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Last Days in Cyprus-November 2006

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12 November 2006:

            I went to dinner with my friend Damian, another American teaching classes here and staying in the University hostel.  We walked around beforehand, exploring the winding streets of the Old City and checking out various restaurant possibilities.  It was nice to recognize most of the streets and landmarks, and feel like I really know this city now.  My knowledge of Greek, though far from conversational, has grown enough to let me throw in a few polite phrases here and there, or to recognize the occasional slang word.  I can navigate oncoming traffic with the best of pedestrians, and have gotten to know some of the ins and outs of bus and store schedules (as generally unpredictable as they are). 

            As Damian and I were walking, and even a bit during dinner, it hit me that I only have a little over two more weeks here.  My Cyprus placement—slow at times and hectic at others—seems to have generally flown by.  I can say that I really do feel comfortable, happy, and excited to be here; that I’m pleased with the work I’ve been doing and the people I’ve met.  It’s bittersweet to know that in about twenty days I’ll leave it all.  Though I am excited to see Cairo and to live in Cambodia, at this point I feel a deep reluctance to leave behind three months of work, colleagues, and friends. 

16 November 2006:

            …Just received an email from Youth for Peace (YFP), the organization with which I’ll be working during my time in Cambodia.  Some time ago, Long Khet, their Executive Director, had raised the possibility of my facilitating their annual Review and Planning meeting.  At the time, it seemed like a tangential part of our brainstorming session: an idea in which I was interested but that would probably never pan out.  More recently, Khet emailed me about this facilitation, seriously asking if I would consider doing it.  I’ve spent the past couple of days reviewing the meeting description and other documents he sent me and working with David Seibel and Emily Epstein on my proposal. The email Khet just sent me from YFP was to let me know that they’d officially accepted my proposal and I’m set to do the facilitation!

            I’m both excited and slightly intimidated by this opportunity.  On one hand, I think I really enjoy facilitating.  This could be a great way for me to explore that possibility a little more, to gain some facilitation experience, and to really feel good about helping an organization I care about.  To date, I’ve been in close contact with Khet about the issues and problems facing YFP.  To be able to tackle those problems (or at least help to tackle them) through this meeting would, I expect, be rewarding.

            On the other hand the prospect of really learning how to facilitate—beyond whatever practice I’ve had as an undergrad or at Insight this summer—by jumping into it, alone, is a daunting one.  This Review and Planning is set up as a five-day affair; the participants are comprised of nearly everyone working with YFP.  The agenda will cover, in part, their mission and strategy for the coming years.  And I’ll be facilitating alone, most likely with an interpreter.  In a clichéd sort of way, I can’t tell whether this is the best way to “get my feet wet” or whether I’m just setting myself up for disaster. 

But really, in either case, the fact that I’m jumping into this, that it could go really well or really poorly, is in itself electrifying.  Even more so than here in Cyprus, my time in Cambodia looks like it’s going to be almost entirely comprised of new experiences.  So why not just throw this in there with everything else?

18 November 2006:

            Around noon today I met Maria and her goddaughter Katherine (also a Yale grad working on conflict resolution here) at the Green Line, and we all headed over to North Lefkosia together for the day.  Our motivations for going were slightly different—I needed to interview a few Turkish Cypriot (TC) women for our research, and Maria wanted to show Katherine the North—but it seemed most convenient for us to all head over at once.  I realized, going there with Maria, that I had only been North by myself or with other ex-pats, so it was refreshing to go over with a Cypriot.  . 

            Maria led us to a market in Northern Lefkosia that I had passed by numerous times but never explored.  On the way, she flooded us with facts about various buildings and the history of the area.  The market itself was a collection of handicraft shops, quaintly located in a walled courtyard that apparently used to be an inn.  My interview this afternoon was with Zelha, one of the shop owners and a friend of Maria. 

            Zelha is a shop owner in this handicraft center.  She sells mostly knick-knacks: postcards, jewelry, key chains and the like.  She was very open with me and seemed eager to share her opinions on the divide and the prospect of reconciliation.  She was also very forthcoming about her own experience of the conflict—being forced to move from her family’s home in the South, traveling alone with her sister in the North, unaware of the location of either parent or any other family member.  And though she spoke at length about the hardships she had endured because of the conflict (also about continuing instances of violence against TCs or vandalism of their cars/bikes/property in the South) Zelha approached issues related to the Cyprus Problem from a very humanitarian perspective.  She urged compassion for both the GCs and the Turkish settlers, two groups that usually invite a great deal of hostility from Turkish Cypriots.  It was heartening to meet someone who had endured so much hardship but who can still look at the divided societies with a degree of removed objectivity and compassion. 

