Friday, March 18, 2011

Day One: Old Nicosia and the Green Line

Its a beautiful day in Cyprus, I get the feeling there are many beautiful days in Cyprus.

I am staying with my cousins in a little village called Tseri near Nicosia, the capital. Evangelia and Andrea (my cousins – actually my grandfather's cousins) have been the most welcoming and accommodating hosts. They picked me up at the airport, and took me to their home which had an extra little apartment that I could sleep in. It has a fridge, a washing machine and a little kitchenette. The fridge, by the way, is full of olives. Full. Of. Olives.

The first day Andrea and Evangelia took me to see downtown Nicosia. It is, by the way, the only divided capital in the world. Meaning that half of it belongs to the Greek Cypriots and half of it belongs to the Turks. Now, I used to view Cypriot's animosity towards the Turks as a kind of amusing prejudice that had no bearing on real life. I couldn't have been more wrong. The people of Nicosia live with the constant tension everyday of their lives. The Green Line, which is the line through the middle of the city, is clearly marked and manned by U.N., Greek, and Turkish soldiers. Many of the oldest churches in the country are on the Turkish side. The houses, buildings and shops along the Green Line all look like they have survived a war. If, despite all this, the citizens of Nicosia could forget the tension between the two peoples, to help everyone remember, there is a gigantic Turkish flag carved into the hill overlooking the city on the North side. All anyone has to is look up.

After being in Istanbul for a couple weeks I was willing to give the Turkish people the benefit of the doubt, but my willingness to be persuaded in their favor is quickly fading in light of everything I've seen today. And I know I have seen a very skewed version of this story – I also know that I am very easily influenced. So, for now, I reserve judgment. Theoretically.

As for my relatives, I am so glad I came to meet them. Being shown around town by two locals has its major perks, the least of which is that we made frequent stops at friends houses for coffee as they showed me around. So our journey was interspersed with stops into shops and friend's houses. In the first house, we were all given Cypriot coffee (really really strong) and Evangelia and Andrea talked while I played with the cat. We were more of less on the same level, the cat and I, as neither understood what anyone was saying. Though, I think I had a better grasp of social etiquette as I never jumped into anyone's lap. The conversation was more or less all in Greek, with breaks in between to demand why my mother never taught me Greek (clearly, all your fault, mom).

All throughout my stay, Evangelia has been very upset with me for only staying four days. I can tell when she goes off about it to someone – I know just enough Greek to recognize the phrase 'four days'. Every time someone asks me how long I stayed in Istanbul or how long I will stay in Hungary (12 and 9 days, respectively) I wince a little because it may trigger a ‘only four days’ discussion. I am regretting the decision to stay such a short time now because I would really like to get to know my relatives better, but that just means that I will have to come back.

They took me to the tallest building in Nicosia (11 floors) so that I could get a look at the whole city, which is quite beautiful. Everything in the Old City is surrounded by Venetian walls, built into a shape that kind of resembles a snowflake. Andrea got me some binoculars, which was a refreshing experience because he handed them over without making mention of that ONE TIME I lost a pair of binoculars when I was SEVEN.

We had lunch downtown and meandered our way back to the car. Everything in Cyprus seems to go at a slower pace. Their motto (which I have heard already a billion times) is 'slowly, slowly'. This is a big contrast with Korea where one of the first phrases I learned was 'balli, balli!' (quickly, quickly!). We saw a museum with some Cypriot artifacts which was very interesting and a museum filled with orthodox icons icons which I will talk about more in my next post.

We came home and had tea and cake (remember we had just eaten lunch) and talked as various relative I never knew I had dropped in on us. It was so nice to meet my cousin John (who is my mother's first cousin, and my closest relative in Cyprus – as he said: 'I am the first!') and his wife, Loukia. Though, as they told me, I've met them before. Evangelia's second eldest daughter, Stalo, came in to introduce herself. My cousin, Elisavet, who is only a little older than me stopped by to tell me she was going to take me clubbing on Saturday night with some of the other cousins our age. Finally, Evangelia's eldest daughter, Stella, stopped by with her husband and two children (Eleni and Andrea) came over for dinner.

At this point I was very mad at myself for only arranging to stay four days because everyone was trying to schedule time to show me around Cyprus and there was none to be scheduled. I was invited to John's son's wedding in May (which I really wish I could go to but it's highly unlikely that it will happen) and talked to Eleni about the archery tournament she attended in Korea this summer (while I was there!).

All in all, it was a great first day in Cyprus. And tomorrow promises to be even better.

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