The Tree of Life, a community centre I frequent in Larnaca and which I am delighted to learn will reopen next week, invited me to organise and host their first Pecha Kucha night last month. It was a virtual event and we chose the theme “community”, to celebrate the wonderful connections that were keeping everyone sane during the isolation that resulted from the covid-19 crisis. I reflected on the community I had built for myself and grown through since moving to Cyprus only fifteen months ago, and decided to ask each of the wonderful people who had creatively inspired me to present something about the space or initiative that had so nurtured me. I’m grateful they all accepted and we enjoyed a wonderful, if virtual, evening celebrating and honouring this beautiful community.
I started off the evening with an introduction to each of the presenters, putting into context how they had influenced and inspired me. I introduce them again here as a commemoration of the night itself and of the wonderful impact each of these creative souls have had on my existence.
Together, Argyri, Annetta and James founded and host Pe Ta, a monthly poetry and storytelling night. I attended the first ever Pe Ta night, held fourteen months ago, only weeks after moving to Cyprus. I used to go to poetry and storytelling nights in Damascus and Beirut for years and knew I had to find one in Cyprus soon after moving, and so I was very lucky in terms of timing.
I am pleased that they continue to host these wonderful nights of poetry and prose online during this period of “social distancing”. I remember clearly my very first Pe Ta night. I moved to Cyprus a unanimated workaholic, intent on regaining the creative youth I lost sometime after I lost Syria. I think I achieved what I set out to. I used to write poems about motherhood and war. Now I write erotic poems about lust and love.
One woman who has given me the courage to express my womanhood is Manuella. Her poems are fiery and bold. Her friendship is warm and kind. The first time I read a risqué poem, I looked at Manuella for fortitude. I kept looking at her, knowing her smile would give me the courage I needed to keep reading.
I attended one of her intuitive art workshops a few months ago and in two short hours had produced a sculpture and written a poem that perfectly reflected how I was feeling. Full of joy and gratitude for life, and for having met such a wonderful women.
Another woman who has truly nurtured me and been a great friend to me over the past year is Ani. I love jazz, I love art, I love drinking, so what better place to spend many an evening than the wonderful Kleidi, the beautiful bar Ani opened little over two years ago.
It is a home to Pe Ta, a home to me, a home to many of the wonderful people I have met there on many a starry night. Each person’s smile a reflection of the Ani’s big heart and generosity. Some nights I used to go alone, confident that my friend would introduce me to an interesting patron with whom I’d enjoy a lovely and lively conversation.
In recent months however you were more likely to find me at Kliedi enjoying the company of Omar. A fellow writer, we’ve spent many an evening discussing literature and philosophising. We have spent so much time with Ani at Kleidi, that I’ve written a three-character play based on our amusing musings.
Omar is my best friend, my comrade; it’s easy to forget we’ve only known each other a few months. I think I underestimated how much I missed speaking Arabic before I met him. We also work together now, documenting stories by fellow Syrians living in Europe.
Before we set up a proper office in my home, we used to work out of Paul’s, a beautiful, sunny friendly warm space bang in the middle of the city centre. I don’t drink coffee myself, but the selection of teas and the chocolate cookies and blueberry muffins… did I mention that I go there to work?
I also go there to sit in the garden, read a book, smoke a cigarette and without fail meet a stranger who becomes a friend. I have met quite a few people this way, it makes me wonder what’s in those delicious chocolate cookies!
At Paul’s I met Loizos. Only a couple of weeks before meeting him I’d been looking for a contemporary dance class for adults. There are a few in Nicosia, but I couldn’t find any closer to home. I learned that Loizos is a qualified contemporary dancer and instructor with a rather different day job. I begged him to start a class. Two weeks later he called me and told me it was time to dance.
My first dance performance was at the age of three. I was wearing a blue tutu. Now I wear bright leggings and roll across the floor a lot. I was only able to enjoy a few classes with Loizos before lock down started, but the impact on my strength, both physical and inner, had already begun. I am grateful for the videos he continues to send to motivate me during this isolation.
I’m also grateful that my art classes have gone virtual rather seamlessly, which is just as well because after only a month or so, I’d become very fond of our weekly Art w Twist workshops. What do you get when you combine art, wine and Andy? The perfect blend of creativity and camaraderie.
It’s no surprise that Andy and I get on so well. Like me, she loves to dance, is a single mother, has lived in the Arab world, speaks its tongue, and loves to spend hours painting and chatting. Venus was definitely smiling down on me when Andy took an art studio on the street where I live.
I’ve spoken about sisterhood, movement, the spoken word and camaraderie. There’s one place where they all come together, and that’s at Catherine’s adult improvisation and drama workshops, which I’ve been attending since September.
If you thought you had to be physically together to produce and stage a play, think again. When bold and determined women come together there is nothing we can’t do. At present I’m collaborating with Catherine and four other bright bold women, producing and filming a one woman play. I look forward to being back together physically soon, to watching the resulting film of our virtual work together and to enjoy more tactile workshops.
The Tree of Life
When we actors do come together again, it’ll be at the same soulful space that has been home to many of my creative and personal journeys… The Tree of Life. There, I’ve taken classes in tai chi, yoga, burlesque, attended film nights and philosophy cafes, and even hosted a couple of events myself.
If Mario is it’s the engine, Soulla is its energy, and Voulla it’s warmth. Together, this trio turned their childhood home into a home for the community, and for that I am very grateful.
Each of these wonderful people have been an important part of my community in Cyprus, and I was so pleased to celebrate and honour them all during the Pecha Kucha night. I am grateful for the poetry, the sisterhood, the comandaria, the philosophy, the chai teas, the sore muscles, the colourful canvases, the dramatic scenes and the beautiful branches.