Chapter Five: Famagusta
Famagusta: Sept. 21, l992:
Overnight to Silifke and Tasucu by bus from Ankara. Sometime after midnight, the bus blows a back tire. A tremendous explosion and smoke and dust fills the bus. We rumble to a stop on the gravel on the side of the highway. I seem to suffer from a lack of fresh air, overnight. The concept of fresh air seems to be lacking in transport vehicles in Turkey. There are ventilation devices but they are almost never operated. End of the line at Silifke, in the early morning. I am put out to catch the local mini bus to Tasucu for the Fergun Ferry across the channel to Kyrenia. It turns out to be easy. When I get to Tasacu, I settle down at a little Turkish street side restaurant for a Turkish breakfast of olives, cucumber, tomato, butter, honey, jam, bread, and tea across from the port.
At 11:00 the boat leaves. A pleasant relaxed ride. We arrive at 2:00 and I cram in the mini bus for the ride over the mountain to the flat plain and Famagusta. I am back in the rather desolate land where I will spend the next six years. The heat is undiminished in late September. At least another month before one begins to enjoy the cooler temperatures.
I soon discover a pack of wild dogs living in the field near my apartment. There are two dogs kept penned there and the wild dogs come round in the night and bark and howl. Sometimes it is most intense in the middle of the night or toward morning. Sometimes impossible to sleep. I wonder if others hear it. I wonder if it bothers anyone. Apparently they do not notice it to the extent of thinking that it could be otherwise or that something could be done about it.
The workings of the political economy in North Cyprus starts to come into focus as I look around and hear people talk. It is said that the Turkish Government subsidizes the North by up to 50 percent of the economy and the perception that the Turkish Cypriots are not very hard working seems true. All too true. All the building construction going on around is explained partly by the high rate of inflation, around 100 percent annually. Sometimes more, sometimes less. The exact rate of inflation of the Turkish Lira. Or somewhat more, even. So people put their money into a new house, new flats above their small one-room store to rent to students from Turkey in pounds Sterling. Into a Mercedes automobile, gold, whatever will hold its value. Many Cypriots, men also, wear gold. One is allowed to freely convert Turkish liras into dollars, British sterling, and so on. Just about everyone has a car and it is somewhat difficult to get along without a car as the markets tend to be far away and there is a lack of public transportation. This is especially true if one lives out of town. The private Mercedes taxis pretty much have a monopoly on that. But there are buses and mini buses that run to farther away, if their schedule is somewhat arbitrary. Many villages have a bus that comes into the city in the morning and back in the afternoon for commuters. These are old, badly-polluting, relics, often discarded from Europe.
There are many power cuts. But, as I was to discover, much worse was in store for us on that score. I find it almost impossible to walk in the dark during a power cut. In any event, one must buy a torch, a flash light, to walk at night due to the lack of sidewalks and the large holes on the roads, the roughness, and the building materials, sand, gravel, cement piled at many points along the main road. There is little or no, mostly no, consideration for pedestrians. One is often forced to walk out into the road by cars and other vehicles parked on the side. Frequently, one must walk through a field and there can be holes dug out there too and left open.
One night I attempt to walk to the vegetable market and small roadside shops when there is a power cut. I realize the danger of going blindly on the roads and creep back cautiously to my apartment, one of the 12 units in the building called “Arturk.” It can be seen from some distance across a field of weeds as it has a bright yellow and red neon sign over the entrance. An open field that will fill up with private houses and variously constructed apartment blocks for students over the next five years. The fields are now full of dry weeds and thistles, baked to a crisp by the days and days of intense sun. When the power returns, I walk to “The Moonwalker,” about half a mile away. The small restaurant, below flats occupies by students is run by a West Indian woman from Jamaica who was married to a Turkish Cypriot in London and ended up in North Cyprus. I have discovered that she makes Indian-style Chicken curry and sometimes go there to eat. There are usually other Americans and British members of the staff there. It is also a place to sit in the evenings and drink the cold Efes beers. One can lay back, way back. One can languish in such a place. One can come to almost appreciate the decadence. It can become a way of life. One can succumb. One could lose the Western urge to struggle against the quick sand that pulls one down. It is going to be a difficult struggle. How will one go back to the fast pace of America, back to the discipline of the clock after this. It is a dilemma that many Westerners face after stints in this part of the world. They go back, try to get back into life, and bounce back to the region like a rubber ball. There must be something I can publish, something I can do, something I can read, some way to redeem the time. Meanwhile, I will concentrate on what it takes to teach the students, teach the classes I must teach here.
