Classes began two weeks ago, I have met my students, and I am beginning to feel my routine is in place. I was so exhausted the first Tuesday night that I went to bed at 8:30. Those of you who know me to be a night owl are undoubtedly shocked. With no decent TV to distract, the earlier bedtime is nice, and I find that I can rise easily at 5:30 with greater clarity to grade papers for an hour before heading up the hill to school at 7:30.
The schedule is a ten-day rotation with all classes meeting 9 of those days. This schedule allows for 60 minute classes with all students carrying seven classes. Every day my schedule is slightly different for the times when I meet my four classes. If It sounds confusing, it’s because it is. I keep my schedule handy and look at it several times a day. Miraculously, it works. And it is good to have English 9 meet in the morning some days and in the afternoon other days. Thanks be to God and all the computer programming brains he put on this planet.
My ninth graders are writing a sonnet, my eleventh graders are learning about the 1920s and reading The Great Gatsby. and my seniors are trying not to read Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. It is a great book that is already sucking them in with rich characters and an interesting exploration of the effect of colonialism on the Nigerian culture. It us a small class with one girl and five boys, three of whom are not very motivated. I mentioned the five year plan, but they didn’t seem to understand it could be in their future. But . . . enough about school!
The week before last was crazy-busy. Wednesday evening we went to the staff dinner by the school pool. Again, there was a wonderful spread of food with the local drink, a brandy sour, as a pre-dinner temptation, and, as always, great conversation with colleagues. We met Marion, a New Zealander who has called Cyprus home for some time now. An aide in the library, she and her husband own a restaurant in one of the outlying villages not far from Nicosia. She may well be the person we tap for ideas on the well-kept secret of the city bus routes and stops. This secret complements the tiny (or missing) street-identifying signs quite well. There are not even any routes posted on line. Taxi drivers seem to do as we do — look for familiar landmarks in navigating the city. God help us if the one shop ever removes its sandwich board sign that advertises in large letters “Lattes – 1 Euro.” It is the landmark by which we turn on our way home from points south.
On Thursday evening, we joined a small group for a walking tour of the buffer zone and Turkish Nicosia (beyond the wall). We met at the Holy Cross Catholic Church where masses are given in Greek and English every Sunday and, on a rotating schedule throughout the month, in French, Spanish, Polish, Sinhala (the language of SriLanka) and Tagalog (the language of the Phillipines, of which there’s a sizable population in Cyprys). Its beautiful interior contains ancient stone relics from an original church dating to the early centuries of Christianity. In the monthly church newsletter, the current priest posted the following words from the Pope: “Intentions for September, 2014– (general) That the mentally disabled may receive the love and help they need for a dignified life. (missionary) That Christians, inspired by the Word of God, may serve the poor and the suffering.”
The tour around and across the Green Line was eye-opening and informative. Although our guide’s narrative was more about blended, separated, and shifting communities in and around the wall — from the Ottoman invasion in 1570 through the British control (1878), sovereignty in 1960, to the final shift when Turkish invasion occurred 1974– I will offer our impression and some of the more memorable pieces of information.
We strolled for about an hour through the UN buffer zone where we passed by groups of older men playing backgammon at outdoor cafés and observed, among other things, clean plazas adjacent to places of worship, a former monastery converted to a shelter for women, and older couples sitting in front of their ornately carved front doors. Before proceeding to the entrance at the end of Lidras Street in Cypriot Nicosia, we stopped in a wide and open dusty back alley area with chain link fences delineating the north side with its ominous concrete gray watchtower and signs prohibiting photographs (Note: not all teachers are rule-followers).
Once we passed through the checkpoint and got the Turkish stamp on our passports. . . I am pausing while that sinks in, for it is a political no-no in these parts. (Note: in spite of our request for the white paper stamp, the woman stamped our passport page, an act which allowed a dark cloud to descend over my listening skills for the next hour. There I was, imagining phone calls to the US Embassy if the exit checkpoint did not care to let us pass back to the other side. Clearly, we lived to tell about it and sleep in our own beds that night. Amy, our principal, as is her caring way, phoned an AISC friend at the embassy the next day to see what might lie ahead when we leave Cyprus in December. Nothing but a scolding, so she says. So I have chosen the Scarlet O’Hara approach and will worry about that tomorrow. Please do likewise. We are surely not the first people this has happened to.)
And now back to the tour. at first Lidras Street North presented some gay little shops and souvenir stands, but soon turned shabbier and more desolate with abandoned warehouses and vacant store fronts. The residential area resembles pictures of ethnic neighborhoods in 1930’s Eastern Europe. Children played in the streets, clean laundry hung colorfully from clothes lines across back balconies, a family of half dozen feral cats lay lazily in the dirt in front of a car repair shop. We stopped briefly outside of a former Armenian church abandoned since since the Turkish invasion. It still awaits a new destiny, perhaps a museum, as there are a myriad of them on both sides of the wall.
As you might imagine, all of the Orthodox and Catholic Churches in Turkish Nicosia have been transformed into mosques or museums. As minarets are added to centuries-old cathedrals and as the Turkish flag has been carved into the mountains north of the city, one is left with a harsh and sad reminder of the personal loss to the northern Cypriots who were dispossessed of home and businesses and forced to move south in 1974.
