'Burası Türkiye!' 'This is Turkey!'

Odin, Send The Wind And The Rain

I’m not sure how to put this, but I do have a confession to make. A couple of days ago, for the second time in my life, I was with a group of people who were praying for rain! Really!

This time J and I were at a nearby village called Işıklar about 20 minutes drive away over the hills. We’d been invited by our new friend and family doctor who, in turn, had been invited by the muhtar/village headman. The fact that the village was laying on food for everyone who attended had, I’m sure, no bearing on the numbers who showed up!

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locals and guests tucking in

J and I had planned to get there a little early and have a wander about. It was not to be! I’d no sooner got a couple of shots of a beautiful acacia and the ancient graveyard with its very interesting wooden ‘gravestones’ than we were collected by a welcoming local who escorted us to the communal feasting.

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Part way through the feasting we were all called to order by the imam. Those of us at table remained where we were whilst the devout gathered in two groups in the mosque yard – men in one and women in the other. Five minutes of exhortations for rain for the animals and rain for the crops followed with many an ‘Amin, amin, amin!’ (Amen!) in response.

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I had no wish to be disrespectful of these kind people so kept photos to a minimum

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It was interesting to note that whereas normal Muslim prayers are made with the hands cupped upwards, in this instance they were cupped downwards. Once prayers were over it was back to the all-important business of eating, chatting and socialising.

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so, here we are feeling replete with Şafak, our delightful new friend and family doctor, and our community nurse and her daughter (photo courtesy of her son)

Anyway, I told you that this was the second time I’d been involved in one of these ‘rain-dance’ things. The previous time was way back in 1963 and I was a young squaddie doing basic training at the Parachute Regiment Battle Training School in Brecon, South Wales.

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As any fool do know, Wales is always wet – bloody wet! Now, on the day in question it had not been raining but, having spent hours crawling about in the bogs, we were soaked through and feeling very sorry for ourselves. Our platoon sergeant was a certain Danny ‘The Beast’ Hadden and he was not known as ‘The Beast’ without reason. Here he is cropped out of a group photo – this was one of his good days as you can tell. Focus on the eyes and tell me if you can see a soul in there!

Danny 'The Beast' Hadden

Anyway, Danny was probably the best psycho-type (you decide which) on the planet in those days. He could see into your innermost, secret self and select just the right triggers to get whatever he wanted. He was a master manipulator. He knew we were terrified of him but he wanted more – much more!

He had us line up on a track rather like the one above and made great play of ensuring that we were facing east towards the Land of the Gods. Then, on our hands and knees we raised our arms towards the heavens and called out ‘Odin! Mighty Odin, send the wind and the rain!’ This we did three times and as we finished the third incantation the heavens opened, there was thunder and lightning and a deluge to float the ark! Now we were not just scared of the Beast, we were in total awe! Naive little sprogs that we were, we hadn’t the nouse to realise that you only have to look towards the west to see the squalls coming in to impress a bunch of shaking, miserable recruits.

Now, I expect you are about to point out that the part of this tale that is set in Wales was totally predictable. But what, I hear you ask, is all that nonsense at the mosque praying for rain about? Well, as I sit here writing this (3pm Tuesday, May 3rd) we have thunder and lightning with torrential rain and hailstones hammering on the roof of the cabin!  Oh, ye of little faith! You are free to think whatever you like, but J and I are eagerly checking the ten day forecast and awaiting an invitation to yet another neighbouring village for more free food rain prayers – lord knows, we could do with it!

Alan Fenn, stuck in a cabin in the mountains

Incredible Okçular!

Children’s Day – A Little Turkish Delight

I don’t think J and I have missed a Children’s Day since we first became associated with our village primary school. Nisan yirmi üç (April twenty third) has been burned into our diary for a long time. We couldn’t forget anyway because there is always a phone call from the staff to keep us on track!

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Children’s Day here in Turkey was instigated by Atatürk in the early days of the Republic. Here in Okçular it’s a chance for the children to lay on a show for their parents and grandparents. It is also a day when even the tiniest tot will have a chance to bellow greeting or slogan into a microphone!

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Every class gets to dress up and dance, recite or perform a skit – this year it was all dancing.

