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).
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!
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