by Funda Gumush
With school on half term and my daughter deciding to stay with her dad, I had time this week to visit my old colleagues and catch up with them.
After a short stint calling on my friends at the newspaper, I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to visit my pals at the High Commission, where I had worked for 15 years.
As I sat regaling them about my recent travels to the UK and new job at the school, it occurred to me that some of my closest chums my entire life have been Greek Cypriots.
When I was at boarding school in England, nearly all my friends were Greek Cypriots. As I have said in a previous column, I say Greek Cypriot rather than Cypriot, in order to be able to differentiate in my explanation.
My first – and best – school friend when I was either nine or ten, was a Greek Cypriot girl called Zela. She and I bonded fast, and until this day, we are still close; she and I went to junior and senior school together and then on to university.
At senior school, we added more Greek Cypriot girls to our group and eventually became an international bunch from various descents – Italian, Indian, Armenian and African. Now, whenever I go back to the UK, we still meet to catch up.
During my adolescent years, I had no clue about the Cyprus problem, neither did I care. Zela was the same. We were born and brought up in the UK. Our families did not talk about Cyprus or the past troubles to us, and we never spoke about it ourselves.
But there were other girls who carried these nationalistic views. One of them bullied me at school over an incident happening 3,000 km away in Greece. I had no inkling of the issue, but I will never forget how she brazenly came up to me and chanted the slogan “Exo oi Turkoi apo din Kypro”. I later found out it meant “Turks, get out of Cyprus”.
I said nothing, but Zela witnessed this and told her mother, who called up the school to complain, as my own parents were overseas and I was a boarder at the school.
Zela wasn’t the only Greek Cypriot friend with whom I spent most of my day. Liza and I shared a room at the boarding house for at least two years. In the third year, we were old enough to have our own rooms. However, we would spend nearly all our evenings together, chatting and making escape plans! I always said that whatever mischief I learnt in life, I learnt from her! To this day, we keep in touch and social media helps each see what the other is up to.
And now, in my adult years, I have gained more Greek Cypriot and Armenian friends through work. Some of these are people I can trust and lean on in times of difficulty. Ones whom I could call on if I were ever in trouble.
So what is the point of my trip down memory lane? Of course, the Cyprus issue… One can say ‘but friendship and loss of life or leaving behind a life and property are not the same thing’. Yes, that’s true, but people in Cyprus used to live side by side and I am sure there are thousands who can recount memories similar to mine. Why can’t they now?
I’m not belittling the situation; I just feel that if people shared lives once, they can again. Am I the eternal optimist? You have no idea…