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This place I now call home – on becoming a parent in a new country

this place I now call home on becoming a parent in a new country katmackaywrites blog cover image
Adapted from my blog post “This Place I now Call Home” originally published on the Mums in Cyprus website in November 2016

On the difficulties I encountered in becoming a first-time mum in a new country, this place I now call home.

This place I now call home

There are many things that people complain about when moving to a new country.

When we first moved here nine years ago, pregnant with our first child, I found so many things hard to adapt to. And nine years later, I still do.

I could talk about the problems I encountered with my parenting choices (like breastfeeding, babywearing, and co-sleeping) that weren’t standard practices here at the time. I could moan about the driving here (especially in Limassol!), or the lack of public education around issues such as wearing seatbelts, picking up after your dog, and fly-tipping.

I could bemoan the fact that you can’t walk unobstructed on the pavement, especially with a stroller, or how queuing has a different meaning from anywhere else I’ve been in the world.

This place I’ve planted my heart in

But now, after nine years of living here, I can truly say that there many things that I’ve come to love in this country. This little Mediterranean island that I’ve planted my heart in. This place I now call home.

For the past three years, we have lived in a traditional neighbourhood in central Limassol where the average age on our street is over 60. Where the old folks still leave their front doors open from dusk ‘til dawn and sit on each other’s verandas sipping coffee.

A street where people still meet for morning coffee and in the late afternoon they take a stroll, stopping at each other’s gates to greet each other and catch up on the day’s news.


A neighbourhood where everyone knows each other’s business

In all honesty, I found it a little stifling at first when we moved here from our apartment in Nicosia. From a building where we barely knew our neighbours.

Here, in an old neighbourhood in town, where one house abuts another and there are little windows opened on everyone’s front doors, I had the constant feeling that my every move was being watched.

I didn’t like the fact that my neighbours knew the ins and outs of our daily life.

It took me a while to realise that, like any new place, there was a ‘code’ of practice that I had to learn. One that required me to sweep the pathway in front of my house every day (I still don’t manage this one), or the expectation to stop and chat even if I was rushing to make it somewhere on time.

I’ve grown to love the slower pace here

Very quickly, however, I grew to love the fact that my neighbours looked out for us when my husband was away for work, when our dog escaped into the street, or when one of the kids was sick.

I quickly appreciated that my plants would be watered when we were away, without us even being told who had done it.

With gratitude and a little embarrassment, I noticed that our pathway would be swept when I once again hadn’t found the time to do it.

I learnt to appreciate the generosity of our neighbours, who always have a bag of lemons, or a freshly made cake or some home-made bulghar wheat, ground on their veranda and left in the sun for the dust to blow away, waiting for us in the evening on my front steps.

And just as importantly, I came to appreciate the change in pace here – where time moves slower than the rush-hour traffic a street away. And where the small rituals, traditions, and seemingly insignificant interactions that can make such a difference to your day are still held sacred.


A community of generations

Our kids love visiting our elderly neighbours and sitting with them to crack nuts with a stone or sieve through piles of olives, learning which ones to use for oil and which ones to reserve for eating.

I love the fact that they are getting the kind of education that they don’t get from us and that they benefit from daily interactions with an older generation when their grandparents aren’t always close by.

We feel part of a community, which is so very important. Social capital it’s called – the benefits that come from that feeling of connectedness and of being a part of something larger than yourself.

Home is what I now call Cyprus

It’s where our kids were born, where they’re being educated and raised. Where we have started, admittedly reluctantly at first, to lay down our roots.

As a foreigner here, I have the freedom to pick and choose the best of the cultural habits that I adopt and the choice to reject the ones I don’t like.

Sometimes I feel like we’re in limbo, with a foot in each country and arms stretched out to the various places in the world where our loved ones live.

Yet I’ve recently realised that with all the changes happening in Europe and America, in the world at large, I’m glad that we live here.

This little bubble of island living has so much potential. So much room to grow.

There is still a great deal of equality of opportunity here, where the child of a manual labourer can still dream of gaining a PhD and where money doesn’t always dictate what you become in life.

I just hope this doesn’t get lost, as so many beautiful things in Cyprus are, with the inevitable changes that result from modernisation, and social and geographic mobility.

Yes, some things do need to change. Things that make me pull my hair out daily (as there were in the UK or America).

And there are things that I hope we keep hold of, tightly, as we rush so quickly towards the social models we see elsewhere in Europe.

For now, I will make the most of those lemons left on my doorstep, or the wonderful patience, tolerance, and love of children that Cypriots have.

This tangled mess of roots from everywhere we hold dear

We don’t always choose where we lay down our roots and it can sometimes take us a while to realise how deeply our hearts have become entangled in them.

We choose how we make our home and the rules and standards that we live by within our own four walls. We educate our children to think before following everyone else’s behaviour and to be accountable for their actions.

And in raising kids, you come to realise that there should be no walls, no obstacles to being the kind of person you want to be. That comes from within…

Within each of us, there is common ground, if you’re open enough to take the time to pause, to sit down together on a veranda, sipping coffee and appreciating it.