Posted by: Maria Atalanti
Published on: 08/01/2023Back to Blog
It was late afternoon. The sun was setting slowly, and Υiannis was sitting on a rock at the edge of the field, watching. So many years and he could never get enough of this beauty. The sun bending behind the hills of his village, the crops turning golden and the sky reddening. It was the greatest beauty he had encountered in his life. He immediately felt a sting in his heart. He took some soil in his hands and stroked it with his fingers. This land had fed his family and all the families of his village for generations. If you knew how to properly care for her, listen to her and act according to her precepts, she would never betray you. The land of his place was a Mother!
Yiannis was now around fifty-five. He and his wife Maria had six children. Four daughters and two sons. He was proud of his family. They had enough fields to feed them. They cultivated all the foods they needed: their wheat, barley, their legumes, their vegetables, they had their goats that gave them their milk and the hens that gave them their eggs and meat.
They had fields with olive trees, others with almond trees and some vineyards. The olive trees, in addition to their fruit, gave them the oil for the needs of the whole year, the almond trees the almonds, from the vines they ate the juicy grapes and made their wine. They did not have to go to the grocery store often because they did not have to buy a lot of things. Only coffee, sugar, salt, and oil to light their lamps in the evenings.
In their yard they grew every year a pig, which they slaughtered at Christmas and made, their sausages, their lountzes (salted meat), their hams and whatever was left over they kept in the fat, the so-called “koumniasta” and had to eat the rest of the year. They also had pigeons and ducks and everything else they could raise to feed the family.
Then they had the animals that helped them, two donkeys to carry the fruits and go to the fields and two oxen to cultivate their fields with the plow. They loved them as members of their family. They knew that it was with their own labor that they were doing business and without them nothing would have happened. So, Yiannis often went, talked to them, and stroked them. Every New Year’s Day they fed them several times a day, telling them: “eat from your labors.” These creatures were responding to their bosses, with friendly moans, and you thought they were talking to you and even communicating with each other. They were so expressive!
His wife on the other hand was admirable. She took care of her children, took care of the animals they had at home, milked the goats and with their milk made halloumi and other kinds of traditional cheese, for the whole family. Because the milk of the two goats they had was not enough, they had agreed with the neighbors, and each one gave their own milk to the others once a week and so everyone could in turn have enough to make halloumi and whatever else they wanted.
Although they had no water in the house and had to carry it with buckets from the fountain, the house was always clean, and their animal stables wiped dry. They collected the impurities daily and transported them to their nearest field, in a dung. From this pile they took and fertilized their fields before sowing them. Nothing was wasted. Whatever was left over from their own food, they fed it to their animals.
His wife and children also helped him in the fields, otherwise he would not have been able to make ends meet. Everyone knew how to do all the jobs. This is how he had learned from his own parents, and for hundreds of years they went about their lives in this order. He taught them daily to his children:
-The earth, he uses to say to them, is alive. It speaks to us, and we must listen to it. To get a rich crop to bear fruit, we should let it rest. So, one year we will have to sow half of our fields and the other half the other. The earth must be respected to give you its fruit.
Yiannis knew a lot. He was born in this semi-mountainous village at the foot of Troodos and always, since he remembered, he grew up in the fields, listening to his elders share secrets, how to make the land give you the best harvest. He knew that in the field where you planted broad beans in one year, you should not throw away their stems, but leave them there, dry out and mingle with the soil. Next year you would have the best production in this field because the dried beans fed the land and made it rich. These and many others were the secrets of the farmer. And he knew them well.
He had no complaints from his life. Tough, but his children were never hungry. Not even when it was a drought, the scourge of Cyprus’ farmers. They had something stored in their hold, until better days would come.
The sun had gone down even lower. The few clouds that adorned the sky had turned red, before darkness spread everywhere.
-It’ll get dark in a little while he thought, and I haven’t decided. Things have been changing rapidly lately. The rhythm that I have known throughout my life, the rhythm of nature and the earth is overtaken by the progress that has been made in a hurry since the creation of democracy.
Before 1960, Cyprus was a colony of the British. Things were stagnant for farmers. Almost nothing changed. In 1955, the struggle of EOKA began and although it was for the union with Greece, what they won in the end was the creation of an independent state. But either way, life took a completely different course.
Workers from Nicosia had come to their village and opened ditches everywhere to bring water to each house separately. Unbelievable stuff. Surely their lives would be easier like that. In the coffee shop, they were talking the other day, that the government would bring electricity. One would press a button and the room will be illuminated. No lamps, no oil, nothing. Just a button!
All this seemed strange to him, and he was sometimes happy and sometimes scared. He had even heard of the harvesters that reaped the field in no time of the tractors that plowed it at a glimpse of an eye. Then there were the fertilizers. These you put in your field, and you could cultivate it every year. There was no need for fallow. The way he knew, the secrets of the land, seemed useless now.
He had to decide. Tomorrow he needed to give his answer. The land, which fed his parents, grandparents, and children, did not seem to be able to meet the needs of the future. His daughters had grown up, he had to marry them, endow them. He wanted money, in addition to the food the earth gave him. At first he thought of selling a few fields. And he did. But it was not enough. Then he wanted to send his young son, Christakis, to the High School. To get into society you had to be educated. And for all this, money was needed. And he did not have enough.
He had been offered a job as a worker, in Chora (Nicosia). He would have a sure salary, work eight hours, and would not have to get so tired, nor would he have to worry if it would rain or if the heat would burn the crops. After all, he had begun to get old. Other of his villagers had gone there. They told him it was fine.
But he was thinking of his land, the land he loved so much. Where would he leave his fields? He could, of course, rent them to a villager to cultivate them. He would thus have an extra income. But it was not this at all. It was the separation from the life he knew. Throughout his life he was a master of his home and property. Now he should have other bosses on top of him. Would he stand it?
He started slowly for the village. The darkness had fallen. Only the moonlight illuminated his path. He did not care much. He could make the road with his eyes closed. So well, he knew it. As he arrived home, he went straight to the stable where the oxen were. He began to caress them and talk to them:
-Your time has passed too! Progress has come now, we have water at home, electricity, the machines that plow and harvest and we are not needed so much now. Another world is born. I will be forced to sell you. And who will want to buy you?
But somewhere deep inside he knew that the way of the earth cannot be overcome. All the progress of the world cannot ignore Mother earth. There will come a time when the earth punishes man. Yiannis knew that. She had told him a thousand times when he chatted with her.
-Did you come Yiannis? Maria asked him. Come on, we’re waiting for you to eat.
Yiannis entered the house and saw all his children sitting around the table, waiting for him. These were his treasure, his riches. And for them he would do anything.
-Good evening, he told them. I have decided. Tomorrow I will go to work in Chora.