Monthly Archives: May 2001

Wayback: Cyprus Installment 9: May 14, 2001

Today, Jimmy’s project, designed to provide improved water resources to Cyprus, succeeded with rousing triumph. After days that Jimmy and fellow USGS employees spent dancing around a campfire, begging to gods in ritual ceremonies, and squinting hopefully at tiny clouds on the horizon, the sky opened up and dumped about three feet of rain on the unsuspecting island. I couldn’t see out of the window, and from the myriad of accidents, flooded streets and tractors stopped in the middle of roads for no other obvious reason than wet, no one else could either.

The storm’s torrential nature caused me to ponder the paucity of available escape routes from a flooded island. In Texas, I mean, you can just get in the car and drive. Here, it only gets you to much deeper water.

Of course, at least the rain cleaned the caking Sahara off the car. Yesterday a high-pressure system picked up the African desert and dropped it on Cyprus. We could barely see across the street through the billowing clouds of brown dirt that settled, from what I could tell, at just about nose level all around us. This is none too comfortable during a triathlon at the coast, where gulping huge breaths of soil is only second to blowing your nose and understanding without question that your orifices are packed with mud.

But, as the tradition seems to go with Cypriot sporting events, this wasn’t the only disturbance of the day. We took special care to give ourselves plenty of time to get to the race site and arrived with nearly an hour to spare. The race was on one of the British air bases, and we had to check in with security at the gate. They received quick permission from the race coordinators to wave us through.

Then one of the guards noticed our license plates. We had to pull over to the side while they made several phone calls to the other security. As a courtesy to diplomats, each diplomatic vehicle there must have a private escort to keep its occupants from losing their way on the base. And gosh darn those charming Brits – diplomatic courtesy is so important that it’s become regulation.  Unfortunately, we had to accept this unwanted courtesy for half an hour until someone showed up to be the private chaperon of two silly Americans with dirt covering their car, bedhead both, and a pile of bikes in the backseat.

We arrived just as all the athletes were heading to the water, and if we hadn’t been so breathless and out-of-sorts, we probably would have thought something strange about the myriad of $2000 bikes lined up in neat rows and the muscleheads in wetsuits rolling their eyes at the delay of the race by two dorks in jeans and fleece jackets. After the race, we discovered, as all 40 of them put on matching red polo shirts, their true identity: the British army’s national triathlon team. Aha. All the whizzing past me like I was moonwalking, all the muscles rippling in the Sahara air, all the grimness. It all made sense to me now.

Jimmy recently returned from two weeks at the other British base, Dhekelia, where the US government was footing the bill for him to sit in a classroom for an hour at a time, five hours a day, learning crucial Turkish phrases such as “Chicken, please” and “My pair is Janie.” Each hour was punctuated by a long tea break (those gosh darn Brits), and the last hour was punctuated by the exclamation point of five or six hours at the beach.

On the night before the last class, I went with Jimmy’s class to a small town called Pyla, the only town in all of Cyprus where Greek and Turkish Cypriots live side-by-side, for dinner. This was the chance for the students to apply their newfound knowledge in a practical setting, and it all started off well enough. Somehow, though, after about four hours of constant eating and drinking, things started to reel off designated course.

First, the heavy drinking, heavy set, heavily sunburned wife of one of the British students (those gosh darn Brits) began to laugh with increasing volume and regularity. This would be okay except that she emits this high-pitched staccato which sounds, I’m not joking, exactly like your best imitation of machine gun fire – only five octaves higher.

So then those gosh darn Brits started telling every joke they could think of to keep the spectacle firing, Bernadette from Ireland who bears a striking resemblance to a young Meryl Streep (and whose husband, by the way, is a spitting image of Woody on “Toy Story” – if you’ve never seen the movie, think a severely elongated Mel Gibson) started picking a fight with some student who had called her a snob, and then suddenly there was dancing and other flailing of limbs and loud British patriotic songs and mystified Turkish waiters.

And the whole time our host’s wife and 21-year-old daughter were sitting there in the middle, looking back and forth quizzically, waiting, as is Cypriot custom, for someone to leave so they could go home.

Some might assert “Vacation!” at the sound of all this, but Jimmy kept busy in his time in Dhekelia. He rode his bike, finished a Tom Clancy thriller and bought a motorcycle. It’s a charming 1979 little blue number with 100 ccs of power. The engine makes appropriate Mighty Mouse sound effects as Jimmy whizzes down the road in his oversize helmet, shouting Turkish phrases into the wind. Soon it will sport a brand-spanking new basket to hold important government papers.

My class ended last week, which was kind of a bummer, but kind of good because now I don’t have to describe frat parties to a bunch of teens who are, every one of them, already responsible drinkers or apologize for the fact that numerous Americans will, most probably, ask them questions like, “Now, what is Cyprus again?” and “Is there electricity there? What about planes?” I hope to teach a writing class to the same students this summer. Hopefully, despite my time in advertising, I can remember that not everyone in this world writes in five-word, pithy sentences that express only a subject’s positive, optimistic and revenue-generating attributes.

Hunger. Craving. Desire. That’s what makes me, well, me. The me I am now, staring ravenous at the keyboard. The me I will be ten minutes from now in the kitchen. The me I’ll be while cooking a succulent, tender chili-con-carne from (insert Cypriot brand here). Yep. That’s me. Isn’t it time you let yourself be, well, you, too? (Legal birdseed here, describing why said company cannot be responsible for people discovering themselves or for any punitive damages sustained by afore-mentioned chili-con-carne.)

Have yourselves a dandy lunch!

Lots of love,
Jimmy and Janie