoMo - Only In Cyprus #22
(Nov 22, 2011)
While replying to Lanzababy (U10790805) yesterday, I happened to briefly mention chameleons. That spur-of-the-moment comment provided just the inspiration I so desperately needed for today's Journal.
Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin.
Back in late September, my wife and I were traversing the local fields in our car. The car was never designed for such use, but we cross the fields almost every day because it saves us four kilometres on the journey back to our house via tarmacadam. The entrance to the first field is down a steep slope, with an immediate sharp turn to the left. It's crucial to keep going at this point; the ruts are quite deep and you need the momentum provided by the drop to avoid employing engine power. Use any, and you'll make the channels far deeper without actually moving anywhere. The fields have been ploughed in recent weeks and the winter crops have been sown but the kindly farmer has left the track untouched just so we can continue on our journeys home. It's a most generous act since he loses a swathe of crop-growing land to selflessly provide us with a convenience. I really should take him a bumper-harvest of lemons from our trees, but I fear that he may well have more than he needs. Instead, I'll take him a bottle of whisky at Christmas; it may well cost me €8 but I still think that's a worthwhile investment.
As I was negotiating the drop (and the difficult left turn) my wife suddenly cried "STOP! Don't run over the chameleon". It's not every day such a phrase crops up in our conversations, so a little bemused, and fearing repercussions, I did as told. "Where"? I said, "I can't see one".
It was at this point that I suddenly realised the asinine nature of what I'd just uttered. Seizing the fortuitous opportunity, my wife replied with a modicum of sarcasm that only she can effectively apply in these situations. "Why can't you see it? It's over there, sticking out like a sore thumb. It's not as if it's camouflaged or anything"!
Clarence, as I decided to call him, had done a pretty poor job of blending in with the rich red soil that covers this area (known locally as Kokkino Chorio - 'The Red Villages') and was, indeed, highly visible. I found out from my wife later that chameleons (contrary to popular belief) don't change colour primarily for camouflage but instead for social signals, to indicate mood and to regulate body temperature. Camouflage capabilities are a by-product of their unique talent.
However, he seemed quite content just sitting there soaking the suns rays, so I thought I'd go over to make an acquaintance. Like all the Mediterranean (aka European/common) chameleons I've come across before, he seemed typically placid and appeared completely unfazed by my presence. I attempted to coax him away, trying both in English and Greek, but he was having none of it. Instead he kept a constant vigil by swivelling his stereoscopic eyes as I moved around him.
Since he wasn't moving, I thought I'd take the opportunity to grab a photograph of myself with Clarence. I returned to the car, raked through my wife's voluminous handbag for the camera and headed back. By the time I got there he'd legged it and was nowhere to be seen. "Over there", my wife commented, pointing to the bushes, "You've scared it by all your flapping around. See, it's changed colour".
And then so did I. I looked at the car, realised my chances of self-extraction were slim, and then wondered where I might find the kindly farmer and his tractor.
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Latest reply: Nov 24, 2011)
DDD's NaJoPoMo - Only In Cyprus #21
(Nov 21, 2011)
My love of good food means that Cyprus is an excellent choice of country. When it comes to eating, the Cypriot people know exactly how things should be done. Go to any festival (of which there are many throughout the year) and you'd be pleasantly surprised by the eating arrangements.
One of my favourites is the biennial strawberry festival in Dherynia. Held at the local football stadium, the entire pitch is covered with row after row of trestle tables and chairs. Up to 5,000 people will attend each night, over three days, to celebrate the existence of the humble strawberry. How nice is that?
It's not only the strawberry that is exalted; similar praise is also bestowed upon peanuts at the Mandria festival, flowers at Anthestiria, wine at Koumandaria and cherries at Pedoulas. While each festival promotes a different aspect of Cypriot culture, the dining habits remain the same and are, undoubtedly, the primary reason for the huge attendances. These are times of great social interaction; 5,000+ people dining together, sharing food, drink, stories, laughter and unbroken community spirit. Like most Cypriot cuisine, the food is simple in appearance yet masks sophisticated tastes and flavours. It is also plentiful and thoroughly gratifying. Wash it all down with a few pints of Keo, soak up the atmosphere and conviviality, and you'll have just voyaged upon a life-defining hedonistic excursion.
The event that tops them all, however, is Clean (or Green) Monday - the beginning of Lent. Being a public holiday, the day is enjoyed and celebrated across the island but the largest crowd amasses at Cape Greco. It's by no means unfortunate that I live just a few moments away. Cape Greco is a protected country park and an area of outstanding natural beauty. Preparations begin the day, or even the week before, with attendees delivering tables, chairs and foukou (charcoal grills), thus claiming their pitch. On the day, every square inch of available land is inhabited by entire families (sometimes covering four generations) who will dine all day and into the early evening. Respect for Lent and the fasting traditions offers a complete menu contrast to the week before when meat would have been consumed ravenously. Now bread, vegetables and shellfish are the order of the day. In excess of 20,000 people simultaneously experience the carnival-like atmosphere while all around a similar number of kites are flown, lofted high into the clear, blue skies. It's customary to visit and receive travellers from neighbouring quarters, to share in their food and hospitality, and to leave with friendships that will be further reinforced by future chance meetings.
There's an abundance of simple morality in Cyprus that is eagerly shared with all. I'll take it when offered and gift it when needed. It makes for such an enjoyable life.
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Latest reply: Nov 21, 2011)
DDD's NaJoPoMo - Only In Cyprus #20
(Nov 20, 2011)
Not having received any wedding invitations this week, there was a below-zero chance of a huge free nosh on Saturday evening. To make matters worse, my wife had an "I'm not cooking" look about her when I made discreet enquiries of the evening meal earlier in the afternoon. That look inevitably determines a lengthy period of torture for me since I'm expected to sacrifice most of the afternoon preparing myself to 'go out'. Not only do I have the bathing, shaving and ironing-of-shirt routine to surmount, but I also have the prospect of parting with considerable sums of money in an overtly pretentious dining establishment for equally pretentious, but highly undersized, portions. It's not the way I like to do things.
