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Meeting the Mukhtar of Pissouri

Harsh rains in recent days have had a devastating effect on some homes in Pissouri, causing a public quarrel about responsibilities. We speak to the village’s Mukhtar, Christos Foutas. The Mukhtar had agreed to an interview before the Pine Villas debacle made headlines and, after the event it’s interesting to recognise how much of what […]

Harsh rains in recent days have had a devastating effect on some homes in Pissouri, causing a public quarrel about responsibilities. We speak to the village’s Mukhtar, Christos Foutas.

The Mukhtar had agreed to an interview before the Pine Villas debacle made headlines and, after the event it’s interesting to recognise how much of what he said is relevant to the frightening saga of the collapse of the ‘retaining wall’ behind three Aristo-built properties at Pissouri’s Pine Villas. The incident highlighted how some developers shirk their responsibilities and push forward on developments regardless of the environment or, in this instance, safety.

Foutas had made it clear that he was not prepared to use village taxes to put in support services for developers, when they should be doing this out of their own profits. “Why should the village pay, particularly the poorer people? Why should we subsidise the developers?” He explained that he was not against development as long as it respects the environment and is carried out by contractors who don’t cut corners. He is adamant that he will not change this policy, even if it makes him unpopular, and that the developers will eventually have to learn new ways.

It’s actually fascinating to sit in the Pissouri Municipal office and see at first hand the problems the Mukhtar faces on a daily basis; the way he deals in the same even-tempered, straightforward way with everyone, from staff supervising repairs and producing budget sheets, to disaffected home owners at the end of their tether. He copes, he said, because he has known the village intimately since childhood; he’s aware which families own what land; which issues are important; who is quietly trying to break the rules.

Foutas was born and bred in Pissouri and now appears to be doing his level best to keep the village from becoming another Peyia or risking more calamities of the Pine Villas variety. A man of fairly humble origins who worked on the family land as a youngster, he went to the local primary school and then to Limassol High School. “Some days I would work in the fields from first light and then catch the bus to Limassol,” he said. “When I got home from school, my work clothes were still waiting for me in the fields so I worked on the vines or vegetables until suppertime. I often fell asleep at the dinner table doing my homework!” For some of this time, the only light was from petrol lamps: electricity didn’t come to Pissouri until 1969.

Between 1973 and 1975, Foutas was called for National Service – a bleak time covering the Turkish invasion in ’74. “National Service is not good, but it’s necessary. You go in a boy – and come out a man,” he remarked. He is a great believer in education: he studied English/Greek Literature at Athens University for three years, while working nights as a porter in the central market to pay his way. Having graduated, he took a year to study and practise Teaching English as a Foreign Language, before returning home. Later he formed and subsidised the first Pissouri nursery school in 1991 and still teaches in the village in the afternoons.

A man with a quiet sense of humour and an abiding love for nature and the land, Foutas comes across as diligent, well-spoken and with an excellent commercial sense from his years in business. He has an unparalleled record of working for Pissouri: firstly as Chairman of the Co-Op Bank for 20 years and now as Mukhtar. He and his wife – whom he met at Athens University – have three children, all of whom have followed their parents’ path to Greece for further education. He is rightfully proud, more so because his “children all love Pissouri and come home often.” His three brothers also live in the village and his family home is one of the closest to the collapsed old road which skirts the village.

The impassability of this road is a real issue for Pissouri. “I wish I were Atlas and could hold up the road and restore traffic,” Foutas told me with emotion. “But it’s not only the restoration, we must also protect the whole of the area.” The 1937 earthquake started the slide; families were moved and relocated. The big ‘quake of ’53 compounded the problem and, in 1996, tremors set the hillside moving again. One hundred metres of road has dropped six metres, which will cost over £2 million to restore. Funding has been discussed at government levels, Foutas assured me: “Repairing it is a burning necessity.” In the meantime the whole village suffers, most particularly with the endless concrete lorries and pouring machinery.

Which brings us neatly back to those developers. Does Pissouri need them?

Copyright © Cyprus Mail 2006

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