Nearing the end of our tour, we stopped at the western side of the wall (which was, at this point, waist high and low enough to sit upon) and gazed down upon what used to be a small football (i.e., soccer) stadium no longer in use. Three sizable and seemingly stray dogs romped on an acre or so of sparse grass. Just before sunset, we crossed back through the UN buffer zone at the Kyrenia Gate and walked up the street to Holy Cross near Pafos Gate. There are eleven spear point bastions at equal intervals around the circular Venetian wall, each one pointing to a Cypriot city like a brick compass. Five are on the south side, six on the north.
The Venetians built the wall in the eleventh century as a fortress. When the British arrived in 1878, the walled city was “Nicosia central” and ethnic communities began settling in around the edges. The “renaissance” of the Old City that Chuck and I enjoy spending time in began only five years ago after Cyprus became a part of the Europeon Union. Lidras Street is a social gathering place and a shopping haven. A colleague who has an apartment down there noted that 8:30 pm seems to be the senior dining hour, with the young people arriving around ten. I do believe the cafés outnumber the shops, but not by much. One can purchase a Cypriot coffee or a latte or a glass of wine, depending on the time of day. Or not.
The equivalent of Macy’s — Debenham’s– has stores all over the city and one in the Old City where its top floor offers a cafe for anyone who wants to eat before or after trying on reasonably priced clothes or even designer styles with higher price tags. Unfortunately, Debenham’s does not offer lower-priced watches. I unintentionally left mine at home and really only want to replace it with a $20-$30 one, but am finding that next to impossible. Not even Carrefour the Walmart-ish grocery store has them. And so, I rely on my cell phone.
Friday evening we were planning to go to the new Culture Center for its preview, but fate intervened with another plan.
I arrived home from school just after four pm and found the elevator not working, so I climbed the stairs to the apartment and discovered that Chuck wasn’t home. It is not unusual for him to go walking in the afternoon, but he hadn’t left a note. I was a little shell-shocked from a hectic day and near meltdown (caused only by my own silly standards of perfectionism), so I it took me about ten minutes to realize Chuck might be stuck in the elevator. Indeed, he was.
By the time I got back to the elevator, the girls across the hall were phoning the fire department and a small fleet of AISC personnel (Michelle, Ann, Mike-the-security man, and our two friends Laramie and Bryan) had arrived, prompted by Chuck’s phone call. He had tried to reach both the elevator company emergency number provided in the elevator and Margaret our landlord, to no avail. Since he had the phone with the numbers for the school and our director Michelle, they were the ones who responded quickly. He had also tried to reach me via the school, but I had already left.
He did not have any water with him, so his shirt was pretty well soaked with sweat by the time the fire department arrived an hour later. Everyone convened inside our apartment briefly as Chuck rehydrated and we made the decision to stay at home and rest. The cultural arts center will be there to see later. We also had a busy weekend ahead of us.i
On Saturday morning we joined our Canadian friends, Laramie and Bryan on a trip to Limassol, a large city one hour away on the southern coast. There’s a lot to see there that we will return for when we have more time, but for this short trip, while our friends went for a swim at Governor’s Beach, Chuck and I chose to walk the waterfront promenade and a small part of the Old Town area. We had a wonderful lunch at a small cafe that is part of Castle Square. On Sunday morning, we spent some time there touring the castle which contains many tombstones (moved there for display) from the Middle Ages, religious icons, and a variety of household and military artifacts. From its rooftop, one can view the city of Limousal extending itself toward the Mediterranean.
The Village Hotel, where we stayed was quaint. The room was tiny and clean, had an air conditioner and excellent WiFi connection. You know, all the basics. For a mere 33 Euros, we had a cool place to lay our heads for an afternoon respite before going to the Annual Wine Festival on Saturday evening.
The 12-Euro entrance fee to the wine festival allowed each of us a free bottle of wine from any one of the four major vintners underwriting the festival and all the free samples you needed to make just the right decision. The wine that Cyprus is known for is Commanderia. It’s a dessert wine that could double easily as Harvey’s Bristol Cream Sherry. Only better. Of course. There was music (not as good as the GreekFest in Denver) and a few dance performances. There were lots of food booths we investigated before sitting down to an outdoor dining table for some souvlaki and salad.
Returning to Nicosia on Sunday afternoon, we had an hour or so of rest before Laramie and Bryan picked us up to attend an informal gathering of the AISC English Department. Our hosts, Dina (the new mom for whom I am subbing) and Kyle (he is the IB director) are from New York and Minnesota and love Cyprus so much, they’ve had their furniture moved here. Their apartment is large and beautiful. Their son is in first grade and their daughter is just three months old. Laramie and Bryan are from Vancouver and have lived and/or visited 30 countries, teaching in six of them. She’s our department chair. Our cute young middle school English teacher Anna was there, too, with her Cypriot husband and six-month-old baby boy, Alex.
This blog is already much longer than I intended, and I still have more stories to tell. I will just have to save them for next time. Stay tuned as the adventures of Chuck and Julie in Cyprus continue.
Up next: the Cypriots and their mania for festivals, meeting my students’ parents, and the arrival of the Honda Jazz into our island experiences.