Strolling through the cool evening air, I thought of you. I thought I glimpsed you on the street. It can’t have been you though, because you’re on the other side of an impenetrable line; at least for the moment. Or perhaps the unforeseeable future.
While we wait, us on our side and you on yours, those who don’t desire reunification are rubbing their hands with glee.
This is the first time that the crossing points have been closed in 17 years.
Since lockdown began some 6-7 weeks ago (who knows, I don’t even know what month it is), stories have emerged of people being trapped on this side (or the other) for one reason or another. Human stories have unfolded, reminding us that the virus’ impact on us has been unique due to division.
Indeed, the lack of cooperation between the two communities from the very beginning of the outbreak says much about their trust in the other or lack thereof. And harks back to the old adage of ‘them over there and us over here’ (τζείνοι ποτζεί τζι εμείς ποδά).
Over 1,500 Turkish Cypriots working on this side have been unable to return to work thus far due to the closing of the crossing points across the island, leaving them without a proper income.* Many of these Turkish Cypriots happen to work in the construction sector which has recently resumed in the south after a relaxation of measures. If they cannot return to work, what does that mean for their jobs?
Takis Hadjidemetriou, the Greek Cypriot Head of the Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage some years ago said: “We need each other. And only when we are all together can we feel complete.”*
Being a member of the bi-communal choir Kıbrıs Havaları/Cyprus Songs Association, I used to cross every Monday for choir practise. During lockdown, members of the choir created two messenger groups on Facebook so we could keep in touch, with very talented members lifting our spirits by serenading us daily. (check out our video here)
However, the reality is that virtual contact is a poor comparison to face-to-face contact and ‘real’ socialising.
For anyone who hasn’t embraced regular contact, by creating friendships and exploring an island that belongs to all Cypriots, it may be difficult to understand what all the fuss is about. For others, a part of their very self has been severed.
Besides the very practical ramifications of not being together and not being able to cross, there are some weighty emotional ramifications too: the uncertainty of not knowing when we’ll see each other again.
-The title is inspired by a popular phrase in the south touted by those not in favour of reunification: ‘τζείνοι ποτζεί τζι εμείς ποδά’. It loosely translates as ‘them over there and us over here’. More specifically, the phrase has been popularised by Greek Cypriots (not sure whether Turkish Cypriots say something similar), who believe that both communities are better off on their respective sides.
-Currently, only Turkish Cypriots are allowed to enter the north. Anyone entering either side, must be placed in 14-day quarantine, making crossing on a daily basis an impossibility.
-Τακης Χατζηδημητριου: “Έχουμε ανάγκη ο ένας τον άλλο. Και μόνο όταν είμαστε όλοι μαζί νιώθουμε πληρότητα.”