Very soon after J and I moved into Okçular we had to deal with some minor bureaucracy and went to see our village headman (muhtar) to get his stamp on a form. What should have been a very quick and easy thing turned out to be a tad more involved than we’d expected – this lovely old gentleman didn’t speak Turkish! His dialect was way out there and J’s ‘Istanbul Turkish’ was of no more use than Swahili in Glasgow! (perhaps not the best example) As luck and curiosity would have it, we had attracted a mob of shy youngsters who were very interested to see what these foreigners were up to, and one of them realised our difficulty and volunteered to get his uncle who spoke English. Once uncle arrived he soon had us sorted and we all relaxed while tea was served.
Anyway, let’s get on with the story! This uncle turned out to be a really fine young man who was studying civil administration and law at university. His English was excellent and he also possessed an intuitive understanding for the more subtle nuances of the language which meant he’d howl with laughter at my (usually) obscure jokes. I liked him straight away and so did J.
As time went by our relationship deepened and broadened and by the time he graduated and started to work at his chosen profession of kaymakam (local governor), he was referring to us as his ‘other’ Mum and Dad and we were very much a part of his wider family. Wherever he was posted to we’d be invited to visit for a couple of weeks each year and it was this relationship and his position within the bureaucracy that has been at the core of so many of our wonderful experiences in Turkey.
A short while ago his granny died, she was a delightful old lady and much loved by one and all. As is normal here we went to sit with ‘our family’ to share the memories and the burden of grief and to just talk. As we sat with his parents, his father asked us if we would
be buried in England when we died and was really surprised when we told him it would be Okçular. After all, Turks do like to ‘go home’ when they shuffle off this mortal coil! A pause followed and then he said, ‘Well, we want you to know that we’ll take care of everything. We want you to be buried with our family.’
It’s seldom that J and I are lost for words – this was one of them. I felt a lump rising in my throat, just as I can now writing this and reliving that moment. What a wonderful gesture. What kindness. In one quiet conversation much of the concern associated with age and being in another culture evaporated; the burden for the surviving partner and our children, living in the UK and US, eased. So comforting to know you have family around when you need them.
Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü