Bug Bytes: Living in Cyprus during 9.11

by Kelly on October 22, 2010

Bug Bytes is a weekly feature in which fellow travelers give us the scoop on places they have lived around the world and what makes those places awesome

This week’s Bug Bytes comes from Briana Carter, who spent part of her childhood in Cyprus. She is currently somewhere in the Middle East working with the Marine Corps, but still found time to tell us about life in a divided country like Cyprus, her frightening experience there during the 9/11 attacks, and how it all has changed her view of the world today. Thanks Bri!

Fly Away photo credit: Irene Stylianou

BB: Okay, I’ll admit it.. I know next to nothing about Cyprus, except that it’s near Greece and Turkey! Can you tell me a bit about the island?

Briana Carter: To tell you all that wouldn’t be just a bit unfortunately. I lived there from Dec 01 to July 02, so about a year and a half.

The Turks have the northern 40% of the island. I was a diplomat, so I was able to come and go across the Green Line. That’s what the called the dividing line. Very Berlin Wall.

Every Sunday the little Greek women who still remember getting kicked out of the North go pray at the wall for all the sons and brothers and fathers who got killed during the invasion. Pictures everywhere, candles, lots of church type activities go down there.

The Line cuts through the capital, Nicosia. (Or Lefkosia if you’re Greek) The capital on the Turkish side was pretty Turked out, everything became very Eastern in that sense.

They did have a Bob’s Big Boy, we would go there for burgers sometimes. They also had the tip of the island where on a clear day you could see Beirut. It was really cool. They had a harbor that we loved to go eat in, shop around, it was very Venetian sometimes. They used lira up there, so of course the exchanging money was usually a hassle. They spoke English (broken English) but it was easy enough to get around.

The process of actually crossing the line was hard though, but the American diplomat passport is like a free ride. When I left they (UN I believe) were trying to coordinate meetings in the middle at the conference room at the Green Line center for high schoolers from both sides to meet and talk. It was encouraging, though I don’t know anyone who actually went.

Welcome to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus
Creative Commons License photo credit: Ozan Huseyin

BB: Wow. What about the south side?
BC: The southern side was the Greek side. Veeeeery Mediterranean. I loved it. I started to learn Greek, I wish I tried harder. Heavy British influence as well, so we had lots of tea and crumpets (not even kidding) with our olive oil and olive paste and olive anything. Funny how it worked out.

Football (soccer for us) was huge of course, we were lucky enough to watch the World Cup while we were there. School shut down, all the kids just watched in the school cafeteria, it was really cool. But you could obviously tell the southern side was the rich side, they did so much better. In the city that is.

They expanded Nicosia to include what we called Old Town (the part of the capital by the Green Line) which remained unchanged, same cobblestone roads and little mini shops and little old Greek women sewing, and Downtown, with the clubs and movie theaters and shops and car dealerships.

Limassol Old Town
Limassol, Old Town (photo by karolajnat cc Flickr)

I looooved going downtown. They even had a TGI Friday’s! Zena Palace was a huge courtyard with food shops around it (best crepes you will ever eat) and that was definitely where the cool kids hung out.

There was no smoking/drinking age there, they would sell to anyone at any time, so it was also where we could drink without getting crazy.

You can head down to the birthplace of Aphrodite (Paphos) which of course isn’t too touristy since there really isn’t a tangible landmark to look at. But it’s still great to go see. You can buy the little shells from there (like the Gods had her born from the sea foam or the picture that has her raising out of a shell) as a souvenir. Still worth it.

langrouss (48 of 343) photo credit: jez.atkinson

BB:  Which part of Cyprus did you live in? What was it like living there?
BC: I lived in the southern part. The Greek part! I now also have a general distaste for Turks from living there for so long, haha.

The general area of Nicosia had grown so much that the residential parts were divided into what we generally just call neighborhoods. I lived in Parisinos. So when taking a cab you just say the street and the neighborhood and they take you there.

The Embassy had a house set up for us, it’s where all the Marines with my Dad’s job (in succession of course) live. We even keep the maid that comes with it. Comes furnished, so we never had to ship all our shit over from the States. Which, from Hawaii would have been insane.

All the embassy families live out in town, spread out from each other so that no one can bomb one general area. But the Embassy hires a local security company to patrol our houses and each house has a radio that communicates directly to the Marines guarding the Embassy, so we were always connected. That was especially important during 9/11. I loved living there though, it was so great.

BB: How old were you when you were there? What did you do for fun on the island?
BC: I was 14-16 when I was there. Of course, there is no driving until you are 18 there, and even then it’s on the opposite side of the road (British) so my mom wouldn’t even let me start to practice driving. Thus the cab or my mom having to drive us everywhere. But there was always stuff to do with friends and at school. I did every sport, so there was always something.

I hung out with friends as much as I could, went to movies (which by the way, they would make intermissions and have smoke breaks during them! Kinda funny) or would sneak out and go to clubs.

There was a club (Ekrixi, Greek for Explosion) That would play hip hop and R&B, which made it feel a little more familiar. Or we would just go downtown and hang. There wasn’t much in the way of shopping, since we had to wear uniforms to school, and really, I wasn’t skinny enough for the little Greek clothing. I am more of a thicker American Kohl’s kind of girl.

img_8561 photo credit: Leonid Mamchenkov

BB: What was the hardest part of living there?
BC: I would say 9/11. Granted, Cyprus is not exactly the Middle East in the traditional sense Americans consider it to be. But it is close enough that, in the Marine Corps break down, it falls into the Company of Marines that are in charge of the Middle East.

My father was the Senior Enlisted Man in charge of the Marines stationed in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. My mother worked at the Embassy in Cyprus, she was our postal clerk. So during the day, if my dad wasn’t traveling, they were both working at the Embassy. My sisters and I all attended the same school, with all the other American children.

