Wednesday, October 21, 2009

To Cross Or Not Cross, That is The Question.

I was asked by an acquaintance recently to help with a project of hers. She wanted to know about people’s perception over the issue of crossing over the buffer zone and into the Turkish occupied areas. What really got me into answering to her e-mail it was her reference to the buffer zone or the Green Line, as it came to be called, as a border. She later on apologized for her mistake, which she did without any malice.

You see a border defines the geographic boundaries of political entities or legal jurisdictions, such as governments, and states, but they can also foster the setting up of buffer zones. By that definition, the buffer zone cannot be consider a border since it does not define a geographic boundary between two governments or states, in this case one being the internationally recognized government of the Republic of Cyprus and the other the illegal and self-proclaimed pseudo state of the Turkish Republic Of Northern Cyprus. The buffer zone in Cyprus does not define a boundary between two states, but rather is a demilitarized zone between the Government of Cyprus and the Turkish Cypriot Community, which with the suppert of the Turkish Army occupies the northern part of the island. As a demilitarized zone which serves as a buffer zone between the two communities, the line can by no means be considered as an international border, as many times is wrongly described by few-many.

I am sure my friend meant no harm, but one needs to know the applicable terminology, in order to process the incoming information in a politically correct manner. Many times one will read an article and then digest the information as it is without cross checking the new info, therefore retaining information that is wrongful. With that in mind a writer should know that it is his/hers responsibility to present the facts right and without prejudice (as much as possible), otherwise its literature can be branded as propaganda, even if it was not meant to be, by eager “tattletales”. Ignorance is to be dreaded, especially in cases like these where it can harm a whole nation.

Enough politics!

I have never been in the other side. My mother and my sister and many friends have done so, making me feel a somewhat kind of a dinosaur. I still stand firm by my believes though. I will not cross the buffer zone and into the occupied areas just as long as I have to stop at a checkpoint, or show any kind of identification, to go see my grandparents' or parents ancestral home. Where do you see that happening anywhere in the world? You can argue that people stop at checkpoints everyday around the world, but none with the special character and status of the buffer zone in Cyprus.

Even though I was against my mother's decision to cross over, on the other hand I can fully understand her eagerness and passion to return at a paradise long lost. My mother crossed over a few times, after her initial one. She only went to her house once. It cost her dearly to see it's current condition, and the door propped open by a stranger. She was only 19 and on vacation from her university, that infamous summer of 74'. After 30 years she only went back once to see her house. She cried, said goodbye, and tried to convince herself that she moved on. But like Kazantzakis puts it "nothing ever dies within us".

All the other times, she would visit places that she visited as well in her teens, on school excursions or family ventures...Bellapais,Keryneia, and places that I have only seen on salvaged pictures or in history schoolbooks. That seemed to please her more than her house in Neapoli. You see nature, can not be tamed (maybe not as much as other things). Nature will always retain its organic-ness however bad we might treat it. A rose's petals will always be petals, a bugamvilia is always a bugamvilia, and the sea will forever crash wave after wave on the rocks on the beach. Things like that don't tend to change so drastically..
My mother made it a point , since she knew deep down that crossing over might not be wrong in her heart's rules, but maybe wrong in other society-imposed rules, to cross over only in other people's (friends) cars, so she wouldn't feel guilty for paying the toll to cross over (hahahaha). She would make sandwiches so she wouldn't have to pay a penny on the other side like many others do, as if the fish on the north or the halumi taste better from the one in the south, I am not saying it doesn't but we are still in Cyprus whether south or north, and a fish is a fish, and haloumi is haloumi. She never went to a casino, like many others do, whom I openly accuse of "treason" for supporting a wrongful regime. There is a difference between the average middle age woman who crosses over to re-live her first love shivers, and get a glimpse of that paradise long lost, and the people who so shamelessly cross over to fuel their gambling addiction...My mother would take with her a small container to bring back earth from her town, something that she didn’t have the time to do when she left hastily in 74…She would carry earth, not poker chips…

