By Heidi Trautmann
I can see a butterfly outside my window, there above a mimosa tree, against the blue of the Mediterranean Sea, a late butterfly, so rare these last years. An image is connected to this butterfly, me as a child walking through summer meadows playing with them, studying them. From here I do a short spiritual travel through my happy childhood days, picking berries for the family to have preserves for the winter, mushrooming for the same reason; or sitting at the feet of my grandmother who was telling me old stories of her childhood, of still another period of good old times.
With my Cypriot friends I have often talked about this phenomenon of good old ways, good old days, and we came to the same result: it was the simple ways, often the hard ways, that left us with the happiest memories. Nature was more complete in my memories, there were wild meadow flowers we made wreaths from and decorated all people around us; today, if you want to see the images of an early summer meadow you have to open old photo albums; where are the wide fields of wild flowers today? Where have all the flowers gone, do you remember the song?
Once upon a time….I don’t have to go back too far, but in our memories, times back everything was better. Were the old times really better, the old ways?
In many ways, yes. Why have books on witchcraft, books on natural living, back to nature, become so successful? Because we seem to have forgotten the wonders of nature, to live with nature; nature has become a mere theatre scenery good for taking photos, or even easier, to sit in a comfortable chair and have it presented on the TV screen. Why make an effort, you can download the most beautiful pictures from the internet. Why going out and make one’s own experiences, better to watch films and the news and you know everything, so why bother?
There was a time, that is only ten years back here in Cyprus, that I saw our Turkish neighbours sitting on the porch in the late afternoon and the passersby would stop and talk, and be invited up to share some coffee and sweets. Today, nobody sits on these porches, they all sit inside, and when people come visiting, the television would not be switched off, and Coca Cola would be served; our village children do not play any longer outside but go and play with their computer: modern village life. But do not think it is different elsewhere.
On our walks through the hills of the Kyrenia mountain range I often encountered people picking wild herbs for their daily needs, also mushrooms, wild asparagus and wild artichokes in its seasons.
Most of my Cypriot friends grew up in modest conditions such as I did, it was after WWII. How thrilled we were when we got as a present a handmade toy hewn from wood, or a pencil to draw with; how it made us happy to create something ourselves from things we found in nature, a bow and arrows made from nut twigs, a doll made of straw and old cloth; and we found plenty of friends around us to play with. How inventive we were. Nobody knew about plastic toys or the electronic world. I knew how to make a fire in the field, how to cook the harvested potatoes. Do children of today still know about it? Sevcan Cerkez told me that she used the coal from the fireplace to paint on the walls of deserted houses because she and her sister didn’t have pencils.
Ismet Tatar, an artist friend, told me how interesting it was for her to go back to old forgotten means for her art work, and to remember for example that her father used the juice from the prickly pears to make a binder for the wall paint; she now uses it for making the paper pulp for her art work. Or ashes which were used to make lye for the washing, there was no ready made washing powder. Or soap… we do find olive and other natural soaps today, though. Take Inci Kansu or Emel Samioğlu and Simge Uygur, also paper artists for many years, they have proved that so many natural ways and means work enormously well in giving art a new meaning. Paints were made from pigments plus binder and sometimes eggs were added, paints for painting and paints for dyeing material; pigments from soil and stones, from plants and tree leaves; glue was made from all sorts of starches, as a child I did mine with flour and water, but glue could be made by all sorts of methods.
The other day I spoke to the mother of Özgül Ezgin, she is approaching her nineties: ‘We didn’t have a fridge, we just harvested and produced what we could finish eating the same day; other products we had preserved, so no problem whatsoever, we didn’t need a fridge.’
From my grandmother I had learnt how to keep potatoes and vegetables fresh over the winter; we kept the fresh eggs in a bucket full of lime; above that, I learnt early in life that for what you didn’t have yourself in your field you practiced a sort of exchange trade with people who had it. People made their own cheese - I still see the cloth with sour milk hanging from the tap over the sink – made their own cold meat preserves and fats; here in Cyprus they didn’t practice the use of butter; but I know they produced sun-dried meat.
Bread was made in the village oven, we now have less and less private small bakeries using wood. The weekly baking, the daily meeting at the fountains and washing places: what wonderful occasions to chat the hours away and exchange the latest rumours.
I spoke to Ali Nesim who as a child rode by donkey with his father from Zeytinlik to take his family products down to the Kyrenia market which was then in the Bandabulya, now – although renovated - representing nothing, what a shame; the open field where he left his animal bound to a tree, is today all covered with rows of houses. As a child he tended the animals sitting under an olive tree and looking up to St. Hilarion he made up his first stories.
