Go to Turkey, they said. The people are very nice, they said!
Well, I can confirm they speak only the truth folks!! I have not even set foot on Turkish soil and I was already offered a place to stay in Istanbul. I proceeded to the passport control officer, papers in hand, ready to defend my case as a traveler and not a terrorist, but instead was welcomed with a smile and an “enjoy your stay”. Dear friends this was only the beginning of a very warm and welcome stay and an endless list of kind, friendly encounters here in Turkey.
My 1st week was spent volunteering on a permaculture farm close to a little town called Gölpazari. I was welcomed by a family of 3 in a minivan somewhere in Istanbul. Selçuk, his wife Gökben and Efe their son. They first showed me their Istanbul house and late that evening the four of us and their little bird set off for the mountains and olive trees.
View of the farm from the terrace in front of our rooms
Selçuks mother (Kadriye) and his father (Eyüp) stay with him on the farm and are active in helping him with the farming. Kadriye or Anné, as I called her, works like a machine in the fields and cooks delicious food. She has an intoxicating laugh and together we had many hilarious conversations without speaking one word of English. Eyüp is a man of few words but of gifts, he always brought home something for us from town and made sure I never had an empty plate or tea cup.
My tasks and duties on the farm included: daily watering of the herbs, veggies, plants and small trees. Working the fields with Kadriye, although she worked circles around me and my weak arms and uncoordinated spading (is that even a word, sorry if not) skills did not add to my effectiveness. I would not say I am a person with green fingers (I do better eating the veggies than planting them) , but being greeted by a new baby leaf or flower each morning made me very excited and has increased my desire to try and attempt planting more things when I return home.
Every morning I also took a visit to the birds home. The farm has Chickens, Pidgeons, Geese, Ducks and 1 Guineafowl (… also known as the dumb chicken) My visit included feeding the birds, filling their water buckets, collecting the eggs and often ended with a little entertainment from the Geese and Ducks as the bathed themselves next to the water buckets. The Geese were fascinating to watch as they moved around in an orderly, waddling fashion and I finally understood where the rhyme “entjies, entjies stap in ‘n ry” comes from… one leading and the rest always following.
Although communication was somewhat difficult at times and often resulted in an automated response of “okay” and a confused laugh. Its amazing how much can be communicated with eye contact, body language and the tone in which a conversation is being conducted. Many times I would laugh with Gökpen as I could tell they were making fun of someone or they are having a discussion revolving family matters. Its such a good learning opportunity for me in terms of making sure the person understands the words or phrases I am using, not to assume they understand everything and being willing to explain it in a different manner. Between Selçuk, his parents, the French guest and a volunteer from Taiwan I often had to play translator and it ended up being more of a charades game than anything else. It definitely guaranteed an endless supply of laughter.
Selçuk is an inspirational man who has faced his fair share of difficult times. He is busy completing his 3rd degree and has worked extremely hard to be able to “be his own boss” now. After many conversations it became clear that he has gained all his knowledge by continuously accepting the fact that we should always be striving to learn more and read more, hence his 3rd degree. It was also evident that his reason for success and continuous growth is a result of how he sees himself and the fact that he believes in his abilities and skills and realising that sharing his knowledge and skills can contribute to greater joy and further development. He has hosted volunteers from all over the world in the last 3 years and each of them has added a little piece to the overall development of the farm and his business.
“Permaculture” as I understand and Selçuk passionately tried to explain to me, is the idea that everything in an area/piece of land must be used in such a way that one can benefit from the other and that no “man made influences” is necessary to survive. Looking at the area, its layout, its resources, minerals and eco systems and then designing things that you as a farmer might need in such a way that the farm can basically function as its own eco-system and remain sustainable. And its fascinating what he has done and the way he approaches farming.
Besides our daily tasks, Selçuk showed me how he makes his organic body soap. What an interesting process, and so rewarding at the end. Our flavor of the week: coffee with a hint of tumeric and ginger and a whooole lot of love (and sore muscles) . We had to make a door and of course Selçuk made me play with some of the electronic tools… Watch out Suzelle, I can also DIY! But my personal favorite activity… Drinking çay, lots of çay (tea).
I was privileged enough to arrive at Zeytinliboğaz (the name of the farm) during the time of Bayram. Bayram occurs the week after the end of Ramadan and is a time of celebration and seeing family. They have 2 big celebrations/ festivals a year during which they would see their extended family (aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, nephews ect) and friends they don’t regularly see throughout the year. Instead of everyone getting together at one place to spend the day together, the tradition is that the younger families would go around visiting the older family homes. So they basically drive around from one house to the next visiting and reminiscing on the good old days. At each house you are served a plate of food mostly consisting if baklava, yaprak sarma(rice wraped in garpe leaves) and turkish bread [… feeling full? No worries, just make sure you finish each plate okay ;)] And the next day, eat and repeat ladies and gentlemen!!
Needless to say my time on the farm felt more like feasting rather than working, it was such a wonderful and fun experience and to see that all families desire for relationship and connection. And that all oumas and oupas are the SAME… Just wanting to make sure that the children have enough food so they can grow.
Selçuk was always willing to teach me if there was something I was interested in or if there was something that he was passionate about and I am so thankful for his patience in doing so. One lesson worth mentioning though: the skill of breaking open a sunflower seed shell and eating only the seed without breaking it open with your fingers. Yuuuup its a skill and a Turkish favorite. Most of our evening ended with beer and sunflower seeds.
Teşsekkür ederim Selçuk!
Your family and your farm braught rest and rejuvination for this young traveler and your passion for learning and teaching has been a big inspiration.