Papou means 'granddad' in Greek. This is a pretty emotional post for me and I guess I'm writing it just so I can express just how I feel about him, even if he won't read it. Papou is technically my step-granddad. My mum's dad died when she was at university so I never met him. My parents moved to Kaduna after they got married and that's where I was born. My Yaya (grandmother) spent a lot of time in Nigeria because that's where her daughter and granddaughter were and it was around this time my dad introduced her to Spyros (Papou), a Greek Cypriot who had spent most of his adult life in Nigeria. They hit it off and have been together ever since.
Papou came from a good family in Cyprus but in those days, only children that demonstrated great academic potential were sent to university and in his family, that person was his brother. Long story short, unsure of what to do with his future, he accepted a job to go and work in Nigeria. I think he was about 18. And he stayed there for the next 35 or so years. I wish I had listened more closely when he would tell us all about his experiences but I guess I just thought we would always be able to hear them again. Now he doesn't remember.
He has always says he spent the best years of his life in Nigeria and reminisces about the hunting, and the parties, the women and the friends. We have so many amazing memories with him and Yaya. They probably feature in all our defining childhood memories because we spent most of our holidays with them and any child will tell you that the school holidays are the absolute best times of childhood. I love Zaria because they lived there, and I love fishing because Papou would take us fishing, I love Xilocastro (where my grandmum has her beach home in Greece) because it's where I go walking with Papou and where I accompany them to the Laiki Agora (the market) to buy the fruit and veg for the week. It is where he swims really far out to sea that I start to follow and then get scared and swim furiously back out while trying to figure out how I'll save him if a shark appears. Our garden in Kaduna looked forward to his visits because he'd plant entire crops that I'd never heard of - Radishes for example - and tend to the crop he'd planted on his last visit. He was such an avid gardener. In fact, when he 'retired' in Nigeria, he became the manager of a huge farm halfway between Kaduna and Zaria where we'd go and visit him in his office and spend the day wandering around the farm, exploring the dams and playing around in his Range Rover; you know, one of the old fashioned ones where the back was open and only covered by a canvas sheet. I used to love riding in the back of that truck.
About four years ago, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and after the initial rapid deterioration of his memory, it has more or less stabilised now but he still forgets so much. For a week up until Kitty's wedding, whenever anyone mentioned the wedding, he would ask, 'Wedding, what wedding? Who is getting married?' And my mother, who believes that it is better to make him use his memory rather than give him the answers, would reply, 'you tell us, who is getting married?’ Funnily, he would always say Gavin's name first and only after more prodding would he remember that Gavin was marrying our Kitty. Then he'd complain that no one had told him about the wedding and no one tells him anything anymore. A week after the wedding, he had forgotten all about it and again the questions started 'what wedding?' It's been really sad to see the change in him, because where he was once a vibrant, very outdoorsy man who loved to read, he is now content to sit quietly and listen to what is going on around him.
But the changes haven't been all bad. He has really mellowed and is just the sweetest man you could ever have the opportunity to meet. He's always eager to please everyone and make everyone feel at home. He is simply amazing! And our relationship hasn't changed. I have a well documented sweet tooth which Yaya has always been very happy to cater to it. Papou also has a sweet tooth and has spent a lifetime teasing me. Yaya makes the best ice cream in the world (I'm not lying, Ben & Jerry's has nothing on her!) and she would make it whenever we came to visit her as children. Papou would tell me that when we went to bed, he would wake up and eat all the ice cream. With a furrowed brow and worry written all over my face, I'd go and confide in Yaya and ask her to please keep an eye on him in the night. Whenever we see each other or talk now, I say that my Yaya has made me Pasta Flora (a Greek pastry and his favourite) but that I'm not sharing it with him. And he'll counter by saying that since his wife made it, it belonged to him and he definitely wouldn’t be giving me any. Back and forth we go like that until one of us says 'Ori o da'. I have no idea how you spell it and even exactly what it means, I just know it's a Yoruba insult. Then the other will reply 'Ori o fo' and so we'll make our way through the 'Ori o' insults and end with 'Oloshi' then we'll laugh and one of us will report the other to my mum or Yaya. I love that even though he's forgotten so much, he still remembers our banter.
I really miss who he used to be but I love who he has become even more.