Unrecognized countries

***This is a scheduled post. At the time it goes live, I will be on a plane on my way back to Abu Dhabi. It was written two weeks ago.***

I’m currently reading Without You, There is No Us, which is a fascinating personal narrative by a woman who taught in North Korea around the end of Kim Jong Il’s reign. While obviously there is no country quite like North Korea, I was surprised to find myself noticing some things in her descriptions that made me feel deja vu. Because there are flickers of similarities to my experiences in North Cyprus. (Obviously I am not saying the two are even close to the same. I’m just talking about how they have the same mountain shape or whatever. I am fully aware that nothing compares to North Korea.)

The first thing that caught my deja vu was when she mentioned that all of the students knew the phrase “brain drain.” To be perfectly honest, I didn’t know what that meant a year ago, but I’ve heard it mentioned more than once here in N. Cyprus. If you’re also unfamiliar, it’s the idea that the brightest people from a country move away and then there’s nobody left to run things efficiently or make progress or bring anything of significance to the country. Most people who lament the lack of organization in N. Cyprus like to blame it on “brain drain.” They insist that the country will never improve because the best and brightest all leave the moment they’re given the opportunity. (It always amused me that people here who rant about brain drain are so upset with those people who leave. And so sure there is no solution now. As if nobody else could fix the problems of the country except for those brilliant geniuses who’ve selfishly gone away.)

Another thing the author commented on was how North Korea extorted their teachers to try to get any money out of them that they could. She talked about it critically, which I found naive, to be honest. Extortion is second nature here in N. Cyprus and probably in most countries that struggle economically. If someone can convince you to pay for something and they’re used to a system of extortion and they don’t have legitimate means of getting money, obviously they’re going to do it. (People complain about it openly here, constantly, which is of course very different from North Korea.)

And while N. Cyprus is nowhere near as propagandist as North Korea, the way she described some of the speeches and teachings reminded me of some of the ceremonies we had about Ataturk. I didn’t understand them, as they were all in Turkish, but from what one of my co-teachers translated or summarized for me, it was all about the glory of Ataturk. And apparently they used to be required to have his picture displayed in all the classrooms, although that is no longer true. N. Cypriots also refer to the day that the Turks invaded Cyprus as “Operation Peace,” which is a charming name for an invasion. And they very much insinuate that the Greek Cypriots are evil. I suppose it’s natural for a divided land to encourage its citizens to dislike the other side though. (Of course, there are plenty of people on both sides of the island who protest for unification almost every weekend. And nobody stops them from their marches.)

It was truly an interesting time in North Cyprus and perhaps one day I will write a book about my time there. Until then, you can always read about North Korea: Without You, There Is No Us: Undercover Among the Sons of North Korea’s Elite

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