Keeping Yiayia's Tsoureki Tradition Alive

It is common knowledge that tradition and food are well tied together. Especially in Cyprus - or in the Mediterranean as a whole - where we need no reason to cook/bake. Simply, there is always some nose-shattering, finger-liking good in the oven.

The Easter period is no exception. With traditional food ranging from coloured eggs for τσούγκρισμα (tsougkrisma) to thick, golden φλαούνες (flaounes), one cannot dismiss my personal favourite; the sweet bread-like braid - το τσουρέκι (tsoureki).

Thanks to its ever-growing popularity, this tradition has turned into a mass production with bakeries now producing it all year round. Yet nobody makes it sweeter than the hands of my grandmother - as any proud grandchild would say.

The initial stages of mixing the dough

The initial stages of mixing the dough

Rooted in the cuisines of Europe and Western and Central Asia, it is wildly known in Greece and Cyprus. Tsoureki is also known as λαμπρόψωμο (lampropsomo) whose name derived from a Greek word for Easter: Λαμπρή, meaning 'to bring light' and the word ' ψωμί' (bread). Thus, referring to the light Christians believe to receive by Christ's resurrection. This is what my research has enlightened me with, yet I am certain tsoureki's history is as rich as its taste and that there many more details engraved in its origins.

Tradition says that this braided strands of dough can also be given as an Easter gift from children to their godparents.

Crossed in three strands, each one is believed to represent an aspect of the Holy Trinity and despite the strands being separate, together they form - both literally and metaphorically - a unified whole.

After a year of returning to the island, I now find myself embracing the culture and local music, and by spending time with dear relatives, I begin to treasure tradition more. Through observing my generation's ignorance - dare I say - to preserving such customs (myself included), I decided to ask my grandmother to show me how she makes her famous tsourekia and in this way create cherished memories with this 90-year old soul.

My grandmother, Yiannoulla, has always had her house open for family and in her traditional kitchen she carves up some unforgettable meals. Besides her known γεμιστά (stuffed vegetabes), κουνέλι (rabbit) and πασταφλώρα (jam tart), tsoureki is another of her specialities.

Back in the day she would invite her friend Chrystalla over to help her with the hard kneading of tsoureki. At almost 90, she hasn't touched her tsoureki recipe in a while. Yet we all know that when your granddaughter asks you to bake something together, that smile cracks through her wrinkles, and dough is to be prepared!

My uncles called me crazy for making my grandmother go through this two-day preparation yet I wanted to share this memory with her. We gathered the ingredients which included the aromatic μέχλεπι (machlepi) and μαστίχα (masticha) and followed her vintage-written recipe passed down to her by her mother's sister Efthalia from Constantinople.

Yianoulla reads her aunt's recipe in the garden, to refresh her memory

Yianoulla reads her aunt's recipe in the garden, to refresh her memory

Taking into account the craziness that surrounds any Philippou household with crying babies, uncles singing, aunties laughing loudly and dogs roaming around, concentrating on following the recipe was a difficult task.

Not having done this in a few years, my grandmother naturally forgot parts of the recipe and I couldn't decipher her handwriting so, as you can imagine, our tsoureki-making experience was a bit of an experiment  yet a lot of fun.

Half way through we realized we had mixed what was meant to be the προζύμι (homemade yeast) with the rest of it. By this point my grandmother had given up and my aunt and I were trying to salvage the situation. Nonetheless, the dough infused with herbs smelt great.

Kneading the dough was hard work, no wonder grandmothers are so tough. Doing what we could from the recipe, we let the dough rest overnight so as to let it rise.

Beating that tsoureki mix like there's no tomorrow

Beating that tsoureki mix like there's no tomorrow

*Tip: Cover the dough with blankets as you let it rest over it. A warm, moist place helps it puff.

The following morning, I ring grandmother to tell her I'll be over soon to braid the dough but never underestimate the excitement of a Cypriot grandmother when she needs to bake something - she had already baked all seven of them.

An interesting, important factor to be added here is that as her 90-year old wise brain is selective nowadays with retaining memory, the tsourekia were left in the oven a tad longer than planned and thus giving them a not-so-golden colour but rather one of a darker palette.

Still they tasted fantastic. More dry than expected yet soaked in rich and earthy aromatics. Tasted here after the church service on Holy Saturday, served up with avgolemoni soup.

Still they tasted fantastic. More dry than expected yet soaked in rich and earthy aromatics. Tasted here after the church service on Holy Saturday, served up with avgolemoni soup.

Nonetheless, the apperiance of this Easter tradition was not the reason I wanted to do this with my grandmother. Yes the sweet smell of tsourekia can melt my nose away, yet the memories of being in my grandmother's kitchen, wearing her apron and beating that dough while she holds the bowl are to be kept forever.

Well, perhaps until I'm 90 and forget my glasses in the oven.

Happy Easter.

Serbian Tales, Urban Discoveries

It's a crispy February morning and my two feet touch down on undiscovered soil. I get my first sight of urban Belgrade as I hop on a bus towards the central bus station.  As I buy my ticket to the town of Vršac  I was baffled by the bus token given to me which you're meant to hand to the ticket officer. Lost in translation I indulged in a hilarious 'conversation' trying to comprehend minor culture norms.