Cevdet Çağdas told me about his childhood days in a small Mesaorian village when the train still passed through and children were selling flowers to the travelers, wild narcissus or jasmine for the lovers. There were still rivers running then. Günay Güzelgün was telling me about the chalk white atmosphere around her village Louroudjina which today is reduced to 500 inhabitants instead of 5000 in those days, and still fenced in.
A young man, Hasan Zeybek, a painter, roaming the countryside around Değirmenlik, pointing out old Christian caves to us and dreaming about his own Arcadia. Nilgün Güney, surviving in Old Nicosia between the brother wars and leading the art scene towards a recognized state; Özden Selenge who wrote many books about the old times in the villages she lived in and had spent months to talk to the village people. Mustafa Gökçeoğlu, who recorded everything about the old Cypriot ways, the old jokes, the dialect spoken, and also Dr. Servet Dedeçay who founded the first university and researched the old ways in many books of her own.
I could make so many more of my friends stand up and talk about our theme here, they have all kept something beautiful in their hearts which they have shared with me.
Another wide field is natural medicine, herbal medicine. Here I was lucky to meet a young pharmacist in Kyrenia, Ahmet Yöney, who has published the results of his study on “Ethnopharmacy of Turkish speaking Cypriots in Greater London” he and some colleagues have done together. It is about the kind of plants the people interrogated were still using for ailments, what would they know about it and who had taught them. Quite interesting, and I told Ahmet that he should continue the study on endemic plants and the proper use of it and bring it more to the attention of our people before things are forgotten.
Do we still know the healing powers of nature around us? The plants in our gardens, in the hills around us? What do you use when you have a bad bronchitis?
I am telling you what I do. I take Kekik Suyu, thyme water, which you can buy in super markets; I mix it with lemon or orange juice and honey; it tastes like Angostura. For your bath water take thyme branches and boil them for 10 minutes and pour the liquid into it.
But there are so many other ways, for example a hollow radish with a hole at the bottom filled with rock sugar: after a while you may drink the liquid dripping out; or you boil onions and honey in a little water; or you mix freshly ground ginger with your tea. As a child I got a wrap on my chest containing hot mashed potatoes or a cloth dipped into hot fat. Or inhaling over a herbal brew and so on. I am sure you have heard of the soothing effects of our adaçayi/sage tea or dağ cayi/mountain tea.
Did you know that the juice of the prickly pear leaves helps against swelling, inflammation and diarrhea? The cloves against colic, stomach ache, tooth ache, flu symptoms.
The shoots of the Loquat or Yeni Dünya is good against cholesterol; grated apple is good for diarrhea; the petals, buds of the Damask rose are said to be good against flu, constipation and eye infection.
The Molohiye is good against constipation, I can believe that, but that the tomato and potato should be good against eye sores and many other things I did not know. Another surprise for me was wine grapes, the leaves, fruits and seeds of which are good for wound healing, ulcers, boils and headache, I am sure of the last one when you had too much of the fermented version. Also the topical and oral use of the nettle leaves have a wide range of healing effects such as arthritis, blood circulation, anti-toxin, cancer, kidney stones, rheumatism and so on.
Not to forget the olive tree, a holy tree, one of the oldest supplier of all sorts of traditions and medicine, good for peace of mind and body, to honour friendship, for all stations of life, from baptism until death.
There are many books written about natural medicine, the use of wild and home grown herbs and you will find rows of them in the internet. The books I found in our public library in North Cyprus are a book on spices “Baharatin Izleri” by Müheyya Izer (Turkey), a book in three volumes by Dr. Servet Sami Dedecay “Kibris’ta Kokulu Bitkiler ve Bunlarin Ihtiva Ettigi Kokulu Yaglar ve Sagaltici Özelllikler” and the books by Ibrahim Yapicioglu (also published here) on trees, shrubs and plants in North Cyprus.
I am not saying that the good old ways are forgotten or gone by unnoticed by the younger generation; especially the active ones, active in the creative fields, have become aware of the stress by the oversupply of media entertainment, easy access to pleasures without effort, and they say publicly : is this all what life has to offer? I just remind of the recent young exhibition by Mehmet Erdogan: I wished I weren’t so tired.
When you next go for a walk, take your camera with you and try to find them, these special specimen for our health, in nature and compare them with reference books; take one or the other up or bend down and smell them, rub them between your fingers. Then go and ask your mother and grandmother about the good old days, the good old ways, I am sure they will have lots to tell you. It is important to know, to have the knowledge of the treasures of our nature, not only to pass on to your own children but also to be able to survive under conditions which are beyond your control.
Note by the author: Ahmet Yöney is willing to share part of his research work, that is the list of herbs to be found in Cyprus and its indications, and those interested can request one copy from Heidi Trautmann; but Ahmet who is a conscious pharmacist suggests that no one should use herbs whatever they are without advice either by a pharmacist or by your house doctor regarding the proper dose for the individual condition.