Archive for February, 2012

The Teacher of Cyprus

February 25, 2012

Eleni Foka was born and grew up in the village of Agia Triada Gialousa in the Karpas peninsula,Cyprus. This is a narrow and long peninsula, which epitomizes the north-east look of the island. She was the eldest sister in a rural family of nine children who raised tobacco, olives, beans, grains and livestock. The children would help every day at work, but their father harbored a great desire to educate his children. So Eleni attended Greek university, got a degree in House Economics and in 1973 when she was 24 she was appointed a teacher in her native village.

Only Eleni and another sister had time to study. Cruel historical events wiped out her father’s plans for his children. In the summer of 1974 Turkey invaded North Cyprus twice and captured parts of it. In the second invasion of August 15th they reached Eleni’s village. She talks about this day and what followed in an interview she gave to Sky Greece in2010, in what was the first time she spoke to a journalist in thirty six years:

“…They had cut the Karpas peninsula, so we could not leave. We heard the news about the cutting off the road from the radio.  Fear nested in us. That day, my father was on the field. I ran with the bike to tell him that he had to return home immediately. On the way I saw people running and crying. The Turks banned the movement in the streets, ravaged all stores. They came with their tanks and their forerunners with loudspeaker shouting that we should gather in the church. They gathered all the men, even the high school students. Only one of my brothers who was a soldier was saved. They took them on buses that were painted black, even the windows. [Later] they released my father because he was older. The boys were taken away…”

Eleni tells about the harsh means and the pressure applied by the Turks that followed in the next weeks, in order to force the Greek residents to leave their homes. “Men had to turn up three to four times a day in the center of the village… You could not get out of your house. If one had to go somewhere they had to get permission.” Turk settlers would steal field products and livestock occasionally. “When my father complained about these robberies he found himself in jail.” Beatings and rapes also prevailed. All this meant that “we didn’t have property, we did not have security; we took a risk every moment.” Ultimately the Turks had their way, and a mass migration ensured. “They had to leave, mainly to protect their small children.”

She and her family were affected directly. She felt that once you live through the death and the curse, there is no other death. So like several other Greek families, she decided to stay in this most hostile environment; they knew what was to be expected, she says. Her father was very angry for her decision; he was fed up. Teachers and the school headmaster had left and some parents came to her and asked her to take the children under her care – this time for safety rather than to impart knowledge. After one year she received permission to open the school.

Eleni describes the constant interruptions and harassments to the school and to the children. It was quite common in the mornings to meet a great mess, broken windows, sabotaged water supplies, and injuries inflicted on the children. Eleni did her best to clean up and fix the school early every day before the children came. She needed the help of the parents, and for them to be nearby the frightened children. “We were not allowed by the Turks to use books of history and religion… but the children who were living in these difficult situations wanted to learn. So we found some books from previous years, I taught in whispers. And we had other books over the desks, of  English and Mathematics, to cover the books of history and religion… It was a constant pain, a constant frustration. The Cypriot government could not help us…”

Twenty three years of teaching and struggling had passed. Eleni Foka became a Cypriot National heroine for her courage and determination to provide education and Greek culture for a few trapped children. In 1997 she needed medical care, but she had no confidence in the treatment she would get in the occupied area. She had to go to the free Greek Cyprus, but since she refused to get a Turkish Identity Card, the Turks would not let her come back. Only after a promise from the president of Cyprus that she could come back, she moved to the free Cyprus.

The promised had never been fulfilled: “(they) did not allow me to return to the occupied territories. So I lost my house and they closed the school. Then I realized that there was collaboration between the Cypriot authorities and the UN regarding my silent displacement.” She would go several times to the “green line” in Nicosia between the free and the occupied areas, but she could not pass through.

“When displaced, I did not bring any belongings with me… Only a good lady went to my house and found a Greek flag there and brought it to me. She had wrapped it in a nightgown so it would not be seen by the Turks…”

The National Heroine lives alone today in a modest little refugee house inNicosia; the only help she did get from the government, only after claiming it. By way of protesting the way the government treated her, she did not agree to keep on teaching in Cyprus; her brothers and sisters viewed her as a “black sheep” of the family and did not stay in touch. Even the children she had taught do not come to see her. “I have no requirements. I know that life is tough for everyone….Today I experience the worst of situations because I never wanted to betray my principles, my country… Perhaps now I do not live in fear, but I live far away from our paradise. The desecration of our churches screams, the stones are screaming. I cannot stand it! It is the responsibility of our leaders… it is our responsibility… we must do something!”

There is a word that has worn me out
there is a word that follows me everywhere
and asks me an explanation, in evening and morning
“Why,” I do not want it anymore, I’ve had enough of it

Carols and triangles
every Christmas – I remember a child
dipped in anger, in an enormous why
whisper and shout, a wound that bleeds
every moment in my life is a big why

Two or three dreams that were left
have been pawned, and we were left broke
The moneylender will send us to prison
Eleni, you have all of us on your back

Carols and triangles
every Christmas – I remember a child
dipped in anger, in an enormous why
whisper and shout, a wound that bleeds 
every moment in my life is a big why

“A Song for Eleni F.” Haris Katsimihas wrote the lyrics, Goran Bergovic composed the music and Giorgos Dalaras sings: (an audio player)

A  video clip of this song with Dalaras and Bergovic in the following link:

An interview in Sky:–8-8-2010/

Thanks very much for Nata , Shahaf  and Dany


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