Thursday, January 26, 2006

Cyprus fieldwork: Cote d'Ivoire refugees

Cyprus fieldwork notes extracts

These entries comprised two notes on public uses of the past and then one record of a conversation I had with a continental Greek soldier and three refugees from the Ivory Coast or Cote d'Ivoire.

Waiting in Larnaka for the bus to Nikosia on the 7th of January, at 11.50am, I noted the straplines to two tourist posters, one that lacked self-confidence - "get drunk with history and wine... in Cyprus" (emphasis added) - and one that was very appropriate - "art, mythology and history blend in Cyprus". Arriving in Nikosia, at 1pm, I jotted down a line of graffiti I spotted, "Makarios = Laos", which, I believe, translates as "Makarios = (the) People" or "Makarios = (the) Multitude".

At 10.30pm, I wrote that,
I walked the streets for a while, taking in the atmosphere, objecting to the intelligence-insulting close proximity of a saying about blood and sacrifice on the Wall and a mural of the word "peace" on a wall, revelling in the "Checkpoint Charly (sic)" snack stall.

I had a leisurely lunch as I scanned the English language papers for other possible lets, then circled the cafe I was looking for until I twigged that they must've changed the name. I bumbled about inside until I worked out the system, as it looks like an open-plan kitchen-living room and the staff sit around like it is (in a good way).

Then, I sat down with a (Thessaloniki) Greek; we began chatting and [then] we began chatting with a few men from the Ivory Coast/Cote d'Ivoire. It was really good, a mix of general conversation with history and politics and philosophy.

It was awkward, for me at least, when the Greek guy - a soldier at the moment - moved from making blithe pronouncements, like, "we will make our own country", to insisting I ask the Cote d'Ivoire refugees(?) what they were going to do about the war in their country.
When I refused, he asked himself:
"What are you doing about the war in your country? You must fight [for peace]!" They battled past this incitement, explaining, "I did not fight with guns; I fought by teaching".

They set out the situation thus:"in our country, we have everything, but many people do not have food or water; the same people have been ruling since independence forty years ago; the constitution doesn't let them, but when they must leave, they change the constitution and stay;

but the French and the British and the Americans help them. We have everything - we do not need development - we need the money to go to the people, not to their pockets" ["their" referring both to the local elites and their international sponsors]. We, the young people, are saying, 'no, this cannot be, there must be another way; we know the truth now and it is our turn'.

Now [les Casques Bleus - the Blue Helmets (UN peacekeepers)] are there, between the two parts, the rebels and the government and we are again trying to find another, a diplomatic solution; the country is split, 60:40, rebels and government."

Whilst one of the three was largely silent, one of the others kept interrupting or talking over our educator, arguing that', "everything else, people have to work for, but food and water, food and water are free, for everyone".

The educator picked up this theme and told us that, "the rest of the world is shown pictures of people with SIDA/VIH [HIV/AIDS] and told this is Africa. 17% of deaths in Africa are from malaria and the medicine costs one pound, but people don't have one pound to eat, don't have one pound for the medicine.

The medicine for AIDS costs one thousand pounds a month; I [a teacher]... can't afford that, we cannot afford that; but we come here and we see that in the rest of the world, the medicine is free; that is wrong."

He went on to promise that, since, "they do not allow us education, because they know that when everyone is educated, when everyone speaks a world language, we will know the truth and there will be a revolution!"

This brought out another problem of his community's situation, that, "I cannot speak my own language, [because] the French, colonialism, told us it was worth nothing and we were forced to speak French. [Now] I am forced to speak French... I cannot afford to learn my own language... To get a job, you must speak French."

Would it be unfair for me to say they had a conception of the human right to the highest attainable standard of physical health, of human rights in general?

Later... the Greek soldier argued that, we [continental and Cypriot Greeks] speak the same language, we are the same", even going so far as to say that all (native) English speakers were English, foiling my plan to have him accept English, British and American communities' heterogeneity and transpose that to Cyprus.

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