Just last week, PPI – CY received two fresh recruits from the United States: Adam Hirsch and Gunnar Hagstrom. Adam and Gunnar will be here for two years serving as PeacePlayers International Fellows. The entire staff here is excited and already impressed with their attitude, hard work, and insatiable appetite for Cypriot cuisine. Below are a few paragraphs from the Fellows themselves on their first week in Cyprus:
From Adam: Cyprus at last! I am so excited to be here and part of PeacePlayers International. From the moment I stepped off the plane, I knew I had a long journey ahead of me, full of new friends, crazy adventures and rewarding experiences. After deciding to move half-way around the world, I expected to make a few cultural faux pas. My first came when I ordered my first Frappe, Cyprus’ version of a Frappacino. As it was a typical hot Cypriot day, I quickly slurped down my drink, only to find my Cypriot compatriots sitting around me laughing at my social blunder. I later found out that Frappes, like many things on the island, are meant to be enjoyed slowly, taking careful sips over a 30-45 minute period.
Despite a rocky start ordering in the cafes, I have felt right at home on the basketball court. On my second day, Gunnar, Rory and I crossed the Green Line to help run our first practice in Lapta/Lapithos. It is a 30-minute drive to the north coast of the island, where we ran our practice at a local school. When we arrived we found 20 13-year-old Turkish-Cypriot girls running around. One girl liked my sunglasses, so I let her wear them during the practice. The court where we played was outside and the Pentadaktylos Mountains were right above us. It was an amazing backdrop. I found myself playing games with the girls and just staring at the mountains.
Getting to know the kids has been the best part of my experience so far. While it is great to see them having fun on the basketball court, I am constantly reminded of the conflict that they have to live with everyday. Even though I had read about the history of Cyprus’ conflict, nothing compares to being here, and seeing that faces of the people that it affects. Rory told me one story about a Greek-Cypriot family and a Turkish-Cypriot family that were forced to leave their respective homes after 1974 and travel to opposite sides of the island. After 30 years they were finally able to visit their old homes, when they realized that, completely by accident, the two families had moved into each other’s houses. After hearing the story I turned to Rory and said, “Wow, what are the odds of that?” Rory replied, “Impossible.”
From Gunnar:It’s hard to believe that just one week ago I was on a plane headed to the Larnaca Airport to become one of the two new Fellows for the PPI-CY program for the next two years. Since I’ve landed, it has been a whirlwind of events, meetings, kebabs, frappes and personal introductions; I feel like I have already been on the island for months with all of the new faces I have met.
My week was highlighted by my introductions to the various programs on both sides of the island, and the first program I visited was the girls team in Lapta/Lapithos with Coach Fatosh. In Lapta, the girls ran me ragged in games of “21.” Part of this I could attribute to Jet Lag, but the other, more significant excuse was all of the cakes they had brought to celebrate the birthday of one of the Lapta girls. There were at least four different cakes, and as I am learning, a true Cypriot never turns down a meal, so I had a slice from all four.
The most memorable experience of my week came on our visit to the Agios Antonios school in Limassol. We arrived in the southern port and the sun was blaring down (I got my first Cypriot sunburn). At 1pm the practice started and the boys and girls of PPI-CY’s Limassol program came literally sprinting out of their classes over to the blacktop. Coach Maria and Coach Ethimios got the kids stretching and loose, and soon there was a match to be had. Adam, Rory and myself all had chances to participate in the match, and the most memorable thing happened when, after Rory air-balled a routine 15 foot jump shot, chants of “Rory, Rory, Rory” echoed from the sideline from a group of 3rd and 4th grade girls sitting on the fence that runs adjacent to the court. I tried to convince them (via hand gestures and facial expressions) to chant “Gunnar, Gunnar, Gunnar”, but it was to no avail.
One week in and there are many more stories I could tell. The people have been great and the kids have been incredible. Can’t wait for the next 103 weeks!