Anyway, we got home from school and it was just me and my sisters. We don’t have TV. So we were all doing our own things, having a snack, on the computer, playing games, whatever.

Then the security guard comes and bangs on the door. I recognize the company name so I opened it, and he told me to stay in the house and not go anywhere.

He asked if my sisters were home, I said yes, if my parents were home, I said no. He told me to keep them inside and talk to the Embassy via radio only. Not to get on the phone and not to answer the door to anyone except for him or the Marines. I was a little freaked out to say the least.

We turned on the TV to see if anything was happening (huge military events they usually take the feed right from the States. It was CNN.

We turned it on to see the planes hitting the towers.

September 11th, 2001
Creative Commons License photo credit: cliff1066™

They changed all the channels to news channels from the States, so we were kept pretty informed. I radioed into the Embassy and followed all the protocol.

There was rioting at the Embassy, and they told me they were trying to clear out all the personnel. (Only the Ambassador and his family lives in the Embassy, everyone else has housing out in town). Finally, after what seemed like forever, my mom got home. She said my dad was still trying to control everything from the Embassy. Since he was in charge of multiple Embassies, there was rioting he had to control at multiple sites.

Little known fact is that the rioting in Pakistan got so bad the Ambassador’s son was killed (I went to elementary school with him, good kid, I liked him) My dad had to leave immediately. The rest of us had to stay inside.

We didn’t leave the house for the next two days. No school, no work. Eventually when we were allowed to leave we went to the Embassy.

The Ambassador’s wife talked to all of us. We weren’t allowed to talk about this with anyone. Anyone at all. The school had undergone some security upgrades, adding cameras, gates and security force brought in. We had to be followed to school, and we couldn’t talk about it there. There was no going out for a while after that.

Eventually it cooled down, but it led to a lot of heated discussions with my friends. The worst part was probably going back to the States. I moved to Pittsburgh, where all these fat ignorant Americans are going on and on about towel heads and camel jockeys and every other discrimination against Arabs.

My boyfriend for a year a half at that point is Palestinian, and it was just so racist. I hated it. They had no idea. They were from a little sheltered town and were crying about freedom when they had no idea. I’m the first of two out of my graduating class to even join the Marines.

I had such a problem adjusting to being in America again.

They said it’s third culture kid syndrome. I was true blue American, I move to another place and identify with a second culture, and when I try to come back to the first place I don’t fit in and don’t like it anymore.

BB: Oh my god, Bri, that’s crazy! Thanks for sharing that! What’s the relationship like between the South and the Turkish controlled North?
BC: There are no mentions of Turkey anywhere in the south. We don’t talk about it at all! You can’t even mention them. Turkey was the reason they didn’t get into the EU as well, that was happening as I left or a little after I left. By the way, if you ever watch My Big Fat Greek Wedding, there are a lot of the same mannerisms. Seriously. The little old grandma, the way they all talk, they way they hate the Turks, what they drink and how they toast it… so funny.

BB: Are there any good regional or cultural foods or drinks from there that you miss?
This may sound weird, but they had these paprika and shrimp chips. Sounds ultimately very disgusting. I know, because I can’t stand seafood!! In any shape. But these chips? Ohhhhh man. I had a bag almost every day. My entire lunch bill was the cheese pita, these chips and a coke. I loved their orange juice too. Very simple meals. I have also tried to recreate the gyros and schwarmas, I’ve tried everywhere, but it just doesn’t seem to be happening.

There was a Greek place in DC where the owner was from Nicosia, and it was good, but maybe it was the ambiance I missed. The stands were in old town just like we have hot dog stands in New York. It would be a huge skewer of lamb and they slice it right off and onto a fresh pita for you. Yumm.

santorini - the best gyrosphoto credit: unicellular

BB: If a friend was planning a trip to Cyprus, where would you recommend they go? What should they see?
I would recommend they go to Nicosia. Limassol is another city in the south, but it’s not as big. If you rent a car in Nicosia, Limassol is a short trip away, then you can drive down to Paphos, maybe go to the water park. But if you don’t rent a car, you can still experience Nicosia on foot or in cabs. If you can travel to the Turkish side, it would be worth it for the castles, the harbor, the beaches, the Bob’s Big Boy. Just don’t tell anyone that you are going up that way.

BB: What did you learn from living in that part of the world?
I learned… so much. I got to experience a lot, my spring breaks and summers were spent in Germany, Egypt, Dubai, England… I was definitely spoiled.

I learned a lot of the history of the Middle East, a lot about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, especially. I had a lot of Jewish friends who would sneak me over on weekends so I could turn on the lights for them since they couldn’t use electricity.

I learned a lot about Greek culture and why we hate the Turks. It was amazing, I learned more just being friends with people than I did in school, which is just what a kid needs. It really opens your eyes. Makes you appreciate what America has, and makes you realize what America still hasn’t earned and became aware of.

Thanks so much Bri!

Bug Bytes is a weekly feature that runs on Fridays, giving you first-hand accounts of life in other countries. Each week a different country will be featured and eventually, we will cover the globe!

Interested in taking part in Bug Bytes? Lived someplace awesome and want to tell us about it?? Email travelbugjuice@gmail.com.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Camels & Chocolate October 22, 2010 at 6:54 pm

I’m with you, Kelly: I know shockingly little about Cyprus, though it’s a place that’s always intrigued me. Thanks for sharing this, Briana!

Kelly October 22, 2010 at 6:58 pm

I know! Before this, I knew very little about Cyprus.. the Green Line? Crazy! Thanks for stopping by and spreading the RT love Kristin!

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