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

'Burası Türkiye!' 'This is Turkey!'

I Resemble That Remark!

In my last posting certain individuals, who shall remain nameless, like Jack Scott and Lesley Mason made some disparaging comments that implied that J did all the heavy work around here whilst yours truly sat around taking snapshots and offering advice.

To pinch a line from the Marx Brothers, ‘I resemble that remark!’ I felt deeply hurt and cut to the quick because, actually, the reality here in our mountain retreat is quite the reverse – 100% the other way round and I have accumulated the evidence over the past two days to prove my point. But first I need to set the scene . .

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sunrise yesterday

We were up early so as to make a start at clearing the undergrowth down the side of the plot. We needed to expose the tons of rocks that we want used up to construct the stone terrace across the area for cultivation. Those of you wondering about the gang due to start the other day – it’s a long story for another time!

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this gives you a bit of an idea of the task

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Exhibit A – first clear evidence of who does the graft in the thicket!

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Exhibit B – drags all the stuff out and burns it

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Exhibit C – whilst J stands around looking decorative and posing for photos

Meanwhile, we were never too busy or whacked out that we forgot to enjoy what lies on our doorstep . .

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our neighbour’s beautiful almond tree in blossom

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mistletoe

complete with mistletoe in bloom (zoom in to see it)

Any road up, as they say in Yorkshire (in deference to a certain lady of my acquaintance), time to get back to the truth, the nitty-gritty of who does the heavy lifting around here . .

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very neat and tidy

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tools of the hedger – and if J says those are her gloves, she’s lying!

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another view

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Exhibit D – so, whilst I was working my fingers to the bone . .

a hot shower

Exhibit E – J was pampering herself – I rest my case

Alan Fenn, recovering with a couple of rakıs.

ps knowing that at some point J is going to read this stuff I want state for the record that a) this post is a pack of lies and a total misrepresentation of the truth. b) I’m pleading the 5th, and c) I’ve applied for the witness protection programme!

Wanderings

The Camels Are Coming Oho,Oho!

I remember being taught that song at primary school – it never made much sense but then not a lot does at that age as we soak stuff up like blotting paper (the link is for those under 25 years of age). And like blotting paper our memories may be blurred but the marks and the lyrics are permanent. Which is why I still hum the ditty whenever J and I go to camel wrestling!

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the camels coming – or possibly going

So, together with a couple of camel wrestling virgin friends, we headed for the village of Sinirtepe near Aydın for their annual, much advertised, Camelus dromedarius festival. The place was suspiciously quiet when we arrived and with good reason – they’d had their tourney on the 3rd of January! Ho-hum!

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different venue, right idea

J and I prefer local, non-touristic venues and the price we pay is that information is sometimes lacking. The locals in Sinirtepe were sympathetic and in very short order they sent us on our way to a match being staged about 50 kms away at Bağarası. It could not have been a better introduction to the spectacle for our friends, It had everything – staged on a football pitch set in the middle of the shambolic industrial area, the parking was chaotic, the sights, smells and sounds exotic and the people wonderfully welcoming and friendly. Just our sort of place!

I know some of you might feel concerned that what we were supporting is some form of blood sport. It is not! The events are a continuation of a tradition from the days when camel trains and caravans criss-crossed Turkey and much of the Middle East and Asia. Traders would encourage the bull camels to do what they do naturally during the four month breeding season. The events brought camel owners together where old and new friendships were cemented, information and breeding stock were exchanged and a lot of feasting, drinking and wagering took place. Camel owners are easy to spot due to their distinctive dress: cornered caps, traditional scarves around the neck, jackets, special trousers and accordion-like boots.

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old time camel owner

I love these boots

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his job is to secure the camel’s jaw to prevent biting and injury

These days the camels are bred for strength and fed and trained to build them up. Like football and much else it is no longer a poor man’s sport. J made some enquiries and a young animal will set you back around six thousand lira. A mature 12 year-old bull with much of its wrestling and breeding career ahead would cost between eighty and one hundred and fifty thousand lira. Bulls begin wrestling at about seven years of age and continue for about ten years some up to the age of twenty. When you add in the cost of food, veterinary care, transport and pre-festival partying you are talking a pretty penny!

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that said, there was one very vocal lady owner

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bull camel in all his finery and glory

With these magnificent creatures being so valuable great care is taken to ensure that no harm comes to them apart from a bruised ego if they go out in the first round! If an animal is reluctant or afraid to engage then the referee calls a halt. A win is signalled when one animal succeeds in pinning, tripping or totally dominating his opponent and two teams rush in to drag the beasts apart. Some contests can be like watching paint dry whilst others, especially in the later rounds with the best bulls, can be very lively.

Of great value is a good cazgır. He is the person who announces wrestlers or the wrestling camels – calls out the camels’ names. The cazgır reads poems praising each camel, adding colour to the contest. The cazgır, just as in two-legged wrestling contests, is the most important and colourful person in the competition. He treats a camel wrestling match just like a sport commentator at a soccer match.

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Perhaps the most entertaining sights are when one camel has had enough and makes a bid to escape pursued by the victor. With bulls weighing in at between seven hundred and fifty and fifteen hundred kilos there are a couple of tons of tunnel vision thundering about. When pursued and pursuer head for the hills behind the spectators with their tables, chairs and barbecues the chaos and antics are like something from a Buster Keaton film. Do people get hurt? Rarely.

Whilst the stars are, without question, the magnificent bulls decked out in all their splendour and slobbering at the scent of battle (or is it female pheromones?) they are not the only attraction. The sight of thousands of Turks eating, drinking, socialising and dancing whilst wandering folk bands compete with each other for the rolled up bank notes that get stuffed into their instruments is something to experience. Add in the smells from countless barbecues and vendors selling camel sausage sandwiches and köfte with the aroma of rutting camels and your experience is complete!

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camel sausage in a bun

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our virgins getting the musical works whilst J is masticating again!

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pack saddle

camel muzzle and bridle

muzzle and bridle

camel pheromones

The name of the competing camel is written on a piece of embroidered cloth called a peş hung behind the saddle, which is called the “havut.” Beneath the camel’s name is written the word Maşallah (May God protect him). ‘Arza’ in heroic pose and spraying pheromones all over the place!

Is it worth going to camel wrestling? Absolutely! For the spectacle, the colour, the noise, the smells, tastes and the welcome for a visitor. The camels love to have their ears scratched!

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Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

ps Here’re the real Cam(pb)e(l)ls Coming Oho, Oho!

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