Really Getting My Goat

Turkish çay
Turkish çay

When J and I first moved to OkçularVillage nearly 15 years ago we were a source of great interest and incredulity for our neighbours. The fact that we were unable (or unwilling) to muster up a three-course meal, or even an assortment of chocolate biscuits, at the drop of hat whenever a bunch of them dropped by to satisfy their curiosity filled them with wonder. The way we made the tea we offered them was treated with great suspicion and, because so many were disbelieving of such adulteration and called around to check for themselves, gave rise to the rumour that we were running a tea shop. (This is true – we were told about it by a friend from the next town who had heard about it!)

Then there was the issue of chickens and a vegetable plot. ‘No!’ we informed our open mouthed komşular (neighbours), ‘No chickens, and we’ll get our veg fresh from the market each week. Kolay! (Easy)’ Allah allah! (My God! Or words to that effect) These yabanci (foreigners) are a weird lot!

Such was the level of concern about us and such is the depth of kindness of these people towards us afflicted types that a plot was hatched.

The chicken issue was solved by sending up a kid on a bike or hubby on a tractor, every now and again, clutching a still warm, plucked/unplucked cadaver.

The veg plot, on a scale of 1-10, was at least a 5 and required some serious logistical planning. One morning a crew of ladies arrived, replete with çok çapa (lots of hoes) and trays of seedlings. We stood open-mouthed as they set about a section of our virgin plot with great gusto and even greater verbals. In no time at all we had the plot fit for a ‘Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men’ set, with nary a ‘Weeeeee-eeed!’ anywhere and the potential for more peppers, beans, tomatoes and aubergines than any normal couple could consume in a month of Sundays.

Want these things or not, once you have them you have to put the work in to maintain them or face the tut-tutting of neighbours. Same with the olive trees that were grafted for us – very nice to have them but the olives from the market are nicer because they’re less work! Actually, that’s not true – the damn things have to be picked anyway (otherwise the neighbours will be on our case) and then we have to find somebody from miles away (in case they talk) who wants them! Ho-hum!

Don’t run away with the idea that we were ungrateful – the kindness of our new neighbours was, and still is, pretty wonderful. Just remember that we were culturally inept and naive and still immersed in what passed for neighbourly intercourse back where we came from. For those dirty minded little smirkers amongst you, a bloke was shot dead down our track for indulging in the other sort of neighbourly intercourse just before we arrived!

Anyway, let’s move on because what came next were the goats! Our house sits on a bit of hillside and having established that we were not going to transform it into a nut farm our practical neighbours told us that we must have a goat! A date was fixed and at the appointed time we were led in procession up the mountain to meet with ‘Keçi Hanım’ (Goat Lady).

cuddly young goats

Now, selecting a young goat is not easy – all of them are cute and cuddly. Having drunk tea that had been brewed properly, I wandered off to get my goat. Eventually I settled on a beautiful little grey thing with pricked ears and delightful habit of nibbling at my clothing! I picked it up and carried it back to the house – just as J appeared around the corner with a cute little black and white thing with floppy ears and a delightful habit of nibbling at her clothing!

I did not want a great herd of goats and confronted J with my resolve to keep just the grey one. ‘You horrible bloody man!’ said she, ‘They’re social creatures; you can’t just keep one on its own!’ That’s how I won that argument and we ended up with the two goats I’d always wanted!

When it was time to leave we made a lead from some twine and were about to set off when Keçi Hanım stopped us, ‘What are you doing? They’re far to young to walk all that way, you must carry them.’ We didn’t realise it then, but that set the pattern for our future relationship; like kids everywhere, they had us wrapped around their little hooves!

They were utterly delightful, sweet-smelling, intelligent creatures that learned to trampoline over the ever increasing height of the fences I constructed to keep them out of the garden. They collaborated to overcome any challenges to their freedom to please themselves. They never forgot the little tricks I taught them with the reward of treats when they got it right – which culminates in pincer attacks on both trouser pockets and holes in your pants where you least want them! Whenever they out-smarted us they would look us in the eye, roll back their lips and give us that bleat that sounds just like ‘He-he-he-he-he!’

Our neighbours would double up with shrieks of laughter when we went for walks around the area – me, J, our dog and cat, (which loved to wander with us) – and two goats. It was a hoot!

'Behave yourself!'