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the youngest danced dressed in regional costumes as they assembled a map of the country

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Then it was the turn of other classes to turn on the style . .

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There’s a prize of a Mars bar to the first one to spot mum in the crowd!

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the top table is all very well . .

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. . if you can see through the wall-to-wall photo-ops

Part way through the proceedings there was a pause for presentations to parents and a local business couple who have helped the school through the year. We’ve been caught on the hop by these surprise presentations ourselves previously so we were enjoying cheering on the latest group of recipients as they smiled awkwardly and shuffled from foot to foot in front of everyone.  And that was when they caught us again!

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Then it was back to the festivities . .

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‘Turkey is my life’ – may reality never intrude

Followed by photo credits to a great staff . .

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. . and finally, that all-important endorsement from Yeliz

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Just a taster of what was a delightful morning for us. J and I love these people, this village and this country. May these kids grow up in a world free of conflict and may humanity learn that we have more in common than we often think and any difference is only skin-deep.

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

Stuff

Time Lapse

I need to prioritise more and that is a fact! When we wandered back to the cabin this last time we knew that all the big, pressure jobs were jobbed. We were going to relax, potter, wander about, do the odd things that were always waiting, blog and J was going to spend time preparing her presentation on a moneyless world.

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Nothing short of stopping to smell a few roses – our beautiful Isparta Roses!

It was not to be – good stuff as well as jobs got in the way!

Friends flew in from the UK and spent a week based at the hotel across the lake. They were, by turns, amazed at the beauty of the lake and surrounding areas, thrilled as para-gliders descended from the mountains, caught ogling men in rubber and roped in for interview as obvious foreigners.

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diver

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Then J decided that she absolutely needed a garden table made from a pallet . . .

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I’m entitled to look happy, it could have ended up like this . .

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Anyway, back to the narrative – the lovely guy who built our dry-stone wall presented J with a bag-full of mixed seeds . . .

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. . . which required that irrigation system be expanded to incorporate the vegetable garden!

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Meanwhile, Ruddy Shelducks are flying over the cabin every morning and down to the lake –

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image from chum at ‘Birding Turkey’

 . . . and we watched Pine Processionary Moth caterpillars digging in to pupate (I know I’m going to be vilified in some quarters for not murdering them (and neither of us smoke)).

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. . and put up the sign my dotty sister sent from UK!

Then there was the day we took our friends to the village of Akçaköy, birthplace of the great Turkish author and activist Fakir Baykurt. (J is going to translate some stuff about him and then I’ll write a post some time) ‘Fakir’ means poor or impoverished in Turkish and Akçaköy, the home village of the blacksmith and the carpenter who built our cabin, must look pretty much as it did when he lived there.

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a couple of examples of occupied homes

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Recently there has been a very interesting collaboration between the state, which granted access to land around the village, a very interesting local veterinary environmentalist who donated plants and the villagers who provided the labour. The objective is to plant vast acreages of lavender which will be tended and harvested by the villagers and sold on to the veterinary who will process the crop at his facility which produces natural lavender and rose products. We were amazed at the scale of what has been achieved in a very short period of time.

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lavender stretching off into the far distance

All of this, though, was not the main object of our interest in Akçaköy. A year before Fakir Baykurt died in 1999 a library, dedicated to his grandmother, was opened in this still impoverished village. It is open to all but is there specifically for the children who use it five days a week. It is an astonishing legacy from a man, born into poverty, who, because of Atatürk’s dream and the vision of others like İsmail Hakkı Tonguç, went on to graduate from one of the Village Institutes. With the gift of enlightenment he grew into one of Turkey’s great men of letters – a ‘wordsmith’. His life and the library he left to his village has inspired generations of village children to read and study. His true legacy, however, is to be found in the well-above-average passes of children from Akçaköy moving on to University.

Here are a couple of photos from the village library, the story is for another time.

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the reference room

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one of the reading/study rooms

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friend Patrick ‘salutes’ the source of a great concept

Finally, as we drove in to the village we were spotted by the family of our blacksmith and greeted like long-lost family.

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. . and whilst there are butterflies and beautiful knockers to be found I’m there with a camera!

