For Sophia, a Greek Cypriot coach from PeacePlayers Cyprus, the COVID-19 pandemic meant not only the regular shutdowns and isolation that were going into effect around the world. For Sophia, and PeacePlayers youth across Cyprus, the pandemic also served as a painful reminder of the decade-long conflict in the country: In Cyprus, pandemic edicts also included a closing of border crossings between the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot sides of the island. For PeacePlayers youth on both sides of the checkpoint, the pandemic made the conflict on the island even more palpable, with meetings across the divide suddenly rendered impossible.
Before the pandemic, Sophia – who transitioned through PeacePlayers’ leadership pipeline, from participant, to youth leader to coach – had regularly crossed the checkpoint to meet Turkish Cypriot friends from PeacePlayers on the other side of the island. “I think it was at 17 that I started crossing to meet my mates on the other side, and the past few years, I’ve been passing quite regularly just to meet people. Last year, I think I was crossing every week, maybe 2-3 times a week.” For the past year, since the border closed, Sophia has not been able to see her Turkish Cypriot friends even once. “It’s frustrating because knowing that they’re so close but I can’t see them, that’s the most frustrating bit. I know that they’re 20 minutes away but I can’t go and cross to see them or they can’t cross.They’re so close, but I can’t see them,” says Sophia.
But Sophia does get to keep in touch with her Turkish Cypriot friends through PeacePlayers’ virtual sessions. “And when we do see each other on zoom sessions that then creates a spark for us and we tend to chat after our meetings through other platforms.” Sophia says that these virtual meetings were vital for her, “a way to see and interact with people and participants we missed. Some of us in peace players have noticed as well that after zoom meetings we’re left with this huge energy ,excitement and pride for being part of peace players. Once I remember someone saying they were so hyped after a session the only way to get rid of the energy and adrenaline was to jump on a trampoline for three hours.”
Eagerly awaiting the reopening of the checkpoints, Sophia has already set a coffee date with the mother of Tulin, a Turkish Cypriot Leadership Development Program participant with whom Sophia has grown close over the years. “I’ve grown close to her parents, both of them. Her father always tries to speak to me, even if it’s in Turkish.” Sophia has become so close with Tulin’s family that both women have struck an interesting deal: “I have an agreement with her mum. We’re [Tulin’s] co-mums.”
“We’ve already organized this, we said that when the borders open I’m going to go grab a coffee with her mom.” In the coming months, as Cyprus gets closer to reopening the border, we will track the reunions between friends on both sides, divided first by a generation long conflict and second, by the pandemic.