As these two goats grew in size, they grew in strength and independence and couldn’t be allowed to wander about out of our control; tethers became the order of the day. Pretty soon we began to bear the scars and rope burns from being dragged through hedges backwards. This pair of terrorists plotted by night and carried out their plots by day; they were crafty and totally without morals, one minute smooching and the next tearing pockets open. ‘He-he-he-he-he!’ The final straw for both of us was when I was dragged head first down a rock-strewn hillside by two runaway goats because I’d been stupid enough to loop their ropes around my wrists. ‘He-he-he-he-he-he!’

When I could walk again I went and lied to my neighbour about them being just like our children, beautiful, gentle creatures which would fit in well with her existing small flock. She was reluctant at first but I convinced her in the end and we delivered them soon afterwards. Every time we drove or walked by her place those sods would be on the hillside, curling their lips and ‘He-he-he-he-ing’ at us.

Several months went by and one day they weren’t there any more – I wonder what happened to them – ‘He-he-he-he-he!’


Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

Incredible Okçular!

Mister Bird

Little Owl
Little Owl checking out the goings-on in the spare bedroom

My fellow villagers are a funny old lot – farmers almost to a man (or woman) and mostly country born and bred. Even so, when I ask them what that is – indicating a dragonfly or cricket – ‘Böcek!’ they exclaim. And that? (a beetle) ‘Böcek!’

It’s the same with birds – what do you call that? (jay) ‘Kuş!’ And that? (robin) ‘Kuş!’ There are few exceptions and this continues to astound me, even after 15 years.

When I was a kid growing up in the countryside we bumpkins knew the names of every reptile, insect and bird species whose eggs we plundered for our collections (do be forgiving, nobody had heard of environmentalism back then; this was how it was!). Many of the creatures were known by their local name – it was years before I realised that a ‘Throssle’ was a Song Thrush. Here in Okçular there doesn’t seem to be the same interest, a böcek is a böcek and a kuş is a kuş – what else do you need to know?

Mind you, there is one particular exception, ‘Baykuş’ or Mister Bird. Mister Bird is an owl, which is a dignified and appropriate term of address for a most dignified and intelligent looking creature.

Owls are not let off the ‘böcek’ or ‘kuş’ hook entirely. There are Little Owls, Scops Owls, Tawny Owls and other owls – but they are, to a bird, all labelled with the same monika – ‘Baykuş’ – Mister Birds to a man (or woman).

Tawny Owl

Turks are also a bit superstitious about owls, seeing them as bringers of bad luck – harbingers of doom and such. All of which causes our neighbours some consternation because for a number of years we’ve had a beautiful Tawny Owl living in one of our chimney pots. Not only consternation but incredulity that we are happy about it! In fact, we give off so many happy vibes that, this winter a second Tawny has moved into an adjacent condo – two down, two to go! We also get visits from Little Owls and Scops Owls.

Living where we do at the edge of the forest, without street lights (another source of neighbourly worry and consternation) and other distractions, we can sit outside or lie abed and listen to these beautiful creatures calling and answering each other. When the stars are out or the moon is high they add extra enchantment to an already spellbinding experience.

Eurasian Eagle Owl (Bubo bubo)

Soon after we moved here, J was driving home quite late one evening and had stopped the car just outside our gate. I went out to see what the problem was and was treated to the most fantastic sight – standing in the beam of the headlights was an enormous bird – an Eagle Owl! J’s nose was glued to the windscreen watching this magnificent creature from just a few metres away. The owl sat there for a while before gathering itself and lifting off silently and disappearing into the night like something returning to another dimension. This is the only Eagle Owl I’ve been fortunate enough to see here – the experience is burned into my memory banks.

I don’t have any photos of that night, so we must make do with these stock images.

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

and just after you've really pissed it off!
'Burası Türkiye!' 'This is Turkey!'

Yuvarlakçay – Two Years On – The T-Shirt

Occupy cartoon
'Occupy Everything'

My last post, ‘Yuvarlakçay – Two Years On’ complete with video of the ‘Lionesses’ raised a lot of interest, especially via social networking. Many found the story of protest against corporate greed and bureaucratic vindictiveness heartwarming and fascinating and were encouraged; especially in these times of protest and ‘occupy’ around the world.

