Arlene Swift Jones
Arlene Swift Jones on Cyprus, 1962
Photo: Frank Jones
 
In this memoir depicting her days as the wife of an undercover CIA agent on Cyprus just before and during the bloody civil war between Cypriot Greeks and Turks, Arlene Swift Jones has written a page-turner that describes the beauty and barbarity of landscape, customs, and ethnic duality on an island that has long been regarded as the Jewel of the Mediterranean but descends into a paradise lost when hostilities begin in 1963. One is reminded all too forcefully of present-day conflicts in the Balkans, the Holy Land, and the Near East. And yet in the courage of the author, who fights to keep her family together; in the innocence of her children; and in the primitive but pristine passion of traditional island ceremonies, there is the hope that the human spirit is capable of rising above the horrors so vividly described in God, Put Out One of My Eyes. Willliam A. Buell, who spent many years in the Foreign Service, has written that “Arlene Jones brings the island of Cyprus to life – its sights and sounds and smells and culture – perhaps because she is a poet and writes like a poet. She brings it all alive in a book warmed in part by the literary device of frequent conversations with her three very young daughters. It’s an exciting book, since the background is a growing, apparently irreversible conflict between the island’s Greeks and Turks, from which she had to evacuate her family not once but twice. Her account of rescuing the family pony, riding the emaciated beast through civil war checkpoints from the northern seaside town of Kyrenia to Nicosia, will have you on the edge of your chair.” Peter Earnest, Executive Director of the International Spy Museum, calls God, Put Out One of My Eyes “a well-crafted tale, beautifully written, and all too familiar to Americans sent by their country to the world’s trouble spots.” And Sondra Zeidenstein, publisher of Chicory Blue Press, adds that “Arlene Jones writes vividly, intelligently, beautifully... There is so much to be enjoyed, grieved for, learned from, and savored in this remarkable book.”

   
Arlene Swift Jones grew up on an Iowa farm where she “read books and rode horses.” The most important constant in her life has been her writing, which she continued to pursue after marrying Frank Jones and entering the hectic life of a CIA wife and mother of three children. In that role, she was often obliged to pick up and move her households and children from one country to another. Finding schools was frequently a major problem, which she solved while living in Poland by founding a school, now called The American School of Warsaw. In all of the countries where she has lived, Arlene has taught at some level, from first grade to the university lecture hall. She taught literature at the International School in Geneva and eventually became Assistant Academic Dean at the Ethel Walker School in Simsbury, Connecticut. Always her aim has been “trying to make young people more aware of the world, its history, art, geography, and politics.” Her cultural, artistic and literary interests also led to her involvement in the building and operation of a new library in New Hartford, Connecticut, where she and her husband lived with their three daughters for many years.

Arlene Jones’ first full-length poetry collection (Deenewood, A Sequence) was winner of the Tales Prize from Turning Point Press in 2004. A second book of poems, Pomegranate Wine, was published in 2005, having been a finalist for four of the country’s most prestigious literary contests. Jones’ poetry has often been anthologized and has been published in many journals, including Prairie Schooner, Kansas Quarterly, Tar River Poetry, and Cimarron Review. She has won several awards for her writing and has received fellowships from the McDowell and Ragdale Foundations. Her current project is a multi-generational work depicting the lives of Norwegian Quaker immigrants to Iowa, from whom she is descended.

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BOOK STATISTICS

ISBN 978-0-9843418-0-1
Copyright © 2010 by Arlene Swift Jones
6" x 9" paperback, 262 pages with 5 pages of color photographs

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SAMPLES

a) from introductory material

A GREEK PROVERB

One day God approached Janni, a Greek peasant farmer working in his fields, and said to him: “Janni, you are a very good, honest, God-fearing man. And I want to reward you by granting you one wish. Anything you desire shall be yours… But remember that Charity is a gift to be shared, and I will reward your neighbor, Mehmet, with twice what you ask for.” Janni scratched his head carefully. Finally, he replied:

“God, put out one of my eyes!”


b) from Chapter 17, “Tartuffe”