September 23, l992: Registration is underway and proves to be insufferably boring. One of the faculty, John Greenwood, is an American, defected to England, some 20 years ago with a British wife. He has been teaching in the department some three years before I arrive. I go with him for lunch to a small lokanta down in the old city. We eat rice and green beans. I make a casual remark about capitalism. Something off the wall. He immediately starts to cross-examine me. Jesus! I wasn’t prepared to defend a fucking thesis! It was just off the wall. I’m laid back. Who gives? Of course, a gut hatred of capitalist exploitation emanates from deep within by bowels, but give me a break! If you’re too blind to see people getting screwed over, then who cares. Hey, I let the capitalist bastards get by with so much. Can’t I be entitled to one little remark?
Not with Greenwood. He is prickly. He feigns a friendly smile, friendly laugh. but he has become quite British. Keeps his respectable social distance. Because of that, the lunch is not that pleasant. I don’t feel comfortable, can’t relax in that atmosphere. It is an omen of things to come. But I’ll work. I’m easy. Quite laid back.
I also learn that I am somewhat in hot water due to my excursion to Ankara after arrival. I am told, I think by Greenwood, that I will be asked to explain my absence. It starts to become clear that one is expected to be around if it is only to put in the appearance of one’s face daily to prove one’s presence.
I am partially saved when the newly arrived Turkish Chairman, Ahmet Bey sees a letter addressed to me from Ankara, with an old friend’s name on it. A journalist and old acquaintance of his. When I explain to him about my trip, he is friendly about it. He just tells me to write a letter explaining that I “had to go to the American Embassy.” I understand that he doesn’t care personally, but that he was put in a spot not being able to explain my absence to the authorities. After this, I will cover myself when I want to leave unofficially.
BBC reports that homelessness has increased greatly in Romania since the end of the old bureaucratic state. But one can watch “Dallas” on Romanian TV. What did they expect? Welcome to capitalism. I buy a old fashioned alarm clock in the small shop on Salamis road. “Made in USSR.” Power outages increase because the power which the North has been getting from the Greek side is being cut off, and the north is not prepared to pull the load. The south is upset by the immigration to the north. But it is mostly in the educational sector.
Monday I go to the ceremony marking the opening of the new school year. Robed and capped in the official academic medieval regalia. Wouldn’t want to look to modern, too progressive. Looks good. Almost academic. Deceptive. Classes are canceled for the event, or rather, no one takes classes seriously for the first week. They are sort of eased into in the second week. In any event the bulk of the students who have come and registered have returned promptly to Turkey. They will (not) worry about exams later. Maybe even attend some classes.
The speeches are in Turkish. Down the face of the building behind the podium is a huge canvas print of the face of Ataturk. It covers half the building. It is flanked by the Turkish and Turkish Cypriot flags to the right and the left. The Turkish Cypriot Flag is a mirror image of the Turkish flag. The Turkish flag red, with a white star and crescent. The Turkish Cypriot flag white with a red star and crescent. It strikes me as demonstrating lock step conformity? No threat of creativity. No danger of deviance.
Unity. Unity. Unity (birlik). Ideological purity. Perhaps the functional equivalence of a national lobotomy. The Ottoman band is on one side. Members of the staff, professors and administrators are seated among members of the Turkish military and members of Parliament. Rauf Denktas, President of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, is in the honored position. He speaks as does the Rector.