'Don't judge a book by its colour' is definitely appropriate for this rustic-looking bus as it was equipped with high speed wifi

'Don't judge a book by its colour' is definitely appropriate for this rustic-looking bus as it was equipped with high speed wifi

Before I mounted the bus kind local helped me with my luggage.

"Are you going to a European programme by any chance?" she asked. "Yes!" I replied in disbelief that I stumbled on this encounter just a few hours after being in Serbia.

"Us too!" we heard a couple of voices shout in the background. So we sat six strangers from 5 different countries heading to a training on non-formal education and human rights by cultural NGO Balkan Urban Movement.

A week-long workshop followed supported by the Council of Europe using alternative methods to address discrimination, inequality and racism. The training invited young participants aged 18-35, representing NGOs and youth groups from 12 different countries to come together. 

Focusing on a visionary outlook and taking into account modern-day influences such as digital and social media, film and photography we were inducted into non-formal educational manners to address the topics and produce a digital exhibition.

Besides picking our brains, 30 strangers explored new territories together during breaks, in-directly combating political/historical boundaries. 

Vršac, a town with a small center yet extended suburbs. The area surrounding the main square can be taken by foot in about 15 minutes. As you start branching out however, as I too realized when we took an uphill hike to the town's tower, the view shows the reach of Vršac. 

The name of the city itself derived from the Slavic word vrh, meaning "summit", thus the symbol of Vršac is the tower.

Happy faces trying to catch their breath upon reaching the top of the hill at the tower, overlooking the whole city. The fields behind border Romania.

Happy faces trying to catch their breath upon reaching the top of the hill at the tower, overlooking the whole city. The fields behind border Romania.

As a first Balkan experience, constantly surprised by the extremely low cost of living in comparison to European norms and completely blown away by its active, recent history. To my surprise I received a random text whilst at the tower welcoming me to Romania - given the close proximity to the border.

Orthodox Christianity is the main religion of Serbia. Photo taken en route to the tower 

Orthodox Christianity is the main religion of Serbia. Photo taken en route to the tower 

The streets of Vršac are decorated with attached houses and colourful walls, maintaining an 18th century achitecture. 

The streets of Vršac are decorated with attached houses and colourful walls, maintaining an 18th century achitecture. 

The town seems quiet with only two or three bars providing the nightlife for the remaining youth. Instead the streets are filled with supermarkets and small local shops with a couple of corner kiosks offering street food.

All locals I came across, were kind and willing to offer help if needed - whether or not we found a common language. What I found interesting about Serbians, to my experience, was the similarity in humour, facial expressions and openness; many shared behaviours with Mediterranean stereotypes.

The elderly hold the biggest part of Vršac's population as most of the youth move away to the capital to study.

The elderly hold the biggest part of Vršac's population as most of the youth move away to the capital to study.

Urban sights of the city

Urban sights of the city

Figures sit on an old wall during an afternoon walk dissecting neighbourhoods.

Figures sit on an old wall during an afternoon walk dissecting neighbourhoods.

A local carries his shopping around town.

A local carries his shopping around town.

All day long small yellow huts sell snacks, popcorn and so on and they seem to have taken over Serbia as every corner has one. Even the alternative, urban streets of Belgrade.

*Fun fact: Beograd (Serbian for Belgrade) means white city. Beo = white, grad = city. 

The capital is a vibrant city, known for its wild nocturnal buzz. I walked its streets with a new seminar friend and reunited with an old university friend, Emma. With a history and politics background Emma gave a walk of the city like no other, as she thoroughly went in detail of the White City's political/social matters.

She introduced us the much more delicious alternative to the British-drunken-kebab-munchies: the crepe. Obviously not a local invention, yet the Serbians indulge in savory crepes in their post-outing activities.

During our alternative guide of Serbia's capital and en route to the Fortress on the known Knez Mihailova street filled with street vendors, I stopped to admire the artwork of a painter who upon hearing I was from Cyprus, begins conversing with me in flawless Greek. Lived in Thessaloniki for 14 years and married to a Greek, he holds a dear passion for Aegean landscape which he often depicts in his art. 

On first impression, Serbia beats the cold with vibrant lifestyle and a much more active political and terrestrial history. Belgrade's streets are almost never empty and the night scene accommodates all tastes. Serbian landscape though varied, stays close to tradition and seeks exploring. There's certainly a lot left to unravel in this Balkan scenery.

Food for thought, food for art, food for interaction.

Consuming food is a primitive human habit usually done indoors within someone's home. Have you wondered what happens when you strip the usual factors away from this customary act? The Urban Gorillas have and they put it to the test.

Upon the study of urban, public spaces, the Nicosia-based organization set out to experiment with the re-construction of such spaces, encouraging individuals to engage and re-invent their urban surroundings.

To those which the words 'Urban Gorillas' have just reached their ears, allow me to introduce you to a creative team working on re-introducing the use of communal space through art projects. They are a non-for-profit organization, founded in 2013, consisting of people sharing a common interest in improving life in the city space by using creative operations whilst promoting messages for social inclusion and regeneration of urban spaces.

IMG_5496.jpg

On Sunday the 11th of December, the group held their latest project, the Urban Dinner, at Larnaca peer. A white cloth, poppy seed-plates, colourful dishes and unfamiliar faces filled a long table across the peer. Members of the Urban Gorillas sat at the table and invited strangers to share a unique food/art experience with them. Slowly, 16 participants of all ages and cultural backgrounds sat in front of each other exchanging food and painting with their ingredients on the white table cloth whilst by-passers observed and occasionally also engaged.

The white cloth covering the bodies of the participants, with holes for only their heads and hands, soon turned into a messy palette of creation. Talking to Veronica Antoniou, curator of Urban Gorillas, she expressed how "the idea of having this table cloth covering people was to show that we are all equal and engaging at the moment with the same element. We also wanted to use it as a big canvas where all the participants would co-create a common art piece".

IMG_5494.jpg

According to Antoniou, the Urban Dinner art performance, which is part of the Urban Spectacle project series, has an aim to challenge the perceptions of how people look at each other and most importantly create a culture of enjoying public space in the city.

The greater project series that are curated by the team and involves collaboration with other artists, are funded by the Ministry of Culture. The Gorillas, wish to re-visit everyday human activities and re-position them in the public space, thus building upon their work of re-constructing urban city life. Curator and architect Antoniou, comments how interaction with one's public space occurs freely across Europe yet she notices a lack of this activity in Cyprus.

"We see this happening in many cities now where people can go out and have picnics in the park and can use the city's free facilities...here we don't even have this infrastructure to push people to go out and use the city as an extension of their own living room".

As the Urban Gorillas noticed how mostly the foreigners in Cyprus engaged with their urban public spaces freely, they ran a large scale research where they realized that the majority of their survey group only considered a public space a cafeteria or the mall. This only affirmed their desire to change this idea and encourage individuals to connect with the urban city.

Besides hoping to bring value to this shared space that citizens have, the Gorillas also touch on the topic of a more conscious involvement of the development of such spaces.

"On a more political side we should also be more involved as citizens in decision-making that has to do with how these spaces are developed and this is not happening in Cyprus. Decisions are coming top down of how to use cities" added Veronica Antoniou.

Urban Gorillas are currently working on the Urban Spectacle series, which consists of four/five installations in the city and through creative means which include audience participation within a public space, they try to shift the common interaction of a citizen and the surroundings. An alternative and artistic approach that the group is introducing in hopes of enriching life in the urban city.

For more details of their projects visit their website and Facebook page.

http://urbangorillas.org/

https://www.facebook.com/Urban.Gorillas.ngo/?fref=ts

 

 

Re-discovering Home: A Photo Series

As the weekends vigorously knock on my door and events persist before my eyes, I draw my blinds down and re-position my thoughts. The adventurousness within me rejects my minds' attempts of a routine and seeks new ventures.

On a casual scroll on my social media, pops up an inter-communal weekend-long road trip visiting the island's ten most beautiful viewpoints I sign myself up and rest my quested spirit that escapades lay ahead.

The trip includes historical and stunning locations across Cyprus with forty other young Cypriots, all eager to explore their land's culture and landscape. Excited that nearly 8 out of the 10 of the settings planned were new to me, I boarded the bus early Saturday morning. As the coffee began to its role, we began to interact with each other and headed towards the mountains for our first stop; Teisia tis Madaris.

Since pictures are worth a thousand words, I shall let the below photo essay take you on a brief journey down Cyprus' cultural and historical memory lane.

The Bus series vol.1 Teisia Tis Madaris viewpoint near Agros village. 

The Bus series vol.1

Teisia Tis Madaris viewpoint near Agros village. 

After an hour's drive, was a short stop with nothing but mountains surrounding us, we walking along the pebbly path.

People that stand in the limelight rarely get appreciated for their work. We wouldn't have gone anywhere without this man, literally. Our bus driver Nikos drove hours on end throughout the weekend, tirelessly waiting for us as we showed up late to every meeting point.

Here, Nikos rests against the rails of the Youth Center's garden at Polystipos village, where we stopped and were treated a traditional Cypriot breakfast. Eggs, homemade jams, sausages, olives and vegetables were not missed from any plate. Breakfast highlight: Kiwi jam!

Water figures assemble an image of Berengaria Hotel in Prodomos village.

As we walked towards the eerie abandoned hotel, we shared the stories we heard about this haunted mansion and rushed to explore its rusty and run-down corners.

Members of the group getting into the 'haunted' spirit of the well-known hotel, buried in the woods. 

Members of the group getting into the 'haunted' spirit of the well-known hotel, buried in the woods. 

Deserting our ghost spirits in the Prodromos forest, we dived into a completely contradictory environment full of life and nature. A soft river underneath our feet welcomed us, as we carefully stepped around the slippery stones for a photograph of Tzelefou Bridge. Staying loyal to the location's connotations,  a newlywed couple arrived for their not-so-original photo by the bridge.

