Cyprus: What Was and What Is

Nalan Mehmet

I was born in 1975, the year after the conflict between the Cypriot Greeks and Cypriot Turks. I was fortunate that I didn’t suffer first-hand as many innocent people did, including my maternal family. My father and his family moved to London in 1960 and my mother, after her marriage to my father in 1974, before the conflict.

Growing up, my summer holidays were always in Cyprus as my mum would naturally want to see and spend time with her family. My father was unable to join us due to work commitments which meant that there was no one to drive us around. Therefore, our time was spent stuck indoors day in, day out for an average of 14 days. Being the first-born grandchild on my mother’s side meant that there were no other children to play with for some time. I was stuck amongst adults for the duration and utterly bored out of my mind.

Born and raised in South East London, I was used to all the luxuries that we all take for granted day in, day out. Things that we don’t naturally consider a luxury. Simple things that they didn’t have in Cyprus like clean drinkable water from a tap, dust free pavements and roads, Heinz tomato ketchup, Coca-Cola, Vanilla ice cream, salt and vinegar crisps and a toilet where you can flush the toilet paper.

I really struggled with the absence of my home luxuries and couldn’t understand why Cyprus was like a third world country, so behind the times. Unfortunately, it blurred my ability to appreciate Cyprus for all its natural beauty. I hated it. I hated Cyprus!

Outside my maternals grandmothers house:

Spring/Summer 1979, aged 4
December 1989, aged 13
July 1990, aged 15

Since none of my mum’s family drove, we were reliant on public transport, coaches. Traveling on coaches was boring, hot and smelly. The journey wasn’t very scenic either, sparse empty land, nothing for miles. The roads were awful, very un-level and full of potholes.

There was no air conditioning, we would bake! Forced to keep windows open 24/7, bitten to death by mosquitoes.

Toilets were always a big issue for me. If you found a proper sit-down toilet, you were lucky. Most houses still had a little hut outside of their homes with what I can only call a hole in the ground, and the smells were putrid.

There were no supermarkets, just a mere corner convenience store run by one of the locals who generally spent their day at home and opened up if you needed something. Stock was sparse with locally baked fresh bread every morning, freshly laid eggs again locally sourced and a few dairy products, small selection of fruit and veg and some sweets.

Whenever you visited Cyprus, you had to visit every aunt, uncle and cousin. That hasn’t changed over time. I never understood why we have to visit everyone when in Cyprus and also be the one that visits anyone that comes over to the UK from Cyprus?

When visiting our many, many relatives as a youngster, I was always, without being asked beforehand, served Gül şurubu/Rose syrup, a diluted rose flavoured overly sweet and sickly drink. To begin with, I liked it, it was different, but when you visit five houses in one day and have five cups of it back to back, you fast grow to hate it. In later years, Gül şurubu was replaced with cola, or should I say Bixi Kola and Bubble up, the Turkish Cypriot equivalent of Coca-Cola and 7-up.

The only restaurants available in them days served Döner kebap and Şiş kebap.

Hardly any hotels existed and the ones that did were relics.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to explore much at all as a child but what little I was exposed to was very behind the times. It wasn’t till I got married and visited Cyprus for an actual holiday in a resort with my husband, who introduced me to the real Cyprus beyond Mağusa/Famagusta, that I realised how beautiful an island it really is.

Over the years, we have managed to explore most of Northern Cyprus, my favourite area being Girne/Kyrenia. I love the beautiful scenic harbour especially at sundown, a pure photographic gem.

Unfortunately, the sparse green lands have now been filled with more and more extortionately priced apartment blocks, villas and hotel resorts. So much has changed and even more so in the last twenty years.

There are supermarkets, pound shops, restaurants serving food from around the world and actual toilets nowadays. Though North Cyprus cannot have any of the big European chains and franchises, they do damn good imitations, from coffee shops to burger bars. You are able to source most products from Heinz tomato Ketchup to Tetley tea bags. They still don’t have salt and vinegar crisps though!

I am proud of how far my ancestral land has progressed, but I do miss the views from the open land and the sea front that is now blocked by the many big hotel resorts and their casinos.

There are always pros and cons to advancement, but I feel that one of the best things that differed us from the south was the quaintness that I fear we have now lost for good.

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