Cyprus – In search of old and dear friends
By Ismail Veli…….
Like many people who look through old family albums of their parents, there are always some photos that inevitably attract attention. The questions asked are ”who are they, where did you take them”? Having being born in 1956, many photos of family friends of that period were unknown to me. Leaving Cyprus to settle in the UK in 1962 meant that contacts and friends often got lost. Communications between Cyprus and the UK like telephones was hardly available. Internet was unknown and sadly many friends from different villages sometimes lost contact.
With Cyprus in a state of war between 1963-74 it made matters worse. People moved to unfamiliar new settlements, many lost their lives and the lives of Cypriots was upheaval, heartaches and a profound feeling that life would never get back to normal.
In 1956 we were staying with my great grand-parents Ismail and Fatma Ali ‘Gicco’. My father being poor and a shepherd often moved around local villages in the pursuit of a job. In 1956 he found employment in Melusha which was a few miles from Lurucina. With 3 children (I was newly born at the time), times were not so easy. But peoples expectations of luxury goods were also non existent. Finding a home to rent for the duration of the employment was important. Hardly anyone had cars and public transport between villages was hardly available. On the positive side people were often helpful and making friends in a new community was often easy.
My parents Mehmet and Fatma moved to Melusha for a short spell in mid to late 1957. He was employed by a local shepherd named Ahmet. His wife Nebile were more than just employers. They soon became great friends with the couple’s daughters and their husbands. At a time of hardship honest friendship and reliable working relations were of the utmost importance.
Melusha was a tiny village of only 300 people at the time, they quickly made friends with the locals. The engagement and wedding photos of one such family have always attracted my attention. Sadly the progression of age has meant my parents had forgotten some of their names. The couples were young and good looking, which always made me ask ”who they were.” My parents always spoke about them with fondness and affection. They stayed in Melusha for a year and my father travelled to the UK to explore the possibilities of emigrating. My mother returned back to the family home in Lurucina. They kept in touch with their friends through messages and occasional visits. In 1962 however we migrated to the UK, and one of the couples in the photos moved to Istanbul, Turkey, while the other couple moved to Larnaca. All I knew of this couple was that the gentleman was a policeman. Last time my parents had contact with the policeman and his wife was in 1971-72 when my mother paid them a visit in Larnaca. The lady’s brother Mustafa also visited my parents every time they were in Cyprus.
Early in May of this year I finally decided to try and find out who they were, their names, and if they had children I could communicate with. I joined the face book group ”MELUSA”. I shared the photos, hoping someone would recognize the photos taken in 1956-7. By the end of the evening I was inundated with messages, details and even questions, not only from the children of the couple’s in the photos and villagers but from one of the ladies in the original photo asking who I was and how I happen to possess her and her husband’s photo?? Human emotion and excitement takes over from that stage. I had never expected such a fast and informative response. The lady was Nezihe Ömer and apparently she was the twin sister of Perihan who was in the other photo with her husband Necmi Ali Kaya. As happens after a time span of 60 years tragedy also comes into focus. It turns out Necmi was still a policeman in 1974 and while on duty was killed in Larnaca on 20 July, 1974. He was only 41 years old. No doubt his beautiful wife Perihan never quite recovered from her traumatic loss and sadly also died in 1996.
They leave behind four children, Isik, Mine, Ahmet and Feride. As a result of my postings I am now facebook friends with Feride and Isik, and their aunty Nezihe Ömer who has written to me from Istanbul. Though my parents are unable to use a computer I have exchanged greetings on their behalf. To find their friends after such a long break has made them so happy, while at the same time sad that Perihan and Necmi are no longer alive to share the joy. Ultimately all most of us have is our love of remembering our friends and youth with affection. Modern social media has had a profound impact on finding friends that we have lost over the years. This story is probably one that millions may be sharing in today’s world. I hope sharing such stories helps inspire others not to give up in their search.