Running fashionably late on everything on our schedule and with the sunset quickly creeping up behind us, we left two settings behind and drove straight to our beloved Paphos for a good ol' meal of souvlakia.

Ukelele out, voice ready, night filled.

Ukelele out, voice ready, night filled.

 Soon after,  Nikos took us our home-for-the-night. After preparing our snacks for the following days, as the responsible travelers that we are, we headed towards our rooms and the music swayed the ocean waves near our balcony.

Not missing a single opportunity to meet someone new, hear their story and share a moment. An old man sitting alone drinking his coffee at a coffee shop in Kato Pyrgos, welcomed the young man who sat down to chat with him during a short bathroom stop.

Not missing a single opportunity to meet someone new, hear their story and share a moment.

An old man sitting alone drinking his coffee at a coffee shop in Kato Pyrgos, welcomed the young man who sat down to chat with him during a short bathroom stop.

Bus series vol.2 Somewhere just after Kato Pyrgos crossing hearding towards Vouni.

Bus series vol.2

Somewhere just after Kato Pyrgos crossing hearding towards Vouni.

As morning came on Sunday November 20th, we found ourselves on the road again. Driving along the Paphos coastline, we crossed the checkpoint at Kato Pyrgos.

The crossing point soldiers and officers became miniatures as we drove off into a landscape painting of deep blue and rusty yellow palette.

What I remember thinking was that the setting didn't look much different from what my eyes were used to and I had hardly comprehended we crossed the checkpoint. This only re-assured me that despite the island being separated by barbed wire and army forces, it is one land. And so, whilst acknowledging its differences, I chose to momentarily leave them behind and I started searching for the similarities; in the culture, in the landscape, in the people.

IMG_5005.jpg

One of the most incredible views of Cyprus I witnessed so far, was at Vouni Archaeological site. An endless sight of green hill tops, distant mountains and the sea on your left.  A mesmerizing vision that I honestly, wasn't aware Cyprus had to offer. Worth a visit. 

Bus series vol. 3.

Bus series vol. 3.

A man and his bus. Kyriacos, the trip organizer from youth group See Why, looks over to his member who are obliviously scattering across the archaeological site, utterly enchanted by the views.

On the road again. Somewhere between Vouni and Bellapais.

On the road again. Somewhere between Vouni and Bellapais.

Visiting Bellapais Abbey, was a particularly touching moment as instant memories of school books came to mind which portrayed these exact arches. And with those childhood flashbacks, the setting suddenly became a little more real, as I realized how much more history and culture of this island is left to be re-discovered.

Many hours on, the Pentadachtylos mountain range turned us into little mountain goats, as we left the path behind and climbed rocks to an unbelievably beautiful view of the north sea coast. The land lay itself out and offered its wonders freely to us.

IMG_5128.jpg
Bus series vol.4

Bus series vol.4

The final stop of our two-day island re-discovery was the Kantara Castle. A short hike up the top of the castle gave us dazzling views of the sunset. With strong winds among us, we watched over a drop of the sun like no other. With Famagusta, Kyrenia and the tip of Cyprus engulfing us, we indulged into the beauty of this tiny yet troubled island.

Experiencing views I had not seen before, going to places across this country I had not yet visited or even heard of before certainly introduced me to new chapters of Cyprus that I hadn't come across. 

                                                                           * * *

A dot on the map with a pointy corner and twirly tail that will not stay bound by its history, political situation or current division. There is much, much more to see, feel, taste, hear, love, and discover on all corners on this land many of us call home. And I strongly urge you, dear reader, to go explore it, not following a text book or someone else's words, but your own eyes.  

Nearly 500km driven.

Nearly 500km driven.

Tree-planting volunteers revive the burnt area of Solea valley

On Saturday 12th of November, sets of sleepy eyes with an active spirit found themselves riding buses out of the city and towards the mountains. After the huge June fires which completely devoured an 18.5km green area  in Solea valley near Ayios Theodoros, the forestry department has created a re-forestation plan in hope to bring the scenery back to life.

The first steps of the plan were to take anti-erosion measures, dig trenches and prepare the soil for planting. With the rainy season in sight, the next stage is now ready for take-off. The Cyprus Sustainable Tourism Initiative (CSTI) published a call for volunteers to help with the tree-planting plan and Global Shapers Nicosia members along with numerous other individuals were eager to dig their hands in the soil.

After an hour's drive, we arrived at the area on a sunny November morning and huddled into cars to reach the remote location. As we drove around the valley, orange-flaked trees and hollow, black branches covered the area with a smoky dark earth for soil. The burnt area seemed never-ending as with every turn, more lifeless nature appeared.

Once there, we grabbed shovels, sticks and small plants and headed up the hills to plant these baby trees in digged-up trenches in the earth. Many of us were newbies to tree-planting, gardening and shovel-holding yet with a little help of fellow volunteers we began re-foresting the area.

After understanding what the best way to plant trees is, the trenches were disappearing and the trees were running low. On short breaks waiting for more plants to arrive, we fueled on mandarins provided by the forest rangers.

