NewnhamWrites: A journey across four continents
Never a Dull Moment could be the tagline of blogger, Marina Marangos (NC1975). A chance meeting on a bus with an English girl triggered the idea of doing the Oxbridge entrance exam for fun (her words, not mine). Little did she know she’d arrive in freezing cold Cambridge, a place where she’d eventually meet her medic husband, Charles. But theirs wasn’t a straightforward courtship. She kept him hanging for 11 years until she grudgingly accepted his marriage proposal. Living in four different continents, a growing household of boys and pets, life for Marina has been anything but conventional – particularly when they landed in India. Thank goodness for her love of writing which she put to good effect with the creation of her blog, Mezze Moments. It enabled her to channel her rage and frustrations with the unpredictable and incredible the country had to offer. And once she started, she couldn’t stop.
So, in contrast with past NewnhamWrites Q&As, perhaps it’s best to start Marina’s journey at Newnham …
What made you consider Cambridge?
Getting to Cambridge was not planned, well, at least not in the conventional way. I was born and raised in Cyprus, but when the war happened in 1974 my father sent me to Brussels to complete my last year in school. There I met a lovely English girl on the bus. She was doing her post A-Level Oxbridge Entrance and she asked me if I would keep her company. Together we tackled the crazy titles for essays that came up and I guess I enjoyed the challenge, so I decided to sit the Entrance Exams for fun – yes, crazy, I know.
I got an interview, which was quite unexpected. They rang to tell me, so in early January, I took the ferry over and landed at Dover. At Passport Control I was asked what I was planning to do in the UK and I said I was going to Cambridge for an interview but had nothing to prove it. The official kept me for three hours and I swore never, ever to return. My pride, my standing and my sense of fair play had been offended deeply by this officer. Eventually I got to Cambridge and had the most learned, gentle woman interviewing me. We got on so well. I got a place and started at Newnham in September of 1975.
I started off studying Archaeology and Anthropology, subjects that fascinated me and I met some of my dearest and closest friends on this course. At the end of Part I – and partly due to some parental concern that I would struggle to find employment in this field in Cyprus – I switched to the Law Tripos. I worked as a lawyer/ barrister for some 25 years in various jurisdictions and I never regretted the decision to do law. It gave me a universal grounding and an ability to negotiate, read complex issues, extrapolate and write. It just never seemed to fit me as a person, though I did try it in various forms.
Tell us about your time at Newnham – was it your first choice?
It wasn’t my first choice, but Newnham was wonderful. I was quite frankly dismayed that it was an all women’s college, coming from a co- educational background. However, it was good to me and I met lovely people, had great tutors, beautiful rooms in Clough with enormous fireplaces for toasting crumpets (a favourite past time) and the most archaic bathrooms ever with separate hot and cold taps and no showers, only baths, which I finally mastered.
I bought my duffle coat for £5 from the market and my bike for £10. I shopped in the market and learnt to cook, so when we didn’t want to eat the food from the College buttery we would cook for one another. My father had done his homework and found “Eros Restaurant” – run by a fellow Cypriot and he marched me along there, introduced me to the owner and told him to feed me when necessary. We often went for mousakka served with rice and chips! My idea of heaven was after a morning of lectures heading to Fitzbillies for a Chelsea bun. I punted with friends; I even tried rowing for a term though I gave that up as soon as the morning practices shifted to 6a.m. in the dark. I went to art movies, met lots of hopeless male students – we numbered seven to one then – and finally found a bunch I was happy to hang out with. They were mostly third year medics and they were lucky enough to be doing an unrelated subject for their last year when they came across us Freshers. This was significant in that I met my future husband, Charles, in this group, and we later married after a long courtship (see below.)
After Cambridge, I was called to the English and Cyprus Bar and practiced corporate law in Cyprus for about eight years and became a partner. My father died in 1985 and this was a big shock to the family as we were very close to him. He was also the main reason why I returned to the island. (Here, refer to My Big Fat Greek Wedding to understand why Greek fathers are wary of the Foreigner – Xenos.)
Following my father’s death, Charles came back into my life and asked me to marry him yet again – the relationship had gone on and off for about 11 years. This time I decided I was prepared to try it but kept my job open and married in a civil ceremony so I could undo it easily if needed. Not the most romantic way to start a married life but I had seen my sisters’ marriages end in divorce and while I was prepared to give mine a go, I did feel the odds were stacked against me.
When you married, you ended up being posted overseas, how did you continue with your law career?
