Yeraltý Notlarý, 8 Aðustos 2004

Sevgül Uludað

 

A different kind of life…(*)

Sevgul Uludag

Stealing time from my sleep I get up at 5 in the morning, to sit in the garden and meditate and think and write…

These are the best hours of the day – Nicosia is still asleep. In the distance you can hear a car passing by, a dog barking but otherwise everything, even the birds are sleeping…

You can smell jasmine and soon crickets would begin their song – around 6.30 – and doves, pigeons, sparrows would come down to drink water or to eat what’s on the trees: dates, plums, grapes…

Our Dalmatian dog Jelly takes her pillow under the vine to sleep some more… She’s the `muhtar` of this `mahalle` Chaglayan and is interested in everything and everyone passing from the street. She likes to catch butterflies, play with a cat that she adopted, bark at strangers and dig holes in the garden to bury her treasures, most of it bones…

The blue jasmine, present of an Alevi gardener is in full bloom… The palm tree has green dates on it – the first time so many! The grapes – verigo – are ripening, changing color from green to shades of pink… Soon, they will be ready to collect.

According to the memories of the elderly in this area, Chaglayan `Mahallesi` was founded in the 1930s. Chaglayan is close to Aykasiano, Omorphita and the Famagusta Gate in Nicosia… Ibrahim Biyikli (meaning the man with the moustache) planted his big garden in the 30s here… He had a well and a horse and people would come to buy vegetables, watching the horse going round in circles to pull water from the well… At that time there were very few houses in this `mahalle`… Soon others started building houses in the area and it soon became the `entertainment area` of Nicosia in the 40s. There were cinemas, pubs and a famous restaurant, giving its name to the area: Chaglayan… Before that the area took its name from a pub: `Ishiklar`…

The Chaglayan family had started this restaurant – weddings would take place here and Greek Cypriots would also come to get trays of klefticon or `potatoe kebap` as it’s called in Cyprus. You would hear the music from the acordeon being played in the restaurant: La Comparsita, La Paloma Blanca, Comparsita…

I remember those days as a child – working in Nicosia Municipality, my father had a children’s garden built, not far from our house. People would come to stroll on the pavement, young boys on their bicycles, young girls with their families… In the evening people would go to the open-air cinemas – Crystal Cinema, `Halk Sinemasi`, `Taksim Sinemasi`… On Monday and Tuesday nights women could go to the cinema without paying and men would have to pay two shillings. We would sit and watch the movie, neighbors and us… Our mothers would wear twin-sets and we would buy fresh whole nuts with green leaves to crack and eat… A man would shout `Belkola! Belkola!`, the famous cola of the Manyera family… Sometimes during the break we would have `dombula` (bingo)… `Londra Pastanesi` (The London Confectionary) next to the cinema, would wait for customers to come and choose from the sweets and cakes or sit in the garden to eat home made ice cream with pistachios in it…

Nicosia was under siege – during the early 60s the city was being divided and for Turkish Cypriot Nicosians, it was hard to get out of Nicosia… Therefore the area Chaglayan was entertaining them in those days of conflict… Boys, barely 14 or 15 would go to serve in the makeshift Turkish Cypriot army and men would wear uniforms. Women would hide the guns and bullets… They would knit sweaters for their sons and husbands to wear during the cold nights, while guarding their posts. The army was makeshift, the barricades were makeshift – life was changing on the island, everything remained uncertain. Officers from Turkey were in charge of life – no kind of democracy or freedom of speech. Teachers would try to get organized for these freedoms and youth would try to organize for the right to go to university abroad. Nobody could leave the island since all hands were needed in the Turkish Cypriot army called the `Mucahitler` (Mudjahiddeen). This was the time when the separation of the two communities were beginning to be implemented – anything that was common was becoming a sin. Even speaking Greek was a sin or listening to Greek songs. We would hear stories of people being punished for listening to Greek songs on the radio… Shopping from Greek Cypriots was banned. We would hear stories of people being beaten up just because they had gone to the Greek Cypriot sector of Nicosia to buy something. Once, they even followed and tried to beat up my mother but the shop owner, a Greek Cypriot, saved her by leading her out from the back door… This was the time of the shaping of separation, later to take root in the minds of the people.

These were the times when the milkman would come to your door to bring a bottle of fresh milk and the yogurt makers Suleyman or Mustafa would come on a bicycle to bring yogurt. Grocers would come in Bedford vans and all the women would come out to get fresh vegetables to cook for lunch… Women would get up early to cook and clean and around 10 o’clock they would gather in someone’s house for morning coffee and reading cups… This was a covert way of communication – women would tell their stories and inquire about secrets through the fortune telling from a coffee cup…

In those days everything was recycled – my mother would sew dresses for me, knit sweaters, make embroideries with colorful beads. She would tie my hair with kurdellas and I would wear jupons under my skirts… We had boxes of colorful threads, buttons and beads, a Singer sewing machine and Burda patterns… Burda must have been a best-seller among women since everyone copied patters from this German magazine which showed practical ways of sewing your own dresses.

Nothing would be thrown away: from nylon tights, women would make mats or use them as mops in the house… Fruit would be collected to make jam so we could eat in the morning for breakfast. I rarely remember buying any jam from the market – my mother would always make jam from plums or grapes… Even though she was a librarian – a working woman – she would do all of these and we would still have time to sit and watch TV at night: Peyton Place, the Man from UNCLE, the Avengers, the Saint…

Food was different – no fast food back in the 60s or 70s… We would collect the tangerines to make bottles of lemonade… I would mix the juice with sugar until the sugar would dissolve and then we would fill the bottles to put in our old refrigerator and lemonade would be ready to offer to guests during hot summer days…

This was another life: attitudes were different, lifestyles were different, concepts were different… Neighborhood was different – the concept of `the neighbor` was not very different from that of `the family`. You cared about your neighbors just as you cared about your family… So when you cooked lunch, you would send a plateful to your neighbor and she would do the same. You had a chance to taste what your neighbor was eating for lunch or dinner since you could smell it… Kids would come in and out of houses – it wasn’t `my house` or `your house` - all houses of the neighbors belonged to us and we would play or eat or fall asleep on the couch of a neighbor and this wouldn’t be strange. This was another life of sharing good days and bad days, sicknesses and poverty, laughter and joy…

I get up early – 5 o’clock – to sit in the garden and think of the old days and how it was in this neighborhood. I get up early to smell the jasmine and listen to the calls of the doves, the song of the crickets, the waking up of the city… Perhaps I’m longing for a different kind of life: more sharing, more human relationships, more humanity than what we have today… My neighborhood is a witness to all of this – its memory must still be there somewhere, implanted on a piece of the barricade, on an old walnut tree, in the smell of the jasmine… I long for a different kind of life that existed before on this island – a time of purity, love and caring about the others… A time when being happy was more important than consuming more, having a neighbor was more important than showing off… When money was not as important as good relations with those around you… When love had not gone into hiding, giving its place to all sorts of pretenses…

I miss those days even though I know they cannot come back… So in a futile attempt to see what remains, I get up early to look for something precious, the remnants of memories of a different kind of life…

(*) Article published in ALITHIA newspaper on the 8th of August, 2004.

copyleft (c) 2001-04 hamamboculeri.org