A week in Cyprus with the hosts, students and tutors of three Grampus Heritage projects, was a heartening way to spend the second anniversary of the Brexit vote. Most of the students were British, and those few that weren’t seemed to have studied at UK universities. The other tutors were Greek, Cypriot, Maltese, Polish, and Algerian, and all were open hearted and generous with their knowledge, skills, time and friendship. Every single one of them spoke English fluently.
We looked at casting silver jewelry, found a lost village through landscape archaeology and test excavations, and began to build adobe walls for a new training room.
We explored Choirokoitia neolithic World Heritage Site, and ate fresh halloumi after watching the goats be milked. We looked for repeating symbolism in old churches, and learnt to stitch the eight-petalled marguerite flowers in the UN Intangible Cultural Heritage of Lefkara Lace.
One day we went to the national archaeology museum in Nicosia/Lefkosia and I was struck, by all the statues there all of which seemed to be smiling, and the very early ceramic models of houses.
Nicosia/Lefkosia is the capital of Cyprus, and is divided by the EU border between the Greek and Turkish sides. A city block wide, you have to show your passport twice – to enter and leave the block-wide ‘green line’ that partitions the city and island. It is a hard border, it caused refugees on both sides, and four decades later the villages are still sprinkled with abandoned properties owned by people from the other sides.
The abiding theme of the week was summed up by a Turkish-Cypriot shopkeeper, who settled us down for a nice haggle with a glass of chai – she said “us together – no problem, but big problems up there between countries”. Over the week on this divided island, I thought more deeply about my own ‘Island mentality’. It’s within my lifetime that Turkey and Greece divided Cyprus, but over a thousand years since England was invaded and we became ruled by a foreign power. Our national identity is a permanent thing, made more so by the sea that surrounds these islands. Yet many in our neighbouring countries may have lived in the same valley or village and had their national borders shift around them, in some communities this has happened multiple times in the last few hundred years. They may be from different countries, but there is a shared fluidity in their National identity, as something that has recently and repeatedly been challenged and redefined. Here in England we can be complacent and rigid in what national identity means.
When their excellent English wasn’t up to the job, some of the other tutors reverted to the specific name in their native tongue. Frequently this was close to the sound of the word in other native languages – some words in Algerian sounded familar enough to be understood in Greek, and others in Turkish. There is a shared history across and beyond the Mediterranean, which we all can hold in common.
This bowl was made between 1050 and 950 BCE in Cyprus, and is on show in the Cyprus Museum. It is decorated with what is familiar to me as a Union Jack.
Thanks to Martin Clark and Ho Cien for the photos