'Burası Türkiye!' 'This is Turkey!'

Poles Apart – Our First Turkish Picnic (as featured in Land of Lights)

As I wandered down our track enjoying my evening ‘constitutional’ recently, I had all the time in the world to soak up the ever-changing view as the soft, golden sunlight tinted the drying hay and reflected off the last remaining pools of our seasonal Black Lake. There was time to watch a few egrets preening; to pass a word or two with ‘Mrs Raki-man’ as she turned over some fodder she’d cut a few days before; and there was time to notice the first pinks Dianthus haematocalyx of the season. All this turned my mind back nearly 14 years to the very first Turkish family picnic J and I went on . . . and you may wonder why this particular flash-back at this particular time and I will tell you that living on our own up a track in the woods can play interesting games with the mind!

Anyway, that aside let me tell you about that first picnic experience; here’s a bit of background (‘setting the scene’ as they call it in pulp fiction). We had not long arrived to live in Turkey and were still very wet behind the ears in the ways of local culture and custom. We had, not long before, been pounced upon by a family of market traders who were desirous that J help their daughter to improve her English for which they would pay, of course. As J protested that she couldn’t possibly accept money she had no idea that she was, by default, taking on the job. From that moment on they all but moved in – they would turn up unannounced at all times of the day and evening, invading our space and our kitchen to prepare food they’d brought with them once they’d sussed that we foreigners had almost nothing in our cupboards and even less in the garden. We were totally overwhelmed by this blitzkrieg and all but waving a white flag!

At some point in this ‘occupation’ we were told that we were going the very next day for a picnic at the little beach; we were to be at their house at 8 o’clock for breakfast and we’d need to use our car to help carry the stuff. We duly turned up and the packing began – we stood open-mouthed as more and more was rammed in. Then in got the family; mum, dad, and two teenagers. The car was so sunken on its rear suspension that not only was every bump like a broken axle; it was hard to see over the rearing bonnet (or follow any conversation over the noise from our rumbling stomachs)!

‘To the butcher’ I was instructed; which was then followed by a diversion to an animal trough, for ‘the finest water in Turkey!’ At last we set off for the beach which was somewhere around the back of Göcek; bumping, grinding and eating dust along a dirt track behind a great big truck. Eventually, through the clouds of dust our destination was pointed out below us. As it happened, it was also the destination of the truck and we had to wait behind it whilst the canvas cover was thrown off and a large family emerged from underneath and began to carry out a house moving job – tables, chairs, boxes, you name it, it was truly mind-blowing.

When we were able to get past the truck we set out to find our own spot. Now, being English I would have expected to find my place as far away as possible from anyone else, but our escorts are not English, they are Turks and Turks are like opposite poles on a magnet – they attract and so we were soon settled in with those who had arrived ahead of us, followed closely by those laggards still rolling in. Once we were unpacked the lady of the house lit the gas and set the tea to brew before preparing breakfast in record time, refusing all offers of help. Following breakfast the man of the house rolled himself up in a blanket and was soon snoring loudly; the lady of the house did what she always does after a hard day’s work (or anything else) and set about preparing the main meal. Potatoes were peeled and chipped, salad made ready, meat seasoned; only then did the lady of the house relax and join in conversation with other ladies of the house enjoying a day out away from the drudgery of being an ‘ev hanımı’ (housewife).

After some while the man of the house began to stir and snuffle and our lady of the house set about the ‘barby’ and cooking up the chips in a frying pan brimming with bubbling oil set on top of a non-too-safe-looking gas burner. I seem to remember going for a swim at this time as a hundred metres off-shore looked like the safest place to be! In what seemed like no time at all we were being summoned to eat; the man of the house emerged looking very puffy, sweaty and more knackered that when he’d turned in. He also spent some time complaining about how hard life was as a market trader in vegetables and fruit before setting about the food that had appeared, as if by magic, in front of him. He then rejoined the social intercourse by rolling himself back into his blanket!

The rest of the afternoon passed gently by and as the sun dipped we packed up and joined the queue to get out on to the track and drive back through the dust to the main road. This had been an interesting day and an insight into the daily life of one particular family; it was also the day we decided to toughen up, have an exorcism to rid ourselves of this ‘possession’ and take back control of our lives. We have had countless other Turkish family picnic experiences since and I can safely say that each has been different and each has been most enjoyable. I don’t know whether we have been luckier with the locals (and not so local) we’ve met; whether our inter-cultural skills have developed or whether it’s the garlic we wear around our necks that has made the difference to those we attract (or repel).

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

ps I don’t have any pics from this time, pre-digital; so I’ve sprinkled a few from our annual village picnic which are real fun affairs and here’s one with un-possessive friends.