Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Wednesday, June 05, 2013 - No comments

It Comes With the Territory

I am a teyze magnet.  I attract little old ladies everywhere I go.  It’s a fact of my life here that hardly a week goes by without a cheek pinch or an invitation to marry a young nephew or grandson by a wrinkled and toothless auntie on the bus or at the market.  

I suppose I attract them because they attract me.  I find a group of ladies knitting on the sidewalk positively irresistible and don’t have to be asked twice to come and sit awhile.  Besides children, they’re the easiest segment of society to smile my way into, and I love the cheeky way they’ll joke and speak their minds, having cast off polite restraint decades ago.  They have all the time in the world to tell stories and, as long as I can sort out their accents, they are usually fascinating.  And there’s almost always çay.

Last week, my roommate and I were showing her niece around Kapadokya.  I’m always excited to visit my favourite region of the country, but sometimes when the activity is something I’ve done before (can we say six trips to the Göreme Open Air Museum?) I like to wander off and do my own thing.  After a straight week of guests and gezzing (sightseeing/showing people around) I was in desperate need of some alone time and my friends’ planned stroll through the carpet and pottery shops provided just the opportunity I’d been waiting for. 

I’d brought my journal along and had an hour of introverting at a cafe in mind.  Trouble was, I’d also brought my camera, and all those old stone houses and winding cobblestone streets proved too much for me and my Canon sidekick to resist.  After a satisfying meander through the upper old quarter, replete with the wooden doors, stone arches and wrought iron balconies my eye so loves, I came upon a gaggle of teyzes sitting on cushions and knitting slippers in the shade. 

I called out a “Merhaba” (“Hello”) and a “Kolay gelsin” (“May your work come easily”) which were instantly reciprocated with a “Come sit and talk to us!”  Throwing all introverted needs to the wind, I obliged.  Şalvar-clad hips made room and a fresh cushion was laid.  After the usual “Where-are-you-from-how’d-you-learn-Turkish-maşallah-you-should-marry-a-Turk” chitchat, they settled back into the rhythm of their knitting needles, their hennaed fingers flying.  

The woman to my right, who didn’t look a day over a Turkish sixty (which, incidentally, looks like a Canadian ninety) turned out to be eighty-one years old.  She modestly regaled me with her family history - Grandpa was a pasha, Dad was a military officer during Atatürk’s “taking back of the land” and the founding of the Republic in 1923.  (“Did he meet him, Teyze?”  “Of course, and he loved him.”)  Her father, who had been dead for 57 years, moved the family back to their hometown of Avanos before she was born, so she knew nothing of the Istanbul life of her older siblings and had lived in this neighbourhood all her years.  (“That house is the one I was born in.  That one over there was my mother’s sister’s but we sold it to some Dutch tourists....”)

The “younger” woman to my left, darker than the others complexion and clearly from out east (“But I’ve lived here forty years”) was singularly interested in selling me her woolen booties. 

From the end of the row came an offer to show me around some of the prettiest houses (“I have to walk up that way anyway”) so off we went.  Sahide Teyze, in her white headscarf and brown sweater vest, led me up the block and made a tottering beeline for an elegant stone mansion that, judging by the way she walked up to the wooden outer door and started fiddling with the latch, I assumed was hers.

“Hoo hoo!  Are you home?”  She shouted instead of knocking.  “Oh, they’ve shut it tight,” she said, beginning to shove her shoulder against the sticky door.

Teyze, be careful, let me do it!”  She either didn’t hear me or didn’t care and continued to fuss with the door.  

“They’ve locked it, I see.”  She reached through a small hole and tried to lift a metal bar.  I started to wonder if I was about to become a trespasser.

“There, I’ve got it,” she exclaimed with a wheeze and a look of triumph.  “Come in, come in.”

I followed her into a high-walled courtyard dotted with pomegranate and apricot trees, a wheelbarrow and bags of cement.  The main house rose in front of us, its tall arches gazing down like eyes from the second floor, intricate designs carved into the pale yellow stone walls.  

“Come see the restoration they’ve done.”  She led me through an archway to a white-washed room with a vaulted ceiling.  “These walls used to be painted so pretty.”  She shook her head, fingering the plaster.  

The faint sound of a drill came from somewhere upstairs.  

“Ah, they are home!” she exclaimed, making her way towards the stone staircase in the courtyard that led to the upper floor.  I was beginning to wonder who “they” were.

The stairs were a considerable feat for her old legs, but she persevered to the top.  I followed behind in spotter mode.  In front of the house’ magnificent stone facade was small garden in which a grey haired man of about sixty, wearing protective goggles, was crouched down drilling holes into a piece of wood.  

“Hoo hoo!  Merhaba!” Sahide Teyze called out.  

The man looked up, his expression going from startled to mildly irritated to resigned in a matter of seconds.

Kolay gelsin,” I said to him.  

“Thank you,” he replied in English.  “Please, sit.”  He dusted off two plastic chairs and we sat.

“You aren’t Turkish?” I asked.

“No.  And neither are you.”

I laughed.  “I’m sorry to have barged in on you like this.”  I glanced at the grinning teyze beside me, who was watching a caramel-striped cat with great interest.  “She insisted on showing me.  I thought this was her house.”

“Ah, yes, well, it used to be.  She likes to stop by unannounced.”

Sahide Teyze leveled her eyes at the man.  “You still haven’t come over for tea!  Where is your wife?”

“Working in the house,” he answered slowly in Turkish. 

Just then a tanned woman with dyed-blond hair in a strappy pink tank top and cut-offs emerged from the house’s arched entryway.  He eyes lit up when she saw Sahide Teyze - seemingly more in genuine delight then faked hospitality - and she kissed the older woman on both cheeks.

“You said you were going to come for tea!”  Sahide Teyze swatted her on the bottom.  

The woman smiled good-naturedly at this accusation and gestured at the house.  “Çok iş var.”    (“We’ve had so much to do.”)  “Bu hafta,” she said, her hand over her heart.  (This week.)  

“I’ll go get us some lemonade,” she continued in English and disappeared into the house, returning a minute later with glasses of cold, thick peach juice.

“Where are you from?” I asked the man.


Ah, the “Dutch tourists!” I thought.

“And did you just buy the house?  Congratulations.”

“Oh, no, we bought it six years ago.  We come work on it every summer holiday.”

Six years and she still feels free to pop the latch and poke around!  And to bring in some foreigner off the street for a tour!  Then again, she is a teyze.  I suppose it comes with the territory.