By Debbie Riga
A number of years ago I received a call from Maria Zoupaniotis. Γειά σου Ντέπη μου! Following an exchange of the usual pleasantries, Maria got down to business. She explained that she needed a translation of the much revered poem of Cypriot hero Evagoras Pallikarides «Θα πάρω μιαν ανηφοριά» and she needed it in a couple of days. How could I say ‘no’ to Maria, in spite of a deluge of work, an upcoming Conference which required a lot of prep work and various personal and family related obligations. I must admit, I did try to get out of it by mentioning how many translations there must be online that she could easily use. Maria replied that she had read all the translations and did not feel that they captured the ‘essence’ of the poem. She did not like any of them as they were too literal and she wanted something more figurative. Naturally, I agreed to help.
That night I worked on a translation and was so proud of my work that I sent it to her first thing in the morning. Five minutes later, I get a call. «Ευχαριστώ, αλλά, πού είναι το υπόλοιπο;”. “ What υπόλοιπο?”, I asked. As a Cypriot American, although I love Greek music and poems, I can only memorize bits of them. I am ashamed to say, I often don’t even understand what I’m singing or reciting. ‘Ένα λεπτό’, Maria says. She sends me an email with a much longer poem. ‘I really need this soon Debbie, «να ‘σαι καλά» and she hangs up.
Once I took a look at the entire poem I realized this would take a while to complete, especially if I followed Maria’s guidelines of not wanting a ‘literal translation’. This was important to Maria so I put aside all of my other responsibilities and carried on with the translation. In the evening, I sent the finished product to Maria. Five minutes later, I get a call – «πρέπει να μιλήσουμε!» I asked her to put off our call until the next morning.
At 8 am I received a call from Maria. For the next 9 hours in intermittent spurts we went back and forth debating – does this word sound right? Does this phrase convey the message? What exactly were you thinking when you used this word? It was like building a structure from scratch, taking it down a couple of times, rebuilding it, adding more rooms, putting up walls and then moving them around, all until we got it just right. At the end, we both felt good about what we produced.
To be frank, I do not recall where Maria used this, what it was for or what happened after I submitted the final copy to her. All I recall about the experience is that she was the quintessential perfectionist and that she pushed me to do my best. She was a true professional.
Maria was not all about herself. She was however all about her dedication to Cyprus and her life’s work. I would imagine she felt the same way about everything she was involved with and was obviously passionate and dedicated to her family. At our many community events, I have seen many people (mainly men; sorry guys) dash to get into every photo opportunity. Maria always stayed on the sidelines unless someone asked her to join in. She was busy working rather than seeking a piece of the limelight. Her focus on the task at hand never wavered.
Θα πάρω μιαν ανηφοριά,
θα πάρω μονοπάτια
να βρω τα σκαλοπάτια
που παν’ στη Λευτεριά.
Μαρία μου, I hope you have found those steps to freedom. At some point we too will follow.
In the meantime, although you never got to witness a free Cyprus, all of the hard work and dedication of individuals like you will result in the day when your children and grandchildren can visit the united and free homeland of their ancestors.