For years Mr BR has wanted to visit Mardin. Inspired by Enigma's recent adventure we persuaded him to repeat his adventures with us. It was an amazing experience which I want to share with this forum. Often people come to this forum and want to know other places where they can visit. We advise Ephesus and Cappadocia and Antalya and Bodrum. All of these areas are well known tourist destinations. I am placing this trip report here as an alternative to other popular destinations, and I am dividing it into several threads because I think it will be more useful to locate and easier to read.
So we start with the Kurdish Village. My husband loves Turkey for the history. I love Turkey for the culture. We went to Mardin for the history, but I also got cultural experiences. I have never been so far east in Turkey. I have never visited tiny villages. Dinner in the Kurdish Village, and all the other tiny villages we visited, was for me, and I have been excited about this experience for weeks. I brought a huge extra suitcase filled with gifts for children, and little things for adults.
We landed late in the afternoon, and at this time of year, sunset starts shortly after 4pm in the Mardin area. Our Kurdish Village was 25 to 30 kilometers from the airport. Part of our route was on a good paved road, then we turned off the road to a less developed road. The country side had gentle hills. There were occasional cows, horses and donkeys along the road. A few herds of sheep were being watched over by shepherds, who had built fires against the coming chill of the night. The sun was setting in a huge ball of red fire as we arrived at the village, having just passed a huge herd of goats, beautiful creatures with long hair and curling horns.
Our Kurdish family lived in a sturdy house, like all the other village homes we had seen, made from the solid beige rocks that littered the countryside. The family came to our car to greet us. There was a mother and father, and five sons, two with wives and assorted other family members, including one family that was living with our Kurdish family because they had left their Syrian village after it had been attacked.
We were ushered into a large room with no furniture, and thankfully I remembered to remove my shoes. Then we went into a second large room. This room had carpet from wall to wall. The walls all the way around the room were lined with plump cushions, and the carpet and the cushions were of a lovely coordinating pattern. The only thing in the room other than the cushions was a television.
This was certainly not our first experience in a Turkish village, and even though I was not sure how I would get up again, I quickly found a comfortable place on the floor and remembered how much I like this arrangement, which can accommodate many people. Two little boys with big brown eyes and dark hair seemed happy recipients of the legos and magformers that had added weight and space to our luggage allowance. Candy we brought was delivered around the room. Books were given and received as treasures.
A few members of the family spoke English to varying degrees, one well enough to interpret for us. Almost everyone shared the Turkish language except for one of the Syrian refugees who spoke Arabic. Fortunately, most of the 40 words I know in Turkish returned rapidly, and I immediately remembered how easy it is to communicate happy emotions without the use of language.
After an hour of visiting, dinner was served. I have eaten many meals "village style" in Turkish homes. This meal had some exceptions. The boys in the family brought out the tablecloth and put it on the floor, followed by silverware. Then the boys delivered plates of food for all the men in the room as well as me.
The food was the best we had on our Mardin adventure. There was, of course, an eggplant dish that was wonderfully smoky. The eggplant had been roasted over an open flame, and then mixed with onions and tomatoes. Tuna fish had been added. I was not sure if the tuna fish was a part of the authentic recipe or something the family had added, perhaps even for our visit. The second dish was yogurt and corn mixed together. It provided a tangy contrast to the smoky eggplant. Finally there was a large dish of pilaf. I learned that in Turkey, uncooked rice is rice, and cooked rice is pilaf. Our rice had been prepared in a flavored broth with spices and chick peas added.
When I asked about preparation methods, the oldest son answered my questions because he had prepared the meal. Recently released from his obligatory military service, where he had worked as a chef, he was back in his home village. He assured me, however, that his mother had taught him to cook. Lacking any daughters she had informed her eldest son that he would have to learn these household skills.
The mother, daughter-in-laws, and Syrian refugee wife sat against the wall watching us. In this way it was a very typical Turkish experience. The children had been sent, with their toys to another room.
When dinner was completed the dishes were again cleared away by the boys. Tea was made in a ritual that involved carefully warming each glass by shifting the contents of one glass to the next until all the glasses were warm. It was excellent tea, prepared exclusively be the eldest son.
The reversal of these traditional roles was something I had never seen before in a rural village. It has always seemed to me that work was rigidly divided into "women's work" and "men's work". In this little Kurdish village, one woman had introduced her five sons into the concept of "shared work", and this philosophy was a contrast and a joy compared to my previous experiences.
