Yeraltý Notlarý, 5 Temmuz 2004

Sevgül Uludað

 

Breaking down the ghettos…(*)

Sevgul Uludag

She has long black hair but sometimes she dyes it with red highlights, almost mauve and when the light falls on her hair it catches your eye… She’s young (barely 25 this month), tall and beautiful… Not just physically but also as a person she is beautiful…

In winter she likes to go to the mountains in search of wild mushrooms… She knows the language of the plants: even though she lived in an apartment for many years, she used the terrace to keep on planting flowers in pots to blossom throughout the year. You know how much patience plants need: you start from the seeds, you water them, you watch them grow… If there is too much sun, you move them to the shade… If there is too much wind, you create a shelter for them… You take care of them as though you’re taking care of kids or pets… Plants need care and attention but most of all, love… Because if you don’t love, you wouldn’t be patient enough to watch them grow. You would have plastic flowers in your vase which would always remain the same color and texture, never needing any attention…

She also knows the language of the most important part of the house: the kitchen! She tries cooking different things – once she made this rice in the oven with aubergines and another time, some wonderful cheesecake which we ate, with smiles all over our face!

She was planting plants inside bottles, putting first some sand and seashells and I had two done by her. Later she started making candles: she made for me an Aphrodite, a bright orange flower, candles with different shapes and colors… We would light these in winter when our friends gathered around the fireplace in our living room to cook and eat and talk and laugh at things happening around us!

When I met her about five years ago, for me, the most striking thing about her was her name: Bugu which means `Mist`… I had never heard such a name before – it was so simple, yet so precious. What was her mother thinking when she was giving her this name? Did she smile, each time she took her baby in her arms?

Bugu has no memories of her father – he was from Turkey and had got married with Bugu’s mother, a Turkish Cypriot woman. After they had two babies, one after the other, he left Cyprus and never returned. Bugu and her sister were raised by their mother and their grandmother. Their father did not communicate with them. About 4-5 years ago, Bugu had news that he died… She told me this was a strange feeling: having had a father whom you did not actually meet, talk and share things with… Then all of a sudden you receive news that he’s dead and will be buried on such and such a day…

`I will never meet him then…` she said…

Bugu is one of those who is in a different category than `the settlers`… Her father was `a settler`, her mother a Turkish Cypriot. After the opening of the checkpoints, she tried to get an identity card of the Republic of Cyprus. She had `to prove` who she was… Her father had already died and buried in Turkey, so she had to try to bring papers `proving` this. I remember sitting and drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes as we waited our `number` to be called at the identity card department in the south. I don’t know if she actually managed to take her ID…

Such children who form a different category than the `settlers`, are Cypriots like you and me… They do not live in ghettos like some settlers do… And when I hear that some MPs from EDEK and DIKO are questioning their identity and attacking Andreas Christou for the Republic providing them identity cards, I feel hurt… At least I can tell Bugu that Christou is trying to `put the record straight` with them…

Last week I facilitated a workshop for a different category of women `settlers` living in the Arabahmet area in Nicosia… These were women living on and around the Victoria Street in the Arabahmet area… They were not like Bugu… Bugu was Cypriot but these women were living in poverty in their own `ghettos` and mixing mainly with their own people. They were talking of a `passage` where around 50 families were living with no electricity or water – in the middle of Nicosia!

Victoria Street is well known – close to Paphos gate, Armenian Cypriots used to live there until the 60s but gradually they moved to the south… The area was renovated some years ago but still there are areas – ghettos – that’s falling apart…

Sitting in a circle, we kept the small kids busy, drawing pictures and talked about our lives… Of course the women could not afford to send them to crèches and day care centers so they would naturally bring them to the workshop. We made nametags for the kids as well and gave tasks to them to draw, to keep quiet, to eat biscuits and help us… As we put the women in two big groups to do `role play` about their problems in the Arabahmet area, the kids also had roles in the plays they put on stage… From both groups came plays with similar patterns: kids making a lot of noise, neighbors who gossip about each other, poverty…

Most of the women did not work. Some of them went to clean houses. Some of them joined in courses to learn how to use a computer. They had lots of problems connected with poverty… One of them had an autistic kid and wanted to send her child to school. They did not have skills to `compete` in our `economy` - they never had the chance to acquire these skills. There were also a few Turkish Cypriot women participating in the workshop. They too did not work – some of them did not have the money or transport to send their kids to daycare centers so they had to stay home to look after them.

Most of the `settler` women said Cyprus was much better than Turkey because in Turkey in the areas they came from, lives of women were extremely restricted. Even going out of the house would be considered `a shame`… Here they found themselves in a different atmosphere, a Cypriot environment, a more liberated environment… Only two had scarves covering their hair… I saw this with other settler women too – when they first came to Cyprus, they would have been covering their hair but soon would take off the scarf because no one would be bothering them or considering it a `shame` to take off your scarf. They would discover the calm and easygoing atmosphere among Turkish Cypriots – but still poverty and cultural differences would keep them in their ghettos.

Why were they here? We know they are here because of the policies of Ankara. Because they are looking for a better life. People are moving all over the world in search of a better life. In search of better options for their kids… In search of getting more out of life.

As I was ending the workshop, encouraging them to get organized, I was thinking: what is our option? Do we turn a blind-eye to such ghettos and tell them `go back to where you came from`? Do we try to communicate and offer them better chances in life? At least show the way to acquiring skills for themselves and for their kids? Or do we prefer as Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots to have `ghettos` like this consisting of `settlers` or `Sri Lankans`, only to `use` their `labour` to clean our houses, take care of our gardens, work in our construction sites?

And how do we `break` these `ghettos` to normalize life on this island so that what is called `the settlers` would be treated like human beings, would not be used by the regime against the Cypriots and would `find` themselves? How do we deal with this sensitive and humanistic issue within the boundaries of international law? How do we create space within our own identities and cultures to refuse ghettos but at the same time accept the differences? How do we combat racism and poverty?

Lots of question marks where there is no easy answer…

(*) Article published in ALITHIA newspaper on the 4th of July 2004.

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