Cyprus. It’s a place I visited in 2006 on the way from Qatar to Scotland for some training. My roommate from college was from here and I wanted to see him and his homeland. Though I was only here for a few days, I knew there was something special about this place. I could taste it in the amazing food, smell it in the jasmine-scented air, and feel it in the warmth of its people.
I am staying on the north side of the island, the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Turkey is the only country in the world that recognizes the north. It’s a bit isolated, but not as much as you’d think and certainly not as much as it used to be.
Anyway, the first thing I noticed upon arrival was how much things have changed! I have been to many places before and after “the crisis” and it’s almost impossible to find places “better” now than before the crisis. North Cyprus fits that description though. Buoyed by Turkey’s strong economy and investment from abroad, this place is completely different.
In 2006 there were almost no international brands here. Now there are. I don’t know if this is progress per se, but it’s a change. The main street in Nicosia, the capital, is full of restaurants, bars, cafes, and life. This is the Mediterranean and the people are very social. There were other outlets before, but it’s nice to walk down this main street in the evening and see Cypriots out and about, socializing and having fun.
Then there is the smell. I don’t think I’ve been to a place that smells so good before. The streets are lined with lemon and orange trees. Every house has a garden full of beautiful flowers like roses, daisies, and other stuff I don’t know the names of. The smell of jasmine wafts through the air. And then there’s the smell of barbecues. There are basically no vegetarians here, as they are powerless to resist when smelling the ventilation coming from any random restaurant or any home on the weekend. Incredible.
They say the population here is about 300,000 people, but locals will say it’s much higher. I don’t know what the population is, but this place totally has a small town feel. When I go out with my friend here, it’s a constant barrage of hellos and waving at a distance as we go about normal daily business.
Of course, there are positives and negatives associated with such a setting. The positives are obvious – everyone looks out for each other, there is a sense of community, crime is very low, etc. The negative is a lack of privacy and perhaps a lack of alone time as doing something as simple as having a coffee in a cafe will almost certainly result in someone else knowing you there. Still, I think the positives outweigh the negatives and this place is big enough.
Then the food. My goodness the food. Cyprus gave the world halloumi cheese, the only cheese you can grill or fry. But this place is a mix of everything Mediterranean, having Greek and Turkish influence but going further back it’s been influenced by everyone you can think of. This country is prime real estate no matter the era, and everyone from the Crusaders to the Venetians to the Ottomans have been here. The more meddling that’s taken place, the better the food is. Plus, you can grow almost anything here. I don’t understand how cacti and banana plants grow side by side in this climate, but they do.
And then the people. Of course, one of my best friends, Adil, is Cypriot. I’ve known him for 13 years and got to know some Cypriots in 2006 – even attending the engagement of his sister by chance. But now that I’m here for longer I can peer into the Cypriot psyche. So far, I really like what I see. So nice, so caring, and so genuine. There seems to be more materialism here than I’d like, this place earning the title of having the most BMWs per capita in the world according to locals. But such is the plague everywhere in the Western world.
The biggest complaint I have is the lack of public transportation. It would be difficult to live here without a car, though not impossible. This feels like a place I could live in, but let’s see how the rest of my time here goes. Cyprus is where Aphrodite, Greek god of love, was born. I’m not ashamed to say I’m falling in love with this place.