Notes from Lapta, Cyprus – Shopping by Ken Dunn

In the early 80’s the only sensible place to shop was in Kyrenia itself. The small local village shops, few and far between, didn’t carry much then and many goods were in short supply as embargoes had been placed against the fledgling state of the ‘Turkish Federal State of Cyprus’ after the intervention of 1974. Even well after the establishment of the ‘Turkish Republic of North Cyprus’ in 1983 things were much the same.

Yet shopping in Kyrenia was then, to say the least, entertaining on the one hand and highly embarrassing on the other. We used to travel down to Kyrenia from Lapta every two or three days, topping up on perishable items, fridges and freezers being prone to very long power cuts, often more then 12 hours plus every few days. Not exactly convenient. But that was how it was and you had to ‘go with the flow’. So, shopping became more of an art form as well as a necessity. The word would often flash around the ex-pat community that the trusted mini supermarkets in Kyrenia, Tempo – the original shop – or Ak Market – now sadly gone – or Barbarosa – still there – had butter, ‘OOH!’, British chocolate, OHH!!, and ‘WOW!!!’, CHEDDAR CHEESE!!!, or whatever else that hadn’t been seen for a few weeks. Needless to say it all disappeared within hours of being delivered to the shops! Being in contact with the ex-pat community was vital during those days.

The other shops in Kyrenia, all very small, were quite extraordinary venues, especially on the main street through Kyrenia itself. In those days the main street allowed two-way traffic, the footpaths on either side being extremely narrow, rising and falling alarmingly and slightly hazardous. Nonetheless, the shops were worthy of exploration by virtue of the simple fact that they all sold everything! Vegetables sat next to ironmongery, batteries, alcohol, lamb chops, crockery, cheese – that awful Dutch stuff – et al, every one was a mini cornucopia of comparative retail delight!

That was the entertaining aspect of shopping. The range of products was always a surprise. Just being able to find what it was you wanted was a major challenge. The embarrassing factor was quite different, which I found out for myself.

In 1983 I was still relatively young. Not a grey hair in sight. 6’4” with dark red hair I must have been quite a sight to some of the locals and particularly the soldiers who had arrived fresh from the back woods of Turkey, many of whom had never seen a European before. At that time off duty Turkish Army troops, always in full uniform, could be seen wandering around the town in groups yet always deferential to the locals and visitors, but fascinated by anyone who was not obviouslt Turkish. Guess who was stared at?

These guys had been, and were still, potentially serious combatants and I knew that. Yet, despite that and the language problem, they were incredibly gentle and polite and, seeing for themselves these light faced additions to the community, they always made way for a European to walk past.

Entering any of the shops at that time was certainly different than today. I’ve lost count of the number of times I wandered into a shop, perfectly happy to browse, as all the locals did, to find myself being ushered to the counter, a mini ‘Red Sea’ situation, the parting of the waves, so that I could be served ahead of at least 30 other folk who had been queuing for ages to buy whatever it was they had wanted.

It became clear that the prospect of acquiring foreign currency ‘ruled’. Sterling, then, was very welcome. Currency exchange was, shall we say, flexible. So any Brit in any of the shops would usually find themselves being gently but firmly guided towards the till. Now, that for me was embarrassing. It happened time after time and there was nothing I could do about it. I eventually had to ask the question, ‘Why should I, a Brit, a visitor, be allowed to jump the queue?’ The answer was always the same. The shoulders would rise, the arms would come up, palms to the sky and the answer would flow softly to you….. ‘IzzZypruzz!’.

Over 30 years later any question, however complicated, obscure or simple, about anything at all, will always receive the same straightforward, yet wonderfully Turkish Cypriot answer, ‘IzzZypruzz!’

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