I can hardly believe that it has been almost 20 years since we lived in Turkey. What we did and what we saw during the time we lived there is as clear in my mind as if we had just been there a short time ago.
I had become friends with a small group of women who were connected in one way or the other to the American Consulate in Istanbul. I was often able to join them on some very interesting private tours. One such trip was up to the Black Sea, flying in and out of Trabzon. That part of the Black Sea coast is lush and green, humid as all get-out in the summer and an area that grows bumper crops of tobacco, cherries, hazelnuts and tea. It is unlike any other part of Turkey, but like every part of that amazing country, it is full of ancient history, surprising vistas and most of all, tiny rural villages with exceptionally engaging residents.
Once we got to Trabzon, we moved from place to place on a small chartered bus, which gave us an opportunity to stop whenever we saw something we wanted to see. Everywhere we went, we were totally charmed by the people, especially the peasants. Along one of the country roads we saw these young girls in identical headscarves, traditional to that area, carrying huge bundles of sticks and tree limbs on their back, causing them to bend over almost double. We asked our leader to stop so we could talk to the girls.
Now I couldn’t say much in Turkish, but most of the women with the Consulate were fluent in the language, so I left the “gabbing” to them. My self-appointed duty was to take Poloroid photos of the peasant girls to give to them. Some of these youngsters had never seen such a camera and they were delighted to have photos of themselves with their new friends. While I was doing that, the other women were using regular cameras to get regular photos and later provided me with copies, which sometimes, unfortunately, weren’t as good as I had hoped. This was, of course, the pre-digital camera era.
At that time Turkey had compulsory education for younger children. These girls may have gone to school when they were very young but by age 9 most had already joined the work force. We were fascinated by the scarves they were wearing, so they told us where in the nearby village we could buy them. The photo below is what the scarves looked like opened out to their full size. They were all block prints, hand-made, lovely and dramatic. The girls also taught us how to tie them on our head the way they wore theirs. I have a picture of me wearing one, but it is not a picture I show to anyone!
We headed out one morning to a town named Tonya, tucked away deep in a lush valley. We got lost on the way, but it turned out that this mistake made for certainly the most fascinating event of our tour. On a little road hardly big enough for our vehicle we came upon this family, living high on a hillside knoll. Their men were all working in town; the women did all the farming that went on around the dwelling. This was an extended family -- two old sisters, their daughters and grandchildren. The young man is about of an age where soon he would be going to join the men in town.
These people had no amenities that we think necessary to keep us entertained. Their life centered on family and friends in their immediate radius. They rarely had seen a television set and had no idea where the United States was or what was going on in the world beyond them. However, for the hour we spent with them, like women anywhere, there was a lot of chattering going on, although it was in the Turkish language! The tour guide, a youngish college student from Istanbul, translated for me as I spent a bit of time with the oldest of the ladies there. Getting lost has never been so much fun!
I remember so much about Turkey – but it is the people I met that were truly the highlight of my time there, wherever I went. And if I had a chance, you can bet I’d go back in a flash to spend some more time in that amazing, amazing country.