            My second interview that afternoon provided much contrast to Zelha’s views.  I spoke with another shop owner, again a Turkish Cypriot, but this time a woman who held very nationalistic and anti- Greek Cypriots (GC) views.  She, like Zelha, had participated in bicommunal activities and has a considerable degree of exposure to Greek Cypriots.  But she spoke at length (and very disdainfully…almost fearfully at times) of the Greek Cypriot “Great Lie:” that the Cyprus Problem had started in 1974, and that Greek Cypriots were the only victims.  She also spoke of a plan—a genocide plan, she called it—that purportedly encouraged the extermination of all TCs on the island.  I couldn’t quite gather whether her scorn for this “Great Lie” placed more responsibility with the GC government for starting such a lie, or with the Greek Cypriot people themselves for believing and perpetuating it. 

            Late tonight, a few interviews later, I conducted my last interview—with another Turkish Cypriot woman, this time a psychologist.  By the time I met with her, I was exhausted.  I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to meet and speak with so many Cypriots; I’m also glad to be done, though, and ready to finally finish up this research article.

20 November 2006:

            I arose to a dark sky yesterday morning for the first time in Cyprus, fumbling through my shower and sleepily getting dressed.

Damian rented a car and proposed a day trip to Paphos yesterday because his friend, Judy, has come to visit for a week.  The plan was to meet Carey, Emre, and Oliver out there, since Oliver was attending some kind of conference and had gotten a very good deal on a couple of hotel rooms.  Carey and Oliver had joined him out there on Saturday; Damian, Judy, and I were to meet up with everyone on Sunday for a day of sightseeing, relaxing by the pool, and just generally taking advantage of their stay in a really nice hotel. 

After finishing my interviews this week, relaxing was exactly what I needed.  We all got to know each other much better, and spent the afternoon talking, swimming a little, and relaxing.  At some point in the afternoon, Damian went up to the front desk to see about potentially getting us two rooms for the night.  He came back saying that the desk clerk went to talk to her manager and see what she could do for us.  We waited patiently by the pool to see whether we would be staying the night or not, the decision pretty much resting entirely in the hands of this hotel manager.  We found out at 3.30 pm that we could stay and so we checked what little we had brought with us into our rooms and then headed out to do some sightseeing before dinner. 

Sightseeing was a little rushed, since we had anticipated just heading home but now wanted to get a look at the ancient tombs and mosaics before everything closed.  The tombs were actually great to see—hardly anyone was still around by the time we got there, so we were free to wander around (and inside) the tombs at our leisure.  The mosaics were similarly deserted (and this time free, since we arrived only about 20 minutes to closing time).  Though I would have liked a little more time to see these sights, thousands of years old, and learn more about the stories behind them, it also felt pretty special to have the places to ourselves and to explore as we chose.

Emre had to be back for a meeting at 10.30 today, so it was another early morning.  We grabbed a great breakfast at the hotel (I think the first “real” breakfast I’ve had since coming to Cyprus) and then headed out.  The car ride home was great—more chatting, listening to music, singing—but as they dropped me off at the hostel I could feel the lack of sleep take over already.  I’m getting tired even as a write this not many hours later, but the spontaneity of the whole day was so incredibly worth it.  One of the perks of having such a flexible schedule (and maybe a downfall, too, seeing as I’m now almost too tired to do any work) is being able to change plans impulsively like we did this weekend.

21 November 2006:

            It’s late, almost 2am, and I’ve just returned home from dinner at Maria’s house.  I spent a good four or five hours there, it was just wonderful.  Maria had gathered together a small dinner party: me, Katherine, Kerstin, Serena (a woman here working on her PhD), and Rebecca (recent Swarthmore grad, now a Fulbright Scholar researching in Cyprus).  It was really a dynamic group of women, everyone involved with issues related to the Cyprus Problem but each with a slightly different focus and in Cyprus for varying amounts of time.  She cooked us an amazing dinner; it felt good to eat a meal that wasn’t my own haphazard creation or restaurant food.  The food was coupled by great conversation that took us late into the night.

