Last Christmas, we made the sixteen hour car journey to Kahramanmaraş to see some of Ahmed’s family. As I slept for most of the journey, it wasn’t too much of a hardship for me and although I had suggested we stop halfway and stay at one of the many roadside inns, Ahmed was having none of it. True to his frugal roots he drove on through the night, however, we did stop at a couple of roadside cafes frequented by the many coaches taking hordes of passengers to visit their families during the holiday season. I also soon discovered that the clothes I had packed back in England for a sunny Turkish resort weren’t equipped to deal with the very cold Kahramanmaraş weather.
Nothing had prepared me for the visit to Kahramanmaraş, as whilst I was warmly welcomed by Ahmed’s non-English speaking family to the point where they insisted I sleep in the only bed, I hadn’t realised how traditionally Turkish the town was. When we pulled up outside Ahmed’s family home situated in a dusty little back lane the surrounding wall and double gates hid the house from view. Once inside the gates, I discovered that the house was little more than a concrete structure with one of his brothers living in an annexe upstairs with his family and another living at the rear of the building. All his family were on hand to welcome us; his sisters and sisters-in-law wore the traditional Turkish dress although the men wore western attire. The meals were prepared by the women folk and the whole family congregated in the small lounge with the Soba, wood stove, being the focal point and the only source of heating. A tablecloth was placed on the floor and the entire family sat alongside each other eating their meal amidst companionable chatter and laughter. This was a very different Turkey to the one that I had become accustomed to in the sunny resort of Altinkum.
The women in the family were much to my surprise, fascinated by their visitor and later after our evening meal we all gathered around the family computer for a question and answer session via Google translate. They apologised to me as most of them hadn’t finished their education and said that they were just mothers & wives; but I said that in my humble opinion, that was the most important job in the world whatever your nationality happened to be. They wanted to know everything about my life back in England including my family and home and excitedly chattered amongst themselves in rapid Turkish when I answered their questions. When I asked them what they thought was the main difference between English and Turkish women; one of the sisters-in-law paused for a moment before replying that she thought that Turkish women were more content with their lives. We spent the rest of the evening sorting through my make-up, listening to my CDs and straightening each other’s hair with my trusty GHDs. Although none of us spoke each other’s language, there was a lot of laughter and good-natured banter as we danced around the room to Rihanna.
As there were only one other bedroom, the majority of the family slept on tapestry floor cushions alongside the Soba. The following morning I was awoken by the curious beautiful brown-eyed children of the family wanting to meet the mysterious stranger; particularly as it was Bayram and we had followed Turkish tradition by bringing lots of sweets with us to hand out to all the youngsters. Breakfast was served early and as the electric shower wasn’t working, the women heated pans of hot water for me and filled a plastic refuse bin which they then dragged into the shower room so that I could bathe. Although it was very cold and the shower room little more than an outhouse, they found much hilarity in the fact that I wanted to bathe every day despite the temperature being sub-zero; even so I was touched that they had made such effort for me
I often think of that small Turkish house where the welcome and smiles were as warm as the Soba and time spent with loved family members was more precious than gold. It occurs to me as I write this that usually the ones that have the least to give, inevitably give the most and that there in that small Turkish town, a loving family shared with me the most priceless gift of all – simple pleasures.
Sometimes the simple pleasures are more meaningful than all the banquets in the world
E.A. Bucchianeri, Brushstrokes of a Gadfly