By Nadia Marks
Caught between two worlds, two lives, two cultures, two selves! That is how I feel as a Cypriot living abroad. I am Cypriot and I am Greek. That fact is indisputable. My ethnic identity is intrinsically tied up with my sense of self. For most people this identity is linked with the place they were born in and where they spend their formative years. But how do we measure these formative years I ask myself, and how long are they? How much time do you have to be in a place to acquire this sense of self, this identity that makes you, you? Perhaps it varies from person to person. For me it seems, it was early childhood. Although I was born in Cyprus I only spent the first decade of my life there, no time at all. Ten years or so for an adult passes in a flicker. For a child, it’s a lifetime.
Now I have lived in London for a lifetime, and several decades have passed since I was a child in Cyprus, yet the memory still lingers as strong as ever. It’s a curious and strange thing that such little time has shaped who I am and has given me this sense of self.
My roots were shallow and tender when my parents took me to live in England, and it should have been easy to rip them up and replant them in a new land. Yet it was painful and I felt brutally uprooted and displaced. I often wonder if it’s the place itself, a land of light, colour and warmth, or the people and the culture that has penetrated itself so deep into my subconscious. The harsh contrast of a flaming Mediterranean island and the bleak cold grey of a north Atlantic one had undoubtedly something to do with my initial shock and sense of loss. Years later I often still feel it.
At the beginning, when I first arrived, it took some time for my eyes to get used to the new light and my ears to the sounds of the new language, but in time everything adjusted. Slowly I started to see clearly through the mist, and speak like everyone else. Yet when I dreamed it was always in Greek. In time that too changed, and even the dreams fused into a mixture of the two. I suppose that’s what I am now. A mixed and enriched person, a fusion of two cultures.
I am a Greek Cypriot, yet, I’m also something else. Perhaps you could best describe me as an ethnic Londoner, but definitely not English. London is the most multiracial city in the world. The bulk of it’s population is an interesting mix of race, religion, colour and culture, which makes it an incredibly vibrant and exiting place to live in. We now live in an increasingly multicultural universe and I too am one of those countless people in London and other big cities on the planet who have shed the restraints of nationalism and have become universal. If I go to Italy or Spain or any other Mediterranean country I feel immediately at home because they remind me of Cyprus. I feel like a local. I pick up the language, the rhythm is not so different to Greek, I understand their gestures, their music, their thinking. It’s like a parallel universe that I recognise and feel a sense of belonging to. I travel a lot and wherever I go I seem to find a way to relate to the culture of that land and more often than not I relate back to my roots and Cyprus.
This, I think is the positive side of immigration. I’m liberated from the absolute knowledge of belonging only to one place and seeing the world from only that particular perspective. I belong in London, yet I also belong in Cyprus. When I’m in London, I’m a true metropolitan. I use the city to it’s utmost. I go to exhibitions to concerts to the theatre, I walk the parks go to parties and have interesting friends. The sense of living in one of the most exciting cities in the world is incredibly exhilarating and I love it. When I’m in London unless it’s particularly cold and raining, and I long for the Cypriot sun, Cyprus is two thousand miles and a life time away. But then when I’m in Cyprus it’s the same story. I immerse myself into the life and London is but a distant memory. I live the Cypriot life. I remember my childhood. I bask in the sunshine, I run in poppy fields, I dance, I sing, eat kebabs under the lemon tree and go swimming in the moonlight. Two worlds, two lives, two selves.
I feel at home in both places, yet, I also feel a little alien in both of them.
Here in London I’m considered different from most people. Not so much now since London is such a multiracial city, but certainly when I first arrived. Being different works to my advantage and for me it has always been a positive experience. Different is considered interesting, exotic and exciting. I’m lucky that the world of art, culture and media, which is my professional world, celebrates change and difference. I always make sure that people know I’m Greek Cypriot, therefore different, and that confirms and perpetuates my ethnic identity and keeps it alive for me. I have also passed this strong identity to my children. My two boys speak Greek, feel Greek Cypriot, and love Cyprus like a motherland, even though they were born in London and their father is English. Yet again, by doing this it confirms who I am and creates a bond between us. How could my sons really know me if they didn’t know this other part of me that is so fundamental to who I am?
In Cyprus, on the other hand, where I always thought I was exactly like everyone else, I’m now discovering that some of my views and attitudes are not exactly the same as everyone else. I find I make blunders and some times behave in ways not acceptable to the local code. To be 100% Cypriot probably means that you instinctively understand these codes and even if you don’t agree with them you at least know them. I am, it seems, not what I always thought I was. Even though the blood that runs through my veins is 100% Greek Cypriot and feel proud of it, my personality is a bit less than that. In fact what I’m discovering is that, in reality, I’m not a true anything. I belong everywhere, whether it’s Verona, Malaga or Los Angeles, and nowhere in particular, which in itself is not a bad thing at all. In fact it’s a very liberating discovery which took me a lifetime to make.