Alassia in Copperland:"The Forest" ,

by Panikos Stavrou

I left the checkpoint and followed the same path into the forest as I did a million times before. I walked slowly since Mutlu wouldn't show up for at least another hour. One thing I mastered in the army was killing time, a must if you want to maintain your sanity. As I kept walking, I began cursing at the metal helmet, the machine gun and the rest of the military gear that was weighing me down. I was definitely not the military type.

I continued carefully alongside the minefield that covered the stretch of land between the two Greek Cypriot checkpoints. I never did find out if the minefield was for real or just a hoax. "The purpose of the minefield," said the captain, "was to deter the enemy from intrusions. We are here to protect this strip of land, even die on it if we have to." "Great", I mumbled, and for that I spent four days in detention. When will I learn to keep my mouth shut.

About four hundred meters away I could see the flickering lights of the Turkish army's checkpoint. Between us laid the old Nicosia-Larnaca road that served as the demilitarized zone, the buffer zone, the infamous green line as it is better known. The small forest I just entered stood out amidst the surrounding barren and desolate land like a fly in a glass of milk, as the Cypriots say. There was nothing typical about this forest. The trees were probably the tallest of the entire island. In some places it was so dense you couldn't tell if it was night or day. But the most extraordinary aspect of this forest was how it came to be. You see, twenty years ago, this was also as barren as the rest of the surroundings. But war changes everything and so it changed this little piece of land too. It became the dumping ground of all the "honey-wagons" from the capital of Nicosia which is only about half an hour away. Every day, around the clock, you'd see a "honey-wagon" pull up to empty the sewage of some apartment building. You can imagine the stench covering the area. Do people ever wonder what happens to the stuff they leave behind in the toilet bowl? I guess not. Well, I do and here I am in the middle of the excretions of some 200,000 people

and I'm "protecting it from the enemy," even if that could cost me my life. Great.

Things actually weren't that bad. Since the honey-wagons and the occasional United Nations patrol jeep were the only vehicles allowed to use the deserted road, the forest became a blessing in disguise. Ever since I started patrolling the forest, no one ever came to check out on me. No captain, no sergeant, nobody. So, I found a nice little spot to hang out and I would hide until it was time to report back to the checkpoint. To entertain my boredom, I would walk over and talk to some of the honey-wagons drivers who fell sorry for the "poor little soldier," as they would all say. I befriended some and I would ask them to bring me cigarettes, chocolates, newspapers and anything else the military wished to deprive me from, in order to "toughen me" as the military hawks loved to bark at me. One day, while sick and tired of doing nothing, I mustered enough courage to ask one of the drivers to take me back to the city with him. A very risky request, both for me and the driver. Risky because if we get caught, either by the UN forces, the Turkish army or the Greek Cypriot army -did I leave out anybody else's army? - he could loose his license and his job. As for me, I would certainly be court-marshaled and spend a minimum of five years in prison, not a very pretty picture. However, I guess the thought of cruising the night clubs of

the city for the entire night was enticing enough for me to ask the question. Much to my surprise the driver accepted with no hesitation. Just about every family in this island has or had a son who served his mandatory twenty six month service so they know what soldiers go through. The driver suggested that I lower my head when we pass through the buffer zone checkpoints and no one will ever know a thing. He said he had done it before. Apparently I wasn't the first soldier to think of this escape route. I run back to the place I had hidden my civilian clothes, hid the army gear and uniform and off I went. Needless to say it became a ritual. Out in the night clubs of Nicosia at night, sleeping in the forest during the day. Not bad.

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