I am truly pleased to get back to writing and I am pleased I have so much material to share with you. This series is very personal and close to me. My experience in Northern Cyprus was layered in the most exquisite and complex ways. Now that I am back in Cape Town, I truly have some time to reflect and process the journey. I have decided to break this series up into chapters in an attempt to capture the fullness of my experience at PERA & in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) or Kuzey Kıbrıs Türk Cumhuriyeti (KKTC) or Cyprus, if you're local.
I will also do my best to be as raw and honest as possible without trying to sugarcoat things. I have felt the pressure, many times, to tell people the story that they want to hear about my journey but I would prefer to share this in its fullness without editing and cutting and pasting to make it seem a certain way. Was it a magical and memorable experience? Undoubtedly. Was it challenging in ways I could never have conceived? Most assuredly. Let me share the story and you can decide for yourself, what category the experience belongs in, if it even belongs in one. This is just my personal experience, as it was, as it is. With some edits simply to save me spending the rest of my days writing this story. In February 2020, I attended an audition to study at PERA school of performing arts. I was accepted and of three course options, I settled on the short course with option to extend. Originally, I was supposed to leave in September 2020 but deferred my entry for one year and chose to go September 2021.
Chapter One - Departure and Arrival Departure. Separation. Rupture. Breaking. Splitting. As I prepared to leave for Northern Cyprus, I was also preparing to step away from a 6-year relationship. Someone that I was, at one stage, very clearly and sure to be the person I wanted to spend the rest of my days with... The painstaking and drawn out hours and days and crumbling of the reality we built together marinated and peppered the realization that I was leaving behind everything I knew and came to be so comfortable with and attached to. I was gearing up to step into a completely unknown and unknowable experience. I was relinquishing and releasing my life as I knew it to propel myself into a vortex of change. A spiralling whirlwind of uncertainty and insecurity, confusion, fear and doubt.
When the auditions for PERA came up, I didn’t actually think I would be accepted. I knew there was a chance, but I didn’t actually expect to be selected, much less so to be selected with a partial bursary. I had done the auditions back in February 2020. Once selected, students can choose which program they will be enrolling in;
Half an academic year. (Promoted & advertised as 6 months)
A full academic year. (Promoted & advertised as 12 months)
A four-year bachelor's degree in contemporary dance
Needless to say, I chose the shortest option. At 33 years young and having spent the last 10 years laying roots in Cape Town, I wasn’t quite ready to commit outright to the longer programs simply because there were too many unknowns. The option to extend was always available, so I felt safe choosing the short program and should it feel right, then I could extend my time.
Spoiler Alert! I did not extend.
Okay, we have some context now.
Let me move things along. As I prepared for this trip, I was under the impression that the school itself is in Cyprus… which it is… kind of… sort of… but also, not at all. More of the complicated politics of this slice of middle-earth will be shared in the chapter called THE COMPLICATED POLITICS OF A SMALL SLICE OF MIDDLE-EARTH. I signed up for the program and paid my deposit. I attempted to apply for a student visa through the Cypriot embassy who promptly and swiftly informed me that the school I had just paid to attend was in fact not located in the portion of Cyprus recognised as Cyprus by the United Nations or the international community at large. This led to a serious ethical conundrum for me. On one hand, I had the opportunity to learn from some of the best contemporary dance and movement teachers around and on the other hand, I had the weight of my ethical compass trying to figure out if I was somehow committing a wrong just by travelling to this country. I did some research into the history and politics of TRNC and Cyprus, consulted with some of my mentors and after some time and deliberation, I decided that I was able to follow through and continue on this journey. The next part of the process seemed almost too easy. Acquiring a Visa through Turkey and booking flights. Even the COVID restrictions to TRNC had a weird loophole that allowed me to access the country - South Africa was listed as a Dark Red Zone country which means passengers are otherwise forbidden from travelling to TRNC from these countries unless they are travelling for the purposes of study. Everything was in the bag and ready. I was ready. I sold workout equipment, mats, all sorts of other things I could sell including my car and I went full steam ahead towards the unknown. Luckily, I chose to arrive early at the airport. At check-in, I found out there was a travel document that I needed to fill out before being allowed to fly. The university was only able to email me the form while I was in the queue. On top of this, I discovered, while checking in, that I need to contact my flight agent to reroute my flight, which initially would have traveled to Antalya in Turkey, to Istanbul. This was because Antalya not equipped for international transfers which would have meant I would need to enter into Turkey, quarantine for 7-10 days and then travel to Cyprus. I wasn't so hot on that idea so I had to shoot to the airport KFC to use their wifi to sort out both issues. After about an hour delay sorting out this form and getting my flight rerouted, I am finally able to check-in. From this point, everything is pretty smooth sailing. I fly from Cape Town to Doha and despite a lengthy stay-over, all is well and dandy and lovely. From Doha, I catch a red-eye to Istanbul where I have another lengthy stay-over which becomes much longer than expected. At Istanbul airport, after about 7 or 8 hours, I am finally ready to check-in for the final leg of my journey to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. So far, I have flown Qatar airways and for this final leg, I am flying Pegasus. There are only two airlines that fly in and out of Ercan airport in TRNC, these are Turkish Airways and Pegasus. I had flown Pegasus once before, when I visited Turkey in 2015, and it was an absolute dog show. I was hoping this time would be different. Boy, I could not have been more wrong…
I arrive at the check-in gate prepared to board Pegasus flight number PC 1873 from Istanbul, Turkey to Ercan, KKTC
For a little context here, you should know that I needed to download an application to my phone and create a profile on the app so that when I arrive in TRNC they can place a wristband on my arm to track my location while I am in isolated quarantine.