In an attempt to mediate the situation, I reminded my beloved that Sunday required an unacceptably early start. "Yes", she said, "We can't be late. Why don't we go to Ttapis"?
It's not often that my wife is able to floor me with a single punch, but this was a totally unexpected, knock-out, blow. The woman of my dreams, my only love, my beautiful, stunningly-gorgeous wife was suggesting that we go to a place where a) I didn't need to dress up, B) served humungous portions and c) charged a pittance for the best grub available on the planet. I was so overwhelmed that I kissed her.
Ttapis is a traditional Cypriot Meze house. You will have, no doubt, espied the erroneous employment of a capital 'M' on the word 'Meze', but fear not; this is a meal of such gargantuan proportions that I feel its use is entirely justified. A Cypriot Meze is unlike any other. Meze, originally, was served as hors d'oeuvre, or an appetiser before a meal. The Cypriot Meze is the meal itself comprising many small dishes of different ingredients and flavours. I like to think of it as sampling the entire menu one bite at a time.
We arrived at Ttapis at 5.00pm; I wanted to allow 3-4 hours to relish the feasting experience before the Cypriots began to arrive at 9.00pm (the typical evening-meal time) and the place became log-jammed. We chose a table, and as the waiter promptly arrived with the menus, we waved them away. "Ah, my friends", he said with an appreciative sparkle in his eye, "You have Meze. You pay special price. Meat or fish"? "Meat", we said in unison.
A few moments later the first of the unstoppable courses arrived. Here's how the meal shaped up:
Large bowl of Greek salad, topped with feta cheese. Served with a half-loaf of rustic village bread.
Taramasalata, hummus, tzatziki and tahini dips served alongside goats-milk yoghurt, olives, dill and warmed pitta bread.
Grilled halloumi - a traditional cheese that doesn't melt when heated.
Afelia - marinated pork (red wine and coriander) which is then stewed for 8-13 hours.
Souvlakia - skewered pork cubes cooked over karbouna (charcoal).
Stifado - beef stewed with garlic, tomatoes, onion, cinnamon, vinegar and pepper.
Sheftalia - ground lamb (sometimes pork) mixed with onion and parsley, formed into a short, fat sausage and bound with caul fat (the membrane that surrounds a pigs stomach).
Kleftico - 'Thieves meat'. Goat (occasionally lamb) slowly cooked to replicate the ancient habits of rustlers.
Dolmades - Small parcels wrapped in vine leaves. The contents are rice, pine nuts and herbs.
Yemista - Vegetables (usually tomatoes which, incidentally, are a fruit) stuffed with rice and ground beef.
Tavvas - Baked Lamb and potatoes with tomatoes and onions
Lountza - Pork tenderloin, soaked in brine, then marinated with red wine. Dried, smoked and aged.
Keftedes - Meatballs laced with mint.
Koupes - (Pronounced Cour-ess) Ground mince, formed into the shape of an American football and heavily dusted with bulgur wheat and then deep fried.
Regrettably, brevity only permits me the opportunity to detail some of the more exotic dishes. In between such delights there are, of course, servings of jacket potatoes, seasonal vegetables, char-grilled steak, chicken, rabbit, chips and other similar fillers that need no further explanation.
We called a halt after the Koupes, as dictated by custom. In a good Meze house, the food will keep coming until you request it to stop. You are not expected, or encouraged, to waste, but in true Cypriot hospitality you'll be served until sated. Meze houses in tourist areas will typically serve a set number of courses, usually numbering 10-15. Off the beaten track, in places like Ttapis, you'll still be expected to find space for complimentary brandy and spoon-sweets after the meal. We always reserve a little room for these; it'd be impolite (and is, indeed, considered rude) to refuse the offer from your hosts.
Before I close, allow me to satisfy your fervour for the particulars of the special price that Savvas offered as we were seated. All Cypriot restaurant menus must be approved annually by the Cyprus Tourist Organisation (CTO) and the prices stated are then fixed for the year. This, ultimately, involves a degree of 'loading' by each establishment in order to offset potential price increases. Locals don't, and won't, pay set prices. When you are able to demonstrate (as I convincingly did with a wave of my hand) that you are an impoverished native, you are then invited to take advantage of parish-pump prices.
Meze for two - €22. Bottle of wine - €7.
That's a gut-buster, for two, including swally for less than my wife spends on a lipstick. I was so delighted with the consummate experience that I suddenly found myself feeling unusually generous. I rounded the bill up to €30, waddled out holding my stomach, and belched.
I so love my wife.
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DDD's NaJoPoMo - Only In Cyprus #19
(Nov 19, 2011)
As entirely expected, the builders failed to grace me with their presence this morning. After speaking with Adamos yesterday and arranging the site visit for Saturday, I failed to get a commitment for which week, month or even year that Saturday might fall in. It's probably just as well; after sampling the delights of a particularly agreeable, heavily oaked, Rioja last night I was in no mood to be awoken at 6.00am and swiftly accused of being personally responsible for the drain issues.
If you attempt to ask any Cypriot builder, tradesman, casual bodger or even a plumber about a drainage issue you will always receive the standard diagnosis before you've even finished the sentence. "You've put toilet paper in the bowl, my friend. English people never learn".
The first thing you are told when you arrive in Cyprus, either as a holiday maker or as a new resident, is to never, ever, put toilet paper where it rightly belongs. Instead, you are invited to respect the centuries-old Cypriot tradition of depositing soiled bathroom tissue into a tiny bin located adjacent to the porcelain. Now, I'm fairly rough-and-tumble and I tend not to wince at even serious yuckiness. We are also highly privileged to receive twice-weekly refuse collections, but I'm not, not ever, being persuaded to participate in that game.
And so it was, for the first month of our arrival here, that every time my wife and I flushed the toilet we did so with a profound sense of guilt and a large degree of concern that the system would spectacularly implode. Once we'd found our feet (and thanked our lucky-stars that the great plumbing-god had prevented a major incident) I set about discovering why this situation prevails. For those of you interested in substandard sanitation infrastructure, you'll be impressed with the findings of my extensive research.
