A Tale of Two Cypriots

25 Jan

So this blog post is going to be just a tiny bit different. Because I wasn’t able to learn much about Armenia’s history while I was there, I was extra determined to overcompensate for my lack of Armenian education and soak up every tidbit of information I could about the history and current affairs of my new destination–the sunny birthplace of Aphrodite–Cyprus.

The first thing I learned about Cyprus? There’s more to this country than meets the eye.

My first impressions:  Once I landed in Larnaca I noticed its sunny, beautiful blue skies; I realized that they drive on the left side of the road and that smoking is allowed essentially everywhere in this country (even on that aforementioned bus).  I became a beach-lover after my bones had frozen during that trip to Armenia and noticed that Cyprus is on the euro, making everything way more expensive than I’d anticipated. I appreciated the food diversity — Indian food! Ribs! Wow.  I was confused until I came to understand that “neigh” means “yes” in Cyprus.  

But, as soon as I talked to my first local, I began to see a deeper picture.

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The sea was music to my freezing ears.

 

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Water was too cold to actually swim, and I wasn’t too eager to be cold again so I happily stayed on the sand.

 

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The first local I met was this bus driver, Chris, on my first day in Cyprus. He was very respectful of the other people in the bus, and he always drove slowly because, as he put it, he knows he has “souls” riding around with him. We got to talking, and he told me that I was the first American he had ever spoken to; likewise, he was the first Cypriot I had the pleasure of getting to know–ahem, I mean Greek Cypriot. I asked him what he meant by “Greek Cypriot,” and so began my first history lesson!

He told me about how Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots want to be distinguished from one another because there is animosity between the two groups. Greek Cypriots in south Cyprus are angry about the occupied territory in the north–the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Chris has never been to the occupied part nor would he ever go until it is free from Turkish influence.  At a base level, it’s sort of a Greek Orthodox vs Muslim Turks showdown.

Intrigued by this information, I decide to channel the Australian at my last hostel and watch a couple of documentaries on the subject. I’m going to take a wild guess and say that you don’t want a full-on synopsis of the documentaries, so I’ll just bullet point some quick, interesting facts:

  • At around the same time Greece fought for its independence (and won) against the Ottoman Empire, Cyprus also rebelled against the Ottoman Empire and lost. The Ottoman Empire was in need of money and got a loan from England in exchange for its rule over Cyprus.
  • More recently–like, way more recently that the Ottoman Empire– Cyprus became part of the EU in 2004.
  • Cyprus is literally divided in half by a “green line” that extends across the island. The south is what is actually known as Cyprus, while the north is called The Turkish Republic of Cyprus (or as south Cypriots like to call it: occupied).
  • The two sides have two different presidents, but the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is not recognized as its own country by any entity other than Turkey…. (Sidenote: am I becoming the Australian from my last hostel? Visiting self-proclaimed countries…watching documentaries…I’m starting to see the appeal).

 

See! Four bullet points of interesting history. Now, that wasn’t so bad was it?

 

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A park on the northern side, looking through the fence out onto the Greek side.

 

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A literal fence diving the two parts of the county. Almost like the Berlin wall without the graffiti…or the wall.

 

So since there are two sides to Cyprus, and two sides to every story, I decided to become Investigative Sam and head to the north to learn even more. Told you…overcompensating. And, as I headed that way, I learned that although south Cypriots don’t travel to the north mostly out of protest, Turkish people are not even allowed to cross the border. I was once again reminded of just how lucky I am to be able to travel freely between this divide because of my US passport.

Before going into the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, I decided to visit the southern part of Nicosia first, the capital of Cyprus. And the only capital in Europe divide by a boarder.  Once I arrived in south Cyprus, I headed to the tourist office to see what kinds of (respectful) shenanigans I could get into around town. I told the clerk that I also wanted to walk across and see the Turkish part, and he had no information for me. Literally zero. I thought he was being petty, but then I realized that the sides don’t communicate with each other or even conduct business; they aren’t connected by bus or any other means of transportation–they don’t even have a map of the other side. The clerk told me the south Cypriots are really leery of people who want to visit the occupied north; he added that I should bring my own food and snacks so that I don’t buy anything over there and inadvertently support the Turkish.

So I arrive in the northern part, and hey–that flag looks an awful lot like the Turkish flag…

 

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Anyways, I made it over to the other side and asked for their tourist map, since the other side didn’t have one. This is what they gave me:

 

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Now, we may not be geography experts, but it’s clear that the map of the north cuts out the southern part of the city completely; doesn’t even recognize its existence. I literally felt like the mutual friend between two fighting exes.  

Besides the clear distinction on the map, Nicosia is the only city in Europe that is divided by an actual green line, and each side is completely different from its language down to its currency.

Some more bullet-point history:

  • Cyprus was declared a country in 1960; the president was chosen by the Greek Cypriots, and the vice president was chosen by Turkish Cypriots. This led to a lot of turmoil, and there was a ton of violence in 1964 to which the UN responded with a peacekeeping initiative.
  • In 1974, there was an attempted coup to overthrow the president in favor of someone who would be more “pro Greece.” In response to the coup, Turkey invaded the north and divided the nation in two. People were taken from their homes and forced to move to whichever side of the island recognized their religion.