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Scarce Swallowtail

beautiful knocker

So, ‘things’ and ‘stuff’ got in the way of a bit of blogging resulting in an overly long tale. We came back to Okçular in time for Children’s Day and I’ll tell you about that and the surprise that went with it in a few days.

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

Stuff

When Are You Going Back?

Back in the halcyon days of my youth when I thought I was god’s gift to the British Army there was a guaranteed greeting to be had from the regulars down at my local watering hole whenever I came home on leave. ‘Blimey! You’re here again. When are you going back?’ These days the same question is getting asked whenever J and I re-emerge at this end of the ‘rabbit hole’.

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My answer remains much the same, ‘As soon as I’ve done my dhobi, given my back a break and caught up with the MotoGP, I’m out of here!’

Don’t get me wrong, J and I love Okçular. This village is a big part of us and represents much of what we love about living in Turkey. I’ll come back to that shortly, first I want to fill you in on where we are at back at the cabin.

You may recall that our friends had returned to Dalyan and we were about to have our neighbour, an expert in these things, come in and fix up our irrigation system. It took him two days and I have to tell you it is a triumph! Even some of the wild roses we transplanted are in the loop!

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connection made

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up and running

Now we no longer have to worry about the fifty-something trees we’ve planted so far. We can come and go as we please and there are no more major tasks to be completed – the pressure is off and everything now feels much more relaxed and tranquil.

Meanwhile, back here in Okçular, what a difference ten days away makes in the springtime.

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mock orange

wisteria

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geraniums

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Banksia Rose

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Arum

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Judas Tree . . and much else beside.

There was also a visit to Kocadere Valley and our village primary school by students from the International School in Istanbul. It’s an annual thing that is organised by our friend Begüm and involves leading the group of about sixty young people to the valley and discussing the environment and such. It was a very pleasant stroll and not a single complaint about ‘hot’ or ‘boring’ was heard.

A little later they joined our junior school children and talked about where they come from (so many different countries) and what they like to do, etc. It is always a treat to observe the open-eyed wonder at these exotic creatures from our children and then to see the shyness melt away as barriers come down. The students from Istanbul usually bring balls and other gifts for our school which is much appreciated and pretty soon everyone is rushing about and having a great time.

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our students assemble to welcome their guests

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cautious wonder . .

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. . melts away into . .

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. . something quite special

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thanks for a wonderful experience

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organiser Begüm who deserves so much of the credit

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J gets a big hug from Yeliz who cares for everything else at the school apart from teaching

Alan Fenn, glad to be home in Okçular, a very special place.

Stuff

Did You Really?

It is almost impossible to grasp how much has been achieved since we rolled down the ‘rabbit hole’ last Thursday. You read in the last posting how our good neighbour organised a tractor and plough that very day and how Hüseyin usta, our ‘Pocket Hercules’ spent the next two days dragging and carrying out tons of rocks from the plot.

grumpy old sod wandering aimlessly in circles is captured on hidden camera

Day three saw us begin the back-breaking task of digging holes and planting a variety of different fruit and nut trees. Three days of solid graft and we had somewhere in the order of fifty trees in the ground!

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tools used to break backs

grumpy old sod watering

grumpy old sod behind wall

Oh! I also made a very nice ‘country-style’ kitchen cum dining table to replace the folding ‘thingy’ we have been using.

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under construction

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constructed

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ready for the consumers

Tuesday we were thanking our lucky stars because we had a short, two day visit from some very dear and very interesting friends. It gave us the chance to stand upright and share the pleasures of this place along with some good food, good wine and, most important, good conversation!

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Walks on the beach on Tuesday was followed by a drive up into the mountains Wednesday. The good conversation was constantly interrupted by gasps and exclamations of amazement at the views.

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Friends having gone back to Dalyan it was time to get an irrigation system organised. Once again our good neighbour Ramazan was on hand to get the man for the job. He will get everything that is needed and start on Friday – with luck and a fair wind the job should be finished in one day and we can get back home to Okçular in time for the Argentinian MotoGP races Sunday evening.

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Finally, an old fart and his squeeze, both mere shadows of their former selves and in the twilight of their day, enjoy a well-earned glass! Sorry, wrong photo!

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Alan Fenn, knackered, having done quite a lot, but feeling good!

ps In answer to the question – ‘Yes, we really did!’