Robert and Maureen Pendleton, retired British tea planters from Malaysia who had settled in Kyrenia, called me in Nicosia two weeks after our last visit to tell me what I feared—the pony was not being cared for. Not fed or watered, nor ever taken out of the garage-made-stable.
Couldn’t I have expected that Fikret, honest and faithful, had more important things to do than indulge a British-American fetish of kindness to animals? And that at a time when Frank had learned that he himself was one of the leaders of the Kyrenia TMT, according to Greek press reports. When people were being killed daily, houses bombed by ignited temperaments as well as bombs, hostilities mounting? The eighteen miles between Nicosia and Kyrenia were not occupied, but were half-Greek, half-Turkish, which meant that no Greek or Turk could travel those miles all the way and that, therefore, Kyrenia was forbidden to them both. Anyone else, probably, could travel the road—diplomats, certainly, although we were encouraged to use it only on a strictly need-to basis. No embassy wanted to encourage an incident.
I went to the Veterinary Clinic outside the bastion of old Nicosia to ask Mike Petris for a place to keep the pony. Certainly he had a special feeling for that little mare.
“Bring her here to the clinic. I have some stables. We’ll find a place for her.”
I didn’t know where else to put a pony, except at the British bases that were too far for me to ride her, see her, and if I asked the bases to take her, she would have to be a gift horse. I was not ready to give her up forever.
Mike looked at me quizzically. “Look, you will hire a truck and bring her by way of Myrtou, of course? You’re not going to be foolish, are you?" I nodded, meaning yes, I guess, that I wasn’t going to be foolish. But Myrtou was a three-hour drive. I could find a truck. I nodded yes. I meant no, I wouldn’t be foolish.
“Frank Jones,” I pronounced, at one of our rare moments together when I wasn’t asleep, “I am going to bring Karakoumi to Nicosia. I have a place to keep her.”
I didn’t see Frank very often. Even mealtime now converged into one expression, which was chanted daily by the girls—“Soup’s on!”—and was the signal for the telephone to ring and the summons: immediate attention required at the Embassy.
“Fine. But how will you get her here?”
“Ride her. OK?”
“As long as you get someone to check you out, now and then, along the way. Say, how about one of the Peace Corps boys? They’re out of work now.”
“What happened? Since when?” I hadn’t heard.
“Well, you remember that one Corpsman who was accused of gun-running? The outcome of that incident is that because teaching handicrafts to a blind Turk was not part of his assigned job, he, and now the entire Corps, is accused of being partisan and receiving guns from Turkish ships and delivering them to the TMT. So they all had to be called in from their villages—no point in getting one of them killed. Now they are just waiting around to see what will happen, where they will go from here.”
I found them through Petey’s husband. The coming Sunday, two of them would be free from tidying up their reports. They would be departing the following week for Ethiopia.
Two corpsmen and I drove to Kyrenia in the inconstant January sun. I hoped the rain would wait.
We were stopped four times at roadblocks: two Greek, one at the outskirts of Nicosia, one at the entrance to Kyrenia. Two Turkish in between.
What was the reason for the blockades? Merely an assertion of ownership, I thought. Of territorial rights? The guards looked at the identity documents of those few travelers on a once-busy road as though they really didn’t know what to do with them. Certainly the Turkish soldiers couldn’t read our passports, turning them upside down as they did. Were they Turkish Cypriots, or part of the Turkish mainland garrison? No way to tell. All of them wore the star and half-moon of Turkey, in red, on their khaki uniforms.
When we arrived at the third roadblock, on the crest of the Kyrenia Mountains, the indifferent sunshine had faded, and the sea’s clouds were not encouraging. It would rain, most certainly. I had worn a warm sweater and brought a thin nylon parka, used in other days for skiing in the Alps. It was red—a useful color under the circumstances.
We turned down the muddy road leading to the beloved sea house, but stopped first to greet the Pendletons, to thank them for calling about the pony they’d looked after, and to inquire about their health.
The Pendletons had come to Cyprus too late. Too late for the peace which the British had enjoyed for a century and for their polo matches, croquet and teas on half-green lawns. Too late also for Robert’s health: he spoke with the forced air moving over his absent, cancer-operated larynx. They had also left Malaysia, then Malaya, too late—after British fortunes had been lost, and Robert’s with them. Where does one go when the Empire dies? Back to Britain where they’ve never lived? Maureen had never lived there, and Robert not since he was at Oxford. So they had chosen Cyprus, with its benign climate and healing sea. Now they were awaiting the much-discussed Invasion perhaps only days, and yards away. The Invasion was, of course, Invasion by Turkey, the Great Fear in the hearts and on the tongues of every Greek Cypriot. Weeks ago, was it only, that Maureen had questioned Frank: “If the Turks invade the island, where do you think they will land?”
