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Columba-Hypatia at the Cyprus Friendship Program Camp

For the fifth consecutive year, the Cyprus Friendship Programme (CFP) organised a one-week summer camp for Turkish- and Greek-Cypriot 15-18 year olds. The teenagers have the opportunity to live alongside each other and participate in workshops, games and activities together. This year there were 48 campers, approximately 50-50 from each side and about half and half male/female.

It was late afternoon when we arrived at the tranquil setting of the camp, an old Turkish-Cypriot primary School which is now used for camps and events. I learnt that the village, now known as Ayios Nikolaos, used to be called Esentpe and was a Turkish-Cypriot village until the division in the 1970s. At this point, the village relocated to Ayios Ambrosios in the North (coincidentally the village my Grandfather came from), which was renamed to Esentepe.

We were warmly greeted by the campers, with the sound of cicadas buzzing and rolling hills in the background. Our Astronomy workshop started at 8.30pm with an introduction to the “Columba-Hypatia: Astronomy for Peace” project, explaining how we use Astronomy as a tool to help build peace on the island and teaching that we all live under the same sky. When I pointed out that whenever you look up to the Moon, you should remember you are seeing the same Moon whichever side of the island you are on, I saw faces light up and smiles appear. It reminded me yet again: Astronomy is a humbling experience.

Andreas followed with a presentation on the ‘The Scale of Our Cosmos’, explaining celestial objects from the smallest to the largest in physical size, painting a beautiful story of all the wonders we know of in the Universe and how we know so much about them. By the time the presentation had ended it was dark outside, so we took a break to go outside and look at the beautiful view of the night sky above us, which was enhanced by the absence of the bright Moon. We glanced at the glorious bright band of our own Milky Way galaxy crossing the sky and we identify the two biggest planets in our Solar system, Jupiter, and Saturn.

We followed on with my talk entitled ‘Black Holes Ain’t So Black’, named after one of the Chapters in Stephen Hawking’s excellent book ’The History of Space and Time’. I explained how, after many years of searching for ripples in space-time, gravitational waves as they are known, have finally been detected by scientists at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO ).

We then headed outside for the stargazing part of the night. The campers were shown how to identify and separate a planet from a star with the naked eye. We then observed Saturn and its spectacular rings through a 130mm reflector telescope. They were truly amazed by what they were seeing through the telescope and asked interesting and tough questions about astronomy and the Cosmos. We showed them where the Milky Way center lies, as well as how to spot Andromeda galaxy on the night sky. The remote location of Ayios Nikolaos village and the new Moon made the observing conditions almost perfect and the teens seemed to enjoy the beauty of the Cypriot night sky.

The atmosphere at the camp was very welcoming and positive. The teens were encouraged to speak in a common language – in most cases this was English – so as not to ostracise anyone. One thing that struck me was that you could not tell from which side of the border the person was from until they spoke, only their accent gave their origin away. Beyond that, this interaction between teens from the North and the South of Cyprus highlighted how similar Cypriots from both sides of the border are - and how easy it could be for us to live together.

Posted on the wall in the common area was a large sheet which people were allowed to write common words in both Greek and Turkish. I had heard that the Greek-Cypriot dialect is closer to ancient Greek than the modern Greek language spoken in Greece. What I didn’t realise was that Turkish-Cypriot includes words much closer to the old Ottoman Turkish than the Turkish spoken in mainland Turkey today. Journalist Ekin Calisir was present at the camp, filming for a documentary. From Turkey, there were some words on the board that she didn’t know. I had never realised that there are common words used in Cyprus on both sides of the border, which are not used anywhere else in the world- even in Greece or Turkey!

The following day, the teens were practising for their final evening presentations. I was brought to tears when I heard their poems, talking about ‘breaking stereotypes’, and ‘befriending those who they were taught were the enemy’. I thought back to my days in Cyprus as a child - at that time the borders were still closed and travel into the other side of the island was not possible for most civilians, and it was practically impossible to make contact or have friends with anyone on the other side of the island. Yet here, before me, only a decade or so later, were children from both sides of the island laughing and joking together. Friends.

It was a privilege to have had the opportunity to teach the CFP campers about Astronomy and I am grateful for being allowed a glimpse into what life in a Cyprus-without-borders would look like.

In a country divided, people united.

All of Cyprus Lies Under the Same Sky.

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