It’s strange how village life can affect you. It had been 3 months since my move to Kaynarca in the far Northwest of Turkey and my pace of life was beginning to slow to the rhythm of the village.
Calls to prayer marked out the division of the days and I now had a favoured çay salon where most mornings I could be found drinking coffee and doing the number puzzles in the morning paper. All the blokes in the village knew me (being the only yabanci in the village has its advantages!) and would pass the time commenting on the weather and how their crops were growing.
The same could not be said for the ladies of the village. I don’t know whether it’s a national culture or something that’s particular to this area but the ladies do not speak to strange men….particularly strange foreign men. Most evenings I like to take a walk and after meal time the ladies like to sit on benches together discussing the day. However, whenever I approached, all would go silent until I had passed and then the chatter would start up again. One evening as I approached, I mustered my finest Turkish and with a slight nod of the head I said “İyi akşamlar bayanlar” (Good evening, ladies). You could hear a collective gasp of intaken breath before one of the ladies nodded back and let out a slightly stunned “İyi akşamlar”. I left them with mutterings of “He said good evening”, “He speaks Turkish” and “But he’s a yabancı” ringing in my ears. Round one to the yabancı I thought.
A few weeks later and one evening I was sitting watching the TV when a knock came at the door. Well, not so much a knock, more a rap. In fact, let’s be honest about this someone was hammering on my door. Glancing at my clock and realising it was 9.30 I wondered what all the commotion was about and on opening it there was my mate Tako from the café looking……..distressed. “Davut, Polis, Polis” and I didn’t need my Google Translate to understand that. I flew into my bedroom and grabbed my passport and went outside, to be met not by Tako but by a not very happy looking Jandarme.
I was unceremoniously put in the back of his vehicle and off we drove. By now serious levels of stress and panic were setting in. What had I done wrong? Had I been speeding? (Highly unlikely on my Mondial scooter which struggles to get to 50km per hour with me on its back). Had I said something wrong? Had I even thought something wrong? We made our way through the village but then, for some unknown reason, we stopped at Tako’skahvehane which I frequented every morning. There were my friends all standing round one of the tables whilst sitting at the table was the biggest Jandarme officer I had ever seen with more gold braid down his arm than Danny La Rue on his way to a ball.
Sit! I sat. Name? I told him. Passport! I gave it. And so it went on. Question after question after question. When did you arrive in the village? Why are you living here? Do you know these people? By now the crowd around the table is 2 deep (you have to appreciate that fine entertainment is somewhat limited in rural Turkish villages) and I am experiencing for the first time what it means to be shaking with fear! My dear friend Nehir brought me a much needed coffee but my hand was shaking so much that I spilt some in my lap! I still swear it was coffee and my mates still swear that it was the biological result of being so frightened. That debate continues!
I was suddenly aware that the focus of attention had moved from me to questioning the men standing round the table. Do you know this man? Is he a problem in the village? He even called out the muhtar who, God bless her, dutifully trotted down from home at 10.15 at night to confirm she knew me and I was a well-behaved member of the community. And then…..it all stopped.
The officer with the braid sat back, obviously content that all his questions had been satisfactorily answered, ordered a coffee, took one of my cigarettes and lit it and then smiled broadly. I asked him what I had done wrong and he replied that there was no problem and this was merely ‘Kontrol’ which means basically checking up on all the yabancı ın the area. He even apologised if his officers were somewhat abrupt but it had been a long day. He shook my hand and bade me farewell and I watched as his vehicle left the village, leaving behind a gibbering wreck who now truly understood…..it sometimes isn’t easy being the only yabancı in the village!