“You must come when the spring flowers cover the wide plains around my village, carpets of yellow or purple among fields of fresh green. You must come when summer has dried the endless waves of grass, the stubbled fields. You must come in autumn when the plains and hills take on the colour of honey and do not forget to come in winter when after heavy rainfalls, the plains show a timid fresh green and the sky becomes a stage for heavy thunder clouds, a play of light and shadow, of brilliant sun rays breaking through deep purple mountains of clouds. Whenever you decide to come I shall show you the countryside around my village, the area of white earth, giving off a very special light, and I will show you my village which is very dear to my heart.”
One day in May, finally, we went, my husband and I. We went to meet Günay Güzelgün, painter and photographer, whom I had interviewed some months before. Louroudjina – today Akıncılar – was during that interview a constant central point of our talks: Louroudjina where she had spent a most remarkable childhood, Louroudjina which gave her the inspiration for her paintings of village life and landscapes full of white light, Louroudjina where her mother, her father and other beloved persons are buried and most of her sisters still live. Louroudjina for which her heart aches, but which makes her happy whenever she visits, unfortunately not often enough, this village of white earth among the soft hills where once there had been vineyards.
Louroudjina – it is like a magic spell when spoken out loud – is at the tip of a military zone on the border with the south part of Cyprus. We met near Ercan airport and decided to go in one car to Akıncılar. At the entrance to the military zone Günay handed in her ID card in return for a day pass. A pass to the end of the world, a place in a cocoon, isolated and connected to the outside world by only one road with all the other old roads closed, blocked … this was our road to Lefkosa … Louroudjina is only 20 minutes away from Larnaca, you could walk over the fields in 10 to 15 minutes to reach the main road to the coast. Time stands still here; the landscape has not changed since that day of no return, since 1974. We drive through a golden ochre land, an occasional tractor moving along the horizon, some farmland with wheat ripe for harvesting. The earth is the colour of white lime; it is lime, good soil for vine growing, the green of the vines brilliant against the white earth, not sand but crumbly soil. On both sides of the road we travel on is Pyroi, today Gaziler, a village in ruins, where many people once lived, now here and there only a goat or sheep. Even the few trees seem to testify of times long passed. A cold feeling pricks at our necks. Ghastly. Military posts everywhere.
We stop where the earth has been dug up. Günay shows us the past of the island from millions of years before. Blocks of petrified shells have been uncovered by road working machines. We stand on the bottom of the old sea bed between the former two separate islands. Has anything changed? The two parts are still separate, between them no longer a channel of seawater but a gruesome line of wars and politics.
As we approach the first outline of Louroudjina, we stop at the village cemetery where some members of her family lie, often visited. Her mother’s tomb, a moment of silence and a flower left behind. Once Louroudjina was a busy and happy village, with mostly Turkish and just a few Greek people, of two to three thousand inhabitants then. It was a rich village, the biggest Turkish village in Cyprus. The next villages were only 2 kms away and all lived happily together. “People hardly knew the Turkish language, everyone spoke Greek.” Today there are only about 500 people living here, mostly elderly people, who have refused to be transplanted, their roots are here in this unusual white earth. Since 1974, only a handful of new houses have been built, perhaps by family members living abroad.” White sandy roads run through the village where there is hardly a house in good shape. Only the main road is tarmacked, and there is a mosque in the centre with three mini markets and three small cafés, and a village fountain built in 1950 where the women used to meet while fetching water and chat. I did not ask if it was still working. The houses covered with old tiles are single storeyed, built from uncut pieces of stone, the spaces between them filled with gravel, making beautiful patterns. But still, stopping at one or other ruined stone building, I am able to appreciate the former beauty of the window frames, of the old doors. Walking through the village, we meet members of Günay’s family, cousins, sisters, four sisters live here, and she takes us to see her parents’ house, leading us to one of the house walls “Look, here are some stones in the house wall which I once engraved”, and she touches the lines with her fingers. Old farming machinery rots away in the fields, oil mill machinery, telling about the busy farming people of long ago. “We grew wheat, barley, vegetables and produced oil, zivaniya and wine, we had all we needed.” The village spreads up the hills. We visit her eldest sister who lives there with her husband. She is doing her washing on a stone under a fig tree besides a rose bush, where the freshly washed linen is drying in the wind. Behind it is an old küp kebab oven; a neighbour comes to say hello and they exchange news. News? Here? What for? We have all the time in the world; nothing changes and who cares?
From up here we can see the next Greek village more or less at hand-waving distance. Günay reiterates that there were never any problems with their neighbours, as if she still can’t believe that a direct exchange is no longer possible.
It is lunch time and we are expected by yet another sister of Günay’s, in the village centre. The son of the house with his young family has come for the weekend. He shows us the apartment he is renovating for himself next door. “We come here as often as possible, it is my home village, the destiny of my village is of great concern to us.” In the backyard his father keeps some chicken, vegetables and a variety of beautiful cacti. What is the destiny of Louroudjina?
A while ago, Günay encouraged her sister to take up painting. She opens her portfolio to show us and I am most moved by her work. It is the rich fantasy of a child in a woman of over 60 years of age. Images of peace, people, sheep and goats, birds in all her paintings, her surrounding, her life, their lives in a happy village. I photographed them because they tell more about Louroudjina than can any words. In one of them, there is the primary school building where the sisters went to school, you recognize the red building when looking up the hill; and there is a church on top of the hill, a Greek church on Cross Hill, all there, except the ruins of today.
The ladies of the house have laid the table in the kitchen and all nine of us sit down to a delicious meal and we talk, constantly crossing different cultural areas, sitting together in the forgotten cocoon of a village. Really forgotten? Perhaps, as such it has been saved from the mad outside world …
We must come again to breathe the air of all the seasons.
Copyright Heidi Trautmann 2009