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We attended the UN's 50th anniversary party in Nicosia in late October, 1995. It was in the "buffer zone" between the Turkish Cypriot and the Greek Cypriot communities, and if we were allowed only one word to describe the event, we'd choose . . .
Here's the story:
The event was announced by way of flyers around Cyprus -- including Eastern Mediterranean University (EMU) in Famagusta, where the human we know as "Higgins" was teaching for the 1995-1996 school year in the Turkish Cypriot north.
Here's how the flyers read:
invites you to attend its
LEDRA PALACE HOTEL
On Sunday 22 October 1995
Between 12:00 hrs & 17:00 hrs
A FAMILY DAY -- BRING THE CHILDREN
THERE WILL BE FREE ENTERTAINMENT
FOOD AND REFRESHMENTS FOR ALL
entertainment will include abseiling [we call this "rappelling" in
When we saw this announcement, we really wanted to attend and perform at this event.
So we got Higgins to call people at various official offices in Nicosia and other places. No one really was sure about the rules since it was a UN event; but the recommendations were to just go and be ready to perform. So with a little help from Higgins, we got ourselves out of the suitcase, shook out the fur, smoothed out the rough spots on the paper mache, put together the "walking" puppet stage, and ironed the stage covering.
That Sunday, we drove to Nicosia with some human friends from EMU -- a Canadian from the English Literature and Humanities Dept.; a Turkish Cypriot from the Communication Dept; and a British Sri Lankan Cypriot from the English Literature and Humanities Dept. An interesting international group just to start . . .
We drove to Nicosia and made our way to the border checkpoint. There was a crowd of people gathered -- the event had been advertised in the Turkish Cypriot papers, and a festive feel permeated the air.
The procedure was you had to put your name on a piece of paper (along with your passport number, if you were not Cypriot), and then walk over to the UN checkpoint, then walk several dozen meters to the entrance of the old Ledra Palace Hotel, which is the UN's headquarters in Cyprus.
Before the war in 1974, the Ledra Palace was the foremost luxury hotel in Nicosia. Beyond the Ledra Palace was the Greek Cypriot checkpoint -- entry point for those coming to the party from the south, the Republic of Cyprus.
We were traveling
inside a black suitcase on rollers, so it was a bit difficult to see; Higgins was rolling the suitcase with
another small suitcase on top and the stage hanging over
The stage is a square frame-like thing made of aluminum tubes. Higgins
was convinced that every security person on each side would insist
on looking inside the bags -- but not one ever did. Kinda spooky, if
you think about the possibilities of crazies at a big event like this,
but what the
Peeking out of the suitcase, we could see where the humans were walking: they passed through all the normally off-limits security checkpoints . . . past the friendly border police, and past the helpful and friendly blue bereted UN soldier in camouflage fatigues.
Everyone was pretty quiet as they walked down a street lined with bushes and trees, passing rusting barbed wire coiled in the vegetation alongside the road. We passed 2 small buildings that were in a state of decay, with weeds growing around and bullet holes marking the walls . . . .
The melancholy mood was shattered with the roar of a powerful engine, a crashing of underbrush, and screams of delight -- as an armored personnel carrier lumbered out of the bushes, laden with gleeful children. A kiddy ride!
The juxtaposition of rather somber location and light hearted activity somehow seems to best characterize the surreal nature of the event that day.
This is the headquarters for UNFICYP (UN Forces in Cyprus). Today, it was a zoo, with throngs of people pushing through the lobby to enter the grounds of the hotel in back, where the party is.
Harried soldiers behind the information desk... Higgins asked for someone in charge of entertainment, and the activities coordinator eventually showed up -- asking, "How did you know we were looking for puppets?" We laughed among ourselves in the suitcase -- doesn't she know puppets are tied into the stream of cosmic magic?
