Monday, 7 December 2015


Our grandma always speaks to us in 2 languages - English and Turkish... English because she moved to London in the 1950s without speaking a word of it, and quickly had to learn. Turkish because it's her mother tongue. Growing up we got a mix of both languages, often sentences strewn together in two different tongues. My grandparents infamously call Sainsbury's Suzbury's, and my grandma once asked a man behind a stall in Cyprus for a plastic bag, before remembering that the words plastic bag were slightly out of context! All of my grandparents spoke a mix of Turkish and English in their lifetimes... but I'm sharing my grandmother's story because she spoke more. When we started learning French in school, she helped me count to ten. When me and my sister stayed at my grandparents' for "sleepovers" she'd say a prayer with us in Arabic before bed. And every once in a while, she'll say something in Greek, a language she would have once spoke a lot more frequently.

My grandparents left Cyprus in the 1950s, on the brink of war. I'm not going to claim that I know much about this war, because I don't. All I can say for certain is that before it happened, my grandparents lived amongst friends both Greek and Turkish, and that now, there's a border that slices the country down the middle like a barrier. It separates human beings, culture, and languages. I often wonder if I would have learnt Greek if the war hadn't have happened. I probably would have been born in the same village that my grandparents were born in. And that village wouldn't have been sat on a border.

It's 2015, and my grandparents have a home in Cyprus, but they still live here. Their village is known by two names - Yesilirmak (Yeah-sheel-ur-muk) and Limnidi - Turkish and Greek. It sits on the borderline - only just on the borderline. It's nested in the mountains, bright and green, and the people there leave boxes of strawberries at your door step before you even wake up in the morning. There are telephone lines there that only sometimes work, and no Internet, and the kids have to take a bus to another town to get to school. It's beautiful. It's also full of soldiers. Men drive around in trucks with guns, and even though I've never seen conflict there, conflict always feels imminent. The people are still marred by a war that happened decades ago.

Earlier this week I was on a Don't Bomb Syria protest outside Westminster. And I know the links aren't particularly strong, but I thought of my grandparents. I thought of my granddad who sold his motorbike to try to raise funds for plane tickets, and who worked in the first Wimpy bar for 9 years when he got to London. And I thought of my grandma who made us pray before bedtime and tried to read the Qur'an in Arabic, even though she is only ever really religious at births, weddings and funerals. And I thought about war. And about how the last time I was in Cyprus I found a beach on the borderline that wasn't guarded by soldiers. And how I walked alone across rocks to the Greek side and found a crab. And how I carried him back across the border with me because I wanted to spend time with a creature that didn't see borders, or know borders... to him the rocks were just the rocks, the sea was just the sea, the land was just the land.

It's easy for me to know why I dislike war so much. It's not because it caused my family to leave their home all those years ago, or because it leaves me feeling like I have two homes but neither of them proper, or because so many relatives fought and died in armies for a side that never cared about them. It's because I'm constantly reminded of how ugly war is. How a little village is constantly burdened by it when it isn't even happening any more. 

I've been thinking about how privileged I am. I'm writing about war in a cosy office in Hackney, while other people are dying as a result of it. I don't have to fear for my life. I have the luxury of worrying about how war will hurt others, I'm not forced to worry about my own life... my sister's life... my grandparents' lives.

As I write this, I try to memorise the word for peace in my grandma's 5 languages: peace, barış, ειρήνη, paix, سلام.

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