When I was a kid, my father thought it would be a good idea for us to visit his homeland of Cyprus. There was some political uncertainties being discussed in the news at the time, but there did not appear to be any real concerns. We took a lovely cruise from mainland Greece to Cyprus across the Aegean and Mediterranean seas and spent a day or two in the city of Larnaca.
Then it happened. Turkey invaded Cyprus and the U.S. put up a blockade preventing Greece from sending support troops to the island. We should have evacuated at once, but my father didn’t want to abandon his country. Instead we fled up the mountains to the little village in which my father was born.
As a child it was a thrilling adventure. But I could tell the adults were fearful and sad. Still we made the best of it. Other relatives from the cities also fled to the villages. There were plenty of young people to talk to. At night we would stand on the edge of the road and look down at the cities below and watch as bombs fell on them. Scary – but in a weird way lovely as well.
In time hordes of city dwellers made their way up the mountain roads, mainly on foot, bringing with them only the possessions they could carry in their arms. Refugees.
The native villagers accommodated them as best they could with the understanding, I suppose, that the refugees would be moving on as soon as possible looking for their own families and friends in other villages. It was not a situation anyone liked, but there was nothing that could be done about it. The strangers couldn’t be abandoned. They needed help.
As I watched one clutch of families that had sheltered with us for the night move off to join the long train of people seeking more lasting safety, I noticed one man’s face. He appeared to have been a proud man, perhaps someone of means back in the city. But now he was just one member of the desperate population escaping the violence below. He looked angry and ashamed at the same time; resentful but resigned to his fate. This was the face of someone who, through no fault of his own, had lost his old life yet retained defiant hope that the future would be better.
I’ll never forget the face of that man. I see it sometimes in news clips of the new batch of refugees leaving the violent past and moving with some flicker of hope toward a calmer future.