A) Bowl/Cistern installations. Mostly modern, sufficient outlet bore, sufficient delivery from stored water. (It was noted that, in high-frequency environments, low feed-pressure may not be adequate to refill to a satisfactory level between each employment).
B) Outlet/Discharge installations. Adequate bore, specified occasionally at minimum (but normally exceeding) industry guidelines.
C) Inspection/Maintenance installations. In almost all cases, considered unsuitable and in need of modification to current industry standards.
So there you have it. The whole system falls apart because of a part that you should never need unless there's a problem. The problem-solver causes the problem and has done, island-wide, for years. It's simply astounding that in 90% of system failures the unblocking bit causes the blockage in the first place, but why?
Well, quite simply, tradition.
The manholes, inspection chambers, rodding points - call them what you will - have since time immemorial been built using the same, stupid, method. Lined with rough-cast concrete, they shred the toilet paper as it attempts to pass through and holds onto it as only a good limpet could.
I've changed ours for €20's worth of smooth bore plastic that has been available on the market for decades. We flush with abandon. Guilt (and mess) free.
Sometimes, Koumbari-mou, Cypriot people never learn.
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Latest reply: Nov 19, 2011)
DDD's NaJoPoMo - Only In Cyprus #18
(Nov 18, 2011)
Those of you eagerly following my NaJoPoMo ramblings will have noticed that I've touched on some of the darker and seedier aspects of Cyprus living in recent days. Today I wish to share with you the dirty side. Filthy dirty.
We've had quite a lot of torrential rain over the last 72 hours which is unusual for this time of year. In between the downpours, my morning was spent on the roof investigating various sources of water ingress; I'm pleased to report that the recent extension and our lovely new roof is faring rather well - I could only identify three points of entry. The old structure is a different matter altogether though.
At lunchtime, my wife enquired as to the whereabouts of her saucepans, bread, cake and roasting tins. I reluctantly relinquished the turkey roaster, but I was forced to replace it with an ice-cream container in order to mop up the drips. I'll apply a big bucket, or dustbin, if it becomes necessary.
While on the roof, I noticed a particularly bad smell blowing westerly from the rear of the estate. Upon examination, I discovered that the rains had overcome the cesspit - the ground water was higher than the capping plinth - and effluent was heading north toward the bamboo plantation. I thought this strange, because I've never seen this phenomenon before, but the problem was immediately obvious.
There's no mains drainage in Cyprus - sorry, I'm fibbing again - there's lots of mains drainage in Cyprus, most having been installed in the last five years. The country is benefiting from multi-million-Euro EU grants to provide such luxury and kilometre after kilometre of roadways, paths, driveways and gardens have been excavated to fit the infrastructure. There is only one small problem; no one thought to build the sewage processing plants, so all those lovely pipes lay empty and everyone continues to rely on individual methods of sanitation. As mentioned, ours is a cesspit, borderline illegal and currently the bane of my life.
Most houses utilise septic tanks. These personal processing units take the effluent and break it down via bacteria in a multi-stage process. Grey water then enters a soak away and is dissipated into the ground. It's a nice system.
Older wrecks, such as ours, have the pits. When you flush the toilet, off everything goes down a pipe and then exits into a big hole in the ground. If you are eating healthily, the solids will sink to the bottom and the liquid content will leach into the surrounding soil via purging holes. A poor diet will permit nastiness to float on the surface and attempt to escape, again, via the outlets. It's a bad system. In fact, it's especially bad because Cyprus relies heavily on the underground water table in times of drought. I don't much relish drinking the tap water when I know it has likely been contaminated by my own and my neighbours bowel discharges.
I'll need to get the builders back tomorrow. I told them when they back-filled the excavation spoil that it would cause problems with the drains, but they knew better.
I will, tomorrow, quite literally rub their noses in it.
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Latest reply: Nov 19, 2011)
DDD's NaJoPoMo - Only In Cyprus #17
(Nov 17, 2011)
While proven as an urban myth, the belief that men think about sex every few minutes could possibly be true for Cypriot males.
From birth, family, social and religious culture promotes the importance of men, often portraying women as the lesser sex. This is yet another example of the regressive attitudes that exist in Cyprus and which are out-of-kilter with most of the western world. Young boys are worshipped by their fathers and encouraged at every opportunity to become 'men'. While young girls are still very much loved, it is obvious that the boys are in training to eventually become the man of the house. During a marriage ceremony, the bride-to-be is reminded that she should 'fear her husband and be submissive to him at all times' while the groom is advised merely 'to love the woman'. To a casual observer, the male dominated environment could offer the reason why so many offspring are named Adonis. It could also assist with understanding the sexual behaviour of Cypriot men.
In my previous journal, the chosen topic outlined the Cyprus sex-industry and briefly touched upon the need. While the demand from visiting tourists (who outnumber the indigenous population by four to one) is certainly considerable, it has often been argued that the use by local men is even higher. In research, information I gathered from various sources indicate that 66.6% of men had their first sexual encounter with a prostitute. This statistic could be considered quite shocking until you begin to understand local practice; many fathers will arrange a prostitute for their son's 17th birthday in order to provide 'experience'. The age is significant in this case, since it is the national age of consent, but the act in itself is deemed a perfectly normal part of growing-up and will be fully sanctioned by the mother. In contrast, for 77.1% of women, their first sexual experience will be with their spouse or fiancée.
One can only speculate whether a first encounter with a prostitute could encourage a lifetime of promiscuity. Statistics don't necessarily support the argument, but they do detail an element of profligacy among men. Two thirds of women had only one sexual partner in a lifetime, compared to less than 7% of males. 41.8% of men had 4-10 sexual partners in comparison to 6.3% of women while 31.9% of men had 11+ partners. The same criteria applied to women reported just 1.3%.
So, where do the 11+ partners come from, when only 1.3% of the opposite sex engage in similar activities? While many Cypriot men will have one, sometimes two, or even three mistresses (either with the knowledge of their wife, or at least with their suspicion) the vast majority of extramarital encounters will be paid-for.
