The man who struggled with drugs and found his peace in Strovolos III
Interview with Mr. Sotiris, ex- resident of state estates, refugee, regular visitor
Q: Mr. Sotiris, you moved to this housing around 10 years ago so not from the beginning. As we know it is not very popular part of Nicosia people would choose to live in. What made up your decision?
A: Yes, I came here much later but it wasn’t really my decision either. However, all started in 74’ like for other refugees.
Q: Where have you been meanwhile?
A: Between 1970 -1974 my father used to have high class French restaurant in area of todays ‘’green zone’’ in Nicosia. I was only 12 years old back then but remember people coming from all over the Island, different nationalities, representatives of embassies etc. When the war happened, my father decided to move to Greece and continue his business over there. When he passed away my mother had to undertake all responsibilities. She wasn’t used to that as full time house-wife. It was extremely difficult and overwhelming and me – I became a drug addict.
Q: So this was the main reason why you return?
A: The access to drugs in Greece was much easier at that time than here and unfortunately I fall into it. Additionally in fashion was rock music and kind of Woodstock free-spirit life style. When the problem became very serious my older sister (We were 4 in total 2 girls, me and my brother), she acted like my mom and decided that we are going back to Cyprus in order to cut me from bad environment. First years we stayed in Limassol (southern seaside). I was a chef like my father so I opened restaurant. I also decided to have a bar. One month after the opening. I had to face very specific customer. When he enters I looked into his eyes and I knew what kind of person he is. My drug problems started again. This time stronger and more powerful, damaging myself day after day.
Q: Until 2004 right? This was the year where you started coming to Nicosia.
A: Exactly. This was the moment which was crucial. The rehab Center opened in Nicosia. Offered programs were lasting for about 1,5 year. I was coming here all the way from Limassol. When I was finally clean workers of the center advised that I shall move to the Capital and cut from previous life. That’s what I did. We had house in Nicosia but we sold it and I found option to rent a place from one of the refugees in Strovolos 3. It was in 2005. From that moment I lived here and for 7 following years had my own Coffee Shop nearby – next to the main road. I rented space for my business from one communist party (PO). There was a lot of youngsters here. Lot of life. We had a football team etc. Nowadays it’s not like this. Me I also closed my café and run my own organic shop in Engomi (Nicosia district) near the embassies.
Q: Here, you found also the love of your life!?
A: I wasn’t any different than my other friends. We grew up with idea of finding this ‘’stereotypical, tall, blond woman’’. When I met my wife, I couldn’t be happier and she was total opposition of mentioned with her unique beauty features. My wife comes originally from Philippines. She was also residing in Strovolos III and taking care of one old lady. This lady was a refugee from Kyrenia (city in the most northern part of the Island). She lost her son during the war fights. Later on she started to have mental problems so it wasn’t easy job for my wife. Time came when the lady passed away and her cousins, maybe brothers rented this flat to another people.
Q: You moved out from Strovolos III with your wife some time ago?
A: I was thinking about it many times, than I got married and we stayed longer than expected but yes eventually we moved out around 3 years ago.
Q: But you are still coming here? Why?
A: Because I feel save.
Q: You mean – it is a save neighbourhood?
A: It is, indeed but what I mean is that I feel save with myself. As I told you I was a drug addict and it wasn’t easy way to stop it. Now, whenever I come to Strovolos III, sit in the cafe near the Square I meet people who are not bothered with such things. There is no drugs here, no talking about, no risk to be exposed to unwanted temptations.
Q: And what about the rest of your family?
A: They stayed in Limassol. I remember how unconfident I was going there for the first time to introduce my wife. She wasn’t Cypriot. I didn’t know what reaction to expect. It wasn’t very common. Luckily, we all grew up along the way: me and my family and they just shared my happiness back.
Q: Since you mentioned happiness, let me ask. People who still live here- do you think they are happy?
A: In the past they used to. Now most of them have depression, it is difficult talking to them, they are tired. Their children moved out.
Q: But I believe the place have a great potential. There is a lot of green areas around, close to highway, close to the Mall of Cyprus. What do you think, how this place will look like in 20 years?
A: In 20 years? (..Thinking for a while…) – No people. No people here.
But it is not bad idea to open a nice restaurant for example. Everyone is looking for a quite places, not expensive and pleasant to spend time. This could work here but only if initiative is undertaken by one of the refugees’ children, otherwise new businessman might not be welcomed by the locals.
But the real problem is in people from Nicosia. They care about their image a lot and think that where you come from impact their prestige.
Prepared by: Agnieszka Kaczmarek. Included in publication -“9 approaches to urban challenges” MoTa edition, 2018