In pure team spirit, the volunteers worked together, unconsciously creating a system that worked for everyone. When new plants arrived, groups of people would climb the hill handing them to others, who would then pass on to whoever had a spot to fill. Those who mastered the art of removing the tree roots safely out of its box would offer their skills, those with steadier hands would place the sticks well into the ground and ribbons for tying the trees to the sticks would be shared freely.

Photos by Global Shapers Nicosia members

Photos by Global Shapers Nicosia members

In a way, the biggest hope witnessed during this occasion, was to see complete strangers coming together with a desire to save nature. In total, 270 volunteers of all ages and nationalities; children, teenagers, adults, Cypriots and foreigners spent their morning re-waking the Soleas valley.  A thrilling amount of 1500 trees were planted that day by the volunteers and we can only hope that with rain there is high chance for survival.

Nonetheless, there still remains a large area of burnt vegetation and it will take time and dedication for the re-forestation plan to work. What we can do, at most, is to continue donating our time and helping out on such occasions in hope to save Cyprus' nature.

Follow the The Cyprus Sustainable Tourism Initiative's (CSTI) Facebook page to stay updated with tree-planting news:  https://www.facebook.com/csti.csti/

Stay informed of local issues and action taken by following Global Shapers Nicosia'  activities: https://www.facebook.com/GlobalShapersNicosia/

A Mindful October: An Autumn Reminisce

As my hair is dipped in δαφνέλαιο and hugged by a warm towel, I reminisce on the weeks, months even, that have passed and boy have they been busy.

In one of my favourite months of the year, October, a lot has occurred.

It is the beginning of autumn, that confusing phase where you're caught between sweaters and shorts. My birthday month where I celebrate another year of achievements with my loved ones surrounding me. This October, I published my first newspaper article and a couple of weeks later, three more articles followed (http://in-cyprus.com/contemporary-views-of-cypriot-landscape/). I am certain, my granddad Frixos, the master of words and dictionaries, is proud wherever his soul now rests.

Planning & editing a draft article

Planning & editing a draft article

Another first this month that came my way was tonsillitis, which forced me to finally put my feet up and shut my mouth for a bit after a frantic few weeks of expressive art workshops, article interviews and volunteering. As I rested at home, I experienced a range of emotions; fatigue, stress, frustration with feeling too weak and having to cancel projects. Whether this was due to the fever or the antibiotics, I am unsure. As I am now slowly recovering, my time at home allows my mind to trace back to the million things that have happened since my return to Cyprus in March.

A restless few months of going out non-stop, unconsciously drowning my panic of moving back home, through which however, I have met interesting people and made new friends. Dealing with unpleasant and emotionally draining situations where I found a strength and courage I did not know was within me, whilst seeing people's love towards me. Finding a platform to explore my passion and the people to share it with it. Practicing my photography more, making changes and milestones in this journey. Discovering an audience for it in Cyprus was more than a pleasant surprise. Recognizing myself as an artist, for the first time, and leaving insecurities behind about labels, by participating in my first local bazaar, selling small prints of my photography. Running after a Maltese band all over the island on an exciting photojournalism project. Joining different volunteering teams through which I found all of the jobs I have now. Spending a summer full of festivals, photography adventures and work. Making sweet memories in a beautiful family wedding which certainly took the best of me as I spent the following week ill in bed. Every bit of it was well worth it though.

Dipping in the crystal Paphos waters.

Dipping in the crystal Paphos waters.

A city escape to Ayios Mamas village.

A city escape to Ayios Mamas village.

The good old brandy sour at you-know-where.

The good old brandy sour at you-know-where.

Xyliatou Dam.

Xyliatou Dam.

At the "Did It Myself" arts bazaar at Ifanturgio.

At the "Did It Myself" arts bazaar at Ifanturgio.

Dorothy & Patrick's wedding.

Dorothy & Patrick's wedding.

                                                                            * * *

As I turn another year older, I can safely say that many changes have happened since last October. I came back to the island as a little lost birdie returning to is nest. Now, a little less lost and lot more hungry for new opportunities, I realize that what I crave the most at this stage is stability.

A stable health.

A stable income.

A stable mind.

And stable relationships.

All of which I know I can offer to myself with a little creativity, which I have, and a lot of patience, which I have none of.

So, this little birdie soaks up its nest and re-assembles its sticks for new constructions.

Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, off to creating I go!

 

All photos by Eleni Philippou

All photos by Eleni Philippou

Solitude lane: indulged into introspection

So you're thinking. You are constantly thinking, which pauses the reality of daily life and you live in your head. Now what is reality and what is non-reality, I do not know. I guess it is different for everyone.

When did contemplating life become such a barrier from living it? I often ponder if all this wondering and questioning is a source of a mental condition.  A bold statement, yet not an absurd idea to reflect on. Anything is possible, we might as well acknowledge it.