Little wonder, then, that the very people who pass the laws (in an attempt to address the problems related the sex-industry) are the very same who ensure that the laws are not acted upon and subsequently ignored.
After all, what red-blooded Cypriot male would relinquish the opportunity for a bit-on-the-side?
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Latest reply: Nov 19, 2011)
DDD's NaJoPoMo - Only In Cyprus #16
(Nov 16, 2011)
Yesterday, I made mention of the strict immigration laws that have been enacted in Cyprus. While the laws themselves are robust, the country experiences a very serious immigration problem that appears to worsen year-on-year. There are three main reasons for this; Cyprus' geographical location, its membership of the EU and its divided-island status.
Positioned to the far east of the Mediterranean Sea, Cyprus borders Asia to the north, the Middle-East to the east and Africa to the south. EU membership makes the destination attractive for asylum seekers because Cyprus is the first European destination for people from the surrounding continents. Following an invasion in 1974, the north of the island remains controlled by Turkish authorities whose immigration controls are less rigorous and reportedly open to bribery. After gaining entry to the north, it's relatively easy to cross the 180km ceasefire line (known as the green line) at any point in order to access the south. One particularly popular point of entry is that of the Sovereign Base Area of Dhekelia. This SBA (one of two on the island) is under United Kingdom control and, therefore, jurisdiction. Some argue that this affords asylum seekers a favourable advantage, because the UK authorities offer additional rights when processing asylum applications, but this is a matter of conjecture.
While some asylum seekers arrive as individuals, large numbers arrive courtesy of organised gangs who take advantage of their plight. Desperate to flee from oppression in their mother-countries, some part with their life savings having been convinced by the gangs that a better existence awaits them. Upon arrival to the north, they are left abandoned to seek their own way. Many are arrested as they cross the green line, processed and deported. Those that evade arrest suddenly find themselves desperate to survive and ultimately exploited by unscrupulous employers who make them work slave-like hours for little remuneration. Inevitably, they'll be picked up, processed and automatically deported; the basis being that they never made an asylum application and were, therefore, not seeking such.
In the examples I've illustrated above, the majority of asylum seekers are men who, it could be argued, take responsibility for their actions but deserve compassion for the situation they find themselves in. The young women who are coerced and trafficked to supply the sex industry in Cyprus deserve far more sympathy especially from an EU government who appear to legally sanction the abuse.
Until October 2008, Cyprus issued 'artiste visas' to third-country nationals allowing them to stay and work legally in Cyprus as 'dancers' and 'performers'. Many responded to advertisements in their home countries that offered well-paid work as waitresses and barmaids with all relocation costs covered. As soon as they arrived and were intercepted by their benefactors, they found themselves relieved of their passports and identity and forced to work in cabaret-bars and strip-joints. Unbeknown to them, their stay was sanctioned by the artiste visa and the gangs that had lured them into the country now wished to seek repayment for their troubles. One doesn’t need much imagination to realise that the required work didn't stop once the dancing had finished.
Pressure in 2008 meant that Cyprus rescinded the 'artiste' entitlements and replaced them with 'performing-artist visas'. In a nod to the EU and giving the impression to the wider world that the government were cracking-down on such abuse, this change of terminology satisfied those that demanded action.
The situation, however, never changed. In a country where the sex-industry is prevalent, demand will always need to be satisfied. More on that tomorrow.
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Latest reply: Nov 16, 2011)
DDD's NaJoPoMo - Only In Cyprus #15
(Nov 15, 2011)
While I've previously described the treatment of animals in Cyprus as deplorable, I'm also deeply ashamed to admit that a similar attitude prevails toward certain ethnic minorities. Cyprus has had a long and troubled history - a history that documents frequent invasion and repression of its people. Of any race, you'd trust the Cypriot people to have an understanding of just how it feels to be the underdog but, regrettably, it appears that this is not the case.
Cyprus has very strict immigration laws. There's totally unfettered movement for its own people and almost free movement for Europeans who are simply subjected to a few registration procedures. It's a different matter entirely for 'third-country' nationals. Unless you are able to demonstrate a very legitimate reason for residing in the country, legally you'll never get in. Surprisingly then, with a population of 800,000 Cyprus is home to more than 20,000 Filipinos. In other words, 2.5% of the population are legal, third-country nationals, exclusively from the Philippines. Why are they here?
If you've been following my journals you'll by now understand that I'm not one to beat about the bush, so I'll say it as I see it. They are here as slaves.
Housemaids (or to use the recently-adjusted term) house workers are 'sponsored' almost exclusively by Cypriot families. Again, the rules are strict; You must be able to demonstrate a need that cannot be satisfied by the local market, lodge a bond with the authorities upon application and provide appropriate living standards, working hours, wages and reasonable time-off. Unfortunately, application of the rules is less than rigorous so let's look at the criteria again.
Need. Working full-time with one or more children? Need demonstrated.
Bond. Enough to cover deportation to home country, circa €750.
Living standards. Converted shipping container.
Working Hours. 5.00am to 12.00am
Wages. €311 per month
Time-off. Sunday 10.00am - 4.00pm
The 'slaves' arrive via legitimate agencies who are paid a finders-fee by the sponsor. The sponsor will also pay for the inbound flight and the immigration administration fees. When documentation is complete, the employee is granted a five-year visa under the condition that they remain with the same employer and depart the country when the visa expires.
To protect their investment, sponsors will (illegally) retain the employees passport and visa. They also expect 'bang for their buck' so the working day begins when the children wake and finishes when the parents have been sated by an evening meal and had their comforts provided until retirement time. In between exacting housework requirements and standards of cleanliness, employees are often expected to provide household duties to neighbours and friends of the sponsor. For the unlucky ones, there are also sexual advances to be accommodated.
And all this is done to earn a pittance. A pittance that is further eroded by money transfer companies who take an unacceptably large chunk to send the money 'home'. All this is suffered by some of the quietest, unassuming people that you could ever wish to meet. All this to make their families lives, back home, just a little more bearable.
