We visited many extended family members whilst staying in Kahramanmaraş and one of the most memorable was to Ahmed’s aunt and uncle who lived in another dusty Turkish back lane. Their house was smaller than the one belonging to Ahmed’s family; the courtyard housed a goat and chickens and at the end of the small brick path there was a door opening straight onto a tiny basic kitchen. Further through into the small lounge or salon as the Turkish prefer, a mattress was placed on the floor in one corner with an elderly lady reclining in the make-shift bed. The sense of family is so strong within Turkish families that there is no need for retirement homes for beloved seniors who have spent their lives helping to raise several generations. Most elderly Turkish relatives are cared for by the same families that they have nurtured. Turkish children are taught from a very early age to respect their elders and those values remain with them throughout their lives and in their respectful behaviour towards all senior citizens. To this day, I love the custom of greeting elders by kissing their right hand then placing your forehead onto their hand.
Floor cushions were strewn around the room and every inch of space was occupied by women and children of all ages, none of whom spoke much English. Before we knew what was happening, Ahmed was ushered through into another adjoining room like the prodigal son or conquering hero, to where the men were assembled. Sensing my discomfort, he threw me an apologetic smile over his shoulder, before disappearing from sight, clearly relishing his moment of glory.
I was bade to sit and then bombarded with never-ending food and drinks by the gracious host family whilst the beautiful brown-eyed children sidled up to take a closer look at me. I have always loved that about children; that their curiosity far outweighs any embarrassment or social etiquette. I’m sure this would be a far better world if that childlike wonder and trust remained with us throughout our adult lives. I answered all their questions with the help of my faithful Turkish dictionary, bought for the princely sum of £8.99 in WH Smiths. The children tried to help me with my poor Turkish pronunciation and were genuinely captivated by all my family photographs on my mobile phone.
Whilst I chatted and laughed with the children, the elderly matriarchs of the family were talking in rapid Turkish and although I couldn’t understand what was said, it was clear from the gestures and nodding in my direction that Ahmed and I were both the hot topic of conversation that evening. I never did discover whether it was in a good way either.
A new-born baby was being passed around and inevitably I was invited to hold the beloved dark-haired infant who held my gaze in the way only newborns can. A few minutes later one of the women in broken English asked me to hand the baby back so that he could be reunited with his mother. Imagine my astonishment, when he was gently passed to the reclining elderly woman to nurse.
Later that evening in the car on the journey back to Ahmed’s family home, he delighted in telling me how fertile the men in his family were and proudly boasted how they remained so, in fact, long into their twilight years. I cannot tell you how comforted I felt that I was spending my life with a man who’s biggest asset was that he was more fertile than a growbag!