The sleepy village of Lageia, situated in the foothills of Troodos in the hilly part of Larnaca District, woke up normally enough, the dawn stillness interrupted only by the morning song of twittering birds and the wake-up call of a cockcrow in a distant field.
Slowly people started descending on the yard of the Village Taverna, some on foot, some by car. The distance from the Taverna where cars could find a parking space grew further and further. Tables and chairs for 600 people had been laid out the evening before by a group of dozen volunteers, but there were still preparations to be made.
The local iconographer was putting the finishing touches to a large icon that he was providing as one of the raffle prizes. A dance floor was to be laid out. Nine heavy panels where brought down from a nearby house and pieced together. Salads were to be cut up and all manner of vegetarian and seafood delicacies were to be laid out. Many people would bring their own gourmet picnic, but free food was being offered by the Lageia community.
As Anna-Maria explained, Clean Monday is a special day and on special days Greeks like to get together and make “kefi”. Clean Monday is the first day of lent in which is mapped out, for those who want to follow it, a spiritual exercise of a 49-day period of fasting. During this period one should abstain from meat and dairy products. Also from fish except on Palm Sunday and on the 25th of March (Greek Independence Day and the Feast of the Annunciation). Other foods are avoided on certain days of the week. These days a relatively small proportion of people undertake the full fast, but most will probably observe it in the last few days run up to Easter.
Little by little the guests arrived, some from Lageia, many from nearby villages and others, born and raised in Lageia, from towns in which they now live. They greeted their friends and relatives, they chatted, they laid out their picnics of delicious nistissimo (fasting) food on their chosen tables.
Now the place is filling up. People dig in to their vegetarian and seafood picnic under the Cyprus winter sunshine. Music plays. A lottery is announced. The ambience warms up. A visiting dance team takes to the stage floor. Guests clap to the rhythm and small groups of people dance amongst themselves. There is “kefi”.
“Kefi” is one of those Greek words that has no one-word translation in any other language I know. The English know how to make “kefi” but there is not a single-word translation of the concept. It encompasses merriment, fun, joy, happiness, an animated atmosphere, possibly euphoric even, (usually in a social partying context but without the excessive drinking of the Club 18-30 crowd). There was plenty of “kefi” that day.
A tug of war is traditional at events such as these and Lageia did not miss out. Two teams were formed from the women and another two from the men. It was all part of the “Kefi”
The hours pass. It is still winter and a chill starts to fall in the late afternoon. Little by little people start to leave. Then Greek community magic happens. No one is in charge. No one gives any orders or instructions, but volunteers start piling up the chairs, others fill rubbish bags with the debris, others fold down the tables. Gradually everything is carried up the steps to one spot neatly piled up and ready to be loaded on to a truck the next day. As efficiently as volunteers had set things up, they clear up when it is all over. It is a phenomenon that never ceases to impress me about the warm-hearted people of this beautiful island.
In a recent article I wrote about the difference in the Greek words “Erota” (from which is derived “Erotic”) and “Agape”. In this special day at “Lageia” we witnessed “Agape”.