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Sunday, August 05, 2007

Crossing Bridges

I'm not checking my mails regularly or coming online to blog as I'm currently taking a break from the virtual world. However, due to the growing amount of concerned e-mails coming to the Tarkan Deluxe in-box about my whereabouts, and rather than answer the mails individually, I felt I had to post something.

First off, I want to thank everyone who got in touch and is still connecting with Tarkan Deluxe. Despite my temporary silence, to those continuing to log on at the blog every day to read through its archives, and to those new visitors that have recently found the Tarkan archives, I hope you find your time spent here rewarding.

As for me: I'm on vacation...but of a different kind than usual. Nearly a month ago, I decided to pack some bare essentials in my small suitcase and rough it in the Republic of Cyprus.


The idea suddenly came to me one day as I was having breakfast in the legally recognised area of Cyprus in early July. It was a very good breakfast, in a very good restaurant, and I was in a very good mood, which comes from the life I am grateful to be accustomed.

As I was sipping my double espresso, I saw an African person sleeping on a park bench a few metres away from me. We were parted by large glass windows - and of course a lot more than just the eye could see.

I tried to connect with the individual, to see if I could imagine myself in his place, and what he might be feeling. I suddenly felt ashamed that I couldn't build a bridge with another human being, irrelevant of the physical and metaphysical distance between us. I couldn't really imagine myself sleeping on that park bench. I couldn't imagine what I could say to him if I approached him, without sounding condescending or causing offence.

Wasn't I saying that we could best know a country through the eyes of its minorities? Finishing my coffee, I realised that I had never truly looked through the eyes of those minorities at the harshest end of the scale.

So then, how well could I say I knew the island on which I had been born? And in that context, how well could I say I knew myself?

When I returned home to the divided north coast of the island, I decided to pack a few things in a small bag and to spend a month or so with the minorities living in the part of Cyprus that is in the European Union. It was going to be back-packing with a difference. I wasn't going off to discover a distant corner of India or the like, but I was on a journey to discover my birthplace, and myself. I literally threw myself on the streets in the late hours of one mid-July morning. I didn't want to come off as a well-off boy play-acting the troubles that are all too real for some people. In that sense there was to be no 'cheating'. I left my mobile phone and bank cards at home; all I had in the way of money were some notes and pocket change.

This is not something I would recommend for anyone else to do, and so I add this warning to my post. I probably wouldn't have done this in a larger country, say England or America for example, but Cyprus is a small(ish) island and I know it well. The dangers and the pitfalls of copying what I've done are evident to all. What I'm trying to achieve can be done in other, more safer ways. This was a drastic action on my behalf, and I am just very lucky to have had it work for me. I am safe, well-fed and no longer out in the streets. The homeless, the stateless or simply those minorities that have come to seek a better life in the island's capital city have taken me in as one of their own.

You may think me crazy. Some already will. That is their right. Hey, even some of the people on the streets thought me crazy at first, but in everything that's done with good intent and sincerity, the craziness is just a different side to courage. As an interesting side note, however, my mother never thought me crazy. I know how difficult it was for her to let me go off like that, but she restrained her own feelings; I think she had sensed the restlessness in me for some time.

So, that is the reason for my absence. For this year's vacation I'm trying to build bridges, to cross those bridges and to connect with people that might have otherwise never entered the spectrum of my life.

I'm not doing this to give a critical report on the state of minorities in Cyprus. I probably won't even specifically write up about my adventures at Tarkan Deluxe, though I must say I've had many new experiences. I've come into contact with new cultures, and made new friends; a whole group of wonderful human beings that have changed me in ways I could hardly have imagined. If today I was really made homeless, I would have a home in the streets of Nicosia. And, without sounding too overly dramatic, those good people have a permanent home in my heart.

I have done this for myself, to expand my humanity and to humanise those different from me; to give myself diversity and to add weight to my words in my own eyes. I now have a bridge to that African man sleeping on that bench. I know what he feels, how he has survived, and I know how to approach him, and how to be accepted by him. It has also shown me my own strengths and weaknesses, and that I can survive without my home comforts.

It has given me perspective.

For humankind to survive in the bigger picture of things, and not just in the society it created for itself (by making money, collecting status symbols, etc.,) it needs to realise that opening lines of communication to its diversity will be its strength, and not its weakness. Forging strong cords will pull us closer together; for when we are humanised in each other's eyes, understanding is easier.

We know that humans are masters at hurting each other. Instead let's try to be masters at understanding each other. Only when we begin crossing bridges, can we be sure that humanity will not fade away.

Read more: About my life | My say | About Cyprus >>

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