My father is a refugee. He was forced out of his village and his lush fields in the war of 1974. My maternal grandfather was a refugee. He left his home, his thriving business, and his great fortune in the norther part of the island, since occupied by the Turkish army. They moved to Nicosia, beaten and poor. Until the day he died, my grandfather -fueled by “intel” from his politicians friends but between you and me just out of Heimweh- was longing for his return to his birthplace.
My father silently planted seeds, of hope and resistance.
He would get up when it was still dark outside for the one hour drive to the UN-controlled Buffer Zone. Two fields of his were under UN control and this meant he could still go there. At his sister’s field, he planted lemon trees and we would all go there when they were ripe for the harvest. I remember how afraid I was, whenever I saw the UN soldiers with their guns, asking us what we were doing there.
At his field (only 200 meters from his forbidden village), he enlisted the help of his four children, and together we planted over 150 olive trees. It was a weeks-long endeavour for us, but a life-long project for him. It’s been 30 years, he is now 75 and every week he goes to his olive trees (they now got a few orange trees, fig trees and some pretty flowers as companions) to water, to trim, to plough, to take care of.
It has been almost 50 years since the war, and probably just like my grandfather, my father will leave this life without having turned the key to his house door again.
But by keeping the field alive and thriving, he refuses to give up.
Without realising, I have been keeping up with that lesson. Our ecosystems are collapsing and the chances of averting a catastrophe don’t look any better than the chances of my father returning to his birthplace.
And yet, I persevere.
Much to the dismay of my neighbours with their perfectly green and mowed lawn, I created several “wild” corners with hedges and deadwood, for hedgehogs to spend the winter. I planted flowers that attract pollinators and let the lawn flower. In the morning, I check that the bowls outside are filled with fresh water for the birds and insects – even for the rat I saw last summer. As a law-abiding citizen, I informed the authorities about the rat, but I gave the little fella a fighting chance. It won’t need to stop for water when it’s running away.
I am growing as much of my own organic food as I can. My first attempt was parsley and tomatoes in the balcony. Each season I get better and learn how to care for my trees and plants and the endless species that depend on them. I don’t plough any longer. Each year I leave one part of my garden fallow while placing organic matter on it to enrich the soil. It’s not productive in the short term, but it’s ensuring there is fertile soil in the future.
And I share. I share seedlings, fruits, vegetables. I share my garden – its shade, its tranquility, its work- with friends. Sharing is caring.
Is what I am doing enough to avert an environmental disaster? No.
Is it needed? Most definitely.
Because, as my father taught me, by keeping the land alive, we keep hope alive.Guest Posts