Friday, January 13, 2006

Cyprus fieldwork: Cypriots, Greece, Turkey, America and Britain

Cyprus fieldwork notes extracts

The mainstay of the entries on the 4th of January 2006 was a conversation about Cypriots' histories and politics and the interrelations of Cyprus, Greece, Turkey, America and Britain.

Still considering the construction of place and writing notes on a pad as I walked around the town, at 10.20am I jotted down that the "Larnaka youth hostel map" of Cyprus was a pre-coup, pre-invasion, pre-partition map:
OS map for govt of Cyprus; 1932 map, revised 1958, printed 1965;
at 3.10pm:
"The Grand Mosque (Larnaka)
Under the supervision of the World Islamic Call Society - the greant Jamaheriya" (sign on the mosque);
and, doubling back past the International Youth Hostel Federation (IYHF) hostel, at 3.15pm:
IYHF building:
"Evkaf Dairesi
Bekir Pasa Su Idaresi Larnaka"
Having moved out of the hostel and into a cheap hotel, at 9.20pm, I wrote that it was:
lucky that I went for a haircut [on the 3rd]; met a few people, had a good conversation. I'd seen the barber's shop as I wandered round trying to find the youth hostel. As I walked down the seafront, a local saw me and my luggage and asked if he could help (well, I didn't hear what he said, but it was clear he was taking pity on this waylaid tourist).

We started talking and introduced ourselves; he was a songwriter. He explained that we were in the Turkish quarter and that the stone structure jutting out from the shop fronts was a fort. We headed up into the town itself; he flagged up the mosque.

It turned out that his brother was a hotel owner, but he knew from earlier that I wanted to find somewhere cheap, so he took me to the £5-a-night youth hostel before we tried there; ill-advisedly, I took the hostel place, which I left the next morning in search of the songwriter's brother's hotel.

After I'd had a weak, cool shower, I went out for food and saw the barber's again; it still had its light on, so I stuck my head round the door and asked if they were open. They beckoned me in and as I waited they asked where I was from, whether I was Cypriot and what I was doing here.

When they found out that I was working with cultural heritage, they started telling me about the chair I was sitting in. "It's worth six thousand pounds. Some English man come in and offered six thousand pounds for it. How much do you think it's worth?" he asked, in Cypriot Greek-accented, north London English.

"Ten?" I offered, in English-accented Macedonian Greek. "Ten!? Ten!? It's worth six thousand pounds!" "I don't know; I don't know about chairs. Twenty?" I teased. "It's from the 1930s, from Chicago." "Al Capone had a shave in it or something", his friend chipped in, in a similar accent. "Yeah, yeah, it's Al Capone's chair", he explained. "Ah, well, if it's Al Capone's chair, a hundred?"

They invited me round for coffee the next day; I took them up when I saw the barber's as I sought the songwriter's brother's hotel. Another of the barber's friends was in, having his hair and eyebrows done. He'd been an ambulance driver in north London - Golder's Green - for more than twenty years.

The barber ordered coffees for his friend and I; when his friend heard I had mine "sketo [plain]" (he had his "metrio [medium]"), he joked, "you must have some Cypriot in you!" When he'd finished having his hair cut, we moved over to the chairs in the corner and the barber stood by the sink, so we could all see each other.

We started talking about London, both having lived in about the same area, then started talking about Cyprus and its cultural heritage. "Cyprus is a good place for you", he reassured me, "everywhere you go, you'll see nice stuff." "Yeah, I know", I said, not in a reproachful way, but as an invitation for him to expand.

"In the north as well, but more in the south - and the east - there's lots of stuff"; then he asked, "are you working or studying? You doing it here?" I proceeded to give him my itinerary in Greek, remembering "Kourdi, Kourdia [Kurdish, Kurdistan]" from their earlier help. I paused to ask, "pos einai, 'northern', sta ellinika;" He told me, "voreios".

After I'd finished, we got onto politics, as he asked me, "what are you going to do there? Work? Learn Turkish?" and I'd answered, "tha do ti mporo na kano - ti mporoume na kanoume - na, na... pos einai, 'protect';" - "profylagei" - "ti mporoume na kanoume na profylagei [profylagoume] tin elliniki koinoniki klironomia ["I'm going to see what I can do - what we can do - to, to. . . how is, 'protect'?" - "protect" - "what we can do to protect the Greek cultural (or community) heritage"]".

He expressed approval and said that, "hopefully, something will be done soon, something will happen soon, there may be a peace, if they're willing to compromise, but Turkey doesn't want to".
I still haven't caught up on my reading on Cyprus and, at least from what I have read in the Cyprus Mail, Cyprus Weekly and Dialogue incorrectly,
I suggested that, "Turkey wants to, but the Turkish Cypriot administration doesn't; the Turkish Cypriots want to, but the Turkish Cypriot government doesn't". "None of them do - it's all America and Britain - they don't want us to".

He explained, "we're at the centre, between Europe and the Middle East and Africa. They need us to control Turkey and for what they're doing now; in Afghanistan and Iraq and Lebanon, they need us as a base". I don't know whether Coalition troops did come from or go to here, but, certainly as a political base and probably as an intelligence base, I think he was right.

"We could do business together, live together, if only they'd let us. We were happy with independence - then a few people started shouting, 'we want to be a part of Greece', 'enosis [union]', you know?" I nodded. "They didn't want to and Turkey had been looking for an excuse and we gave them it. It was EOKA."

I offered, "What Turkey did was wrong, of course" - "of course" - "but they only did it because of the Dictatorship, which was backed by the Americans and the British. It wasn't Greek Cypriots - it was the Dictatorship; they took power in a coup." "Yes!" he exclaimed. "It wasn't Greek Cypriots or Greeks - they fought against the Dictatorship - but it was the Dictatorship"; he nodded vigorous agreement.

Then, slightly incongruously, [he] started telling me, "it wasn't a war. It was just, people killing the British, trying to get them to leave... I did what everybody else did..." We carried on talking for a little while, then he excused himself and left and I finished my coffee, joined the others on the stoop.

[I] found out where I could find a cheap hotel, listened for a while, commiserated their unsuccessful tries on the scratch cards brought round by the street-seller, then excused myself. Now, I'm going out to eat and maybe strike up more conversation! P.S. the hotel owner refers to the north only as "the Occupied Areas".

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