And the rest is history. Literally.  

So apparently, the day before I had arrived in Turkey Republic of North Cyprus, a northern newspaper had printed a story regarding Turkey’s role in the war against Syria. The country had placed troops on the Syrian border, and the newspaper’s headline read: “Turkey invades Syria, just like Cyprus.”  Ouch. The north was in an uproar. There were protesters in front of the newspaper offices, and they were shouting (in Turkish) things like “Greek lovers!”  Less than appreciative of the comparison that had been made, the Turkish president told everyone to go out and protest.

 

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North side, not so happy…south side says they reported “the truth.” Investigative Sam here reporting the hard facts.

 

During this whole ordeal, I met a pharmacist, a woman from Cyprus. She was a north Cypriot so had EU citizenship. Her opinions were very interesting. She doesn’t like Turkey and thinks that the country is overstepping its boundaries; it’s making northern Cyprus rely too much on them without providing enough help.

I wanted more opinions, so, as Investigative Sam, I of course started talking to a Turkish reporter on the scene who befriended me. He spoke great English, so we were able to chat for a few hours, and he answered a lot of my questions. My reporter friend told me that he likes the northern president; he believes the president is a good guy, but he hates the protesters because he doesn’t think they would have the courage to fight like that by themselves. Again, this was all coming from a guy living in the north but from Turkey, which I thought was pretty interesting.

By the time I was ready to head back to the south, my head was spinning with so much information. What I struggle to understand is Turkey’s best-case scenario in this whole ordeal, but I know that Turkish Cypriots are worried that if Turkey pulls away, the Greeks will take over.  South Cypriots mostly want to make their island whole again, and many of them want to become part of Greece (I mean, who wouldn’t? It’s gorgeous).

 

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My reporter friend.

 

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A walk to see the wild flamingos…When in Cyprus!

 

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The pink flamingo feathers in Larnaca.

 

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Trying to move the clouds with telekinesis…sun, come back!

 

After my trip to the north, I decided I wanted to stay in the south, so I traveled to Limassol, where I spent a couple of nights and got in touch with Couchsurfers. And I had learned a lot about the current affairs and history, so that was enough politics for me.

The rest of this post is dedicated to another tale of two really awesome Cypriots!

 

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They have pork kebabs in the south because they are not muslim. It’s the Tzatziki yogurt sauce that really makes it exceptional at this restaurant.

 

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I met an angel of a girl from south Cyprus named Despina. She and I hung out, shared some drinks, and got to know each other. You thought I was kidding when I said she was an angel, but no. The next day, she let me do laundry at her house, and since I literally only had one pair of pants with me (which were in the wash), she lent me a pair of hers so that I was able to leave the house. Cleanliness is next to godliness (angel, I’m telling you)! Later, we went out to an incredible breakfast and had some good ol’ eggs florentine (oh how I had missed eggs prepared this way)!

 

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Almost too beautiful to eat….Almost.

 

So once we were stuffed and satisfied from our delicious breakfast, I decided to head out. When I left her apartment, she sent me off with some clean clothes, oranges, pants, and a drawing (Despina is an art teacher and gave me a lesson; I drew a portrait…it was horrible…but what is art anyway? It’s all subjective, right?).  

 

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Finally I can wear a hat to shield my eyes from actual SUN.

 

The next night, I went to a restaurant called Pi to eat…salad..(?) with another Couchsurfer, Emily. She was clearly my kindred spirit; almost everything that was brought up in conversation by one of us was answered with a wide-eyed “SAME!” by the other. We really related to each other and where we are in our lives. She’s great. It was so much fun laughing with her and eating salad (would’ve been more fun to be eating pie, but it’s cool).  

 

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Later that night, we met up with Eugina, a dancer from Ukraine. I had already made plans to meet up with her, and since Emily and I were getting along so well and not ready to leave each other’s company, I invited Emily to tag along! Two is company, three is a crowd #AmIRight?

 

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Eugina is from the Ukraine and very shy and very sweet, but when she took us dancing–wow! Emily and I couldn’t believe the way she moved! Teach me, Eugina! Teach me your ways!

These women are incredible, and I am so happy I got the chance to know them. Couchsurfing always reminds me of how many amazing friends there are out in the world that I have yet to meet, and now I have two more who I will absolutely see again and I can not wait.  Such good people.  

So there you have it, folks. Cyprus may be small– so small that its residents joke about all being related–BUT it has a big, complicated history and people with even bigger hearts.  (at least if you’re not Turkish or Greek, depending on which side of the island you’re living on).  No wonder it’s where the goddess of love was born.

Surrounded by the Mediterranean,
‘mi

One Response to “A Tale of Two Cypriots”

  1. deekerson February 5, 2018 at 11:30 pm #

    Glad you met some awesome peeps. Unfortunately, the history was Greek to me! (C what I did there?) 😘

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