I was amazed to learn, for example, that some students in the US were ‘aghast’ that community organising could happen ‘in a country like Turkey’. For me it illustrates very clearly how wrapped up in ourselves we ‘Westerners’ can be – how Orientalism lives on by feeding on a diet of ignorance, intolerance and general lack of interest in the lives, culture and social conditions of so many of our fellow human beings.

That said, this post is about a quick follow-up on the situation for the Yuvarlakçay River and the villagers of Pınarköy who were the backbone of the resistance.

military at Yuvarlakcay
the military arrive . .

Many of you asked if the battle was won, and my answer was a provisional ‘Yes!’ Today came

Yuvarlakcay villagers stop military
. . and the villagers stop them

confirmation from the Yuvarlakçay Protection Platform (organising committee and supporters) that the law suits against the following bureaucratic organisations of the state had all been successful – Governorship of Muğla (our province); State Waterworks Directorate; General Directorate of Forests; Muğla Provincial Administration; Muğla Provincial Directorate of Environment; Muğla Regional Office for Protection of Cultural and Natural Heritage; Environmental Protection Authority for Special Areas; Ministry of Culture and the Energy Market Regulation Authority.

I invite you to read that list again – and applaud the efforts of our pro bono lawyer Berna and the determination of the people!

Yuvarlakcay general assembly occupy style
General Assembly just like the Occupy Movement

The Government filed law suits against a number of protestors by way of intimidation – all

Yuvarlakcay women chained to tree
women chained themselves to 'Tree 23' to prevent cutting

have been dismissed!

17 villagers were targeted by the government and had fines imposed for so-called ‘illegal’ buildings – we are awaiting the outcome of appeals. Whatever the result people will stand together and share any burden.

The campaign raised a fighting fund of TL41,491 (Turkish Lira) from personal donations and TL13,390 from activities. After all expenses (the

Yuvarlakcay 'Tree 23' is now a Wishing Tree
'Tree 23' saved and now a Wishing Tree

lawyers worked for free but the courts, advertising, fuel, food, media, etc cost money) there was a surplus of TL1184 which was donated for projects at Pınarköy Junior School, as previously agreed.

Meanwhile, to quote the Platform and villagers, ‘our eyes will be wide open for any threat.’

Just writing this has made me feel good – I hope our success will inspire you and others to stand up against all that is rotten in the economic system. As a fellow blogger commented ‘People Power At Its Best!’

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü


Yuvarlakcay villagers on tree-planting
villagers march with new saplings to replace cut trees
Yuvarlakcay planting trees
planting for our future
Yuvarlakcay Torchlight Protest
New Years Eve 2009 Torchlight protest

Yuvarlakcay New Years Eve 2009

'Burası Türkiye!' 'This is Turkey!'

‘Jesus Wept!’

As my mother used to say – ‘Jesus wept!’ Well, he would have done if he’d had to deal with this Turkish bureaucracy!

local bureaucrat

I know, I know! Sweeping generalisations are not the way to go – but bureaucracies the world over are a pain in the arse, mainly because they are created by arse’oles – and that’s not a generality, it’s a bloody fact!

Before I go any further and dig myself into a hole, I want to say this; J and I have never paid a back-hander to anyone in the 15 years we’ve lived here. In that time we have always been treated with consideration, kindness and understanding by the rank and file bureaucrats that we have dealt with and today has been no exception.

As Bill Clinton once famously didn’t say, ‘It’s the system, stupid!’

So, what did the system do to us? Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin . .

As I said a moment ago, J and I have lived here for nigh on 15 years and in that time we have owned three cars – our present one is just a year old. In those years we have driven all over Turkey and J has done her share behind the wheel. We have been stopped at countless police/jandarma check points and our documents have always checked out. We have also never had an accident, which is just as well because we have just learned that J was not insured for all those kilometres!

How could this be? In 15 years didn’t we ask? Didn’t we check? Of course we did! And everyone, including the police told us there was no problem; J was covered on my insurance. And she would have been – if we had been married!

Before going any further here, I want to make something clear – we are not, and will not be married as a matter of principle. We have been together for many more years that over half of the population of Turkey has been alive – we have children that are older than many of you reading this – we have always shared equally everything we have ever owned, from homes to debts to money in the bank. We have never felt the need to justify our relationship to anyone. Apart from that, J wouldn’t marry me if I was the last bloke on the planet!