            I must say that our conversation reminded me of how amazing Maria is and what a colorful life she’s lived.  She was telling us of her recent trip to Tunis for a conflict resolution workshop, a narration that segued into a telling of other conferences, workshops, and trips.  Most harrowing was her description of a trip to Afghanistan.  Her work there was incredibly admirable—she said it was one of the times where she felt she had really done something with her life, and made a difference in others’ lives through her work—but the details of her travels to and from the country made quite a harrowing story.  She told us of how the motor on her plane home suddenly stopped working, leaving her prepared for a crash landing.  Maria also told us of her various acts of civil disobedience in Cyprus before the Green Line was opened for crossing: of how she would take Turkish Cypriots to stay at her home in the South after bicommunal workshops, which drew harassment from the secret police and, she suspects, the tapping of her phone line for several months afterward. 

            I think the stories she told were an inspiration to all of us at the table.  I affirmed my aspiration to have that feeling Maria described, of knowing that something I’ve done has really made a difference in someone else’s life, and that I’m working less for personal edification and more to impact positively those with whom I work. 

22 November 2006:

            I’ve celebrated Thanksgiving Day away from home before but never without a family, though I suppose you could describe our little group as a “family” of sorts.  This is certainly my first Thanksgiving without any sort of parent, an occasion I’m excited to be celebrating abroad.  As my friends here are older than I (most in their 30s), I’m relying on their experience to “get us through” the day tomorrow.

            My first foray into Thanksgiving Cyprus-style didn’t go too well.  In an attempt to prove helpful, I headed to the market this morning to pick up a few necessary fruits or vegetables.  A call to Damian from the middle of the vegetable stands put me on the task of finding butternut squash and green beans…and even then, I realized that I have no idea what a butternut squash looks like uncooked.  I called Damian again to find out, this time standing in front of an enormous, orange-colored, gourd-shaped vegetable that I assumed was either the squash in question or something very similar.  Our back-and-forth over the phone, coupled with my confused expression, drew the attention not only of the stall-keeper but also of almost everyone around me.  They watched (and listened) as I progressed through stages of thinking that the object of my attention was not, in fact, a butternut squash, to beginning to think that it might be a pumpkin of some sort, to affirming with Damian that it was indeed an enormous butternut squash after all, to deciding to buy the entire two-foot vegetable, much to the vendor’s amazement. 

            I drew more stares as I carried our 6-kilo squash down the street to Carey’s hostel, cradling it like a baby in my arms after the plastic bag broke under its weight.  One bus driver actually stopped and opened his door to laugh at and tease me.  Carey and I spent awhile just staring at the pumpkin as it sat on the table, where it looked somewhat inappropriate amongst the other Thanksgiving meal necessities.  Hopefully it goes to some good use, since there’s quite a lot of it. 

24 November 2006:

Carey, Emre, Damian, and Judy came over yesterday afternoon to cook, and we successfully hosted a Thanksgiving dinner after what at times was quite a comedy of errors.  Unable to find cranberry jelly and unwilling to reconcile ourselves to the idea of Thanksgiving without an artificially sweet dish of some kind, we bought two cans of radioactive-looking, neon colored cherries and strawberries instead.  Since we weren’t able to translate most of the Greek labels on our ingredients, sugar was occasionally mistaken for salt and baking soda for baking powder.  Our submersion blender died while we were whipping cream for the apple pie, leaving Carey, Judy, and me to whip the cream using forks and spoons, rather unsuccessfully.  We utilized nearly every appliance in the hostel—the stove, two ovens, toaster oven, and microwave.  However, in spite of these errors and despite not really knowing what we were doing most of the time, the food turned out really well, and the mishaps made for an amusing and laughter-filled afternoon.  What’s more, it was great for all of us to spend the afternoon together, cooking and talking. 

