An island of winter: House sitting in north Cyprus, Part 2

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In January, winter is fully upon the island, the wettest windiest moment, and when the north wind blows, the snow-cold air from Turkey stings your face. Even if I go two days in a row to the local Gungor market (the Gungor family is a sort of empire in the area and owns several buses, a gas station and several other markets in the village), Berkan, one of Gungor’s 17 children from two wives, will tell me in his eager English “Yes, it is very cold. Very cold. This is because it snows in Turkey,” and we will both gaze out the open door as he points in the direction of the ghostly outline of Turkey’s Taurus mountains wrapped in a white gauze.

And yet, the sun is formidable in the face of this cold. As all the locals I meet have told me, the sun always comes back. Always. It’s a fact, not just tourism board propaganda, and this is what keeps me going on the low days, what wakes me up each morning, knowing that the sun will meet my eyes again even if it rains or hails or if the wind ruffles up the palm trees and sends the clouds into chaos.

Winter is citrus season, and the lemon and mandarin trees are sagging to the ground, boughs overfull with bright fruits. I have just missed the pomegranates, and the scraggly grey tree of cracked open reddish wooden baubles looks like a Tim Burton creation. The almonds are also waning, although there are just enough to pluck from the ground or even the trees. The nut is covered in a shell that looks much like a peach pit, but smash it open and you find the almond’s secret hiding place. The olive trees have been harvested once a few months ago, I am told, but even now, there are enough black olives on the trees to gather and store in brine, where they will float around for a month—and then shall come the delicate reward. But the most bewildering discovery is the peppercorn tree that grows not far from the stout lemons—crush one of its slender waxy leaves in your hand and the insistent smell of black pepper dazzles your nose. I picture tiny pepper grinders blossoming, plucked by villagers just before dinnertime.

I am at the source of so many things. But I am quite distanced from real, organized, packaged civilization—I hear a crying baby lamb, a moaning cow or sunning rooster a dozen times more often than the sound of human voices. And somehow, very quickly, I get used to this, I enjoy it, and I growl silently when the dogs growl at random people ambling down the road past the gate to the house.

A strike, I am told by an expat British neighbor (most of the expats are British here on this former British colony), is the cause for a string of day-long power cuts over the last four consecutive days. All the candles I light only emphasize the beauty and timelessness of my new life of island isolation, and I have a wood stove burner for heat, a gas stove for cooking. Still, I cannot help but grumble a bit in the dark and the cold of yet another mysterious evening without power. I wonder about the situation occurring somewhere not so far away, where local workers have damaged equipment sent from Turkey and hospitalized a few workers also sent from Turkey. I wonder if they are fighting for more money or something else has angered them during this coldest season. I wonder how long such a struggle can last, how long the locals will put up with this, if that even matters.

When I go out to feed the animals in the grey chill of the fading day, the pressing air puts me in a low mood, but the chickens don’t care or notice—I am their source of food, they follow me, or more likely they follow my tall dark galoshes which are in their line of sight. It is so easy to take advantage of these hungry, spindly-legged, oddly shaped bundles of nerves. But I don’t shoo them off or kick them out of my way or ignore their need to be fed as always. They are helpless and I am the one in control; I cannot throw my human moodiness at them, that is unfair.

I feed them as I always do, slowly and carefully, making sure not to step on their delicate little three-fingered feet as they swarm about me, waiting for the first grain of wheat to drop so they can attack as if they haven’t eaten in days, as if to show me how starving they are and why didn’t I arrive earlier. I crouch down among them in the muddy chicken yard, my knee high rubber boots grinding mud into the back of my jeans (I’ve mostly given up caring about the cleanliness of clothes by now). I am engulfed in a symphony of mad pecking over the plastic and metal plates, a sound like a hailstorm pounding down upon a tin roof.

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