Yeraltý Notlarý, 18 Temmuz 2004

Sevgül Uludað

 

The teddy bear from Varosha…(*)

The teddy bear from Varosha…(*) Sevgul Uludag

Maia has a teddy bear, almost as old as she is… It was a teddy bear from the times she was living as a child in Varosha with her mother, father, sister and her grandparents… Varosha was a beautiful place I remember, because my great uncle was living there and I can still remember the smell of the flowers, the sea, the suntan oil… Perhaps Maia can remember as well since in 1974 she was about three and a half years old…

In 1974, when they had to leave Varosha, the teddy bear is the only thing she took from her house… Later, when she was emigrating with her mother and sister, she had her teddy bear with her on the plane to London. I can imagine her sitting on the plane, clutching the teddy bear from somewhere perhaps she would never return…

Last Wednesday we sit in the sports club of Minarelikoy (Neochorgo) and Maia has her teddy bear with her… This is a small village close to Nicosia, before Timbou… Women from the village are sitting with us in a circle. Maia shows photographs of her grandmother and grandfather… She talks of her life in London, how they used to live in a caravan because they did not have any money and later in a boys’ home because this is where her mother worked. How her mother worked in three jobs to survive with two kids. How she dressed up as a Cossack to sell votka and cigarettes in night clubs and Maia would think her mother is a princess because in that costume, she looks like a princess… She talks of love and happiness, despite poverty… She talks of deciding to go to university, despite the poverty… She is going there to learn how things work… Her mother and father were divorced when she was a child therefore she never had her father beside her to ask about how things work… So she goes to university she says, to learn about the way things work. Later she does her masters on peace studies and and starts working in the BBC… Her grandfather, who didn’t know how to read and write is proud of her.

She meets a Brazilian woman who worked with street children and together, they start projects, making the invisible refugees and immigrants in London visible. They give the refugee children cameras to photograph their lives, they take them out for a day to have fun, they try to put names to faces, stories, because we are all human beings… The invisible becomes visible… A small drop in the ocean you might think but this is how change comes… Perhaps very slowly but if we don’t do small things, we can’t achieve big things…

She goes to Mexico and works with different groups of women… She meets the indigenous women of Mexico, looking at the colors, symbols, the poverty… The invisibility becomes visible with her and she starts writing a book about her journey of Mexico…

One day about 3-4 years ago Maia falls ill – they tell her it is `chronique fatigue`. She can’t move her limbs, she can’t walk and she has to lay down on the bed looking at the ceiling sometimes 10 hours a day… She is in a wheelchair which makes her life invisible to other people. If she is at an airport and if there are people standing around her, people turn their back at her. They don’t see her… They ignore her presence. It’s as though, people are thinking that if you lose your legs, you also lose your brains!

She comes to Cyprus, to have a completely different lifestyle, to get treated and to learn to walk again. She’s only 30 years old when she comes in a wheelchair to Larnaca, next to her grandmother’s and mother’s house. She learns to take it easy… To relax and smile… To take care of her health… To take long walks along the beach with her dogs. To rest, to sleep, to smile… There are days when she cannot walk – then, she visualizes herself as a mermaid, that only on land she cannot move… She is her own doctor, as we all are sometimes… She starts working again…

She goes with dozens of women from 25 countries around the world to an adventure which would take her from Lebanon, through Syria and Jordan. The women are cycling for peace… These are ordinary women, not athletes or sports people, who learnt to cycle for peace… They come from Iraq, from Cyprus, from Turkey, from all over the world… They want to make visible `the invisible voices of women for peace`. Maia is there as a journalist from the BBC, working, sleeping in tents, writing, recording, sending us SMS messages when she’s excited about things. They go to Sabra and Shatilla, to the refugee camps to meet children and to look at how people live there… They travel through Lebanon and Syria and Jordan… I feel worried for her because her health sometimes is so fragile… Her body would make her pay for this tiring journey and she falls ill again upon her return. But of course, she recovers since life is too precious, too beautiful and there are still beaches she hasn’t visited, people she hasn’t met, food she hasn’t tasted, stories she hasn’t written…

Last month she goes back to London to BBC and to visit her sister who’s living there. She brings back the teddy bear from Varosha to Cyprus after almost 30 years… The teddy bear now can cross to the north and this is what we do – together with Nese Yasin, our poet and Maia, we bring the teddy bear to Minarelikoy, to show to Turkish Cypriot women and talk about the impressive and courageous life of Maia…

We talk about our identities as women… How we can make our invisibility as women more visible… How we can organize to change things affecting our lives… How `identity` changes according to `others` and different conditions. How we can always find things to connect us as women. Our values… Our fears… Our desire for peace…

This is a meaningful gift to the women in the village – we are breaking down stereotypes about what `Greek Cypriots` are like… We are showing the human face of `the other`… We are setting out on a journey to build peace as women, throughout the villages of Cyprus… Because our journey will continue and the teddy bear will go to villages on both sides of the `border`… We will talk about our grandmothers, grandfathers, how it was in their times. We will talk about our children, our youth and how it is now… We will share our stories, photographs and try to build understanding, overcoming our fears and prejudices… We will try to find common ground to work on… This is how we will build peace and Maia’s teddy bear from Varosha will be there with us all the time, as a witness to our humanity…

(*) Article published in ALITHIA newspaper on the 18th of July, 2004

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