The singing of the national anthem strikes me as a pathetic spectacle. And for such a pitifully small little piece of land, one might have thought they would have learned better in all their years. If one looks back, how many times this little island has been taken over and back and forth between different sets of rulers and political forces. This was the trend of my thoughts, but I was to think further on this through the years. In some cases differently. Turkish Cypriots may be more practical than one imagines.
The members of the North Cyprus Parliament have arrived in a long parade of black Mercedes Benz automobiles. The specialized plates read 001, 002, 003…and so on. After the opening ceremony, the President and the ministers walk over to the area for another ceremony, the breaking ground for a new library. A tent has been set up in the area. Mercifully, a sheep was not slaughtered today as is often done on such occasions. Drivers follow the pack with the line of Black Mercedes. This is a poor country…supposedly. It is said that the first act of the North Cyprus Parliament, when it was formed, was to buy the fleet of new Mercedes Sedans. The perquisites of office. Decidedly Third World. The feudal mentality. Conspicuous consumption.
In the evening there is a reception for the new and returning staff. After two beers, a group of us decide to head for Erich’s pub, which mostly caters to the UN soldiers that are stationed at Camp Leopold across the road. Some of the new staff from England and Scotland are there. Most are teaching in the English Preparatory School. Erich, the defected German owner looks just like King Edward on the Cigar box. He loves to speak German. He brought us some Greek Brandy smuggled over from the other side. (Kiprikon Brandy)
Had my first real class today which seemed quite normal. Same old Samo. Its all the same shit. That’s the way it strikes me. Universities are the same all over the world today. Well, at least those on the Western model preparing students for their role in “globalization.” There is a beautiful crescent moon in the west in the evening. Classes are still not underway seriously, for lack of students and, more basically, interest. I find that no one is planning to start classes seriously till next week. Students generally come and register and then return to Turkey for a two or more weeks for an additional break. Their lives are not to be seriously inconvenienced in the pursuit of a university degree. Not the members of their class. Money will suffice. No mail from outside. Its just as if I had dropped off the face of the earth.
Friday October 9: The days are still hot. This morning I was riddled with mosquitoes. The dogs in the field near my house have been having an orgy, or at least fantacizing of one, barking continuously. Among the dogs and the mosquitoes I am kept awake. They install new shutters on the windows, but no sign of screens.
I find Magosa a disappointment. One longs for a lively place with life. Crowded bazaars, energy. That’s the way one sees much of the world. Not here. For one thing it is mostly cut off from the sea by the military control of the port. One has access to the sea there only at the Palm Beach Hotel, which is near the old ghost city of Verosha, closed off and abandoned since the Turkish landing in l974. The shops close early, in the evenings and on Saturday at noon. On Sunday they do not open at all. It is such a sleepy place that everyone seems to go to bed with the chickens. There is one popular discoteque, near the University, the Tropics, where the students mostly hang out.
At the university I find there is no system of mail for the students. There is a bin in the building where mail is simply thrown. Going through it I find a letter addressed to me. Another day, a student brings me a letter that she found in the bin. I ask the postman about the mail, since I feel that my mail is getting lost. Everyone seems to have the same problem. I get a very callous reply. He says it is not his job and he doesn’t care. This turns out be a very frank and accurate statement of the Turkish Cypriot attitude to work in general. No one cares. In fact there are no mailboxes and no mail delivery. I ask a Turkish Cypriot, with a Ph.D. in Economics from the US, why the houses and apartments in Cyprus do not have mail boxes and mail delivery. Why I can’t get my mail at my apartment. He says “What do you mean you can’t get your mail at your apartment?” “Simple,” I said, “there is no one who delivers the mail and anyway there is no mailbox.” He knows it’s true but is loath to admit that it is indeed the situation. “Well, you could,” he says. Yes, true, I could were there postmen and mailboxes and mail delivery. I find out rather quickly that anything that one can do for one’s self it is better to go ahead and do, because depending on someone else for the least thing is only asking for frustration. Perhaps one can blame the mentality of dependence upon colonialism, but if a people are not working for their future after some 25 years of independence, then perhaps they must start looking at themselves. Such were my thoughts at the time and they were to deepen.