Chapter Three: Three Thousand, One Hundred and Forty-three Miles
It is three thousand, one hundred, and forty-three miles from San Francisco, California to New York City, or so it says on my Greyhound bus ticket. Special fare: One hundred and nine dollars and seventy five cents. One way. No refund. Greylines Lines, Inc. I actually catch the bus in Santa Rosa and transfer in Sacramento to the bus coming out of San Francisco.
After a 3,000 mile bus ride across the United States from San Francisco to New York. 3143 miles to be exact, and some 80 hours. After a trip that indicated that there were sectors of the American Economy sliding into the Third World, into Latin Americanization. One bus was abandoned for lack of air conditioning. In Cleveland, a driver could not be found. Many drivers had been fired after a long strike. When the restroom ventilation broke down, Indian incense was burned to conceal the stench coming from the cubicle. The driver was accused of running another driver off the road in Pennsylvania. He says he is tired and cranky. After driving non-stop from Washington, DC to Cleveland, the company gets him out of bed to drive another big dog to new York. No rest. Probably not the best way to run a bus line, after all. After all of that and 80 hours we finally arrived at the bus terminal in New York City. After that I look forward to the short nine hours to Turkey, overnight. Tonight I spend the night in a chair in Grand Central Station, not really free to sleep.
The Cyprus Turkish Airlines plane from Ankara, an aging Boeing 737, landed at Ercan Airport on September 1. It was not an auspicious beginning, but I was game for an adventure. I had come a long way already that summer, from Mississippi, to Missouri, Wisconsin, California, and now to Turkey and North Cyprus.
The driver, promised by the University to pick me up at the airport was no place to be seen. Around midnight, a hot room in a student hostel at Eastern Mediterranean University, on the east side of the island, and a night in which mosquitoes feasted on my imported flesh. I had arrived.
The Abone Cafe was not much. It was near the victory monument near the entry to the old city in Magosa. And like many places in the town mostly made kebabs. I started going there several times a week with Don, from Scotland, a teacher who was to work in the English Prep School. A good place to drink beer. Late at night we walked back up to the University along Salamis road, among the rusted out bodies of old cars that must have been there since British times.
One could only describe the campus as bleak. Dry patches of rocky and overgrown weeds between white block buildings. These would begin to fill up with buildings over the next few years.
One soon began to understood the character of the place. It was disappointing. If one could speak of a “national character,” some aspects became apparent. One should have a livelihood, but not one that required labor. Therefore, taxi driving was preferred to almost anything else. The back seat was a perfect place to sleep at any time. While earning one’s living, one could sit, all day, while exerting the least effort possible. Shop keeping, especially very small shops was also popular. One could sit, smoke, play backgammon. Things never needed to be dusted in such a dusty country, no matter how dusty they became. If one remarked about the dust, one was reminded that it was a “dusty country.” Every small shop would be cluttered impossibly with things piled in the spaces between the shelves, so that it was almost impossible to walk between them. Small shops would be poorly stocked and have a small selection and every store would be practically the same. Most stores would close at noon for a three hour lunch break and rest. Siesta time.
On the second day, I go to the International Relations Department at the University. I am instantly bored. Want to escape. Back to the Abone for cold beers.
I met the dean, later to be named “Shoe without glue” by a faculty member, because his tongue flapped as he talked. Taurus Bulba, Oxford Ayatollah, Mama Lulu, Vice Girl, Gandhi Peaceful Legs, Holy Tomato, the Mustache, Millennium Man, Teeny Lama. The members of the staff. Most were to come later. Robin Hood, thats me, had arrived. A meeting was held. Pedagogical concerns. My eyes glaze over. I’d clearly like a beer.
Word went round the Abone, over drinks and smokes, of the horrible experiences that awaited one teaching here. Also a nasty rumor, false, but spread, that one was required to wear and coat and tie to teach. That was a depressing piece of news, to understate. Fortunately false. The students were said to be illiterate in English and virtually incapable of being taught. The most well-thought of professor in the department had written a small pamphlet and that was all he used to teach his classes for the whole year. In these hellish trenches, it was asserted, one spent all ones time just trying to teach a little bit of English.
Those omens of things to come were depressing enough, but there was more to come. A few days later, the new staff members were rounded up and bussed down to the police station for registration and to the “hospital” for an aids test. At least one person did not pass and was deported straight away.