“Why, right here. One hundred yards in front of your house. Turkey is only forty miles away from here, you know.”
“Oh, really! Do you think so?” Maureen had remarked. “Well, I must get some film.”
“Color?” Frank had asked.
“Oh, most certainly. I’ve never seen an invasion before.” She might have been speaking of the gulls’ flight, or the rain coming down.
Whitewashed houses, though normally sun-dazzled, were cool in summer. In winter they resembled cold grey doves, huddled and lifeless, humped against the rain, knowing of nothing to do but wait. The Pendleton’s house was such a one, and I knew the winter clamminess of its interior.
Maureen greeted us, wrapped up in her usual layers of “jumpers” and cardigans.
“Delighted you came. But we’ll miss the pony. We got to be good friends... You are riding her, of course?”
“Yes, of course,” I answered as matter-of-factly as I was asked. Our Anglo-Saxon temperaments were different from the Mediterranean.
I took nothing extra but the halter rope. Eighteen miles was a long distance for a pony confined for weeks without exercise or sufficient food. No extra weight to burden her. The Peace Corpsmen were to check me every five miles or so.
Out the muddy lane, past the shivering acacias, waving at Robert and Maureen, until Maureen’s shawl and cardigans were as small as a gull’s wing in the grey distance. Through the desolate village and up the long ascent to the mountains, a five-mile distance in no-man’s land, being at that time claimed by neither Greek nor Turk. Nor guarded. The pony was not so certain of my directions—we had ridden always towards the sea, along the sea, away from Kyrenia. She looked back at me, wanting her stable already, after only two miles.
The road was entirely deserted. Up and up towards the mountains, but the sea was the color of the sky, and it seemed as though we made no progress. Then it began to rain, quietly. A thin mist, visible only to the hand, and felt by the face. I put on my parka, the hood over my head. Red. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I should have had a blue one. Or one of each. I was still closer to Greek territory than Turkish, and was wearing a red parka on a deserted road. Perhaps I could even be seen from the Turkish stronghold at St. Hilarion, the Crusader-built fortress where the eagles screamed into the sea wind. Then red would be right.
Startled by the broken stillness, I turned around to see a car, not mine with the Corpsmen but a small blue Morris Minor crawling like an ant in the vast distance behind me. On and on it came. Robert and Maureen appeared.
“We brought you some lunch. Something hot. It started raining.” Was it also one last glimpse Maureen wanted of a parting which might be definitive? Who knew where one—I, she, Robert—went from here? ”And we really wanted to see you,” she continued. “It’s too funny, you know. You really ought to have a bundle of sticks. Or something to carry. You look like an unpurposeful peasant, a peasant without a mission, in an Englishman’s parka. Why don’t you have a donkey? And that ridiculous English saddle—why not a wooden one!”
We all laughed. We were all ridiculous, standing there on the empty mountain road, eating sandwiches and drinking soup as though it were a perfectly normal day and we were here every day of our lives, pausing for our midday lunch, drinking soup in the rain on a deserted road, armed soldiers at either end.
“Good-bye! Good-bye!”
Five miles to the top. Pony lagging. Who was dead ahead, wondering who was occupying the middle of the road on a Sunday afternoon in a Turkish-occupied area in a country committed to hostilities? They, two soldiers, peered down the road at me, guns pointed in my direction. Sten guns. And two carbines crossed, standing beside them in the middle of the road. Their barrier.
I took off my hood and demonstrated, by indicating my hair, that I was she.
Not he. They peered, still. I peered back. Where were the Peace Corpsmen, I wondered. Stories of infidel Saracen Barbarians flooded my mind, the rape of women, the cutting off of hands, stoning women who were too free. No Turkish woman would be riding a pony, astride, in the midst of nowhere. I must be suspect, I thought, as I arrived at the barricade of crossed guns, on no dashing charger ready to strike them down as the horse of Artybius had been trained to do. I was mounted on a drooping pony.
They peered into my face, and then into each other’s. Guffaws! Louder! They slapped their thighs, each other’s backs! They roared! And gestured me onwards. Onwards I went, and then, suddenly, they stopped laughing. Wondering, perhaps, I was thinking, if they had made a mistake, not certain of what they had seen. Maybe thinking that I, Arlene Jones, on a simple mission of pony rescue, was really a Mata Hari in disguise. Escaping. Or the wife of Frank Jones, spy, slipping through the lines. Oh my God, I am the wife of a spy! I suddenly remembered. My stomach clutched.