The next part of this story was when my father returned to Lurucina, and decided to travel to the UK. It was on his return however that the long story of coincidences took on a surprising twist.
It was the summer of 1957 when Mehmet Veli ‘Kirlapo’ undertook his first journey abroad. Leaning over the railings of the ship, as the Filippo Grimani cut through the waves he was intrigued when something distracted his attention. A few metres away he noticed a young lady in her early 20’s holding a baby 3-4 years old, she was arguing hysterically with a middle aged man when she frantically ran towards Mehmet crying profusely. Mehmet was the only person on the deck at the time. She began to ask for protection as the middle aged man was offering her money to prostitute herself. It seemed he was very insistent. In the 1950’s, for a woman to be travelling on her own with a baby was no easy task. Mehmet annoyed at what he heard approached and told the other man to hide his face in shame and warned him that he would have him to answer to, in addition he would report his harassment to the ship’s captain. It seemed the young lady’s name was Eredo and was joining her husband who had worked and saved enough money to bring his wife and son to the UK.
Feeling safe with Mehmet she sat at his dinner table and stayed with him throughout the journey and only left her room after a glance from her cabin door that the coast was clear. At 4.000 tons and only 150-200 passengers the Filippo Grimani, though seemingly huge at the time, was a tug boat compared to today’s cruise liners.
On arrival to the UK, thank you’s and goodbyes were said, and everyone was picked up by relatives at Victoria station. It was a hard 6-7 days journey but at last the trip was over.
A few months later Mehmet returned to Cyprus. Once his employment in Melusha to Ahmet and Nebile ended. He was helped by Ahmet find a job in Meneou village, near Larnaca. This meant that he would be away from his wife and 3 children for 2 months. On recommendation he contacted a middle aged family to rent rooms for his family. Unfortunately Yorgo and Angela only had one spare room and indicated that a family of 5 would be too much for them. Cypriots being what they are nevertheless offered coffee and cakes. My father started to explain that he had met a young lady from Meneou with a baby a few months ago on his journey to the UK. At a time of strict rules of conduct Yorgo and Angela were startled at this, they explained that Mehmet was talking about their daughter. Mehmet quickly explained the circumstances and Yorgo shook Mehmets hand, thanked him for helping and protecting his daughter and grandson. He called him a ‘Balligari’ (a brave/hero in Greek). Yorgo and Angela then immediately told Mehmet that his whole family were welcomed to stay at their home for as long as they needed to.
As it turned out the father later contacted his daughter Eredo to tell her what had happened. Naturally she was shocked at the amazing coincidence and told her family to do their best for Mehmet and his family as she owed him her respect and security on her long journey.
My parents have always spoken in high regard for Yorgo and Angela. As a mark of respect for us being Muslims Angela was always eager to point out to my mother if there was any pork being cooked. She ensured that the food was cooked in separate pots. I’ve been told that she cared and played with me for endless hours. Though our stay was short, my parents, Yorgo and Angela had become very attached to each other. My mum and Angela in particular were crying when we departed.
Sadly after leaving Meneou they never saw each other again. Communication facilities were primitive and the massive migration from Cyprus and Lurucina in particular were immense. though I was less than a year old at the time I have always wondered what happened to Yorgo, Angela and in particular to Eredo and her little son. If he is well and alive he would now be about 60-62 years old, possibly with grandchildren of his own.
If anyone knows this family I would be more than delighted to have information that could lead to me getting in touch with them. It may be a tall order, but as we have seen from our friends in Melusa it is not an impossible dream. Yorgo, Angela and Eredo came from a very small village, and I feel certain that if someone from Meneou reads this article our re-union will become a foregone conclusion.
Today the 5th of June 2015 is the birthday of Feride Necmi Usal, the daughter of Necmi and Perihan. On behalf of all my family, I would like to send her my best wishes on this special day. This article is my gift in memory of her parents who were, and still are loved by all who had the good fortune to be their friends. Rest in peace Necmi and Perihan.