A few weeks after my memoir The Lullaby Illusion was released, I heard from several friends who lived in Cyprus during the Cyprus War of 1974—people who, like me, witnessed the atrocities firsthand. One man (Don)who contacted me was a boy of five when the war happened.
I first met Donnie when he was living with his family in Kyrenia, Cyprus in the early 70s. A few years later Donnie and his family were with me and a group of other civilians stuck in a UN Camp in the hills above Kyrenia during the war in July 1974.
On our third day in the camp a sudden and loud burst of close range gunfire pinned us to the ground as Greek and Turkish soldiers surrounded us and began firing shots at each other. “Move!” I screamed. “We’re under attack.” Noticing a small boy asleep on the ground, face up and alone a few feet away, I crawled over to him and covered his body with mine until the firing soldiers moved on. Then I picked him up and ran with others down the hill toward a ravine. I tossed the child into the arms of a waiting adult and then jumped in. Seeing that two frightened mothers and children were still stranded on the hill, several men ran back to rescue them. I remember seeing small children being tossed into the ravine into arms of waiting adults eager to help them. Donnie was one of them.
Heads down, we huddled together in the ravine as more bullets whizzed overhead. Donnie sat near me, eyes wide open watching every move. As heavy shooting continued, we could do nothing but sit and wait, and hope to be rescued soon.
When a powerful explosion downhill shook the ground around us, we continued to huddle and hope to survive. Sudden swirls of smoke made it difficult to see. I heard someone scream, “Fire. Run!” I grabbed a child sitting near me and held the hand of another small one as I screamed,”Fire! Run!” and scrambled with dozens of others up the ravine path in a desperate bid for survival.
We were rescued on our fourth day, during a cease fire, and taken to a British ship waiting offshore. I saw Donnie and his mother briefly before the children were taken by sailors on a tour of the HMS Hermes. Most Americans were then transferred to an American navy ship, the USS Trenton, and sailed on to Beirut. Because I had an Israeli stamp in my passport, I had to return to the HMS Hermes and go with other foreign nationals to the British base of Akrotiri, and then fly on to England.
Donnie’s parents recently told me of a drawing Donnie did while they were traveling to Beirut aboard the USS Trenton. When I expressed an interest in seeing it, they scanned it and forwarded it to me. Donnie’s amazing drawing captures the essence of war as told through the eyes of a five year old child. His father called him “a brave speller.” His message is powerfully clear.