We cased the grounds and choose the area for the puppet show. It was over by the old pool, which on this day was hosting kayak competition of some kind. The puppet show was going to be located between the face painting and the putt putt golf course.
|The show started, and the first person to volunteer to "wave the magic wand to make the rabbit appear" was a UN soldier (well, the kids were still a bit overwhelmed, we guessed). Colorful puppet stage with puppet magician next to soldier wearing camouflage fatigues and blue beret, waving a magic wand . . . friends were taking photographs, helping by carrying the empty puppet suitcases, and making sure kids don't get too excited and try to kill the puppets . . .|
|As the puppet stage passed the UN Irish forces booth -- free shots of Bailey's Irish Creme -- we split a quick shot amongst ourselves before moving on . . . (it's tough to swallow when you're hanging upside down from a hook on Higgins' belt...)|
We walked around for an hour, greeting kids and adults in English, and having it translated to the appropriate language usually by the parents.
We found some Argentinean kids, and had fun surprising them by talking with them in Spanish . . .
|As our first performance on Cyprus, it was a great "coming out" party for us -- it felt good to be performing again, and at yet another rather interesting inernational venue . . . that is included among schools in migrant worker camps in Florida; small villages in Quintana Roo and schools in Oaxaca, Mexico; the beach outside Havana, Cuba; schools in rural Nicaragua . . .|
|The scene was nothing short of bizarre: The Ledra Palace hotel grounds were filled with Cypriots, international visitors from the UN, various diplomatic missions, universities, etc. Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot folk dancers were delighting the crowds; music from military bands filled the air; blue-bereted soldiers were handing out ice cream, food, and drinks, and running game booths for kids and playing with them on the playground...|
|People were rappelling down the sides of the hotel, passing pockmarks on the wall made by bullets in the 1974 fight . . .|
The event was fascinating. Fun. Surreal.
The political analysis of some Turkish Cypriots attending that we talked to later who had some sense of events and politics in Cyprus: The event was fake.
In their view, the UN party provided no opportunity for discussion of any substantive issue, and the event was devoid of anything that might take steps toward some kind of resolution of the Cyprus issue. "They've been having these parties for 20 years," one friend said. "They're very nice, but they don't address the problems here" . . .
Still, to us newcomers the event seemed important in some way -- even a "fake" bringing together of different sides without negative incident seems like a step forward, no? Even a tiny step in the direction toward peace and reconcilliation must be a good step . . . ?
Eventually, we packed it up and headed back home. As we walked out of the hotel and turned left toward the Turkish Cypriot north, it never occurred to us that we might go right and just look at the Greek Cypriot checkpoint into the Republic of Cyprus. Apparently it occurred to others that day -- later we heard that some Turkish Cypriots had gone to the Greek Cypriot border and had been allowed to enter the South. They strolled through the downtown streets of Greek Nicosia before coming home in the north . . . And this was a new occurrence, it seems . . .
Driving home, our Turkish Cypriot friend told us stories of life on Cyprus when she was growing up: of roadside checkpoints set up by Greek police or paramilitary to harass Turks, of the fear of loss and death that Turks experienced as a part of daily life, and how, since 1974, this particular fear was no longer a part of Turkish Cypriot life. And how this basic question of security -- on both sides -- will need to be recognized and addressed before reconcilliation efforts are able to progress.
Undoubtedly there is at least another side to the issue -- and stories of atrocities and "payback" to be told by Greek Cypriots as well. We have heard that there is an equally gruesome display at the checkpoint from the South, telling of atrocities commited by Turks against Greek Cypriots.
As puppets, we recognize the often overwhelming pain humans face in their lives. As puppets, we choose to focus more on the stories that tell of happier, more transformative aspects of life on this planet. In decades past, Turkish and Greek Cypriots were often friends, living with one another in peace. Many of them say it's politicians who create the separation -- people to people, there is no conflict.
It seems that these are the stories we should hear more about, and the experiences humans need to remember: those "cultural memories of peace" that root a peaceful future by building on the human, connected moments from the past.
So, step-by-step, even though it seems that an event such as this UN party might seem only a "happy face" on a deep-rooted problem . . .
aren't these measures at least the tiniest steps toward that peaceful future?
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