Okay, so I am boarding the flight and I’m showing the Keeper of the Gate all the necessary documentation for him to grant me passage across the mediterranean to a little island some 314km off the coast of Antalya. I show him my PCR test, my letter of acceptance, my ticket (obviously) and I show him that I have downloaded the app and entered all the necessary information save for payment. AH! PAYMENT! The perfect opportunity for the great Keeper of the Gates to demonstrate his immense powers. He forbade me from boarding the flight. Even though all I needed to do was log onto a wifi connection and complete the payment, which ultimately ended up being very difficult yet I still feel I was able to process the payment in time to be allowed on the flight. Right? Wrong. The Keeper of the Gate instructed me to sit down, complete the payment then go to the Pegasus information desk to change my flight. As frustrating as this was, I decided to just get on with it, he wasn’t going to let me on this flight. I make my way back across the airport to the Pegasus information desk, only the desk is not accompanied by the necessary human that would otherwise assist me in changing my flights. Hmm. Okay. I trot on over to the main information desk to see if I can’t persuade whomever occupies it to send a smoke signal or any other form of communication to attract a Pegasus information desk human back to their post. I arrive at the main information desk to find that its human is already in a full-scale to-and-fro with a very disgruntled woman from the USA. Ah… she also needs a Pegasus employee to report to the information desk. Oh… she has been here for some time. They have attempted several times already to signal a Pegasus employee but to no avail. This continues for some time. I dutifully add my request to the queue. There seems to be an uncomfortable amount of time passing by and I begin to march between the Pegasus desk and the main information counter. - I will pause here just to mention that all my luggage except my carry-on bag is, by this time, already at Ercan airport in TRNC -
Some more moments pass and another American family joins the futile quest of tracking down a Pegasus information desk employee. A husband, his wife and their baby. Brilliant. Maybe we can fan out and go searching in different parts of the airport. This doesn’t work.
A Turkish man, another Turkish man only younger, another human, maybe Russian, more humans. Where are all these humans coming from? How can we all possibly have a problem with the same airline? What is going on? How can it be possible that so many hours have passed and still absolutely no one at this information desk!? Everybody is becoming progressively more frustrated, panicked, angry, despondent. Eventually, after what seems like many incarnations of the same lifetime, we are greeted and attended to by who was otherwise a very helpful and attentive young lady who, despite the often frustrating breaks in communication as she spoke no English, does everything in her power to attend to the demands of the small nation of people confronting her with their very unique and individual problems. While she juggles several requests at the same time, I am communicating with my travel agent to change my flights(again). After some more hours of process, and leaving some minor details out of this story, I am able to go to a ticketing desk, in a different part of the airport, get a ticket printed which is pre-approved for boarding (a fastback past the Keeper of the Gates). Oh yes, this ticket is for now. As in, NOW NOW. I have exactly 10 minutes to go back through the security scans and across the airport, down the escalators and to the far side departure gates. Cue frantic sprint through the airport and all accompanying quirks and stumbles and hold-ups.
I make it to the check-in gate and the flight has just started boarding. I once again bump into the Keeper of the Gates, my old foe from earlier, however he is powerless against my pre-approved boarding pass (try to smite me oh mighty smiter, I smite thee!). I make it onto the flight and depart Istanbul almost 10 hours later than scheduled.
On the flight, I flatten two beers and a bag of nuts.
I arrive in TRNC a whole 12 hours later than I was supposed to. Thank goodness, I had the foresight during the commotion of changing my flights to communicate with the student correspondent from PERA and made sure that my shuttle from the airport would have to now fetch me around midnight. I stand in the queue, go through passport control and get a PCR test before being redirected to the “Guvende Kal” kiosk to receive my government issue and mandated house arrest bracelet which I shall wear and keep switched on at all times, with no exceptions, for a period of 14 days. I also have to purchase a Turkish sim card that connects to the app.
I walk out the front doors and I am greeted by a smiling, laughing, jovial man named Ozan. He helps me with my luggage, bundles me into his van and we drive 45-60 minutes to the student residency.
I open the door to my flat and am greeted by the stench of weeks/months without proper ventilation. It is past 1am and I bundle my things into a corner before falling asleep on just some sheets on the bed with no pillow.
Finally. I am here.