Life on Mars: A Country Stuck in 1974

When people think of Cyprus, one often has the go-to image of picturesque beaches in Paphos or groups of British teenagers drunkenly stumbling down the Ayia Napa strip, à la “Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents”. However, what many people don’t realize is that this is only true for one half of the island. Due to long standing political tensions between the Republic of Cyprus and Turkey, half the island is a partially recognized state. The Turkish Republic of North Cyprus, or simply North Cyprus, is a state condemned by the United Nations, a state that is stuck in a 1970s time warp and a state that my parents have chosen to move to. Permanently.

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North Cyprus is a strange place to say the least. Seemingly stuck in 1974, cars that are older than my parents are commonplace, driving wild goats away from our house becomes an almost daily ritual and the English is so limited that to communicate with the locals in our nearest village we’ve developed a new form of sign language. On top of this, retaining main electricity for more than a 6 – hour period is an achievement in itself, with extreme blackouts lasting up to 36 hours. Foreign companies are hesitant to base themselves in North Cyprus, due to the controversy surrounding the country, with class actions suits being taken against HSBC by the Greek Cypriots for having a branch in the North. This means no foreign luxuries, but delightful imitations taking their place, with “Burger City” being North Cyprus’s own (albeit dodgy) Burger King and “McDonnals” being a rather sketchy knock off of McDonalds. These embargos also mean that one can’t fly directly into North Cyprus, but rather has to fly via Istanbul, which can turn the trip into an epic, with flight cancellations being rather frequent (i.e. being forced to sleep on Istanbul Attaturk International Airport’s floor for 13 hours).

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It can be a challenge being an almost-20 year old in a country where the (rather small) expat community has an average age of around 60, where locals closer to my age barely speak English, and my Turkish is non-existent. The summer months are okay, when the tourist season comes and I can pick up bar work to meet holidaymakers my age, and go out to some of the unique, lively clubs North Cyprus has, or explore the crusader era castles set in the vast mountain range, or see the UN controlled city of Varosha, which hasn’t been entered since 1974. However the winter months are, for lack of a better word, awful. I can go days without speaking to anyone apart from my parents and my dog, which as you can imagine, becomes pretty dismal. A day can be made much more exciting by walking the half a mile to the local petrol station, the nearest sign of civilization around us for at least five miles, even though the attendants don’t speak English at all.

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Despite all of this, however, North Cyprus has a charm about it. The Turkish Cypriot people are some of the friendliest and most generous people one would ever hope to meet. Complete strangers invite you into their home on hot days for water and to escape the blazing sun, just to speak to you, even if you have absolutely no idea what’s being said. The scenery is beautiful, no matter where you are, with beaches that could put the Maldives to shame and mountain vistas that are simply breathtaking. Don’t let the kebabs of Dervish give you the wrong impression of Turkish food, the real stuff is delicious, with the doner meat not dripping in grease and all bread freshly baked that same day. For olive lovers, you’re in no better place; freshly picked olives are a staple in the Turkish Cypriot diet, and are often stuffed with freshly made goats-cheese. For me, however, what makes living in North Cyprus a unique and amazing place to live, is being able to sit in my living room, look out over the sea and, sometimes, see a dolphin come close to the shore and spy hop across the bay – an amazing sight, one that I wouldn’t trade for the world.

Images courtesy of the author.