All-male cafes face challenge

XYLOPHAGOU, Cyprus – The last bastion of the Cypriot male, the hallowed coffee shop, is being challenged by a group of grandmothers who have had their fill of husbands going off for hours on end as they mind the children at home. Women of the farming village of Xylophagou, once not allowed down the road without a male escort, now say the boot is on the other foot. The young man hesitated with an embarrassed smile on his face as he stood in the doorway of the brightly lit coffee shop where groups of women sat inside sipping tiny cups of strong Greek coffee and tossed dice onto backgammon boards. In a definite switch of roles in this Cypriot community where women’s only pastime outside the home was toiling in the potato fields that encircle the village, the man’s wife got up from a table of women engrossed in playing cards and handed him their child as he stood at the door. «You can’t come in,» she admonished. Men, with the exception of Fridays, have to watch from afar as women converge on the stone building for a game of cards and a gossip. The owner of the Meeting Place, 50-year-old Eleni Mouzourou, may be keeping the men at bay but had no qualms about letting her husband bankroll her venture. «My husband supported me with his pocket and with his smiles,» she told Reuters. «But this is a place just for women to come and relax, to forget about the housework.» Male culture The coffee shop is an integral part of Cypriot village culture and in many places deeply rooted in politics. The leftists’ coffee shop is still immediately discernible by the type of coffee it serves – the communist party AKEL controls a coffee-grinding company – as well as a copy of the daily party mouthpiece. A right-winger’s coffeehouse would normally be decorated with pictures of youths who took part in EOKA, a guerrilla group which fought against British rule. It serves a different brand of coffee and has a Greek flag flying outside. The two establishments may have their differences, but it is an unwritten rule in both that women, with the rare exception of a brief coffee after Sunday church, are not welcome. Those who do are guaranteed to get funny looks and start tongues wagging. For some women, ensnaring a groom who would never go to the kafene was a definite plus. But if you can’t beat them, join them, as the saying goes. «Everyone’s husband goes to the coffee shop here,» said Myrofora Tasou as she sipped a glass of orange juice and toyed with a pack of cards. A wiry 79-year-old wearing a traditional Cypriot headscarf, Tasou says she never had any particular problems with her husband going to coffee shops, but nodded vigorously when asked if it was a daily thing. «But he is always home in time for the news on television.» Women in Xylophagou see their coffee shop as a statement of equality. That would sound positively outdated to the ears of many of those living in the cities but, in the villages there is really little else to do than to visit neighbors for coffee and a natter or mind their children. In this village of 5,000, where women once only got rudimentary education before being plucked out of school, they are jumping at the chance to make their point. Most are elderly; younger women, wearing the latest in European fashions, have only to travel 20 kilometers (12 miles) down the road to enjoy the pulsating nightlife of the Ayia Napa clubbing resort. That is not an option for the Xylophagou pensioners. «When I was young, I couldn’t walk down the road on my own. It was prohibited,» said Florentia, as she squinted over a backgammon board with Myrofora, her lifelong friend. «It just wasn’t the thing to do. Women wouldn’t go to coffee shops. They would just work.» Mouzourou says she promised a coffee shop for women when she was elected to the local council as an independent last year. «It was all work-home-work-home. Women here don’t go anywhere and the men are actually very positive about it.» Some men are not so sure. Across town, the owner of a rival coffee shop frowns disapprovingly. «They will soon get bored,» he sniffed. «It won’t last.»

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