Photo credit: Eleni Philippou, London Underground  March'16

Photo credit: Eleni Philippou, London Underground  March'16

Spilling out my thoughts onto paper makes me feel vulnerable. When did being vulnerably honest become a tool to be held against you and why do raw thoughts send shivers down our spines? Could it be that these thoughts come naturally to us, to make us question and search deeper, yet we subconsciously choose to block them out of our head? And so when that little light bulb in our brain finds a source of electricity and shoots out such contemplations, it is unexpected and uncomfortable. Is it possible that they existed within us to some extent, yet they remained  unacknowledged? Perhaps this is the reason I have been feeling strangely captivated by my thoughts lately. It is possible that I have began to allow space for these thoughts and they have found a safe home underneath my curls.

Going back to some scribbles in old-forgotten notebooks, I have found that I have doubts and worries today that are similar to those of a year ago. Whether this is positive or negative, I have yet to decide as I have not decided for various matters in my life.  A lot of people say " try not to think so much" or " don't stress over it, you're too young to worry". Well, newsflash everybody: that's easier said than done. All that needs to be done is comprehend. Recognize that this occurs and it is acceptable, embrace that others are lost in their thoughts and appreciate that some will simply not understand.

Photo credit: Eleni Philippou, London Underground March'16

Photo credit: Eleni Philippou, London Underground March'16

I have been challenging myself lately to spend more time alone, to feel comfortable in my own skin and to test if I can still enjoy social spaces without the company of others. Whenever I feel myself reach over to my phone and contact a friend about doing an activity, I filter that thought and instead carry out the activity alone. Each time, in the beginning it is somewhat uncomfortable and it takes a while for me to leave my thoughts behind and feel creative and calm. The truth is, I am teaching myself to enjoy this solitude lane and in my discomfort I manage to find a sense of peace . To know that you can have fun alone and be active without the need to be surrounded by others is a powerful thing.

An active social life is quite a 21st century ritual that we have adopted unconsciously. This nightlife-cocktail culture comes as a result of the fast-paced, techno lifestyle which reinforces our need to feel socially active, yet perhaps humans do not actually possess that strong need of constant chatter and banter. Perhaps expectations and changes in lifestyle have shown that this is the acceptable norm nowadays but that does not mean one is obliged to follow it. Perhaps all this contemplation leads to reflections of our daily life that do not satisfy who we are becoming, since we are always changing. Therefore, our ideologies are forced to keep up with the changes that we introduce in our lives which challenge previously-set habits.

Surely, confiding in others and sharing moments with loved ones is most-valuable, as long as it does not take us away from our personal path and allows us to treasure solo moments. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, offers insightful thoughts on the matter in his book 'The Life together':"let him who cannot be alone beware of community...let him who is not in community beware of being alone...Each by itself has profound perils and pitfalls. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and the one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation and despair." Thus, the call for finding equilibrium between your social voice and your personal voice, becomes more apparent and requisite. Rob Waller further discusses Bonhoeffer's book and the subject of solitude in society in his piece "Solitude and being alone". Read here: http://www.mindandsoul.info/Articles/195414/Mind_and_Soul/Resources/Solitude_and_being.aspx 

With these in mind, it still does not mean that the transition period, from an obsessed social bunny to a balanced and individualized mind, overflowed with thoughts and reflections, will not be bumpy. Embrace the bumpy-ness, explore it, feel it, experience it, reject it and respect it. It may never come again, it may take it longer to leave you. What matters though is that right now this shift is part of you and it is helping shape another part of you.

Take it or leave it, it won't leave you unless you allow it to.

Inspired by this beautifully-written article, by Bianca Sparacino, which directly spoke to me. I couldn't have said it better and it was just what I needed to read to help put things into perspective.

http://thoughtcatalog.com/bianca-sparacino/2014/11/how-to-ruin-your-life-without-even-noticing-that-you-are/

Photo credit: Eleni Philippou, The Photographer's Gallery, London, March'16

Photo credit: Eleni Philippou, The Photographer's Gallery, London, March'16

Shaping Kofinou - A Personal Encounter

"Thank you for listening to me" where the words that ended an in-depth conversation I had with a Lebanese refugee, mother of three, staying at the Refugee camp at Kofinou village, Cyprus. Her eyes, with a mixture of gratitude and sentiment, smiled at me as I waved goodbye.

In October 2015, the first set of refugees touched on Cypriot grounds which caused an outbreak within locals, the RAF (Royal Army Force) where their boat led them to and the refugees themselves. Since then, many have come and gone and even more are those who are currently 'wedged' at the refugee camp at Kofinou. Influenced by the global refugee crisis and reflecting onto a more local view Global Shapers Nicosia and Rotaract Larnaca-Kition decided to take a closer look at the refugees in Cyprus. The two teams set out to organize an activity day for the refugees in Cyprus. The Refugee Fun Day's goal was to offer a day of fun activities, free of worries and away from daily monotones whilst raising awareness about the situation at Kofinou with the hope of eliminating possible stereotypes about refugees and immigrants that may exist in the Cypriot society.