Or, I could be one of Nikos Sampson’s Tartuffes. He had written only yesterday in Mahki: Those foreign diplomats and journalists were tartuffes, breathing fury against the Greek Cypriots for crushing the Turkish terrorists...these tartuffes want the Greek Cypriots to strew the path of the Turkish insurgents with flowers, and then allow themselves to be massacred.
More and more possibilities came to my mind. Both sides could accuse me. I could be accused of being a gun-running Turk-lover. Without guns? And my accomplices, the already accused Peace Corpsmen, using my car... Damn. Where were they? My Corpsmen? Why did I ever ask them? They hadn’t even left Kyrenia. Or had they? They had vanished. Perhaps they were captured, and their, I mean my car was being filled with guns by the Greeks to prove that they were running guns to Turks. Oh God, I could see the headlines in Eleftheria now: “U.S. Diplomat Tartuffe, woman NATO spy, plots against peace-loving citizens, runs pony express through Turkish lines.” And my color photograph in a red parka! Frank must have been crazy to let me come. Go. Whatever it was that I was doing. Why didn’t I listen to Mike!
A shot! Then several more staccatoed in the distance. A machine gun. I could recognize them all: Bazooka, Sten, Bren gun sounds. And of course, the rifle. I consoled myself by thinking the sounds were normal. But here? On a lonely road, with no one in sight?
Two hours, six miles. Twelve more miles to go. I dismounted my unwilling beast bearing my burden, tied the halter rope around my waist. No good horsewoman would do that, I knew, but it would enable me to lean into the rope, to encourage the now-balking pony. Rest... The mist increased. Mount. Ride another mile, tortoise pace. Walk. The rain stopped. The sun slipped through, now and then. More rain. I saw my car arrive, coming from Kyrenia. I didn’t ask the Corpsmen where they had been. Didn’t want them to think I was worried. One offered to ride the pony. They were too heavy for Karakoumi. Even I was now. I tried to sit on the tailgate of the station wagon and lead her. The car overheated in maintaining such a slow pace. I couldn’t drag her after the car. She stopped. Rest. Met after another mile. Tried to lead her from the car again. No go. Met them in another two miles.
How far had I gone? I had descended the mountain into the Mesaoria Plain. How many miles to the Turkish village of Geunyeli on the outskirts of Nicosia?
I remembered that I knew an animal rescue shelter two miles to the right, away from Geunyeli. Should I take the chance that they would take Karakoumi, that they had room for her? It would mean four more miles, if they wouldn’t... I decided to take the chance. The Corpsmen had gone on to Geunyeli.
With relief, I came to the shelter. They didn’t have room. My throat tightened more in pain than anger. I was afraid I would cry. Couldn’t they understand? No! Very un-British. The woman snapped at me. Unbelievable.
On to Geunyeli. Mounting, walking, dragging poor Karakoumi, but I was angry with her as well. Why couldn’t she understand I was trying to save her? I was stupid, I knew. I had to whip her with the crop. She wouldn’t move. I was reminded of her colic.
Two more miles. The rain had stopped now. The sky had cleared. However, it was getting on toward dusk. Hurry. Hurry. I counted steps. Two more. Good. Ten more. Wonderful. And on we went.
Geunyeli appeared as a true oasis. Or mirage. No, it was Geunyeli. I could see the coffee shop was full, as usual. I could see my car, and the Corpsmen, playing backgammon, feeling comfortable in an element they knew. Maybe they were Turk-lovers. A coffee for me, the pony untethered, children gathering around, curious, but quiet. Normally wary, Karakoumi now would not have moved for a fire-bomb. I had another coffee, and was eyed only slightly by the normal-seeming Sunday crowd of men and boys. I had heard from Fikret that villagers thought a tired horse was a bewitched horse. Did that include me? Was it Greek Villagers, or Turkish Villagers who thought that?
The only difference from normal was the number of men in uniform. And the guns: a motley assortment, carried carelessly, deposited casually here and there. I was accepted in the coffee house as all Western women were accepted and their own women were not. The only thing I did not want to happen was to be seen by anyone in the American diplomatic community. Not that anyone I knew now went to Kyrenia. But there was always Elizabeth who had a driver, and could go to their rented house to collect things. But for the Turks, this woman on a pony was one of the many odd occurrences which went unquestioned, as the guns went unquestioned, and were, in fact, a return to something they had experienced before.
Dusk was fast coming on, and I was relieved to be only two miles or so from the stable. I had one more roadblock to pass, just on the edge of Nicosia. Off I started, with the reins tied around my waist, leaning forwards, dragging Karakoumi.
And then the distance was reduced to one mile. Dragging a staggering pony, mounting from time to time to no avail, I was all but standing still.
Car lights flashed in the semi-dusk. Why? Then I saw the American flag on the black Ford, and the Ambassador’s driver. Elizabeth leaned out of the window: “Heavens, Arlene! Is that you? What on earth are you doing here? Are you crazy?”