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Latest reply: Nov 16, 2011)
DDD's NaJoPoMo - Only In Cyprus #14
(Nov 14, 2011)
Almost on a daily basis, when I browse ex-pat websites relating to Cyprus, I'll come across a story of animal cruelty. To put it bluntly, it's a scandal that animals of all kinds can be treated so abysmally, yet so little is done to prevent it from happening.
Many commentators will state (incorrectly) it's because the Greek Orthodox Church teaches that 'animals have no soul'. In fact, the Church celebrates Saint Modestos - the Patron Saint and guardian of animals - so why does the cruelty persist?
Before I go further, I perhaps should illustrate my personal position. I have pets but I don't consider myself an animal lover. I don't involve myself in animal welfare work or contribute to any animal charities. I do believe, though, that every animal has the right to life free from persecution and mistreatment by humans.
Let's take a look at the scale of the problem, starting at the top with the biggest offenders - domesticated creatures. The stray population of cats and dogs has reached almost epidemic proportions. Left unchecked, the situation can only deteriorate. There are a handful of charities that undertake capture, welfare, neuter and release programs but they receive no government funding and rely entirely upon donations and charitable giving. While the work they do is admirable, the reality is that their efforts are unsustainable - the population grows faster than the programs can address. This is where the local method of population control rears its ugly head; poisoning. I'm not for one moment suggesting that the poisoning is carried out by the authorities, for it is undoubtedly individuals who take this callous action, but vast numbers of animals suffer prolonged, agonising deaths after eating meat deliberately laced with substances such as Lanate. The sale of Lanate has now been banned, but locals and farmers alike still hold significant stockpiles suggesting that it may be some years before the supply diminishes. There's also the strong possibility that the poison of choice will be substituted by an alternative when it is no longer available.
Hunters, who I alluded to in earlier journals, also face my ire. Not only are they responsible for the deaths of thousands of animals every year courtesy of their shotguns, but their treatment of associated 'sports equipment' (namely hunting dogs) I have particular despite for. Throughout the year, supposedly in preparation for hunting season, the dogs are caged in tiny compounds, half-starved and unexercised. When the season begins, the dogs are let loose. Those that don't (or physically can't) perform are the first victims of the shoot and are left to lie rotting in the open fields.
Hunters also, but this time of a different kind, cause unnecessary suffering to birdlife. Every year over 2 million birds from 120 different species (many endangered) are captured by the illegal use of mist nets and lime sticks. There's an almost insatiable demand for many of the species which are subsequently served as delicacies, but the capturing methods are indiscriminate. Turtle doves, common kestrels and long-eared owls all fall prey. As does the common chameleon - a truly beautiful creature.
Regrettably, I'm able to recount incident after incident regarding animal suffering. I should, of course mention the road kill statistics alongside the dogs, sheep and goats that are dumped, deliberately, in municipal waste-sites and mutilated by mechanical diggers. Then there's the unwanted pets thrown from vehicles travelling at speed onto the public highway via the cars' windows. If the poor creatures manage to survive the impact, their fate is surely sealed by the next passing truck.
It's a hard life being an animal in Cyprus because the laws of nature are somewhat skewed. Survival of the fittest doesn't always come in to play - it's the other 'animals' that you need to watch out for.
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Latest reply: Nov 15, 2011)
DDD's NaJoPoMo - Only In Cyprus #13
(Nov 13, 2011)
You'd expect a modern country such as Cyprus, being a full member of the EU and boasting an impressive HDI, to be led by forward-thinking and progressive attitudes.
Now, I can tell that you're already wondering what my reference to HDI is and in an attempt to prevent you, dear reader, from rushing off to Google the term, I've done the work on your behalf. HDI stands for Human Development Index and it's a measure of a number of factors that define just how well (or how badly) people like you and me fare in any particular country. Cyprus is right up there - 31st in the world - so we can certainly show a few nations a thing or two about leading the good life. The UK, as a comparison, only just pip us at number 28 followed by Greece and the United Arab Emirates. Clearly, we are a well-developed world player.
It's a puzzler, then, why so many attitudes and beliefs are regressive in Cyprus especially when we score so highly for education on the HDI.
Over the next few days, via my journals, I'm going to explore some of the darker sides to the oft-presented idyllic Cyprus lifestyle. Subjects will include modern-day slavery, human-trafficking and animal cruelty. Shamefully, among the general population, each of these issues are well-known but they are matters rarely discussed or aired.
However, before I delve into issues more serious and because it's a Sunday evening, let's keep things light and airy. Besides which, my tea is nearly ready and I'm not prepared to let important affairs affect my degustation.
As a nod to Icy North (U225620) who is running a daily quiz for NaJoPoMo, I've come up with my own little six-question teaser based upon Cyprus. Without Googling, see how many you can answer.
C: Cyprus. From which chemical element does this country's name derive?
Y: Yes. What's the Greek word for 'yes'.
P: Presidential Palace. In which Cyprus city is the presidential palace located?
R: Railways. How many railway routes are there in the country?
U: United Nations. The UN has a long running peacekeeping mission in Cyprus. In which decade did it begin?
S: Sunshine. To the nearest 10, how many days of sunshine do we have, on average, a year in Cyprus?
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Latest reply: Nov 13, 2011)
DDD's NaJoPoMo - Only In Cyprus #12
(Nov 12, 2011)
You'll have to excuse the brevity of this journal today; my time is very limited. Not only do I have the bargain, sorry, the night of the year to enjoy in just a few short hours, but I'm up to my neck in car-troubles and up to my armpits in grease. If I can't get this mode of transport to behave, there'll be no souvla or Zivania for me to enjoy tonight.
I loathe modern cars. There's far too many pipes and extraneous wires doing nothing apart from blocking access to the parts that really need regular fondling. I long for the days of simple engineering and stuff that either worked or didn't. Last week, I spent an enjoyable half-hour with Phanis while we mused over the starting issues he had with his Mitsubishi L200. Lest you should Google to offer advice or suggest diagnosis, I'd advise you to rest-steady - a swift application of a hammer-blow to the solenoid has prevented trouble for the foreseeable future and Phanis is now a very happy Cypriot. I will, in due-course, receive many lemons from his trees.