The conversation had barely started after the tea glasses had been removed when several cell phones rang. The herd of goats we had passed on our way into the village were the property of the family, and they were being herded home by an uncle. He called to report that two had slipped away. Several of the younger men left to search for the missing goats.
It was pitch black without a glimmer of civilization glowing on the horizon. The men set out to rescue the goats armed with flashlights and a couple of rifles. The rifles, I was told, were carried in case they should encounter a wild boar or a wolf. We saw goat herders and shepherds for the remainder of our stay carrying rifles.
Before the goats had been located we needed to leave. The hour was late and we had imposed long enough on this family who so generously shared their home and food with us. A relative with a truck followed us along the twisty village road until we reached the main highway, and to my delight, the two smallest boys rode with us to the highway.
We visited many villages in the following four days. I found the children to be clean, well-nourished, well-clothed and exceptionally happy. I have a desire to romanticize the simple life of a village family. I see life reduced to just those things we require to survive, and I think of all the things we own that we do not need. I will never cease to be amazed by the generosity of people who have little, but always wish to share. I tell myself that these people are happy because this is the only life they know, and they do not miss what they have never had.
Then I remember the televisions and cell phones which are as prevalent in remote villages as they are in Istanbul, and I realize that they do know what they are missing. It was easy to pass out candy and hire little children to take us around and snap our photos. One afternoon, while Enigma and Mr BR walked down ten flights of stairs to see an ancient cistern, I remained above. A kind man brought me a bottle of water and a white bowl filled with olives that he said had come from the trees above my head. We exchanged the forty words we had in common, and then sat in a comfortable and mutual silence. Smelling the clean village air, and listening to only the sound of birds and farm animals, and I thought I could stay there in that spot of warm sunshine for a very long time. It was easy to tell myself that this silent man had a rich and rewarding life.
We left each of the villages behind us when we had seen what we came to see. We returned to a luxury hotel, with dramatic views of the Mesopotamia below us. We turned on faucets and clean hot water gushed into a pristine bath tub. We used lovely amenities, sweet smelling soaps and perfumed shampoo. We pulled cold cherry juice from our mini-fridge, ate an apple from our fruit bowl and watched BBC on our large flat-screened TV. Eventually we slipped into our clean and comfortable bed, with the temperature of the room perfectly controlled. In the morning we ate our breakfast on a table covered in white linen, with that Biblical plain before us. We ate food prepared by others, offered in ridiculous quantities and choices, served and cleaned up by other hands.
Each night as a fell asleep I realized just how terribly difficult life in an eastern Turkish village really is. They are wonderfully simple places to visit, and I remember each village and the happy faces of the children. I also remember the older boys, clustered around the center of the village, bored and sullen and probably feeling a bit trapped. I remembered the hands of the village women who had embraced me when I entered their home. They were cracked and rough and worn with weather and wear and washing and cooking and cleaning.
I have been in very poor areas of the US. I have visited the slums of Mexico City. I have seen poverty. While I am sure the village people fall into the statistical levels of "poor", I did see something in these eastern Turkish villages I do not see in the poverty ghettos of the US or the slums of Mexico City. I saw a quiet dignity and a respect for the land and the animals. I saw no item go to waste. The village people have mastered re-cycling. Olives are made in 2 liter Pepsi bottles. Olive oil tins become pots for flowers. In one impoverished tea house we saw part of an ancient carved pillar. A round of glass had been placed on top, and it served as a convenient table.
I have heard stories of eastern Turkey for many years. I was prepared for a brutal life that I did not see. I saw no serious despair. I saw no evidence of hunger or malnutrition, but I saw thousands of people who are living in another century.
Public transportation in the village is a tractor pulling a wagon filled with people. Horses replace cars as a way to get from one location to another. Donkeys carry heavy loads. The shepherds often live in tents.
Curious about high fences we saw in one village, I ask a ten year old boy why they were that way. He responded: "Because they have always been that way." I selfishly loved my time in these little villages, but I hope that the son of that little boy does not have to spend his life replacing the rocks in his high fence and depending upon a tractor or a donkey to reach the nearest store. I hope that one day this life will dissolve gently into something better for everyone. Just because it has always been that way is no reason why it should not change.