Anyway, back to our bureaucratic adventure; we are law-abiding in the main because the last thing either of us (or you) wants is to get dragged into the legal bureaucracy here in Turkey. We needed to get ourselves sorted – and quickly!

Inquiries to insurers and to contacts at the police HQ established that we could put the car registration in the name of a Turk (Yeah! Right!), in which case anybody and their dog could drive the car; or we could get J’s name on the documents as a joint owner and then the insurance covers us both. Remember, if we had known all this at the time we bought the car it could have been done then (take note ye ‘living-in-sinners’).

Off we went to the Notary to do the business. Even though this was the first time they had done such a thing for a yabanci (foreigner) it went fairly smoothly apart from the delays caused by the central computer system which kept crashing. Eventually, hours longer than it should have taken, we were ready to pay the modest fee and have our new document stamped and ready to be taken to the police for their part of the process.

Except that the names of J and my mothers and fathers on the central computer in Ankara did not tally with the (correct) names in our residence permits! There was no way that process could or would move forward until that was sorted, and so off we went to see our nice policeman to request his help. Should be just a matter of explaining that all of the local documentation was correct but that some clerk had been careless inputting those details; right? Wrong!

same faces, same furniture, same system!

Our local people had to tell Muğla, who then have to tell Ankara who will then instruct the clerk to correct the error, with a fair wind and a star to guide us, the process will not be compounded by further errors. It will be Monday at the earliest before that gets done – when it eventually is, we’ll be able to go back to the Notary, pay our fee and get our shiny, new joint ownership documents to what has always been (in our minds if not those of the bureaucratocracy) our joint property.

‘Job done, then’ I hear you say. Well, sort of, because within 30 days we then have to go the Traffik Polis HQ in Muğla and get our new registration document, anyone out there interested in the odds?

Hmmmm! . . . I sense another post coming on!

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

'Burası Türkiye!' 'This is Turkey!'

The Trafik Jandarma, The Flower and The Chocolate Truffle

I was reading through one of Jack’s postings from his Perking the Pansies blog, about being stopped by the Jandarma at one of their very frequent control points and it immediately conjured up a memory from a few years ago. I was driving into neighbouring Dalyan and was caught up in a fair sized queue of cars, trucks and buses that was the result of one of these controls. I don’t know about you, but I’m convinced that I look guilty of something whenever I meet up with uniforms at close quarters. Going through customs I just know they’re going to stop me, and I’m usually right – ‘Hmmm! He’s looking a bit shifty, Bert. Let’s check him out.’

Anyway, back to the Jandarma and their road block; it was a bit unusual in that they were stopping everyone and the line was long and growing by the minute. Must be something big, I thought, as they had men down the line stopping the quick-witted from doing a U-turn and doing a quick skedaddle out of there, and so it proved. As we inched forward I could see that the Jandarma were in their best uniforms; so there must be ‘brass’ about; not only that, they were smiling, shaking hands and passing stuff over to the vehicles rather than the other way around! (Documents! I’m talking about documents!)

My turn arrived and I was pleased to note that the top sergeant was known to me; ‘Where is the Janet?’ he asked. ‘At home’, I replied in my less than perfect pigeon Turkçe. ‘Well, here’s some for her, as well’, said he, handing over 2 pink carnations, 6 sweets and a shake of refreshing lemon cologne. Behind me was a tourist bus and it was great to see the bemused looks on the faces of these folks as the bus was boarded and each was presented with a carnation, a sweet and a shake of cologne by smiling young Jandarma conscripts.

‘What’s all this about?’ I asked my top sarge; ‘Trafik Jandarma Günü’ he said, ‘Kutlu olsun.’ ‘National Traffic Jandarma Day – Congratulations.’

As I drove away with a big smile on my face, I noticed a couple more tourist buses caught up in the lengthening queue and thought what a positive memory these visitors will take home with them. Can’t imagine those po-faced British Traffic Cops dishing out carnations, they’re too busy nicking their own mothers for having a faulty side light! Mind you, our Turkish boys will be back in the groove and running with the pack tomorrow and there won’t be any of this namby-pamby flowers and sweets stuff – it will be business as usual!

Photos: wowing the locals, the tourists and even little old ladies – Ahh! Bless them!

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

ps the police have nabbed me a couple of times but the Jandarma have always been very civil and very forgiving!