It seems I'm not the only one to think this way. A large proportion of the vehicles seen on Cypriot roads are, quite literally, old bangers. It's fair to say that most should have been condemned to the great junk yard in the sky many moons ago. Yet still they chug along wearily, belching smoke and occasionally divesting themselves of redundant body-panels, hub-caps, and engine components. I'm sure that their proud owners must also appreciate the beauty and simplicity of 1960's engineering.
Many a time I've wondered just how these mobile scrap-heaps pass an MOT; my question was answered just last week when I was in need of certification for my own troublesome beast. Having carefully prepared the vehicle (and parted with €300 for a new set of tyres) I confidently took a trip to the Transport Ministry in Dherynia. I pointed to my shining, lovingly-maintained thoroughbred and requested an MOT only to be met with a grunt and a shrug of the shoulders. For those of you who don't speak Greek, this translates as "You've got no chance buddy". Undeterred, I drove onwards to Frenaros and enquired at a local garage. The owner was only too happy to oblige, quickly removing a stretched Mercedes taxi from the ramp.
He drove my car onto the rolling road to check the condition of the brakes and the shock-absorbers, firstly testing the front and then the rear axle. Next, he attached a probe to the exhaust, revved the engine to 3000 rpm for 30 seconds and waited until a 'beep' sounded indicating a successful emissions-test pass. And then he did it all again, twice more.
After the third set of identical tests, I expected a thorough visual examination of the rest of the vehicle. I was hoping to receive at least some appreciation for the good money spent on new tyres and wiper-blades and for presenting the vehicle spotlessly clean so that his examination was not impeded. Instead, he thrust me my new certificate, deprived me of €35 and sent me on my way.
I never even got a discount. Considering my car had just provided the test results for two other vehicles, I thought that was a trifle mean.
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Latest reply: Nov 12, 2011)
DDD's NaJoPoMo - Only In Cyprus #11
(Nov 11, 2011)
There was a lot I needed to be doing today, but I was in one of those sorts of moods that meant I couldn't really be bothered to do anything. In an effort to look busy, and to keep my wife placated, I thought I'd check the post box. Before you begin to wonder, I wasn't planning to physically inspect it in case there were signs of structural fatigue, more that I was going to look to see if we had any post. Checking the post box is not something I do very often; most of our mail is delivered to a box at the post office in town. Unsurprisingly, it's called a 'post office box' and is, indeed, a small box attached to the post office and accessible only to me via a key.
I digress. In the post box (the one attached to the house, not the one attached to the post office) there was a wedding invitation. That's about our tenth this year. It's good that I checked, for the wedding is on Saturday, and I'm sure that Kyriakos and Demetria would be most upset if we were not in attendance.
I don't actually know Kyriakos or Demetria very well and neither does my wife. In fact we don't know them at all. Or their family. Or their friends. We've never met any of them, but all the same, it is lovely to have had an invitation and we shall gladly attend the joyous occasion.
My wife admired the lavishly-styled invitations and announced "That'll be a big one, those invites weren't cheap". And she'll be right, of course. Instead of the average 300-400 attendees, I fully expect this particular event to number 1500 and because the reception is being held at Laxia Palace, it could even top 2000. The brides parents would have been saving for this event from the day Demetria was born; their generosity and hospitality will be enjoyed by all.
The ceremony itself will be held at 11.00am at the Greek Orthodox Church in Paralimni main square. The bride will arrive at the back of a cavalcade of cars having been driven around Paralimni and the surrounding villages for some considerable time. As horns blare and vehicle lights are flashed, occupants will emerge from their houses to witness the spectacle and to wish her well. As she walks down the aisle, parties from both sides of the church will spit at her. Actually, they won't, because that's a bit too yucky, but they will make the gesture signifying good luck and lifelong happiness. Curiously, neither Kyriakos or Demetria will exchange any vows; their attendance at church and their standing at the altar illustrates their commitment to marriage. When the service is over, both will tour the villages (this time at the front of the cavalcade) to receive more blessings from well-wishers.
The party and the lively celebrations begin as soon as the happy-couple arrive at the reception venue. This will be a lavish celebration with constant food, drink, entertainment and good-cheer. The bride and groom will arrive at 2.00pm and the festivities will continue until 4.00am the following day. It will be a time of great revelry.
You may be forgiven for thinking that my wife and I will have very little time in order to purchase a gift and card for the soon-to-be-married couple, but worry not. Gifts, on these occasions, take the form of folding-cash lodged in an envelope. For 'casuals' (such as myself and my wife) it's common to proffer €30. As the relationships move closer and closer to the bride or groom, the figures can move through the mid-hundreds and peak at the mid-thousands for immediate family members. The brides parents are excused participation in this aspect, for they have already consumed a large part of their life-savings.
I'm entirely looking forward to the wedding. The entertainment will be spectacular, the bride will look stunning, the ambiance will be most-agreeable and it will be a pleasure to meet Kyriakos and Demetria for the first time.
If nothing else, all you can eat and drink on a Saturday night for €30? It's a no-brainer.
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Latest reply: Nov 11, 2011)
DDD's NaJoPoMo - Only In Cyprus #10
(Nov 10, 2011)
I had a visit from a delightful young lady named Koulla today; she was conducting the 10-yearly Cyprus census. Not having undergone this procedure before I was unsure what to expect, but it was all very informal and I just had to answer a series of questions over a period of around ten minutes.
When it came to the matter of annual household income, there was a brief moment where Koulla lost a little of her professional attitude and exclaimed "Oh, I thought it would have been more than that"!
You see, when she arrived she'd noticed the number of arches at the front of the house (we have four) and automatically assumed that we were wealthy people. You're confused, aren't you? Allow me to explain.
Wealth, or the appearance of wealth, is ingrained in the Cypriot psyche. Historically, this behaviour can be traced back generations, but it's become more prevalent in the last 15-20 years as the country and its people have become more affluent. This is not necessarily a good thing; Cypriots can be mortgaged to the hilt and heavily indebted to the banks but that will not prevent them taking every opportunity to reinforce their wealth and standing amongst their peers. Flashy cars, big boats and expensive designer-clothes are the order of the day among modern Cypriots.
