Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Won’t be diplomatic about it

Won’t be diplomatic about it
Constantino "Dino" Kouyialis (Cyprus)
Copyright 2004-2009

I won’t be diplomatic about it. I never liked Turks. If not for anything else they ousted my parents from their home and occupy half of my country for more than thirty years now. I grew up learning in school about my nation’s great struggles to fend off the Ottoman invader, and the triumph of Christianity over Islam. Learned about our heroes getting “skewered” on sticks, patriarchs getting hanged while chanting songs of freedom…

Many years have past since then. I don’t feel like that anymore, and I learned a few more things. I learned that nothing is black and white, and that both sides did mistakes. Some would say, one side did more bad than the other, but wrong is wrong no matter what the numbers say. I realized that the reason all this hatred was transfused from generation to generation was because some fanatics wouldn’t have it any other way. And the few evil can do a lot of bad. It took one man with a funny mustache to bring the world to the brink of destruction. And of course you can always count on the ever-contemporary world powers to either capitulate on that fanaticism and hatred, or stir it up a little bit, so they can get their own. A bit of an old classic “divide and conquer”. And when the few are done taking, and when they are done raping the land, a land that they do not own, who do you think is left to pick up the pieces? Ordinary people will.

Greeks and Turks have fought for centuries. They fought for Cyprus, they fought for the Rome of the East; the pearl of the world, for Constantinople, they fought for Smyrna or Izmir as the Turks call it now, and they are still fighting over the Aegean Sea, but for the most part they lived in peace. The older ones have nice stories to tell. Some of them have bad ones, but why should we remember those? The human mind has a tendency to disregard bad information, and time heals old wounds, and scars. If we are to look back in the past, we should only take the good memories. The smell of orchards! The summer breeze under the pinewood trees. Fruits, spices, colors, women. These are the memories that we should keep. Yes, a nation needs to know its history in order to face the future, but if that past is going to be an obstacle to peace then maybe nations should learn to be more flexible. It’s going to be hard, especially for those who experienced all the grudges, but it is going to be easier for the generations to come. All it takes, it is leaders with vision, and believers. Believers of peace.

I am getting lost as I am writing. This is a matter that affects me personally and I tend to get emotional about it. As I am writing, millions of thoughts and blurry images are going through my mind. And I am struggling; to catch them, materialize them, put them down on paper, and arrange them in some order so they make sense. Do I succeed? I do not know, but what I do know is this: I came to this house, and I met a Turk. His name is Mert. Mert Ulas. In my life I only met four Turks! A small number if you compare them to the amount of French I met…The first one was our guide in Antalya, in southern Turkey during the Junior World Cross Country Championships. The second one was a leather goods salesman in the same city, who sold to me a great quality leather vest for a great price!! He even tried to burn the vest with his Zippo to prove the authenticity of his product! There in his shop my friends and I tasted for the first time a Turkish tea! It wasn’t that bad if you consider that we thought it was made of cyanide! The third one was this waiter at this great Turkish restaurant in London. It was a beautiful April night in Angel. Café Gallipoli was the name. My best friend Ellie took me there because me being a good food lover and all she felt that I would enjoy it. It was quite funny to watch her being all proud about herself taking me there, cause she knew how I felt about it, and she felt it was quite entertaining, me puffing and huffing going there. And indeed, I went there with a bit of skepticism. But then, I opened the menu, and half of the things in it, we eat them as well in Cyprus and Greece. Halloumi was hellim. Keftes was kioftes, and Imam Baldi was Imam Baldi. And it wasn’t just that. As the night progressed, the waiter I was talking about earlier got warmer and warmer, and before I know it he was on the table and dancing. Watching Rauf (I can’t remember his real name) jumping from table to table reminded me of back home, and it made me think; maybe these people aren’t so bad anymore…. and then again there was Ellie’s testimony who claimed that the Turks she was buying halloumi from were top quality lads!

The fourth Turk I met was Mert. The first thing I wanted to do was to crack his skull open! Nah! I’m just joking, but let’s just say that I wasn’t overwhelmed. But then I got to know him a bit and he was alright. Simple as that. After a while I got to know him a bit better so that gave me the intimacy level I was looking for to approach for a kill! The sizzling question? Was he involved with the invasion of my island and did he know anything about it? To my great surprise he knew very few things. I was also flabbergasted to find out that he was not involved with the invasion. I am a very clever man. I did the math and him being 24, it would have been impossible to be involved with the invasion, since he was minus six years old at the time. And right then it hit me! This man knew nothing about my country’s tragedy, let alone being blamed for it. And right there Mert ceased to be a Turk. He was no longer a Turk. He was just Mert. A new acquaintance, a future friend. A few months later Mert and I hosted a Greek-Turkish dinner, with another Greek friend Katerina, for the rest of our housemates. We had a lot of fun that day!

Some say that food brings people together. I agree. I say we have a lot more in common than we have keeping us apart. Some would say the exact opposite, but if the food is the only thing we have in common let it be the thing upon we built our common history…The entire world is divine love shared as food and drink. A meal is not only material, but also it is a profound spiritual experience. They say: “man is what he eats”, and if we eat the same, aren't we the same? I won’t be diplomatic about it; halloumi or hellim it still tastes the same! And it tastes great!

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