The Grandmother of Soldiers

The Grandmother of Soldiers :
This is a story about a very brave Greek-Cypriot woman. Her name was Kalliopi Avraam. She was an extremely poor woman, but content. She lived in a small tin roofed shack in the north of Nicosia, the capital of the island of Cyprus, in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea.

I shall try to relay the history of her bravery, as passed to me through my nephew, Christos Ioannou.

In 1974, Turkey invaded the island of Cyprus. Kalliopi’s humble home was very near to the camp where the Cypriot soldiers were stationed. She cooked for them when they were hungry and gave them food when they ran out. These soldiers were as young as 19. They called her “Yaya”, which means grandmother. She called them her boys. They grew to love her as she did them.

When the invasion became forceful, and close to her house, she was told to leave. But she could not leave her soldiers, these young men she cared for. She would not abandon these soldiers, who were risking their own lives to protect from the Turkish army. She remained at their side and did not leave them.

One of Kalliopi’s daughters visited her during one of the truces, between the first and second invasion. She went to her mother’s house and tried desperately to drag the old woman with her, to a safer part of Cyprus. She knew her mother would be killed if she were to remain there any longer. Kalliopi refused to go, telling her daughter that she could not abandon the young soldiers who were relying on her for food and milk from her sheep. The Cypriot soldiers also urged the grandmother to leave – to save her own life. She refused to them as well. These were her words: “I will not leave you alone; I will stay with you until the end.” Her daughter realized that her mother was determined to stay so she finally, reluctantly, left her mother — never to see her again.

One year went by, and Kalliopi and her daughter remained in the north. Kalliopi’s daughter became very sad when she saw that her mother was yet to meet another son. She realized that she would never see her again; she was going to die alone. Kalliopi’s daughter tried to comfort her by playing sad songs — but the music they played was too sad.

One day, as she was bathing in the sea, a boat sailed by. Kalliopi recognized it as one of the ships of her navy. The captain and crew were Greek Cypriot fishermen and they spoke Greek. She recognized that they were visiting her land to trade for glassware and food grains. She offered them her hospitality but they refused her services. She insisted that they were friends, hometown people. The captain referred to her as Madame George. She replied that maybe she was called that because her island was nearby. George V met with her on the island of Pharos. Kalliopi offered to deliver elephants loaded with precious goods to the British sea captain. The captain refused because though loaded with bargains and golden money, there was no evidence that they had ever been there. Kalliopi insisted that they were there and the captain would have none of it.

Finally, in a receive-all sort of way, Kalliopi’s three daughters were invited aboard the British ship Jeer. With a superstitious twinkle in her eye, Kalliopi told the passengers that beneath the ship lay a cave in which were three valuable vases full of perfume. Upon closing the cave, unfortunately, the scent was smeared on the water. Fortunately, a witness, a young seaman, saw everything and reported it to the captain. The captain searched the area but could find no trace of the missing perfume. The perfume was never recovered. It was said to have been blended with sandalwood and buried in water, forever.

Two years later, one of Kalliopi’s sons brought the perfume to London. It was pure gold. It was John Michael Courville, the Earl of Courville, who eventually rose to become Lord Universities Minister and Lord Chancellor. It was redolent of him that when he walked alone through the streets of London, all the ladies’ eyes were upon him. Courville had a powerful intellect and a reservoir of learning. No one knew he had it. One of the most wonderful things about Mr. Courville was that he was kind to animals, especially frogs. Towards the end of his life, he spent much time at Balmoral Castle, playing with the animals and visiting with his friends there. One of those friends was Colonel Howdy, who had served with Courville in the Boer War.