14. May 2001 · Comments Off on Wayback: Cyprus Installment 9: May 14, 2001 · Categories: Cyprus, Wayback · Tags: ,

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

21. January 2001 · Comments Off on Cyprus Installment #1: January 21, 2001 · Categories: Cyprus, Wayback · Tags: ,

While you slept last night, or maybe ransacked the fridge because you couldn’t sleep or watched The Breakfast Club for the hundredth time or just lay there, wondering if you should ransack the fridge or watch The Breakfast Club, Jimmy and I woke up over here in Cyprus.

And because we are eight hours ahead of you, we are kind of like that television show where the guy knows the news before it happens, so we know a lot of things you don’t know about world affairs and what they say on NPR really early before you get up along with a bunch of other important stuff, which means that we have a certain power over you. And, unlike that tv show, we might not use our power for good, which means you’d do yourself a favor if you do.exactly.as.we.say. Ok?

Now. Send emails. Call. Tell us you miss us. Mail big care packages with candy and mushy cards and marshmallows. Come visit. We miss you.

As for the less-needy parts of our psyches, they are doing very well too, thank you. Cyprus is really one heck of a treat. It needs to be written about poetically, there is so much to tell, and I’m not sure I can do it justice. So I’ll just tell you right now some things about the city we live in, Nicosia. Sometime when I’ve had too much wine, I’ll try the poetry part and let you know how it goes.

Everywhere I go in Nicosia, I expect to see the ocean. I swear I almost smell the salt here, even though the coast is an hour away. Maybe it’s just wishful thinking, but over every hill, and there are lots of them, past neighborhood upon neighborhood of Mediterranean-style houses, I am still expecting that when I get over the next rise there it will be, catching the sun and stretching forever.

Instead, there is a valley down there. And mountains, two ranges of them. We can see both from our house. One is on the Turkish side, in the north, and one is on the Greek side, in the south (because Turkey is the only country that recognizes northern Cyprus as its own entity, you get bad looks and raised eyebrows if you don’t use the properly sensitive terminology: just “the north” or, as the Greeks put it, “the occupied territory,” please.) The UN has its longest-standing mission ever here. The UN base is on what used to be, before the war, the Cyprus airport. The ! UN hangar is visible out of the front of our house.

Across from the west-facing side of our house, and closer than the UN hangar, there is a construction site. Nicosia is expanding very quickly, so a lot of new neighborhoods are going up. They all look the same; I suppose that to some Cypriots maybe it’s the equivalent of the cookie-cutter neighborhoods crawling like lice over every city in North America, but I don’t mind it one bit here.

All the houses are painted bright white with columns in front and Mediterranean-like porches and red tile slanted roofs. Well, except some of them. Some of the houses have rebar sticking up from flat, unfinished housetops because, in Cyprus, you don’t have to pay property taxes on your home while it is still unfinished. So unfinished roofs are dotted in with the red tile kind. But the homes are big and very pretty. Including our marble palace. Sometimes I catch myself still holding my breath, thinking maybe it’s all a dream. But not really. I’m not really still holding my ! breath. I’d be dead. Anyway.

There are no houses, finished roofs or otherwise, in this construction site across the way yet. But there are roads. Mazes of them. And sidewalks too. And there are huge mounds of dirt and lonely telephone poles standing there without wires, like naked, headless tree trunks. All stretching for about a square mile or so. The bleakness of it all reminds me of the moon’s surface, or empty lava fields (minus the sidewalks. I don’t think lava fields have sidewalks.)
But it’s good for running, so the second day we were here we started running over there in the lava fields.

And you know what we found? We found army bunkers. Untouched, which is what makes a lot of those big mounds of dirt. The lava fields, apparently, were a strategic point for the Greeks to shoot up the Turks as they marched from the north in 1974, across the old airport and from the mountains. I guess it worked, because this is still Greek Cypriot territory. We scrambled up one day and saw that the machine gun mounts were still in place, the door still on the entrance.

Every afternoon, about 4:30 or 5:00, prospective inhabitants of the to-be lava field neighborhood drive around these roads, each car with a big, white fold-out plot map that shows them where each lot will be. “Oh honey, look,” I can just imagine them saying, “See that shooting port? That’s where our bedroom will be! Neat!”

And then they drive off in their cars, not aware of how WRONG it is for them to be on that side of the road and how it wreaks havoc on my sense of balance to have to find that, after everything I’ve learned, the left-hand turn is the easy one and the right-hand potentially fatal. Geez. I thought at least some truths in life were immutable. We have gotten a car, though, and no accidents have yet occurred (at least we made it through your sleep last night). It’s a nice little Mitsubishi Galant and the only qualm I have with it, other than the obvious every-day-is-opposite-day-here thing, is that the windshield wipers and the turn signal are switched, so that every time I make any turn at all, I get a nice little swish-swash across my already-terrified field of vision. Thanks.

Jimmy has been spending this week at the Embassy, which has a weightiness level that is second only to funerals and police stations (without drunks). We had our pictures for our IDS taken in the interrogation room. I’d never seen an interrogation room before, but it was pretty much what you see on the movies, minus the exposed light bulb hanging down in the middle of the table. Anyway Jimmy made a joke and we all laughed and a Marine stuck his head out and told us no loitering at the Embassy and then made a crack about twisting someone’s arm up behind their back. I think he was joking.

Tonite (as in when you are at your desks at work) we will be going to the Marine House for Mexican food night and free beer. Maybe I’ll get to meet the guy who told Jimmy he was running the Cyprus Marathon in March. Jimmy offered that he could run long runs with us but he looked at Jimmy like he was handing him a crazy ferret on a string and told him no thanks, he was already training: by running three-miles fast.

Hopefully Jimmy and I will begin Greek classes next week. That should be both a comedy and tragedy in its own right. I knew I shoulda joined a sorority; then at least maybe I could figure out the alphabet. I’ll keep you all posted anyway.

Our phone number is:
(02) 371 857
(I don’t know what the international code for Cyprus is, but I’m confident that with a minimal amount of sleuthing you can call the operator and ask “What is the country code for Cyprus?” You are allowed to blame “extra” costs on lousy phone-calling.)

We think about you guys all the time. I’m sorry for the mass email, but I figured quality over quantity this time around. Please let us know how things are going over there; we miss you all. And here’s a bit of advice from a tiny, war-torn island: remember, when things get dark and stormy and life is blowing up like land mines all around you, get three sturdy chairs from the kitchen, a big sheet from the closet, and fortifications from the fridge. Then hide out all day in your fort.

Time for a nap. I miss The Breakfast Club.
Hugs and kisses all,
Janie and Jimmy