I'm house-hunting this weekend. More like, affordable-room-in-Finsbury-Park-London-house-share hunting, but you know what I mean. I visited 4 rooms yesterday. The first house, currently occupied by 5 men sharing 1 shower, also featured a creepy red-faced 60-some 'in-house plumber' who wears two prominent gold crosses close to his jugular, has an 'office' off the kitchen, stays there 'hardly ever,' and asked for my number. The second was a basement flat, where the glorious view out of my window would be a pleasant blend of scaffolding and pavement, but never direct sunlight. Sunlight can actually increase the value of rooms in London, don't you know it? When I politely sat down with the live-in lady in the third flat option, she handed me a wine glass of water. Her most-agile cat leaped onto the kitchen table, amusing the landlady, and then proceeded to lap up my drink of water. As I sat with the woman to discuss the three years of midwifery training that has found her disillusioned with the National Health Service, the cat also decided to claw at and chew on the fantastic blue keffiyeh that my sister brought me from Syria. The fourth landlady I met led me into a modern double room, with large drapes and clean hardwood floors, while her mother hovered over our every word, all the way from the kitchen. Turns out they were Turkish Cypriot, and I commented that I've been to Cyprus, but to the Greek side. As you may well know, half of Cyprus is now illegally occupied by Turkey.
I went to the 12th Annual International Association for the Study of Forced Migration Conference in 2009, hosted by the University of Nicosia, Cyprus. I presented with Professor Renos Papadopoulos in a symposium on 'Refugee Trauma: Conceptualization and Applications.' My topic was 'The Trauma Grid: Theory and Application.' The greatest joy of the week-long conference was living with my dear friend Yanna (see photo above), and her parents. Yanna's roots can be traced back hundreds of years in Turkey, from where her Greek family had to flee for safety in Georgia. Eventually her parents moved to Moscow, Russia, where Yanna was raised, and now they are living in Cyprus. Yanna and her father kindly walked me through Nicosia, a city currently separated into a 'Greek' and 'Turkish' side. In addition to be a fantastic script writer and film director, I must also say that Yanna's linguistic abilities never cease to impress me. Yanna speaks the form of Turkish that was spoken hundreds of years back in Turkey when her ancestors were still there, Russian, Greek, and English fluently. She is brilliant.
You will notice in the back right of this photo that I snapped from Yanna's porch, the Turkish flag that has been branded on the mountain side by the occupier, functioning as a constant reminder to the Greeks of their oppressor's authority. Of course, the Turkish-occupied side of Cyprus is illegal, and is not recognised internationally as Turkish territory. Therefore, when I visited the Turkish side, I found the place to be quite deserted, as no international business, not even McDonalds, can plant themselves there. The photo (below) begins to hint at how haunted the place actually felt.
Of course, most of the former Greek Orthodox churches in Occupied Cyprus have been converted into mosques. At this former Greek Orthodox church (below), for example, one can see the stains outlining where the Christian cross formerly hung on this currently active mosque.
When I made it outside of the flat with the landlady, I explained that I work with a charity that provides therapeutic, legal, and medical support to survivors of torture. The expression on her face asked for more of an explanation, so I commented that we receive countless requests from Turkish refugees to the UK for support. "Well, they are all lying... Aren't they?" she stated cynically, waiting for me to agree. Shocked, I defended our commitment to believe our clients, and shared my personal opinion that no one, for mere purposes of economic migration, would contrive the horrid accounts of torture that we encounter. She seemed startled by how adamant I was that true survivors of torture are at our doorstep on a daily basis, describing in detail their experience of torture at the hands of governments and organised violence. Her final insensitive comment, "Well, they're probably Kurds" finalised my fourth and final THIS ROOM JUST ISN'T GOING TO WORK OUT for the day.
Last week I had the privilege to attend an Author Evening at the Islamic Human Rights Commission. The guest speaker was ex-Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg, who recently wrote a book (Enemy Combatant) about his experienced being abducted by the CIA in Pakistan and eventually tortured under American orders, although he had never been the USA in his life, and while he was volunteering to build a girls' school in Afghanistan.
Begg doesn't describe his treatment by the Pakistani authorities in as much detail in this short PBS video, as he did at the IHRC. In our small group Begg explained that the Pakistani authorities never harmed one hair on his body, called him "Brother" as they transported him to the US authorities, and apologised profusely before handing him over to the CIA, as they had been commanded. Moazzam Begg now advocates for innocent prisoners being detained and their families around the world through his organisation called CagePrisoners: Giving a Voice to the Voiceless. Begg made clear that there are still prisoners held captive in the live and well Guantanamo, and that we cannot be deceived by the media's claims that Guantanamo has shut down. Personally, the most striking part of Begg's Author Evening at the IHRC was a Hadith from the Prophet Muhammad ( صـلى الله علـيه و سـلم ) that was dictated by Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim, which inspired Begg throughout his detainment, and continues to inspire him today:
And the Prophet ( صـلى الله علـيه و سـلم ) said, "whenever you see an evil act stop it with your hands, and if you are not able to do that then speak out with your tongue, and if you are not able to do that hate it in your heart and that is the lowest form of faith."