“But you, too, Elizabeth, are here.” Counter an attack with an attack, as Frank always said and the Greeks practiced. We confronted each other.
“Yes, I had to collect some things from my house. Who knows when we can go back and forth again,” Elizabeth remarked, importantly.
“But I had to collect some things too, Elizabeth,” I said.
“But what? What is so important? And what are you doing here on a horse, in the Turkish sector, in the dark? Answer me that!”
“I had to collect my horse.”
Elizabeth paused. “Wait until I tell Frank and the Ambassador where you were. And at this time of day. You do know there’s another roadblock, don’t you?”
“He knows, Elizabeth. He knows. He may not know where I am at this moment, but he knows what I am doing. After all, I couldn’t leave the horse to starve, could I?”
“You are ridiculous!” Elizabeth pronounced, and urged the driver on.
The only real hazard of the trip, oddly enough, I thought, was meeting an official American. And it had to be the Ambassador’s wife. Just when I was nearly there. I had never been in Elizabeth’s favor, having started off so badly by confusing the day of the luncheon given in my honor, and arriving late. The embarrassment of being reminded by Elizabeth’s phone call and arriving after the soup to the head of table, the empty place of honor. I never regained my footing.
Elizabeth did not like her job and was, because of it, convinced that no other wife in the Foreign Service should. And she had been placed in that position by the whole apparatus of the State Department’s Foreign Service: The Ambassador’s Wife! A position eagerly hoped for, awaited, a position which would justify all the early years of Junior Wife, Junior budget, Junior allowances, Junior position, and always being at the beck and call of The Ambassador’s wife. It was all so departmental: making calls within the proper time after being newly posted, no matter who baby-sat your children, even if they were homesick, crying, ill in a hotel; wearing white gloves; never sitting on the right side of the sofa unless you were the senior wife, if you called in a group; cowtowing to women not senior in age but senior in husband’s rank. I remembered the advice from Washington prior to my first post: “A single strand of pearls and a black dress are appropriate at all times... A Foreign Service Wife never has an opinion which could be taken to be official; therefore, a Foreign Service Wife never has an opinion. Such behavior would mar your husband’s career. I remembered a bit of information passed on to me in a previous post by the Ambassador’s Wife when Frank and I were invited to a farewell party for the Ambassador. Frank was out of town, and I was summarily disinvited: “My dear, without your husband, you simply don’t exist.
We simply could not be two women friends: she was the Ambassador’s wife, and I was not even Foreign Service. I was an imposter because of Frank’s position, given Foreign Service cover for the CIA. We could not be friends.
The Ambassador’s Wife—of all persons to find me out, to find me leading a pony in the Turkish district, when I was possibly risking Official American Policy, flaunting the Ambassador’s recommendations or orders. But to Elizabeth, I was always where I wasn’t supposed to be. I knew how well the grapevine worked in Cyprus, remembering Sabri’s knowledge of me, our pony, our search for a saddle. If I were to go to Kyrenia tomorrow and go to his Milk Bar, Sabri would surely say to me,” Well, I hear that you were in Geunyeli in a coffee shop at dusk yesterday...on a horse.” I even knew what I would reply to his remark: “Not on. With.”
It was dark when I arrived at the veterinary stable. But I knew where to go, and would deposit the pony quietly. I would call Mike in the morning…
“Kali Spera, Kyria...” Damn, I thought, knowing the voice.
“You got a truck, did you? Quite a drive, wasn’t it? More than three hours?”
In the darkness only his voice and not his face was speaking. I didn’t know how Mike meant what he was saying.
“Who told you that I...?” But I didn’t know what to ask. Mike interrupted me.
“You know that village where you had coffee?” And I nodded in incredulity. “Well, the pony called ahead. She’s not so stupid as you are.”
Mike was laughing. And then I was laughing. And crying. And Mike fed Karakoumi a hot bran mash, saying, “It’s why she called. It’s what she asked for.”
Our laughter stopped and our ears were filled with the sound of munching jaws, a sound signifying that all was well, that a tired and hungry animal was eating and bedded down for the night in the security, the comfort of the stable.
I thanked Mike. Or I tried to. I didn’t need to because we both believed in a simple need—shelter and food for a refugee, his refugees being animals—and in his wish that others’ needs could be so simply satisfied. It was a small beauty in the face of so much ugliness.
“Don’t thank me,” he said hoarsely. “Courtesy of the Cyprus Government... It may be the only thing you’ll ever get from them.”
And we went our separate ways into an uncertain night.

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