Yeraltý Notlarý, 25 Nisan 2004

Sevgül Uludað

 

Weaving life with hope and courage…(*)

Sevgul Uludag

The candy I got her remains… The Bacandy’s `Lady’s Fingers` remain… All the `peksimeti` I get for her remain… The fruit compost, the puddings, the apples, bananas, oranges remain… All the sweet things of life remain, waiting for her to recover, at the age of 86…

My mother is sick: we spent Monday night in emergency care and Tuesday all morning in hospital…

Her life is a mirror of the history of Cyprus: born in 1917, her father refused to give her a name because she was a girl, so her mother had to give her a name… They moved from the small village of Konedra in Messaoria to Nicosia when she was 2 years old… This was the time in Cyprus of trains traveling between Famagusta and Nicosia… At the age of 4 she started escaping from home to go to school… She was so tiny, impoverished, never having enough to eat… She only saw pictures of eggs or chocolate in books or magazines of the time… Her father beat her up and shouted at her not to go to school because girls at that time remained at home to help mothers… Her mother was weaving sheets and napkins to sell so the family could survive…My mother Turkan worked, carrying water to neighbours and getting a few piasters in order to be able to go to school.

She worked and finished school to find a scholarship for the poor girls at Shakespeare School – this was a school founded by Necmi Sagip Bodamyalizade, where all lessons were in English. She became a teacher and started teaching in the villages of Cyprus.

She has scrapbooks and photographs from that time but soon afterwards she had to stop teaching since at the time of the British colonialism in Cyprus, as a woman you could not teach if you were married.

Her husband was very fluent in Greek since he had finished the gymnasium in Lefkonico where there was no Turkish gymnasium at the time. He was better in school than Greekcypriot youngsters and the teachers would tell them `Shame on you! A Turkishcypriot is better in Greek than you are!` He worked first as a policeman, then in the Nicosia Municipality, where he was against any split of the municipalities… He brought her to Alona, a wonderful village in the Troodos mountains, to have holidays during the summer… I was not born yet and my sister and brother learnt Greek by playing at Alona with Greekcypriot kids during 1940s…

But soon, in the 50s, during the days of `nationalism` and `fanaticism`, my father Niyazi started getting `warnings` from the TMT and the Denktash regime… `You have to stop your friendship with Greekcypriots` he was told. He refused. He could not put any boundaries to friendship… And since he could speak Greek, he had a deep understanding of the culture of Greekcypriots. They asked him to join the underground movement TMT – he refused. He told them, `I can’t… Because if I do, you might tell me `Go and kill your brother and these are the orders of the underground organization`. I can’t even slay a chicken, let alone kill someone. I shan’t be following your orders and therefore going against the rules of your organization. I will not join TMT…`

The punishment was severe: first imprisonment, then when he had a heart attack, they had to take him out of prison unwillingly because he might end up dying there… I remember reading him a poem when he was in prison… I was only 3 years old… And afterwards, I remember him being sick… Trying to find money for treatment which we didn’t have… I remember him being thrown out of odd jobs he found: he found a job with a relative who had buses and he would be a ticket collector in the bus. On the day he started working, the bus owner was threatened by TMT: `We will burn your buses tonight if he continues to work for you` they said. The guy came at night to our house to tell him not to come the next day… `Niyazi` he said `They will burn my buses… Don’t come please…`

And then he died when I was 7… I remember the cemetery, burying him, my mother crying, trying to think of ways of how to survive on this island…

She had not worked for 19 years but when her husband, persecuted by the Denktash regime were imprisoned and punished for refusing to join the underground organization TMT she had to find a job so the family could survive. She became a librarian, to work for 14 years on a `temporary cadre` - with one week’s notice, they could throw her out of her job. Her wage was fixed: 20 pounds a month…

I remember those days of poverty and misery: my father died of a heart attack at the age of 50 and she tried to support her son in university, pay debts and survive on the island.

I remember her being always under surveillance in the library – there was a plainclothes policeman or sometimes in uniform, sitting next to her desk and watching her. During that time, petrol was rationed and we could not use our old Volkswagen to go to the library – we walked from home to work and to school… The spies of Denktash followed us on bicycles… I remember when we stopped at a market to buy something, the spy on the bicycle would also stop and wait for us to finish shopping, to continue to follow us all the way to our house…

These were days of darkness – no one would come to our house as though we had the plague… People were afraid to be associated with us: we were the outcasts, the ones who tried to swim against the tide of nationalism and fanaticism in Cyprus…

I remember my mother creating wonderful meals out of empty cupboards: always smiling and telling me that there were children all over the world in worse situations so we had to be thankful even with what little we had. There were children with no homes, sleeping in the streets, not finding food, dying of sicknesses…I grew up with this attitude towards life: being happy with very small things, with flowers in the garden, with a cat, with the changing of seasons, with butterflies. We created our own happiness because life, no matter how harsh, was still beautiful…

I wanted to take ballet lessons, I wanted to play the piano but there was no money for such things. I remember eating eggs for three weeks in a row: this was the cheapest thing at the time… She could also sew dresses and coats for me: her old dresses were fitted on me, her beautiful coats became new coats… Everything was recycled – there was no money for even the most basic things…

She continued to speak her mind throughout the years against the Denktash regime – she saw her daughter Ilkay’s husband, Kutlu Adali the journalist being persecuted and killed… The Cyprus conflict cost her a lot: she lost her husband, she lost her son-in-law…She had to live through the persecution campaigns organized against me by the regime… But she never lost the hope that Cyprus will see better days… She joined in peace demonstrations and marches… She spoke at gatherings about the ugliness of the regime in Cyprus, giving examples of better days from her own life… Of the time she spent in Alona with Greekcypriot women, exchanging recepies, cooking together, having breakfast together…She joined in cross-visits of Turkishcypriot and Greekcypriot women to visit together different towns and talk of peace… She sat with Elengo Partilly, the former president of POGO on the bus, to speak of the past and the future… To share as mothers ideas, experiences, visions about how our country should be like… Couple of years ago CTP (Republican Turkish Party) honored her, together with other women her age, for her contribution to peace in Cyprus… She was touched by this geste and keeps the plaquet given to her, showing it to her friends with a bright smile…

After the partial opening of the `borders`, I organized with my friend Agni so that her parents Emilio and Elenya drove us last year on her birthday to Alona, to find the house they used to rent, to look at the fruit trees, to have lunch in the mountains… To give back her memories of the past, since we still could not manage to give her the future she had desired: in peace and harmony… A future without persecutions because you spoke your mind… A future without bloodshed… A future without borders, without punishment, without poverty… I wait for her to recover so we can go to old bandabuliyo, to Alfa Mega, to Woolworth to shop, to Agios Georgios restaurant in the old town to eat klefticon, to visit Larnaca and Limassol, all the things she enjoys doing in the southern part of our island…

Words are never enough to describe our mothers: she is just one of our Cypriot mothers, invisible in `reel politics` but who have weaved life for peace on this island in the colors of the rainbow – with hope, determination and courage…

(*) Article published in ALITHIA on the 25th of April, 2004.

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