Years ago, when many of these items were not available, wealth was demonstrated by the size of a property. Traditional, historic, buildings had archways as the architectural style, but these were difficult and expensive to construct. The more there were, the wealthier the occupant. Most houses had just one, if at all. In some dwellings, the archway construction would cost more than the property itself. By the time you'd installed four, or even five, you were a man to be respected and admired in the community, for you were, indeed, a very wealthy person. This tradition has passed down through the generations. Most modern houses still incorporate arches in the design, but the vast majority are follies. Folly or not, if your property frontage can support four archways, it still gives the impression of wealth and that's very important to the Cypriot people.
This fascination with money and wealth can be seen on a daily basis. Cash is king; the more you have, the more you flaunt it. Older men, especially, will carry thousands of €uros on their person and have no hesitation in revealing the entire wad when making a purchase, often selecting the highest denomination possible (€500) for maximum effect. A significant purchase, such as a car (or even a wheel-barrow) will immediately arouse attention, provoke a comment and then a less-than-subtle enquiry as to its purchase cost. All this is done in order to inform and educate the enquirer of both his (and your) social position. If his wheel-barrow cost more, then all is well.
If it cost less, you'll be ostracised. Don't ever expect lemons from his trees again.
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Latest reply: Nov 10, 2011)
DDD's NaJoPoMo - Only In Cyprus #9
(Nov 9, 2011)
Be under no illusion; Cyprus can be a cold place in which to live.
Just now, I popped outside for a swift drag and it's positively freezing. Actually, it's not, not anywhere near, but it feels like it is. While the daytime temperatures are still most-agreeable, that can't be said for the autumn nights and, regrettably, soon it will be winter. I'm wondering if it's an age thing because I really do notice the cold and considering I'm embarking on my sixth year in Cyprus, you'd have thought I'd be used to it by now. Sadly, I'm way off retirement age at the moment so, unlike many ex-pats, I won't enjoy the benefit of the winter fuel allowance courtesy of Her Majesty's government.
The arrival of the colder weather also means that it's the time of year when the tourist demographic changes completely. Gone are the sun-worshippers replaced by, erm, sun-worshippers. The difference is the area of the world from which they come. The Brits have gone home to be replaced by visitors from the Nordic and Scandinavian countries. For the new arrivals, our current weather is decidedly tropical and, unlike the Brits, they are not here on a fleeting-visit; Cyprus will be home to them for the next 5 months. While I'm out in jeans, boots and a fleece during daylight hours, the Norwegians can be seen strutting their stuff along the promenades in shorts, t-shirts and the obligatory walking/ski-poles. It's an amusing sight, but to them, the days are hot - why wouldn't you strip-down to appreciate the wonderful weather?
I've talked to many of the winter visitors on many different occasions and (just like the Brits) the conversation always steers back to the subject of weather. As a general rule-of-thumb there are two reasons why these people visit Cyprus; firstly they like it and secondly their entire 5 month stay (including food, drink, accommodation and entertainment) costs *less* than just heating their houses during winter at home. Staggering.
Actually, I lied, there is another very good reason. In less than two months there will be snow falling on the Troodos massif. Visitors and locals alike will flock to the top of Mount Olympus to enjoy the skiing. Bizarrely, less than an hours drive away, down at sea-level you'll occasionally find days when the temperatures nudge 20C in the open-air and a constant 18C in the sea. Only the hardy will venture in, but if you're from the Nordic countries this is like taking a bath!
For less-hardy folk, like my good-self, autumn and winter days require a defined regime. Houses in Cyprus are, in the main, poorly constructed. As poor construction goes, our house sets the benchmark. During the summer, the house is like an oven. During the winter it is like a 'fridge. At the moment we've reached equilibrium - it's hotter outside than inside during the day and warmer inside than out of an evening. Achieving this balance comes at a price and only after applying a liberal dose of military precision:
9.00am Wake. Do not rise.
10.00am Rise, open all doors and windows.
10.00am - 3.00pm Sit outside and soak the warm air.
3.00pm Close all doors, windows, shutters. Retreat indoors.
4.00pm Put on jumper #1.
7.00pm Apply jumper #2.
Of course, this method only applies during November. Once winter is here (December - January) a different approach is needed. Jumpers, generally, suffice until 30th November. During December we'll light a candle to boost the warmth, occasionally lighting an extra one if we are suffering a particularly bad winter. In January, we retire to bed at 4.30pm. My wife is occasionally permitted to utilise the electric blanket after midnight on setting #1 if she's feeling particularly cold and I determine evidence of shivering.
We've never needed to advance the electric blanket control to #2. As I often point out, if that is ever deemed necessary, the Mediterranean is still comfortable at 18C and we could always spend the night there.
For some inexplicable reason, my wife is normally resides at her mothers during the winter.
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Latest reply: Nov 10, 2011)
DDD's NaJoPoMo - Only In Cyprus #8
(Nov 8, 2011)
The return trip to the municipality went surprisingly well. I deliberatly got there at 6.45am to be in time for opening at 7.00; this turned out to be a remarkably good tactic and I was first in the queue at the cashiers desk. While paying, I began a conversation about my wife needing to go to the hospital this morning and I assumed that this account of *my* daily life would be of interest and allocated the requisite ten minutes of 'Siga, siga' offered to other patrons. Not so. I was politely informed that Tuesdays were very busy days and that there was no time for idle chat. Harumph! To add insult to injury, I was also politley informed that a queue was forming behind me and other people were waiting to be served. I was about to point out that this was exactly my motive (and what I had hoped to achieve) but the next customer was abruptly called forward with a 'Parakalo'. As I turned to depart, I was heartbroken to find that the queue forming behind me was a total of three. I hadn't even managed a score of six.
