During the violent events which repeatedly shook the island from 1962 to1974, Pyla remained quiet. The inhabitants of Pyla seemed to have a tacit contract that peace would be maintained. Pyla was not totally unique of course, there were a few other villages where no violence ever erupted between communities. Potamya near Nicosia was cited to me as an example. Today it is also situated in the buffer zone.
|A Lusignan cathedral converted to a mosque, Lefkoşa|
In 1974, with Turkish warplanes bombing Pyla, most Greeks left, thinking that the Turkish government would take over. When shortly after UN forces moved in, they came back.
Armed with that much history, learnt from a few articles I read as well as from the stories of my articulate Couchsurfing host Nikolay in nearby Larnaca, I make a plan to visit the intriguing village. I get on the bus; with me, there are some students from abroad, Nigerians maybe, or Ghanians. Their student residence is on the outskirts of Pyla, that is where they all get off. The entire surrounding area has been taken over by foreigners: Blocks of holiday houses, built by Europeans, defigure the landscape the length of a few kilometers all the way down to the sea.
I start a conversation with the bus driver. He is a Cypriote Turk, who, he tells me, left with his family in 1974, and who came back some five years ago for economic reasons; he could not find a job in the North.
When I arrive in the town center, one of the first things I remark is that small Pyla is actually quite picturesque. Small streets are lined by white-washed houses with climbing plants at the gate, further down, at a short distance, a large new church invites a visit with open doors, while at the very village square the minaret of a mosque can be seen just behind the pub with the Efes sign. Right in front of it UN jeeps are parked. The UN office is in another corner of the square. In its window a poster reads, "Hunting in the buffer zone is strictly forbidden. Hunters in camouflage carrying guns are easily mistaken for soldiers. They may draw fire from either side." The message is repeated in Greek and in Turkish.
The street signs show the word "street" in two languages, "odos" and "sokak". The village also has two mayors, the "Türk Muhtarlığı Pile" being situated right here on the square, "Pile" being the Turkified version of the village's name. The most common theory as to the etymologic origin of the name is that it may come from the Greek word "pyli", "passage", the village occupying a strategic position on the transition point from the coastal area to the central plain.
There is a Turkish primary school in the village somewhere, I was told. At the street corner a kasap advertises both in Turkish and English. The shop keeper may well know that the Greeks anyway prefer to buy from a Greek butcher. As far as I have heard Greek landlords confine themselves to renting out to Greek tenants here, in the same way that Turkish landlords let only to Turks. Despite appearances, it is a bit of a segregated world.
One anecdote Nikolay relayed to me was the one of a Turkish man who always used to come to the Greek tavern. Everyone in Pyla thought he was a spy. Nikolay related it this way: "It may sound incredible, but that is really what people were saying to each other. Personally I don´t think so, I think he was just not very clear in the head. He was probably ever so slightly mentally handicapped, and he also had a gambling problem, that is why he always came there."
The Buffer Zone is a duty-free zone, and despite any existing inter-communal tensions, this incited people to cooperate economically, it simply being in everyone's best interest. Before the border opened in 2003, Pyla used to be famous for its "fish taverns". At that time, the Turks of Pyla were among the few Cypriotes who could go and seek employment on both sides of the divided island. So the Turks of Pyla engaged in trade, bringing cheap fish from the Northern side, delivering it to the Greeks of Pyla who owned restaurants who quickly became famous across Greek Cyprus. The Greek restaurant owners in return would employ Turkish waiters, because it came in handy should a fight break out among customers. A Greek waiter could not possibly hope to meddle in a dispute involving one or more hot-headed Turks, a Turkish waiter however might try!
While the Greeks had restaurants at the time, the Turks were shops owners. Along with the fish they contrabanded fake brand-name products, clothing or perfums. Pyla was the place to go if you wanted cheap clothes, and also for alcohol and cigarettes.
Then, in 2003, the border opened, the prices in the North went up, and all that business collapsed.
In the few afternoon hours that I spend in Pyla, there is almost no one on the street. People seem to drive their cars around rather than walk. The woman in the shop advertising "açık" on its door, from which I buy some Ülker chocolate, graces me with a big smile when I change to her mothertongue Turkish after she has not understood my question in English, a language widely understood on the Greek side of Cyprus. I am looking for directions for Pyla's two historical sights: A Venetian tower, and an apparently very well preserved Lusignan chapel (most Lusignan architecture being located on the territory of the Northern government, it has been left to dilapidate).
This woman, and another man later in the pub where I ask something about the bus time table, are my first contacts with Turkish Cypriotes. Curiously I try to analyse their accents and physiognimies. Of course, a couple of weeks later I am going to traverse the border to the North and the importance I attribute to these individuals, right now constituting such peculiar objects of interest which I hold against the light and muster with much eagerness, will then be washed away by the countless experiences and conversations I will have with other Cypriote Turks.
For now I go around finding a place to wait for the bus to come, and just as I sit down with my bag at my feet, the evening call to prayer resounds. It does so very timidly, as if not to disturb anyone, and I would almost not have noticed it. The sound of the television coming out of the door of an empty restaurant on the other side of the square seems to be just as loud!
Such are the rather tame adventures of the day, I muse as I snack on the feta cheese-flavoured crisps that I got together with the Keos beer from the "Antigone" supermarket on the square. Not really that exciting, but I am glad I made the effort.