I was raised spending a lot of time with my four grandparents and two great-grandmothers. I enjoyed listening to them talk about their youth, of a time where people worked the land, when they were faced with real hardship, and when risk-taking was a matter of survival.
My parents are from Limassol; my dad from Ayia Zoni and my mom from Polemida. Her father, Sotiris, was the eldest child of eight. My great-grandmother, Maria, became a single parent at 33 supporting the family by working the land. In the early 1930s her brother, George, who worked in the then Belgian Congo offered to finance her sons to go to university or to come and work with him. My grandfather chose to study mechanical engineering at the National Technical University of Athens, his brother Christos electrical engineering in the UK, and their other three brothers emigrated to Congo.
In 1941, following the failed invasion of Greece by Italy, the Nazis invaded. Sotiris, along with his younger brother Tasos who was visiting him at the time, fled Athens, taking a boat to Turkey and then coming to Cyprus. From there he went to South Africa, to continue and finish his studies at Johannesburg. When WWII ended, he emigrated to London where, along with his brother Christos who was studying in England throughout WWII, they worked for Metropolitan-Vickers, a British heavy electrical engineering company. The brothers then moved back to Cyprus to join the British colonial government at the electricity authority; the Electricity Authority of Cyprus (EAC) was founded in 1952 when the 28 private electricity companies of the time were nationalized and absorbed into the EAC.
Tasos moved to the Belgian Congo to work with his uncle and his brothers Nikos and Antonakis. There they worked for Primus beer and the casino in Stanleyville (now Kisangani), before setting up various businesses relating to commerce. Tasos moved on to Burundi to set up a company that transported people and goods across Lake Tanganyika. As time passed and each got married and had young families, one by one they moved back to Cyprus and set up various business in tourism, real estate and commerce.
As a child I used to listen to them for hours, getting lost in the various stories and imagining a world filled with wild animals, jungle and adventure. I also enjoyed the Belgian chocolates that were in ample supply in their houses, as the only way to fly to Congo and Burundi was via Belgium.
That generation was stubborn, smart, street wise, and real risk takers. Their love for Cyprus never waned; every Saturday they would all gather to visit their mother and speak passionately about the island and how to support the diaspora. That love is from a time when people had values and felt a deep obligation to society, rather than being self-centred and individualistic. It’s a state of mind and being that is longer with us.
On the 12th of August Tasos passed away.
With him a part of us died with him, for we are all nothing but the accumulation of our history and of our friends’ love.