Notes from Lapta, Cyprus – Making do… by Ken Dunn

After 1974 the products in the shops in the villages and towns of the new Federal State of Cyprus were limited because of the embargoes on trade enforced against it. By the early 80’s, and the beginning of the TRNC, things had improved. Many products were from Turkey and a few from the UK were available but where they came from I know not. The Chinese had gained a tiny foothold providing tools but the quality then, rather than now, was not that good. But shortages still continued. One of the strangest I came across was the difficulty in finding a bag of cement which was, apparently, classified by a certain southern community as, ‘Strategic Material.’ Bizarre.

What they couldn’t grasp was that the TRNC didn’t want to concrete over everything, obliterating a fantastic countryside and shore line, as the South had done and continues to do, or use the stuff to produce solidified lumps and propel them via a medieval ballista over the fence every July 20th.

Maintaining the infrastructure of the TRNC must have been quite tricky in the circumstances (it still seems to be so even now) and that must have been true for all sections of the community. But, the ordinary folk here proved to be highly skilled in the art of improvisation, using anything to hand, to keep things working.

When a wonky starter motor in our car was about to ‘go the way of all flesh’ we had to do something about it, and quickly. The Dolmuş (people’s taxi) of the times were non to frequent, especially through Lapta, and taxis in the village were rare. Walking to ‘do the shopping’ would have entailed a marathon event, to and from a reasonably well stocked shop, not found then in Lapta. The prospect of getting to Girne to pay the electricity bill would have taken the whole day, quite apart from waiting behind the standard scrum we always found inside the place.

So, I climbed into the car, started it, hearing a terrible grinding noise, and hoped I could reach Karaoğlanoğlu, which was in those days known as ‘Mo-Town’, the eastern edge of the main road sporting a series of tiny, corrugated roofed, car repair shops. I‘d been given a name to find there, ‘Olly’, singularly un-Turkish, but after parking and wandering up and down for a few minutes I found him. A young chap of no more than thirty years with a big grin.

I explained the problem, he nodded but we had to push the car back to his place, the starter motor had died completely, where he got down to work immediately. I didn’t get the standard intake of breath through the teeth a UK mechanic would have delivered followed by the usual, ‘Ohh, this doesn’t look good,’ or any of the other pessimistic reactions British ‘artisans’ always give. No. He just got on with it.

Now, anything under the bonnet of a car is a complete mystery to me and I thought I might as well find a café somewhere, resigned to maybe hours of waiting and the dire prospect of eventually hearing, ‘Iz kaput.’ But that… did not…. happen.

As I nodded to him and turned to walk off he stood up and indicated to a plastic chair near the open front of his modest ‘shack’. I sat and he went back to work. I watched, fascinated. In less than thirty minutes he had disconnected the starter motor from the car, reduced it into several pieces, foraged into various metal boxes at the back of his workshop to replace this, that or whatever else, rewound the armature, whatever that was, re-built it, put the whole thing back in place and then, pausing, one finger in the air, an even wider grin on his face, turned the ignition key and the engine started immediately!

As far as I can remember, he charged me the Turkish equivalent of two pounds sterling. Now that was pretty cool! In the UK at that time the whole process would have cost more than ten times that and at least half a day, providing anyone could ‘fit me in’. In fact a repair ‘back home’ would never have happened. The starter motor would have been consigned to the bin and I would have had to buy a brand new one for forty quid or more plus installation costs.

Other ‘entrepreneurs’ were just as busy in the most unlikely places. Local cafes were few and far between in the early 80’s apart from the traditional coffee shops, the venues for male only Turks, who could be found whiling the day away, reading the local papers, discussing the problems of the time and playing backgammon. That hasn’t changed a great deal over the years.

But then, a few days after the starter motor problem, on our way down into the heart of Lapta one lunchtime, we tried to find a local restaurant but failed. But we came across a small crowd of locals, surrounding something in the middle of the street (traffic wasn’t a problem then), some of them wandering off, munching away at some sort of sandwich or local delicacy.

Intrigued, we walked over to find out what was going on. We peered between the chaps jostling with each other and at the centre of this small but enthusiastic group stood a young chap serving fresh ‘Kleftiko’, a lamb speciality of the island. Oh Dear. I really should have said ‘Küp Kebab’ as that first name is found somewhat south!

Anyway, he had constructed a complete Küp Kebab oven, cemented onto a large wheel barrow and had travelled up from the last village, Alsancak, to Lapta and was soon to be on his way to Karsiyaka, the next village west from Lapta. Now, that was not only ‘fast’ food but doubly so as it was entirely mobile! Where could you have found that except in the TRNC! ‘Needs must’ is all I can say!

Things, happily, have changed substantially since then due, no less, to the tenacity of a country determined to develop and improve itself in the best way it can. Help has been given, not just from Turkey, but from the EU, the latter providing an amount of cash which I have always regarded as ‘Guilt Money’, after the negative result of the referendum on one side of the line, a few years ago, to unite the island. We should always remember who said ‘NO!’ to that. I do still wonder why they did but maybe, just maybe, they couldn’t get the car started to go and vote!

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