One-Way Ticket to....CYPRUS!!!
The island of Cyprus is divided into two regions; the Northern side and the Southern side. During the 60's and 70's there were two bloody civil wars where the Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots were at either end. As I understand, the conflict was instigated by third party beneficiaries, such as the U.S. and Great Britain. During this time of violence, the U.N. intervened and the Greeks living on the Turkish side were removed from their homes and sent in buses to refugee camps on the Greek side and vice versa.
At that same time, Turkey saw an opportunity and seized the northern part of Cyprus under the pretence that they were "saving the Turkish Cypriots,” which was really a ploy to gain land and natural resources on the long-sought after island. The island is now cut in half horizontally at it’s Capitol, Nicosia. In order to get from one side to the other (90 minutes from the Southern coast to the Northern) you have to cross a militarized checkpoint in Nicosia…and if you fly into the larger Northern (Turkish occupied) side you cannot cross the border to enter the South, because the airport is not internationally recognized and you will not be allowed a visa.
We landed in Paphos on Halloween and asked the woman at the information desk for an economical way to get to the Capitol and then the Northern side of the Country. She gave us directions to take two buses and then walk through the checkpoint in the Capitol.
At the bus stop outside of the airport, a pixie of a girl in her young twenties with bright red lipstick, tousled hipster hair, and black punk garb approached our bench and sat down. With a funny accent and a sweet sing song voice, she asked us where we were headed. I told her Nicosia and then Girne or Kyrenia. She went on to tell us that she is from Luxembourg and is taking a month to volunteer at GROL, an organic farm in the city of Girne. Anthony and I looked at each other with our jaws dropped. No way! What are the odds? We are going to be housemates! We spent the next few hours getting to know Caroline as we made our way from bus to bus to the farm. Meanwhile, Anthony and Caroline found a common thread, they were both ice cream lovers. Caroline spends her summer working at ice cream shops, where she can make some money and enjoy her favorite summer-time treat.
When we arrive at the farm, we meet the rest of the troup: Ihsan - the bashful, stubborn farm director from Pakistan, Maddie and Sascha- a sweet-fun loving couple from New Zealand, Josh - a blond environmental activist/student from Canada, Imane - a conscientious, seemingly shift young man from Iran, Matt - a bashful, sarcastic lad from Australia, Ikram - a retired grandfather from Turkey looking to rejuvenate his life with some farm work, Angel - a calm-cool hombre from Rioja, Spain, Noémie and Rachel - two young adventurous, hippie college students from Canada, and Max a young French introvert.
The Garden is spectacular!!! It is smack-dab in the middle of the sprawling city. The property was a former dumping ground for a local five-star hotel on the nearby coast. The hotel owner's girlfriend, Ray, converted the estate into a permaculture farm, using the hotel’s rubbish to make greenhouses and other agricultural structures. Ray’s hope for GROL is for it to become fully sustainable and be able to supply the hotel, and the community with fresh, organic produce!
We stay in a small cabin on the corner of the garden that was constructed by former volunteers, sharing our room with a massive fish tank holding two tilapia that will eventually be used for the aquaponics system in the nearby greenhouse. Everyday, we collect the fresh collard greens, lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and various herbs from the garden to eat. Lunch and Dinner is prepared by two volunteers each day and everyone tries their best to make sure we eat healthy, delicious, and balanced meals. There is no meat or alcohol on the farm which facilitates a creative enviornment as we play multi-lingual games like dictionary and charades; laughing constently with and at each other!
We work at the farm 6 hours a day, harvesting vegetables, harvesting olives for olive oil, weeding, building a greenhouse, planting, building a new foundation out of buckets of sand and clay, and much more. Every day after work, we enter the town and search for recipes. A local Cypriot and agricultural PhD student named Dervish Ali takes us to the local markets and introduces us to his friends. Knowing Dervish sells his home grown plants at the English Market, we surprise him there to see him in action. Dervish is full of positive energy and an extremely helpful, intelligent person, especially when it comes to sustainable agriculture. Everyone has respect for his knowledge and his charisma. As people come to the market they check in with Dervish to see how he is doing. With us in mind, we are introduced to Ece and her mother Besime as The Recipe Hunters. After telling them about your journey, they invite us to learn their Cypriot dolma recipe. Then they introduce us to another friend, Sevgul, who invites us over to learn how to make Cypriot Molokhia (a dish with Jews mallow and Chicken). Wow Dervish aren't we glad to have found you! We plan to make both recipes the upcoming Wednesday with our camera, a notepad, and two empty stomachs! Check out the recipes below!!
Halloween was right around the corner and my Schengen visa was slowly coming to an end. After researching the island of Cyprus, finding an awesome volunteer opportunity at an organic farm, and stumbling upon two 23 euro, one-way tickets to Paphos, we simply could not resist.