Friday, January 24, 2014

Cyprus goes to Epirus, Greece

"Not this one!"  she said, shaking her finger at all of them for emphasis, "don't bother this one."
"Just introduce me," Nick spoke up, "come on."
"No way! Stay away from her."
They were speaking Greek so I didn't know the conversation was about me.

It was Andrea talking to the cooks more than 30 years ago, in the kitchen of a Greek diner in New York. She was from Cyprus and she had been given the job of training me as a waitress--which was no easy task. For the first few days, I thought all the workers there were Italian, until I realized that the cuss words they were spewing during the lunch rush were not the ones I knew, not Italian.

Those people were the first Greeks I'd ever met. So when Andrea spoke to them in their language, I assumed she was also Greek.

We became good friends and I learned that she was Cypriot. She told me how she had come to the U.S. at seventeen, leaving her small village for the first time, having gotten engaged to the tall Cypriot man who lived in New York, and then married, but he returned to the U.S. without her, awaiting the immigration papers. She told me how she came to join him and the numbing panic she felt, her first time on a plane, not knowing the language, worried that her new husband would not be there. How she had vomited on herself and the man in the seat next to her and his kindness, helping her, not humiliating her. And the joy she felt when she saw her new husband's face waiting in the crowd of people as the double doors at JFK airport opened and she was -- in America.

She told me about the war between Tukey and Cyprus that started a few months after she had arrived and she stayed glued to the T.V. looking for news about her family, her village but there was no news, only the information in the Cypriot-American community about how her village had been taken over and it would be days before she would hear that her family had made it out and years before she would see her village and her home again -- though only as a visitor on the occupied side of Cyprus.  How hard it must have been for her. I had no idea, and yet we were almost the same age.

I looked at Andrea as a young girl looks at an older sister. She taught me how to make spanakopita, and kourabiethis (Christmas cookies). She was a loyal and dedicated wife, a loving and kind mother.  I took my cues from her.  Below is a picture of her holding my son when he was newborn.
One day while we were sitting in the kitchen of the apartment that was attached to my parents' house, my sister Joanne opened the door that connected the two homes and yelled to me, "Linda, is my shirt on the clothes line?" I had done some of her laundry for her.

I was confused by Andrea's wet eyes as I reached out the sliding glass door and pulled Joanne's shirt from the line. It took Andrea a second before she could speak but she finally said, "This is what I want -- to be with my family. You're so lucky."

"I am?" I thought. I was a person who had an apartment in her parents' home, which is not much to be proud of in this American culture. I didn't feel lucky.

Soon after that visit, Andrea persuaded her husband to make the bold move of pulling their daughter from high school and their son from elementary and moving back to Cyprus. She would not be able to go back to her village, but she would move to a city nearby and she would be with some of her seven siblings--and both of her parents. And so, in 1990 she moved back. She was suddenly gone from my life. I missed her, but I got used to it. Life went on and slowly we lost touch.

Recently, we reunited in Margariti, Greece. It was as if we'd never been apart. We had so much fun, laughing and reminiscing. She was the first one to read my book, The Nifi, and she talked about it with such encouragement and enthusiasm.

Like a good big sister.

I'd love to hear from you!

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