Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Golden-Green Leaf and Vanities: A Reflection on Occupied Cyprus - Creative Writing #19

Context: The Turkish illegally occupied Cyprus in 1974, over a period of three days. Thousands upon thousands of Greek Cypriots were forced to evacuate their homes in Northern Cyprus, leaving the life they knew frozen in time as they ran for a safer reality. To this day, Turkey still occupies the same region. Cyprus is poetically referred to as “the golden-green leaf thrown in the sea” due to its appearance on the map.

(A field in Marathovounos, Cyprus--an occupied territory and the original inspiration for this little writing. Farther ahead, on one of those mountains, is an enormous flag representing the "Turkish Republic" set in stones along the mountain's vegetation.)

    Time and war have draped a protective film of dust on the tiny room. The aged concrete seems to crack under the injustice it has suffered; the timbers of wood splinter under neglect. A muezzin wails from that nearby screaming tower--a minaret--his calls bouncing off the walls that once amplified the chaotic noises of a young family. A household once handmade with care, now withers from the lack of it.

    I scuffle among the fifty year-old bullet shells and overturned chairs to a wooden vanity in the corner. Passing a rickety bed, I notice the slightly scorched quilt. A thread-bare rug folds unexpectedly under my feet and I fall forward. Grasping unsuccessfully for the helping hands of ghosts long gone, I crash to the floor--dust flurrying into the once clear, dry air. I rise and am confronted with my own blurry image.

    So this is her vanity? It is simple. A few carved embellishments, but like most things in her life, it was used for practicality. Its mirror is grayer with the smudge of grime than her ashen hair is with the toll of time.

    There’s her old ivory comb, given as an unexpected gift on her wedding night, because she had broken her old one in a nervous attempt to tame her frizzy curls that night. It had a history of “last minute” uses, too. After returning from the fields, Papou had stolen it a few times in a rush to tidy his sweaty hair before she laid eyes on him. Apparently, she’d used it directly before fleeing, because even in that state of terror, she didn’t want the Turks to believe they’d gotten to her head... or her hair. Neatness was awfully important to her.

    Of course, you wouldn’t know that by looking at the vanity as it is now--strewn with tipped bottles, pins, and various, unidentifiable knick knacks. But at one time it was quite immaculate, she says. It was one of the three things she took with her when she came with Papou after their wedding--this vanity, a box of icons and a baby lemon tree. For her own sanity, she continues to convince herself that it is as clean as when she left it. She doesn’t know that the lemon tree has died for lack of water, that the icons are nowhere to be found--burned during the invasion, most likely-- and that the state of this vanity embodies the unspoken reality of what the invasion did to these people. Where order once thrived in communion, chaos now rules in abandonment.

    “The Golden-green leaf thrown in the sea (Χρυσοπράσινο φύλλο ριγμένο στο πέλαγο),” is a third brown now... the life drained from its stem.
For a well-known song on "The Golden-Green Leaf," visit:

(A mosque in Marathovounos, courtesy of Efstratios Papageorgiou.)

(The loved ones of those who fled,  courtesy of Efstratios Papageorgiou.)

(The Church of Prophet Elijah, courtesy of Efstratios Papageorgiou.)

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