Back to my roots

From the night before it’s impossible to sleep, engulfed by mixed feelings of eagerness and sorrow. At daybreak a sense of longing is drowning my thoughts and realize that I’m going back home after 40 years.  Time stood still that summer in 1974 and flashes of a little girl holding her doll appear in front of my eyes, an image following me all my life.  The drive seems endless and upon reaching the checkpoint reality hits me when Mustafa checks our passports in a rather austere manner. We are eventually driving towards my beloved hometown, Famagusta or Gazimagusa as they now call it in a hope to erase the past.

As we get closer to my neighborhood my heart is pounding and find it difficult to breathe.  A hostile stop sign and barbed wires forbid me from reaching my home and I can’t think straight anymore.  I’m almost touching it and my childhood appears in front of me playing over and over again the happy times and careless years.   In my effort to get a better view, I find myself standing on a rooftop immersed in surreal thoughts and accompanied by a young Turkish Cypriot, equally concerned of my apparent devastation.  “It’s my home”, I tell her, “and break out in tears”.  In an effort to comfort me she talks to me in Turkish and we communicate in a peculiar way. “I was born there”, I say in a sobbing voice, “and have never been back.”  She stares, turning her head towards me and then my house in a rather sad manner and remains speechless.  A red tiled roof, open windows and an invasion of trees is all I can see for now.  We need to leave and I feel glued to the ground on that terrace, trying to absorb as much as possible. Could one ever comprehend, I wonder, the dreadfulness of being forced to abandon your home so many years ago?

Passing through the town I try to remember, I try to recognize the surroundings but my emotions are blocking everything.  Only when we head towards the seafront my memory is slowly restored; days in the sun, swimming and playing by this golden sandy beach.  I nervously blink my eyes hoping that all will go away, that the bad nightmare will end and that life would start again from where we all left it.  I no longer control my movements and walk nervously immersing my feet in the sand, suddenly stopping in front of a blockade, stretching from the beach into the water.  The ghost buildings lining the seafront are still standing tall, waiting for everyone to return.  Although I’m mechanically taking photos, all images are already deeply imprinted in my soul. 

This journey has not ended yet, so I reluctantly walk away keeping the precious sand on my feet and we head towards the village of Rizokarpaso, the birthplace of my mother and beloved summer getaway those days.  Everyone around me seems worried, as they know how deeply attached I am with this place and after a very long hour a sign appears with the alien name of Dipkarpaz;  it’s my village and all seems so familiar as we arrive at our destination.  I need to stay strong and support my mother as we enter the courtyard or rather a dump yard full of debris, piles of animal  feed, weeds, overgrown trees and collapsed walls.  My heart is torn in pieces as the once beautiful home is now slowly falling apart and used these days as a stable.  Blocking this horrible picture, I repeat in my mind the past images and moments.  The orchard, where I was running and playing with my village friends is still there, partially used as a feeding place for a herd of sheep.  Our pond is gone and the interior is inhabited by pigeons, freely circulating in and out of broken windows.  Sadly it makes me regret this visit, as it distorts the remembrance of my beloved village.

Passersby, dumped here from Anatolia after the invasion, stop to greet us and I keep pointing with a sorrowful face to the house, making them understand that it was and still is our own.

I’m ready to depart, as have seen enough, imposing to everyone a visit to Ayios Philon, where we swam during the hot summer months, collecting shells and thorny sea urchins from the rocks.  The cliffs and the sea are there as glorious as ever; let’s breathe the air, let’s absorb the scenery and reminisce.  The historic church and a stone built summer home, where we used to stay, are both in ruins and the whole landscape makes me depressed and angry.  I must pray and the need is so strong that we make a last stop at Ayios Therissos.  The humble church, right by the edge of the sea, stripped by all icons and holy artifacts is embellished nowadays with a myriad of handkerchiefs tied all around, marking the number of worshipers.  Many small icons, replacing the looted ones, line the floor and the flickering light of a candle makes me shiver.

Have now experienced too much and need to escape, need to drive away from it all.  The journey back is difficult and I feel drained, confused and irritated, but promise that I will return again and again back to my roots.

by Myrto Toufexi Kleovoulou

Creative Writer / Storyteller

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