Photo credit: Eleni Philippou

Photo credit: Eleni Philippou

As our car wheels stopped outside the camp, faces started popping out of houses to examine the scene. We began to unload the cars filled with the goods various companies donated and kids started circling around us, tiny feet and big eyes. Soon after, the activities started taking shape. Haris Maratheftis gave the children an introduction to yoga and they gladly followed her moves. The calm vibes were soon broken as the kids rushed to indulge their faces in the paint work Georgia Vergou offered. Face-painted tigers, butterflies and zebras excitedly trotted around the refugee camp who later stumbled on sets of rackets provided by Nicosia Beach Club Tennis. With a simple court set-up, using only a blue string for a net the Beach Tennis coaches provided an hour of fun training and tennis games. The children happily ran around catching tennis balls and the camp was filled with laughter. Parents and others adults watched over the activities carefree, allowing themselves to perhaps forget about their problems for a day. The games were not only for the children, we organized a tavli competition and various men in pairs played a game that is common in various cultures. With more than one language barrier present (refugees include Syrians, Lebanese, Somalis and more), the activities had to be universal, so we opted for the magic of body language. It is remarkable how facial expressions can defuse a message through, beyond cultural, linguistic and religious differences. Later on, John and Heather of Peace by Praxis joined us for a meditation session, whilst other children eased their soles on the bouncy castle provided by Boom. Avgousta Demosthenous, painted the refugee camp happy with the help of the children and adults who rushed to claim the paint brushes about. Soon after, the different skin tones blended into one another with splashes of paint colours.

Photo credit: Eleni Philippou

Photo credit: Eleni Philippou

Photo credit: Eleni Philippou

Photo credit: Eleni Philippou

The children at the camp, go to school in Kofinou where they learn Greek, some have been there for up to nine months and it is impressive how much they have been able to pick up. The adults have weekly Greek language lessons yet despite this and another art class, their daily routine is repetitive. This was a complain that kept coming back to me that day. I got chatting to a Lebanese refugee (perhaps asylum seeker is more correct) who invited me to where she was staying for a sip of coffee. A small establishment for a family of five yet satisfying all of their immediate needs, has been their home for the last nine months. I sensed that I was perhaps one of the few people that had visited her place and she welcomed me with arms wide open. She offered me Lebanese coffee (not so different than Cypriot coffee), her husband's freshly-made spinach pastries which were mouth-watering and they even prepared a shisha on a small stool. We interacted for an hour during which I allowed her a platform to express her worries, fears and desires. Her story was not too different from the ones we hear on the news.The long journey at sea, those  annonymous faces that dissolved into the ocean, the loss of a past home and the hope for a future one, paused by this paralyzing transit. As she was telling me that her husband's papers had recently been rejected she stared at me as if looking for an answer.

Photo credit: Eleni Philippou

Photo credit: Eleni Philippou

Photo credit: Eleni Philippou

Photo credit: Eleni Philippou

After interacting with the people at the refugee camp, I realized that what we hear on the news about the refugee crisis does not only occur abroad. It might do on a greater scale yet our island currently hosts around 300 refugees and they have wants and needs and worries. The situation strongly occurs in Cyprus and whether or not the media choose to present the facts and the reality, it is our responsibility to educate ourselves personally on the matter. These people are here and appreciate our help. Yes times are difficult for all of us yet the Kofinou camp residents have lost everything and have very little. Despite materialistic goods that they might require that one may donate, what I realized during my brief encounter with them is that they desire a more humanitarian approach. A build-up of activities, social interactions and discussions, development of skills and further understanding of Cyprus.

If you have a skill you can offer (language lessons, pottery making, conversation classes, therapy through art) and can volunteer some of your time on a weekly/monthly basis,  you can contact Global Shapers Nicosia for further information

For anyone interested in donating goods there is a need for:

                           - hygiene products (towels, sanitary towels, shampoo, tooth paste etc)

                           - shoes (all ages and genders)

                           - baby clothes and food

Email: nicosiashapers@gmail.com

FB page:  Global Shapers Nicosia

Instagram: Nicosia Shapers

 

Thank you for listening to me.

Let's shape Kofinou.

                  

Tracing Creativity

Upon my return to the island this March - an unsettling decision yet one much needed at this time - I found myself buried under endless tick tocks of the clock going round in my head. The mornings seemed to casually stroll by as I frantically tried to fill up my time with activities and events resulting into the unavoidable social necessities of Cyprus. An act I throw myself in fearlessly and have become quite addicted to, yet there are only so many 'hello's and 'how are you?'s one can endure. I yearned to discuss ideas and look at topics from another perspective. And here is where the 'everybody knows everybody' vibe which we all love and hate, came in handy. Shortly after my arrival, I was introduced to the TEDx Nicosia team and they made my transition back to life in Cyprus a little less gloomy, a little less mundane and a bit more bumpy, in a very positive way.

The meetings began in full speed and I quickly realized how much I had to catch up on and that didn't bother me one bit. After having been involved with TEDx University of Nottingham last year, my feet were itching to be surrounded by people who want to share concepts and creatively work together towards a goal that affects the wider community. With the annual event creeping in on us quickly, there was loads to be done, as well as organizing and carrying out the pre-event 'Wheels and Traces'.  This cycling event took place on a sunny Saturday morning in the last week of April. Cycling fanatics, volunteers, and TEDx followers all gathered for a special cycling guided tour of Nicosia's hidden gems. The previous week we were given the various checkpoints where the team would be welcoming the cyclists and I can shamefully say as someone who lived in Nicosia for 18 years straight, I barely knew half of them. The day was spent tracing our capital with our wheels and if you happen to have seen a lunatic running around the city under the blazing sun with lenses round her neck and red X's in her arms... Hello! That was me photo-documenting the event and absolutely loving every minute of it (even the ones I spent lost in tiny roads trying to find the checkpoints). You can read more about the day on our blogger's, Eleni Antoniou, take: http://www.tedxnicosia.com/blog/wheels-and-traces.