We started our married life in London. George our eldest was born within a year. Several months later we moved to Nairobi, East Africa. Charles specialised in tropical diseases and we were heading to Nairobi under a grant of the Wellcome Trust.
I worked for one of the big law firms in corporate law. Charles worked with some of the sex workers in the slums and looked at HIV rates and infections. We joked that though our two worlds were seemingly far apart they probably did overlap!
There, we had our second son and once the project was completed we headed to the Liverpool based School of Tropical Medicine. New home, new Baby. Third son is a Scouser and proud as punch about it.
We stayed in Liverpool for eight happy years – but there was not much corporate big business there – more like urban dereliction in a way which shocked me more than the poverty of Africa. We found a beautiful redhead with green eyes who looked after the kids while I went back to work, working as an in-house lawyer for the National Youth Advocacy Service – NYAS for short. A big departure from what I had done but I was also heading the National Childbirth Trust in the area and somehow the two married well and sat comfortably on my conscience.
One day, my husband, Charles came home and said what do you think about moving to Geneva?
I thought he was joking but in two months we put our possessions in a truck, the kids and two cats in the car and drove over. We had a new language to contend with so I spent some time brushing up on my French and settling the kids and our new Labrador puppy who joined our lives soon after. She was called Tara and ostensibly she was for the kids, but she ended up being my shadow and together we explored every green field, vineyard, mountain and village in and around where we lived just on the outskirts of Geneva.
How did you end up in India?
My husband and I are both Indiaphiles and it was his obsession about returning to India to work, that took us back, not as young backpackers anymore, but to live and work there. So when a job came up with UNAIDS we headed out to Delhi. I could not work but threw myself into supporting and fundraising for a charity for abandoned children (http://www.salaambaalaktrust.com). And we travelled widely, micromanaged a retinue of servants, and found fascination equally in the splendours of Maharaja’s palaces and the slums by the New Delhi Railway station.
Writing is in my family. My eldest sister was an author and poet. My middle sister is an art historian and archaeologist and she has produced many editions on art and culture on the island and my father was a surgeon whose secret other life was penning caustic articles in the newspapers or writing plays. I am a late starter and very slow bloomer but the real impetus when a friend had suggested a blog as a way of recording events and happenings in my Indian life, which I could share with everyone. Well what a blessing that was – life in India was unpredicatable and hard work. I discovered a rage, which I didn’t know I had. India is like that – there is so much injustice, poverty, bureaucracy and plain sheer madness that I needed a way to process it all and that is where the blog became invaluable. It is a record of the quirky, the insane, the downright maddening and the considerable joys as well. I was able to document feelings and emotions. It made me more observant and kept me positive. Occasionally I would have a rant or two about how things were done, or more specifically, not done, but generally I could see the humorous side of things and record them as Incredible India.
I also wrote for a relocation magazine called Culturama, produced a cookbook for my boys who were at university and kept ringing me up to find out how things were done and I was planning a publication of Mezze Moments. Sadly my Indian publisher didn’t get her act together in time and so this never materialized. I still think about it though.
We spent four happy haphazard but delightfully different years there. We met many locals – ordinary people who were kind beyond reason, those who only cared which Cambridge College we attended, and others who showed ingenuity in the simplest of tasks. There was never a dull moment, not much repetition other than power cuts. Each part of this vast sub continent was hugely rewarding and merited more time discovering it. Charles wanted to travel to every state. He managed most of them.
Our time was coming to an end and the big question was where next? My husband was reluctant to return to the UN. Cuts and budgets had taken a toll on the morale of the organizations. A headhunter sent him an email, which he nearly did not read, asking him if he would be interested in heading the School of Public Health at the University of Queensland, the biggest university in the State.
Our last day in India was Republic Day 2013 watching the Beating of the Retreat as the bands marched down the hill of the Rashtrapati Bhavan towards India Gate, a moment neither of us will ever forget.
We landed in a new Continent – Australia and we are determined to visit most of its coastline and some of its interior. We have been here for nearly fours years and Brisbane on the East Coast is a dream city with parks and beaches, rivers and mountains nearby. I decided to continue writing the blog – even though now it was very different. A few friends and family read it. I have thought about the process of monetizing it but refuse to be limited about what I write and how I write it so I join the ranks of impoverished writers. I write for Weekend Notes, an online magazine and I’m writing a series of articles about Cypriot Australians for an English medium newspaper in Cyprus called The Cyprus Weekly.
You can read some of Marina’s blogposts here: