By Eren Erdogan……
Life begins in Australia on August 14th, 1970 – It was a relief to see my brother Sermen and sister Tulen waiting at Melbourne Tullamarine Airport after my transit saga.
It was the middle of winter but the sun shone bright. It felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I remember asking my sister why there were no borders while riding the taxi. There were no restrictions, walls or enclaves like Nicosia, it was an amazing feeling and I was more than ready to get used to this life.
My First Days – We stopped at the corner of Chapel and High Street on the way home to buy a mattress and some blankets for me. Tulen made sure they were delivered that day, I recall the Aussie salesman saying “We’d better deliver these today! He’ll be sleeping on the floor otherwise!”
I found his accent so difficult to understand that Tulen needed to confirm the joke with me. She continued her quest for my bedding by purchasing an electric blanket as Melbourne nights were colder than Cyprus. I never knew these things even existed! ‘Electric Blanket’ was a laughable term for me. I didn’t end up using it all that much but it was there just in case.
Afterwards, she proudly announced that she’d cook me an Australian meal for lunch. My first meal was lamb chops with mashed potatoes and frozen peas and it was ready in ten minutes. Not even a decade before, it took mum all morning to make lunch for us, this was very quick but the meat wasn’t the same familiar taste I knew. I noticed things were different in Melbourne, the sun didn’t come up or go down from the right directions, and even the time of day was strange. The trees were different, the birds, smells; it was all so different. This was a culture shock to me. This was going to be home so I had to get used to it.
Missing Home – I missed mum, dad and my friends. I wrote them letters every couple of days reminding them not to worry about me. I made sure they were filled with funny stories from my everyday life. I knew
I had to get on with it, things were going to be very different now. No mum to wash or iron, cook or clean. I had to fend for myself like my siblings did.
Tulen made sure everyone pulled their weight with cleaning, chores and especially the weekly visit to the laundromat. She was convinced we’d save money if we dried the washing at the Laundromat rather than manually at home. However, the laundry staff wouldn’t allow that for some reason. All this was an eye-opener for me, I never knew these services existed.
There were no football (soccer) matches, only Australian Rules Football, I tried to understand why they tackled and hit one another, this was clearly foul play to me. It was almost like rugby. It was so theatrical seeing the guys at each end of the field constantly wave flags at one other. It just didn’t make any sense. Later on, I was told they were the goal umpires.
Most women called me ‘love’, it was so confusing whenever I walked into shops or asked for anything, the approach or answer was often ‘yes love’. I thought I must’ve been so good looking they couldn’t help themselves. I told Sermen about it, he informed me that it was an Australian term of endearment and not to take it personally. I picked up the language and slang quickly; being young had its advantages.
Shopping for Groceries – Tulen and I took the Number 6 Tram to The Victoria Fruit Market every Saturday for our weekly grocery run. I was amazed by the size of the market and abundance, size of the fruit! The apples were so large and oranges so varied but they didn’t taste the same as the fruit in Cyprus. We filled our boxes/bags and jumped back on to the number 6 Tram.
I remember one day we boarded the tram with so many boxes of fruit. My sister had to get off earlier to pick something up and left me with all the groceries. I made it to our stop alone and took one of the boxes outside and placed it on a tram waiting bench and turned back to get the other. However, the tram started moving and doors closed, I managed to jump back on and squeeze through the automatic doors but the tram didn’t stop until we reached the next stop.
I was so embarrassed that I couldn’t look anywhere but the floor. I was so worried about the box that I left on the bench at the last stop so I walked back as fast as I could while holding the additional boxes. Luckily, no one had touched it. I am sure it would have been a different result if it was in Cyprus. I carried the boxes one at a time, going back and alternating every twenty yards until I made it home.
Olive Oil – You could only buy olive oil in small perfume bottles at the pharmacy unless you knew the right place to buy it in bulk. Young Australian women applied olive oil to their eyelashes to increase their shine and length so the pharmacist was understandably baffled when I bought four bottles at a time. He was even more surprised when I told him I was going to pour the olive oil over my salad.