After everything was done cooking, we loaded up the car and took it over to the University hostel.  About fifteen people came over for dinner; amusingly, most of our guests were Greeks or Greek Cypriots.  The four Americans (and one Turk) who had cooked the meal were definitely in the minority.  I had been a little worried that our dinner party (which included an Italian, Brit, Austrian, French, and Malay) wouldn’t enjoy what I consider stereotypical American food.  But they all seemed to like it—the dressing, mashed potatoes, grilled squash, and some really wonderful (albeit store-bought) dessert.  And it was quite funny to see everyone succumb to the stuffed, tryptophan-induced food coma that typifies my memories of an American Thanksgiving.  Everyone pushed back their chairs and slouched a little lower in their seats, slowly falling into a sleepy stupor.  Though far from home, I enjoyed spending Thanksgiving with new friends. 

Having spent the night at the University hostel I woke up this morning to the call to prayer of a nearby mosque on the Turkish side, a reminder of how untraditional this holiday has been for me.  I sleepily headed downstairs at 8am to find Matteo, another hostel resident, busily cooking a ragout on the stove in preparation for the dinner party he wanted to host that night before he leaves on Sunday.  What ensued was a funny mix of post-Thanksgiving tradition, when Damian and Judy meandered downstairs to pick at the leftovers while Matteo continued to put together a traditional Sicilian meal…

26 November 2006:

            I decided to jog home from Maria’s house this evening, despite having my purse and stack of papers in tow.  It was refreshing to run through the back streets of Lefkosia, and I was feeling especially good after my meeting with Maria.  Though our article won’t be finished before I leave, I have a clearer idea of how it will turn out, and I know it will be something that really shows the amount of time and energy both Maria and I put into it.  It also looks like we’re going to try to publish two articles from this research.  One will explore how Cypriots conceive of “reconciliation,” which will be published next autumn.  The other will take this question of reconciliation in Cyprus a step further, by perhaps examining the issue of gender in Cypriot reconciliation efforts, or maybe discussing the tools necessary for reconciliation on the island and making recommendations as to how this process may be effectively executed.  We don’t have an academic journal set just yet for this second article, but the prospect of two publications growing out of this research is an exciting one.  It will be difficult to wait so long for the first article to come out, but I’m also slightly relieved that we have more time than previously expected to finish up the writing process.  It means extending my work in Cyprus to my time in Cambodia and (potentially) the Hague, but I think it also means a better product, in the end. 

            At the end of our meeting, Maria asked me how I found Cyprus and whether I had enjoyed my time here.  I admitted that the first few weeks in Lefkosia were difficult for me, but that I’d also grown to really love this island and the people I’ve met here.  I realized, as I was relating my thoughts on Cyprus, how lucky I’ve been to work with Maria, and on this particular issue.  Between the conflict resolution workshops, the research, and just time spent with her, I’m glad to have had this opportunity.  Maria makes frequent trips to Boston, so I know I’ll see her again, at least while I’m living in Cambridge.  Hopefully I’ll make it back to Cyprus, as well.  It will be nice not to have to say goodbye permanently, and to know that she’s someone with whom I won’t lose touch.

27 November 2006:

            Only a few days left.  I’m completely mentally unprepared to leave.  Christmas decorations—somewhat gaudy in scale and taste—have been put up around town, and an immense (fake) Christmas tree has been erected in Plateia Eleftherias, the main square downtown.  I walk by it almost every day.  I’ve grown so accustomed to seeing holiday decorations everywhere that I almost feel like I’ll be staying on to see the holidays through.  It’s very easy for me to imagine spending many more months here, continuing my work with Maria and letting the friendships and relationships I’ve established grow.  It’s sad to be leaving the friends I’ve made here, especially since I’ve only recently met a few people who I know I would spend lots of time with should I stay longer.  My flight to Cairo is barely three days away, and I’m finding it hard to reconcile how I feel about leaving with the reality of my leaving. 

            This departure feels so entirely different from my U.S. departure.  I knew that I would eventually be returning to Boston and that the people I’d grown close to this past summer would once again be part of my life.  I would like to return to Cyprus, and know that someday I will, but have no idea when that opportunity will present itself.  I think it’s most likely that I’ll encounter the people I’ve met here in other parts of the world…

            I also feel like, in many ways, the purpose of my summer in Boston was, in large part, to prepare for leaving, to ready myself for the year that I’m now living.  Experiencing the year, traveling, and working, it feels awkward to be leaving.  Lacking was the intense preparation for my departure from Cyprus—I’m working right up until the end; there’s still more research to be done, more workshops to be hosted.  It feels more like an uprooting than leaving my home in the States did.