They say in war, truth is the first casualty, but it’s because of one in Cyprus in 1974 I became a journalist.
Out of no-where fighter-jets tear up the sky and the Turkish army trample our Mediterranean island paradise like a sandcastle. I am eleven, my three cousins, younger. Our holiday is over.
We hide under hotel beds, shuddering every time a bomb shatters our childhood. “What did we do to them?” I wonder, stunned by the blast that rips away half the hotel opposite, leaving a man hanging upside-down from his bedroom window. Staring at us. Crying, I pull my three-year-old cousin away.
To escape, we needed passports, but they are at grandma’s, two hours and endless checkpoints away. My uncle kisses us goodbye, promising my aunt he’ll be back by morning. He lied.
He’d spent twenty years and all his heart liberating this former colony from Britain. Greeks and Turks have been murdering each other over it for centuries. All I know is they’re doing it again and within twenty four hours people are on the streets fighting for food. I run out to look and run headlong into the sights of a couple of soldiers and their rifles. A moment of terror imprinted into every cell of my body.
Luckily they are ‘our’ boys. Greeks. They pat my head and leave laughing. I am left envious of their power and hating my vulnerability – imprints on the radical feminist I will later become. And human rights activist. And vegetarian…amongst many other labels.
My uncle returns five days late. No passports.He herds us into the car and squeezes it into the UN convoy grid-locking the streets. Half the buildings are missing and the smell of the dead swelters in forty-degree heat. We don’t move an inch. I am so envious of the line of European tourists with passports moving nicely along next to us. Each vehicle displays a fluorescent pink triangle – the British Air Force symbol for evacuation.
…How my uncle then disappears for hours, and returns, triumphant with our own triangular pink ticket out of here, he never says. But we catch the very last plane out, back to England.
Hours later, in the safety of my parent’s red-bricked suburban home, we are glued to the News. Our hotel – gone. Smashed by bombs. So far, 3000 dead, a thousand missing. My uncle disappears upstairs and wails from the depth of his soul. I wish, from the depth of mine, I could stop him hurting.
I really, really believe I can, when years later I land a job on a national newspaper.
I write articles uncovering conspiracies, I detail Superpower agendas…My uncle and I attend rallies and committees opposing Turkish occupation! We go on like this for twenty five years. But, nothing on Cyprus changes. I drink more to dull my frustration… And my uncle’s heavy-handedness and heavy-heart, land him in surgery for a triple bypass.
I sit vigil as he convalesces and we wonder what it’s all been for. It dawns on me – I’ve got more issues than friends – some are even a little scared of me. “No wonder you’re not married!” He quips.
No wonder. I’ve become the very thing I’ve been fighting against – aggressive, cynical and aching with self-righteousness. I’m “Greek” before I’m human. And, none of these issues ever, profoundly nourishes my heart.
What does nourish me, to the core, is my uncle’s stunning revelation. “You know, whatever you do, big or small, that hurts someone else in order to get what you want, turns you – a little or a lot – into a terrorist.” He is beaming with the truth of it.
The last thing my freedom-fighter uncle does, is forgive himself for killing a Turk during the struggle for liberation.
Next morning, in the shower, I hear him. “I took it all way too seriously. From here, looks like the only freedom you’ll ever have is when you don’t need it. Live like you don’t need anything my love”.
I laugh back, through soapy tears, promising to, kindly, lock up my inner terrorist for good.