My First Job – Finding a job at sixteen wasn’t easy as Australian factories didn’t employ underage workers. Instead, I used Sermen’s ID, he was nineteen at the time so problem solved, I started working at the Red Tulip Chocolate Factory. The smell of chocolate was overpowering enough to put me off the confectionary for the rest of my life. I was fascinated to see so many Greek and Turkish people working side-by-side. We shared our lunches and chatted till the cows came home.
Surprisingly, most of the Greeks were from the mainland, not Cyprus. They made fun of my Cypriot Greek language (not that I knew much) and I didn’t understand why. Gradually I learned to say, ‘bosi ise?’ and not ‘De’ganis re gumbare?’ ‘Kherede’ and so on. Which meant “hi how are?) Meeting a few Turkish boys that were working afternoon shift in the same factory I asked for a transfer to be able to work with them. Needless to say I joined them within a week.
My job now was with Jelly Babies, Black Cats, Milk Bottles confectionary. No more smelly chocolates for me.
Eight years later: The first eight years in Australia were the hardest on me, I was 24, but it taught me to be tougher and resilient. ( I might talk about that later.) I had to see mum and dad as it was overdue. I went back to Cyprus it was long flight back.
A visit to Cyprus was long overdue because I hadn’t seen my parents in eight years. My Aussie girlfriend at the time insisted on joining as it was en route through a Europe trip we had planned. I reminded her that I needed some private time with my folks, so she agreed to stay with friends of ours on the Isle of Capri for a couple weeks. There was a military law in Turkey at the time that allowed access to Adana, Turkey but not Ercan, Nicosia so I took an overnight boat trip to the Famagusta port.
I saw mum and dad waiting there as I sailed in but they hadn’t seen me yet. I thought “Oh my god! They’ve aged so much in just eight years!” I couldn’t hold my tears back while walking through Customs. I hugged and kissed both of them for as long as I could. When we arrived in Mahmut Pasha street, Nicosia – my old stomping ground – the street was so much smaller than I had remembered. Neighbours, friends and even people I didn’t know came to see me. All I wanted to do was see my beloved Buyuk Han, Arasta Street, the Bandabuliya and all the streets we used to gallivant around. Dad was so proud he took me to show his son off to every relative he had, some I knew some I didn’t. He was very happy to have me at home. Nicosia hadn’t changed but it definitely looked smaller.
I went to the barber near the Buyuk Hann one morning for a shave from the old master I used to work for as a kid. While my face was being lathered with warm shaving cream, a street kid came rushing in to inform me that a crying English girl was looking for me. I wondered who it could’ve been, what had I done recently to make anybody cry? I went home, miraculously clean shaven, and the living room was packed with our neighbours, relatives and local strangers. Sure enough, the crying ‘English’ girl was my young Australian girlfriend who had come to surprise me but she wouldn’t stop crying. Mum made her some Turkish coffee to settle her down. She had taken a flight from Rome to Cyprus and ended up in Larnaca, the south side of the border.
When Customs asked where she was going to stay, she gave them my address in the North, Mahmut Pasha Street, Nicosia. She said they ravaged through her bags and gave her a full body search. They told her she couldn’t cross the border unless she applied for a different Visa from another office. She somehow managed to cross after three days but only for a day trip and was prohibited from bringing any bags for an overnight stay. Even the UN officers knew what was going on.
Of course, she wanted to stay with me in the North. Border security recommended she check out from her hotel and give them her bag before crossing. It was equally hard to get her a permit to stay in the North after she crossed. She had to prove that she’d leave from Ercan by providing an outgoing ticket.
The rest of my time in Cyprus involved a never ending tour of relatives’ living rooms, politely answering the same questions about Australia to every aunt, uncle and third cousin. However, I managed to escape to Lapta, where my favourite aunt lived. My siblings and I spent most of our childhood vacations there. She made the best Hellim. She made my favorite dish whenever I visited, fresh Hellim and watermelon.
As the time got nearer the thought of leaving mum and dad again was no easier than the first time but I was happy to have see them once again.
For those readers who would like to read about my departure from Cyprus as a young Turkish Cypriot for a new life abroad, please click on the following link.
Before we left our homeland on a one-way journey for a new life in Melbourne, Australia, our family lived in Nicosia and you can read about our childhood in the following articles.