Stuff

Bewitched! A True Love Story

Many moons ago my dear friend Ahmet related a story to me – in very much his own words, it went something like this . .

‘My father was a judge and when I was a child we seemed to move around quite a bit. Traditions were strong in those days and we would always journey back to visit our elderly relatives whenever a Bayram (holiday) came around. Both my mother’s and my father’s parents came from Nazilli in Aydin Province and that is where the family homes were.

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There was a time when my father was based in Fethiye and so, when a holiday came around, we would hop on the bus and journey back to Nazilli to spend time with my Grandma at her house. I loved that house with its wonderful, mature gardens and its amazing method of heating that was modelled on the Roman system that allowed hot air to circulate under the floors. It was a perfect childhood playground.

Anyway, back then, one of my strongest memories was of this strange old woman who always seemed to be visiting with Granny. I met her during these trips to Nazilli – Nazik was her name. We were little kids, around four or five years old I suppose. Everybody called her Nazik, which means ‘polite, delicate, kind or gentle’ in Turkish. That was her name, rather unusual! Even then!

She used to talk with my grandmother mostly. They seemed more or less the same age but then everybody looks old to a child! I did not know where they were friends from, or how they met. I did not know if there was a relationship with our family. Maybe, at that age, I was not aware of relations at all!

Now, when I say her name, Nazik, you may think of an old Turkish lady with a scarf. And so she was but there was much more. Looking back (and if I may be very politically incorrect) she was proof positive of the theory of evolution! Truly! So she used to be very, very much something like an ape! Something in between – the missing link between the chimps and homo sapiens! You would really be surprised! Probably, the only difference was that her feet did not look like a hand, but she’d got real feet!

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Surely, she was a major attraction for us kids. We used to play outside, in the garden, and when we got tired, we would go in and peer secretly, we thought, around the door. Or, like glasses in a cupboard, sit in a row, leaning back to the wall and watch her speak with my grandmother. All the while fixing our eyes on her with curiosity! She used to be very interesting for us, so we really could not take our eyes off her. Surely, within some time, our grandma would get the point, and worrying that Nazik would understand the reason, would chase us out yelling, trying to scare us all. With our small meatball like puffy feet touching our backs, we would run away like kittens back to play in the garden. This used to be repeated until we grew tired of it!

Years passed. Years without ugly, old Nazik and soon enough the memory of her faded.

One day, when I was visiting Granny at her home I noticed an old faded photograph of a gentleman in a frame. White hair and moustache, a really nice face, smiling, handsome maybe. No, no, definitely handsome. Taken a long time in the past, and surely, you can tell.

Who is this man Grandma?

Oh, son! You haven’t met him, my brother. He died before you were born.

Really, what a nice looking man he was. Didn’t he have any other relatives, kids, wife?

Yes, sure he had. Nazik was his wife!

What? How come? Nazik, that old witch, and this fine, handsome brother of yours? How was that possible?

It was then that she started to tell the story:

Part of our family is from Afyon. Some kind of a landlord. Their surname was Kabaağaçlı there is a close relation with the famous Çevat Şakir Kabaağaçlı (Fisherman of Halicarnassus). There was another family in the town. They were very wealthy and they had a beautiful daughter.

This great uncle of mine, a handsome, young and wealthy man is mature enough to consider a marriage. He starts dreaming of marrying this beautiful young girl from a rich family. He decides to snatch her and elope, a common practice in those days.

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this is how he dreams it will be

He plots and tries to find a way to make an arrangement with the girl. The girl has a maid, a foster child of the family and our hero, having poured his heart into a letter asks the maid to deliver it to her mistress. Soon, the maid brings a reply. Reading it he thinks the girl is also in the mood, or hopes she is. The letters pass back and forth each more passionate than the last. Finally, he writes a letter to the girl, saying he will be waiting at the fountain, early in the morning on a particular day, to take her away.

Early in the morning of the fateful day, before anyone in the household is awake, she is waiting with her pack by the fountain her face covered by her peçe (veil). Soon enough, our handsome, proud hero comes by on his fine stallion, reaches down and sweeps the girl up onto the horse behind him.

After riding for several hours our couple arrive at a cottage that our hero has organised and prepared for them. Can you imagine the passions, the excitement, nerves a jangle from the vibrations and the motion of the horse?

They jump off the tired horse and go into the house. Two young persons consumed by passion stand in the defining moment of their lifetime. Hearts beating as if to break out of their chests they look at each other. So my great uncle moves to open the veil. Of course with a bişmillah! (‘In the name of God’ or ‘In the name of Allah’)

With the expectation that he will see the face of this beautiful girl, he opens it and there is the face of Nazik!

As his eyes open wide in shock, Nazik takes his hand. ‘What you see is not who I am.’ she says. ‘Who I am is what is hidden inside of me. Who I am is the one who poured out her heart to you in those letters for it was me who wrote them and not my mistress.’

What do you expect was his comment? ‘So this was my kismet!’ (my fate) he said.

Well, my grandma told me the story of an ever happy couple who really lived the happiest of lives of anyone she had ever known. How passionate they were for each other, and how they managed to get along so well all their lives.’

At this point Ahmet was crying – and so am I!

Now, Nazik and her husband Sabri Dayi were childless and so they adopted two orphans, a girl and a boy, and raised them as their own. Here is a photo of Nazik, Sabri and their adopted son and his bride on their wedding day.

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standing, back row left is my grandmother Sakibe – my grandfather Tevfik is standing, back row third from right. Nazik and Sabri, her dashing Prince Charming, are seated with children on their knees. Is it possible that these are the orphans they adopted?

So, there you have it! This is a love story – a true love story. I hope it has warmed the cockles of your heart in these difficult days and shown that ‘human nature’ is not always as it is painted and that a book should never be judged by its cover!

Alan Fenn, (somewhere in the mountains)

'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!

veg garden irrigation

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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welcome

. . 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

wisteria

tulip

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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.