“Ranada? You know Ranada??” He kept yelling these words at me. I held back tears of frustration and embarrassment and responded, “Sir, you literally just watched my plane land. I am new here, I don’t know anything.”
All I knew was that I needed the 417 bus towards Kiti. I was told to tell the bus driver to let me off at ‘Coffee Island’. I figured ‘Coffee Island’ must be the local nickname for a popular spot. After yelling “Ranada” at me a bit more (which I later learned was Cypriot-accent for “Larnaca”, the city I was in), I finally just got into the bus and trusted he’d tell me when to exit the vehicle. About 15 minutes later, he shooed me out without another word or any interaction.
Not seeing any such “Coffee Island” around me, I asked several people for directions. How do I get to this mystical land of coffee and creamer? The general consensus was that I walk “over there” and “maybe turn somewhere”, then I should “ask again”.
Long story short, I found ‘Coffee Island’. It was a chain coffee shop and I was at the wrong one.
Another long story cut short, I had to wait 5 hours. At this point, my intended host had no idea where I was. He insisted that I find out my location, despite having told him my address, city, and the telephone number several times. Finally, feeling defeated, I texted another guy who had offered to host me. I would have to wait another few hours for a friend of his to pick me up, but at least they knew the wonders of Google and were willing to use it to locate me.
This is how my experience in Larnaca, Cyprus began. It was hot, I was sweaty, and the people were total jerks. Not a strong start, but I am a firm believer in second chances. When I found out my host for the week was an immigrant from India who worked as a cook at a local hotel, I felt all would be well. When he took me to his home, a little place located inside the hotel, I figured it couldn’t be too bad! Living with an Indian chef, taking it easy by the pool, and not having to spend a cent? All good things.
Soon I realized a few things, however. My chef host had no intention of feeding me anything beyond a salad made up of chopped lettuce, tomatoes, and a ton of olives. I also learned that my host, his roommate, and I would be sharing the apartment – a single bedroom flat with a broken sink, a broken toilet, and the wake up call of 10,000 tiny ants crawling all over me.
On my first day, I quickly discovered that there was NOTHING to see or do nearby, either. With my hosts at work all day, I was an abandoned island upon this island. Oh – did I mention that traditional Indians don’t use toilet paper? I began to hate Cyprus very quickly.
After 3 days of sitting next to the pool, listening to elderly British people rant about racism and why they eat meat despite knowing the cruelty of it, after sitting next to a woman who yelled at anyone who asked her to please put her top back on, and after 2 nights of being up until 4 AM because my lonely host couldn’t stop talking, I was on the brink of going the homeless route. It was warm out and no one was stealing my things, why couldn’t I just rough it in the streets for a few days?
Finally, the olive that broke the camel’s back was the night my host decided to touch me while I was sleeping. For those of you who know me well, you know that my face is a sacred temple. Anyone who so much as releases a splash of spittle upon my porcelain-esque facial epidermis is at risk for bone breakage.
Meanwhile, back at the hotel, my host made the fatal mistake of hovering over me as a I slept. Pretending to be asleep, I tried to remain passive. I tried to be an appreciative and open-minded guest, as he crawled over me and began to whisper weird mantras of love into my ear. My skin wrinkled as I inhaled his cigarette and curry stench, feeling him inch his face towards mine, his weak arms beginning to tremble as he supported his body weight over me. I remained silent. But the moment I felt his fingers wrap around my chin and turn my face towards his, I felt as though my trigger had been pulled and I flung the palm of my hand unto his face, along with the most tremendous rage tantrum I have ever had in my life.
The lecture that followed was epic. Nothing was lacking or left out. Life, love, and the pursuit of happiness. Quotes from Dr. MLK Jr., Anne Frank, Muhammad Ali, Don Rickles, they were all there. I am not sure if my inspirational speech or the blow to his face were the root cause, but next thing I knew, I had my host in tears. Well-deserved, sloppy tears.
He explained that it was all a misunderstanding. I explained that if he ever touched me in my sleep or any other woman ever again, he would find himself with a face resembling broken pottery. That was the end of that. Plus he talked a lot less, so I think this was a healthy learning experience for everyone.
The next morning, I contacted the friend of my host who had initially picked me up. He seemed nice, he seemed normal, and he seemed to also think my host was crazy. Next thing I knew, I was still in the same sleepy town, but now I was staying near the beach. My roomies were 6 dudes and 1 woman from India whom all share the single bedroom flat. They welcomed me with open arms.
Not only did they welcome me, they treated me like a princess! Doing their best to speak English and include me and making sure I was comfortable and fed and had everything I wanted. They taught me some Hindi words and showed me how to make chapati. We laughed and partied and even rode motorized scooters around town. Most of our communication involved repeating ourselves several times, then giving up, smiling, and nodding. I was in Heaven!
They work very hard all week, yet at the end of the day, they make a fresh dinner by hand. Meals of okra and aloo (potato) and cauliflower and plenty of dairy-free margarine. Two of the roomies don’t eat any meat and no one eats beef, so my eating habits were respected. They are Hindu Sikhs whom respect their elders, their religion, women, and everyone they meet. The kindness and love is tremendous. Worlds apart, yet they feel like old friends.
The other day I told them,
“You know, I was really hating Cyprus at first. I wanted to leave immediately and never look back, but meeting the right people made all the difference.”
They corrected me – “Meeting the right INDIANS made it different!”
They were right. Cypriots are not nice people.They don’t yield for pedestrians, they give useless directions, they get impatient and yell at you, and they have no time for pleasantries. We went food shopping one day and put down our groceries for just a moment. Within that moment, someone picked it up and left. Although the cashier was nice enough to leave her stand and get the manager (which didn’t help much), she was also the only cashier. All the customers were glaring at us.
Native Cypriots are not here to make friends.
On the other hand, when I met more friends of my hosts, they invited me into their home. We sat in their beautiful garden and they insisted I drink tea. They also wanted to feed me (mind you, it was 1 in the morning) but I had just eaten. We all were invited to treat their home like our own and it was like we were old friends catching up. I have never experienced such hospitality. My heart melted.
I wasn’t in Cyprus, I was in India. India felt like home. No! Actually, India felt like the place I dream of going when I am home. They even gave me the nickname ‘Gudiya’, which means ‘doll’ in Hindi. swoon!
If I could make one wish for the world, it would be that we could all treat each other as these lovely people treated one another. With complete, unconditional love and compassion. Oh, in case your cynical mind is wondering, the females were just as kind and inviting, so don’t get any ideas.
When I think back on Cyprus, I will remember being yelled at and I will remember the sand that resembles used cat litter. I won’t forget Coffee Island or the feeling of unfamiliar fingertips on my face, but there’s more to the story. What will really forever stay with me is the kindness of strangers, feeling loved in a country that lacks love, nights of Punjabi music blasting throughout the tiny apartment, and sitting on the ground next to 6 flat, hard, thin mattresses, kneading the Hell out of chapati dough.
I may want to forget the fact that fitting in meant using my hand as toilet paper, but even that part will be remembered with laughter. Especially when you know that you also have to cook and eat with that same hand. It’s you, chapati, and a single spoon. Good luck….
Cyprus, you can go die a painful death, but let me keep my happy, little Indian family.
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