Crossing the border was easier than we thought it would be. No long queues, no stern, intimidating soldiers. We stopped at a small, white kiosk. No window separated us from the guard within. Smiling, friendly, he let the two American tourists stamp their own passports. I overestimated the amount of force necessary; in my passport, the dark rectangular stamp of a country recognized by only one other nation bled red ink onto the other page. Once across the buffer zone, we were in a different city, a different world–and yet, the same city, the same world. Nicosia. Lefkosa. The last divided city.
We meandered: through an arch we found a folk crafts center and market, with wares aplenty but the courtyard quiet, empty. I looked down, saw a nazar embedded in a step; a charm against the evil eye. Nearby, a cat washed its face. It ignored us, too engrossed in the methodical lick, rub, lick lick, rub to give a passing stranger any notice. Ahead, in the gaps between buildings, we saw the spire of a minaret. We turned our steps and made the mosque our destination. As we wandered the streets, we wondered about the political impact of our tourism. Is curiosity acknowledging the sovereignty of another state? Should we have studied the events in 1974 before crossing the border? Should we only visit countries that we know something about?
No, and no, again. The same spirit that inspires our wanderlust, that piques our curiosity, is the same that fuels our desire to learn and to understand.
Photo: Selimiye Mosque in Lefkosa, Northern Cyprus.