The next item on the agenda was a trip to the hospital for my wife. You're paying attention, aren't you? Good, and thank you for your concern - it was nothing serious. If you need to see a doctor in Cyprus you go to the hospital, but that makes the hospital a *very* busy place indeed. It opens at 7.30am and boy, do you need to be there at that time for any chance of being seen that day. 'Siga, siga'-wise all bets are off; even the customers realise that there can be no opportunity for light conversation.
And this is where you'll see a surpising, immediate, culture change. Suddenly, nobody has any time for anybody. The only focus is being served before anyone else and it's an intense, well-fought competition. The victor leaves within half an hour of arrival. The losers could be waiting days.
In an effort to alleviate the problems, a queuing system has been introduced. Upon arrival at the hospital you produce a numbered-ticket from a machine and then you wait until your number is called before moving forward to the registration desk. In theory, that's the way it's designed to work; the reality is a little different.
Priority is determined by the assembled mass, rather than by the ticketing system, although this does have one use which I will explain shortly. After observing this disorder for some considerable time on a number of different occasions, I can now report with authority on this secret process. Each member of the assembly is allocated a status based upon the language spoken. 1, Greek, 2, English, 3, all other languages. Greek-speakers are sub-divided according to ethnicity; Charlies (English-Cypriots) rank lower than natives and Pontian-Greeks even lower, for example. For those of equal ethnicity, priority is decided by how well you know the registration clerk. You are considered 'family' even if your cousin was born in the same village as the clerks' grandfather. This tribal behaviour is well advanced; status is almost instantly defined, often without exchange of words. This process continues according to the language spoken. If there's a stalemate (ie 2 Brits who both live in Vrysoulles and were both once given lemons from trees owned by the clerk's second-cousin), then the ticket number decides their fate - you see, there is a use for it after all.
Eventually, once you have registered and paid your €2 fee, you'll be allocated another ticket determining the order in which you see the Doctor. And, yes, the process begins all over again.
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Latest reply: Nov 8, 2011)
DDD's NaJoPoMo - Only In Cyprus #7
(Nov 7, 2011)
If you spend any length of time with the Cypriot people a phrase you will hear often is 'Siga, siga', which translates as 'Slowly, slowly'.
There's one very good reason for this; the weather is often hot (especially in the summer months when it can be blistering) and no-one can be expected to work apace in those conditions. This leisurely approach filters through to many aspects of daily life. Mealtimes, for example, are taken very steadily and usually last 1-2 hours while some will extend beyond 5 hours, especially at weekends.
There's one environment where you are always guaranteed to see this measured-pace; governmental departments. I had cause (and the dubious pleasure) of having to visit two such establishments today.
My first (and monthly) port-of-call was the social insurance offices. Each month I get the pleasurable opportunity to divest 17.6% of our total household income and donate it to the government. Not only do I get to make a special journey each month, but I'm also likely to lose around one hour of my available time. It's not as if the forms are complicated and need special processing or, indeed, if the large sums of cash I'm depositing require checking in triplicate. Quite simply, it's because there will always be six people in front of me and each one will need 10 minutes to recount the details of their weekend, how Yia-yia's bunions are healing and why Panicos wet his nappy at Elena's wedding. All this tripe is lapped-up slaveringly by the cashier in a bid to promote the 'Siga, siga' culture.
My second outing was to Agia Napa municipality. Once again, I had the enjoyable opportunity to part with yet more hard-earned €uros, but instead of joining the general queue (again six in front; lose one hour) I thought I'd try my luck and use an officer because my payment was likely to be deemed 'special' and not under the remit of the general cashier. I joined the queue of six at reception/information and lost an hour. I was directed to Maria Papandreou, office 4b, third-floor, joined a queue of six and lost an hour. Ms. Papandreou dispatched me back to the general cashier because, and I quote, "I have already processed your application and passed your payment details to the cashier".
While descending to the ground floor in the 'Siga, siga' lift, I resigned myself to joining a queue of six and losing an hour. Imagine my surprise when I arrived at the cash desk and not a single person was queuing.
It was then that it dawned on me. It was 13.15pm. Offices close at 13.30, cash desk closes at 13.00.
I'll wend my weary way there again tomorrow. Watch this space for updates.
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Latest reply: Nov 7, 2011)
DDD's NaJoPoMo - Only In Cyprus #6
(Nov 6, 2011)
I had to be up early today, as I do every Sunday, in order to earn a few Shekels. Normally I'd set an alarm for 6am but since last week this has not been necessary.
30/10/2011 @ 5.15am marked the start of the hunting season. Hunting is big here - which is more than can be said of the prey.
Just to illustrate how big hunting is, I've researched a few facts and figures. Private gun-ownership in Cyprus is estimated at 275,000. That doesn't seem so bad until you realise that almost 37% of the population has ready access to a gun and could potentially shoot you if you upset them in some way. It's also a little scary to realise that of the 275,000 weapons less than 105,000 are actually legally registered. Out of 179 countries (where data was available and verified), Cyprus ranked 6th for the rate of gun ownership. That's quite staggering.
However, if you are planning a holiday here, it's unlikely you'll need to pack your bullet-proof vest and tin-hat before boarding your flight. According to the latest figures, gun-deaths in 2008 were 13. Of that, 4 were suicide and 2 were 'unintentional'. Just 7 people were shot deliberately, murdered if you like.
So, why such high gun-ownership and why am I woken earlier than expected on a Sunday morning? If you've been paying attention, you should already know the answer - the hunt.
Hunting, in theory, is well regulated in Cyprus. It is only permitted on Wednesdays and Sundays between dawn and dusk in approved areas and with a set of rules that include minimum distances from dwellings and the requirement to wear high visibility jackets. If you were a cat called Squirrel residing chez-DDD, you'd wake on a Sunday and think to yourself, "Ah, yes. There's a man with an orange hi-vis, it's Sunday, he's 750 metres from the house and we are in a no-hunting zone. All's well, what a wonderful day".
The reality is somewhat different.
Presumably, the 170,000 unregistered guns belong to 170,000 unregistered owners. They must be the ones who are outside my window at 5.15am on a Sunday morning unleashing volley-after-volley of lead shot into thin air. They never actually seem to hit anything apart from these:
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Latest reply: Nov 7, 2011)
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