Working north

As a young journalist perhaps, I had my first interview in northern Nicosia this week.

Not that it couldn’t have been organised in the south but I encouraged it to take place in one of my favourite places in the old town; Rustem bookshop.

This was twofold. On the one hand, it felt right because this was the place I had initially met my interviewee and she is also a Turkish Cypriot – interviewing her on her turf seemed more natural.

And then there was this feeling of liberty; that yes, working across the divide is nowadays a reality anyone can choose to embrace.
Having five minutes to spare to freshen up before our meeting, I suddenly became a ‘bayan’ (Turkish for lady).

I spent another couple of minutes reading through the pages of Cyprus Today, the equivalent of this paper in northern Cyprus I guess.
On the shelves around me, the endless shelves of books presented titles in Turkish and others in English. An amazing source for an alternative point of view on Cyprus matters.

I smiled as I came across one of my favourite books of Turkey’s bestselling author, Elif Shafak, in Turkish. Everything looked so familiar yet so foreign at the same time. In all, I felt as though I had spent my whole morning there, but in truth I was only there for a couple of hours. Familiar is mundane.

I came back south greeting people in English as opposed to Greek because I had already gotten used to the fact that ‘our language’ wasn’t understood.

For a while I truly felt like a foreigner on both sides of the divide.

And it just reminded me how important it is to constantly recognise the multi-ethnic identity of our country, not through tags or stereotypes but just as a natural state of being.

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About Melissa Hekkers

I am freelance journalist and author, who has frequently been featured in mainstream news outlets and other publications in Cyprus. Recently, I've been focusing on developing my writing, promoting my own books and teaching creative writing to children and adults. My most recent publication (2020) - Amir's Blue Elephant- pushes the boundaries of creative non-fiction, and recreates the moments that marked me the most, whilst volunteering in refugee camps in Lesvos, Greece, and during her ongoing involvement with the refugee community in Cyprus. In 2018 I published My Capre Greco Mandala which is the third in a series, an interactive colouring book about the biodiversity of the Cape Greco peninsula in Cyprus. My Akamas Mandala, the second in the series, is a colouring book inspired by the variety of endemic plants found on the Akamas Peninsula. In 2016, I published My Nicosia Mandala, the first of the above series, an innovative, interactive colouring book about the historic fortifications of the old town of Nicosia. I also focuses on silenced communities in Cyprus: I writes about migrants and refugees, both as a reporter and a features writer; I profile them and teach them creative writing skills. In 2007, soon after graduating with a Communications degree, I published my first children’s book in both English and Greek entitled Crocodile, which won the Cyprus State Illustration Award. In 2012, I launched my second children’s book Flying across Red Skies (in English and Greek), using an experimental approach to literature, for which I was nominated for the Cyprus State Literary award. My third, similarly well-received children’s book was Pupa (Greek and English), published in 2014. In between the last two books, I published my first free-verse poetry book entitled Come-forth. In 2019 she was contributing author to the anthology Nicosia Beyond Barriers: Voices from a Divided City, published by Saqi Books, London