On the other hand my sister’s first time was her only time. She cried dearly as well, but was so disenchanted by what she witnessed which was in a complete contrast to what she heard for 19 years and read about in schoolbooks. Ammochostos’ beaches were not golden any more, and the water was not turquoise. The tiles in my grandmother’s house were not like a red-black chessboard as my mother described them (the new “owners” have changed them), the front door was no longer green, and my fathers’ ancestral house in Omorfita was falling apart, its walls crumbling like windblown sand, the façade of the house rendered completely unrecognizable from the “renovations” the new “owners” performed, the door propped open by a woman in a hijab, an image alien to her and Cyprus…She never went back…

The way I see it is, there are three different takes on the same issue. Three different points of view if you like.
The first is my grandparents’ one. My fathers’ father died a refugee, not ever being able to go back to his house where he watched his 8 children grow, never being able to sit on the table he brought food on. He lived 18 years in a “synoikismos” a refugee neighborhood, displaced in his own country. 25 minutes away from Omorfita.
His wife, my grandmother, disabled in a bed due to Alzheimer and Parkinson will never go back either. If my grandfather was alive he wouldn’t have crossed. Just like my grandparents on my mother’s side. They can’t see the point. Why would they cross over to visit their house, which they bled and sweat to build, to see it being occupied by a stranger? Would you like that? Would anyone like that? You bleed, you sacrifice, to provide to your family one of the most essentials in life: shelter; only to see it taken by a stranger. Visualize it! Can you? Can you see the pages of my aunt’s schoolbook flapping about, windblown, on the table in the back yard? Can you see my grandmother’s stew left on the stove? EVERYTHING was left behind. Everything. Because they thought that they would go back. They never did. They lost everything they ever fought for. So I understand why my grandparents wouldn’t want to go back. The want to remember it the way it was. The way they left it. The pages of my aunt’s book flapping around in the wind…
The second point of view, is that of our parent’s generation. My mother’s generation. She went back because she was curious. She never bled for, or worked for what she lost, but it was still hers. Her parents’. She wanted to re-live her teens, her youth. To see the yard were Lumumba, her dog, used to run about. She experienced her environment as a teen in a different way from the one her parents did, and therefore she had different expectations when she went back ,and a different mindset. In her mind crossing over wasn’t as bad as my grandparents thought it was, and it is normal, my grandparents might subconsciously felt the need to visit, but they also knew that they would betraying their sacrifices. And what a word! Visit! Where have you ever heard of one visiting his (own) house…it is a bit of an oxymoron…

The third point of view is the one of our generation. We were never directly acquainted with our parents or grandparents’ past. We never bled, sweat, or fret for anything that our ancestors possessed and lost. We have never been there. We have never seen any of it, except from sepia old pictures with ruffled edges. We know stories. We heard stories. We had dreams about it, but never really were part of it. So, for our generation crossing over carries a different weight in our souls, and depends on how we perceive all these second hand information. From a young boy I was nurtured in a way, which made me feel, that I was a refugee, even though I was never displaced, and never lost anything from the day I was born. I was brought up by refugee parents, and I would spend my first years in my grandparents’ refugee house in Agios Mamas in Lakatamia, where my grandfather would sit in his corner in the living room, smoking incessantly and sipping down zivania, recalling past memories.

I felt a refugee, even though I was never a refugee, because that was how my parents brought me up; to know about Neapoli, and Omorfita, the beautiful northern suburbs of Nicosia, where bugamvillia would climb the walls, and the houses were so close to one another that you could hear your neighbor blinking, where the front door was never locked, and my grandmother’s “krasato” octopus tasted better as if from a different world.

I am 26 now. I now realize that, I felt and I feel a refugee, because it was my parents’ way of preserving their memories. It was my parents’ way of preserving a way of life that no longer is; their way of preserving their paradise long after they are gone…and for that I thank them, for I am a richer man.

Whether I cross over or not, that remains a question to be answered. Will my curiosity and passion to see the things my parents instilled in me from the day of my first steps, will win over the duty that I have toward my morals, and beliefs?

At the end of the day, I think everyone should do whatever the feel, and makes them happy, but should always be careful of how their behavior manifests in the environment that we dwell, and how their actions affect things greater than our own singular unit. And as a post-script I would like to add, that the gamblers in the casinos do not fall into any of the aforementioned categories. They cross over to fuel a gambling addiction, not to seek closure with personal demons, or relive a paradise long lost. They cross over with poker chips, not earth...

Constantino Kouyialis
Copyright.  April 2006.

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