Photos can be found at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/tedxnicosia/sets/72157667711174446/with/26732183715/

Once we put our bikes aside, the countdown began to the big event on the 7th of May. In the week of the event the team's dedication was beyond belief. We found shelter from the heavy rain of those days at Satiriko Theatre where we spent hours going over every little detail that would be needed. The amount of knots that were tied on red pieces of string and the 450 hand written, personal messages for the goodie bags are but a few details that were done in the presence of good company, excitement and hard work. Smells like team spirit? I think so.

Bright and early on the seventh day of May, all eyes were wide open (post Costa coffee service) and eager to start the show. With the first set of feet walking in, the activity areas were filled, lips were moving, brains were working.

IMG_5592.jpg

With each speaker, my mind started to feel satisfied yet hungrier at the same time. Antonis Kountouris' talk on creativity and his educational interaction with kids got me thinking on how we intermingle with children these days and how adults deal with creative matters. Do we acknowledge creativity? Has the constant competition in the work place and in our social life-style, neglected the importance and the power of creativity?

Yorgos Papadopoulos' and Kobi Levi's discussions on their beautiful transformation of art, made me reflect that inspiration is everywhere. In a supermarket, in a church, near the screen from which you are reading right now. I have spent a long time waiting that holy inspiration to come my way and their talks were a kind of wake up call for me. We have the power to create, to shape and to re-define whatever we choose to. The time is always now and the person will always be you. You just have to decide it.

A few days after the event, I still found myself trying to pin-point my personal meaning of 'Traces'. Whilst editing the photos from that day, suddenly my phone rang. An exciting phone call made me trace back to these first two months of my re-birth in Cyprus and map my adventures and new encounters. My involvement in exciting projects  and the constant wheel of thought sending ideas to my brain were put into perspective. Places that I have been in the past and each accomplishment have traced me to where I am right now. The traces that I have marked and the traces of others that I have crossed, have paved the way for the now-invisible traces that will be.

I guess in a way, what I'm trying to say is that one needs to take responsibility for the traces that have led them wherever they are now and take action for the new traces that they will create, because creativity is within all of us. We only have to allow it to take presence, form and shape. The rest is history.

I leave you with one of my favourite TED talks by Benjamin Zander, whose communication methods during his talk is truly remarkable.

Food for thought. Yum!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r9LCwI5iErE

Paradas

Me quedan 5 paradas. 4 paradas. Scratching faces. Holding onto their bags.

 Napping. Fixing their hair. 3 paradas. Claiming empty seats with passion.

2 paradas. Leyendo las publicaciones en el metro. Yawning. Waiting.

1 parada. Do we sit quietly waiting for our life to pass us by?

0 paradas. Waterloo

Rolling Lemons

Write, they say, and the letters will begin to flow through your fingers.

I've been staring at the blank page in front of me for months now, imagining word monsters lurching towards me if what I write doesn't feed their appetite.  My thoughts constantly race one another yet the finishing line hasn't even been determined yet. It is a road half-walked, a road half-finished, a road that is yet to be taken.

Someone walks into the room and passes behind my laptop screen. My fingers stop typing, the voices in my head screaming that someone will read my writing and invade my mind. So, someone is reading this now and that's fine too.  I've spent far too much time locked away in my head, in my maze of cloudy thoughts, contemplating what to write, where to write, which pen to hold, which notebook to use, where to sit, who it'll be written for, for what purpose, who will read it, why'll they'll want to read it. 

I have never placed a full stop more whole-heartedly than just now.

Writing and living seem like two distinct worlds; one a more physical experience, the other a blurry performance of detached words in my head. And I, run around with a basket chasing after them. Catching them and sorting them out is taking longer than assembling an IKEA item alone. Constantly torn between feeling like a lover of the word and finding my own that are satisfactory to what I feel. A push and pull factor that I've welcomed a little bit too easily, became attached to and unaware of how to let it go. Common between the confused generation of the 20-something year olds, blinded by choice and paused by indecisiveness, we've become masters of looping.

No one can run around in circles as well as we do and as it turns out we are pretty damn proud of it. When life gives us lemons, we roll them on the kitchen table for a good ten years whilst trying to decide which knife to half them with, before we make juice out of them. We didn't imagine them to be so stiff, so lumpy and some don't seem to even have the right colour. Waiting for the perfect lemon to find us whilst settling for the sour flavour is slowly dissolving our taste buds. Thus, putting all lemonade expectations aside, here begins a freshly-made batch, with no recipe, just a mere direction, spices and a pot of hope and luck.

Rolling in process.