Learning Our Place

 

here-be-dragons

Maps.

Something you don’t find many of in Turkey and, when you remember the country was invaded as recently as 100 years ago, I suppose it’s easy to understand why. When your homeland borders seven other nations – and when some of them are notoriously unstable – it probably makes sense not to make it too easy for any foreign force to find its way from A to B.

However, when you’re getting to know your patch and having to make do without names for many streets, roads or even landmarks, it does mean you pretty much have a free hand to make them up yourself.

As an example, there’s a spectacular waterfall near Kabak which the daily boats trips along the Turquoise Coast sometimes visit in the summer. After taking some pictures of visitors showering in the icy water I asked friend, neighbour and boat captain Tommy where we were…

“”The Waterfall.” he replied.

“Yes; I know that. But what’s this place called?”

“I just told you … The Waterfall,” he said, looking a little perplexed.

It seemed a little laconic for such a beautiful place which I felt deserved something more poetic so, subsequently, when I posted the images on Facebook, I called it “The Secret Waterfall”.

I have no idea if it was as a direct result or if it was just a coincidence but, soon, the tourism groups on Facebook seemed to be awash with requests for more information about the location of “The Secret Waterfall”. Boat captains were being urged to head for it and it seemed – even if I wasn’t the first to use it – the name had certainly stuck.

But not all locations we’ve come up with names for are quite so … romantic. Others now in common use around our house – largely used to describe locations on our regular dog walk routes – include Dead Sheep Gorge (because there was one); Wild Boar View (because there was one – in fact, a family of five); Biscuit Rock (as it’s where the dogs used to stop for a break and a treat) Hot Hill (because, in summer, it really is when you have to climb it) Runaround Dog (as the dog at this house invariably runs around barking when you pass by) Flagpole Farm (yep, you guessed it) and finally Pooh Corner (I’ll leave that one to your imagination).

I suppose, as a result, it’s now much easier to understand how far-flung places in America’s Wild West or the Australian Outback got their outrageous names. Admittedly, Runaround Dog doesn’t really match Boing Boing or Lick Skillet for imagination but we really only invented our location names so we could tell each other where we were when we saw an eagle, found a porcupine quill or encountered something unpleasant someone else had left behind.

But, to our slight embarrassment, we’ve noticed some of our friends have started to use them too. Albeit unwittingly, it seems we may be responsible for parts of the picturesque and historic Kaya Valley becoming known by some less-than-salubrious identities, at least among some of the English residents.

So if you ever become a nation’s leader remember this: although a lack of maps and street names may make life a little harder for an invader, it does leave your homeland exposed to a different risk. You may remain a free nation and be able to determine your own destiny – but you may also end up with a Rubbish Road (because it’s where people seem to tip stuff they don’t want), an Outraged Olive (a tree which reminded one of us of Harry Potter’s Whomping Willow) or a Pooh Corner which has nothing whatsoever to do with cute bears.

You have been warned …

Another Story Of Mice And Men

We didn’t really think that much about the scuffling from behind the sofa to start with. A rare night with decent broadband meant we’d enjoyed about an hour of Strictly and were halfway down a bottle of wine so we were quite relaxed about what we thought was Rubbish Cat’s latest mad outburst of energy. He’s usually pretty laid back, but every now and again he likes to do a wall of death around the living room, either pursuing or being pursued by some imagined feline adversary.

But, if we’d know what the noise was actually all about, it might’ve been a bit different… As Bec tidied the room prior to our retirement for the night, she lifted a bean bag.

“Er… Steve?”

“Mmmm?”

“There’s a bloody great rat over here…”

“What?!”

It turns out the scuffling was actually Rubbish Cat’s entertainment for the evening. He’d brought a rodent friend in to play. Safe to say it didn’t survive, which is probably just as well. The thought of a colony of ratty guests setting up home inside the stuffing of the sofa or in the dark recesses under the sideboard wasn’t a particularly pleasant one. Indeed, it was enough to prompt me to resolve to check the outhouses for evidence of further habitation the next day…

So, after the morning routine of dog walk and breakfast, I donned some gloves and ventured into the dusty, cobwebbed shed which houses the intricate system of switches and pumps which control our water works. It’s been home to a rat before so it seemed a good place to start (https://theparsleysabroad.wordpress.com/2014/09/02/rats-my-secrets-out/).

Opening the door, some immediate scuttling suggested my suspicions were not unfounded and, sure enough, as I switched the light on, a small, sleek body darted into a dim recess where a shelf meets a cupboard. While gingerly prising the cupboard door open, some faint squeaking suggested there was probably more than one culprit too – but I was entirely unprepared for what happened as I lifted a sack of old fertiliser off the shelf.

I can only describe it as an explosion of mice. They showered onto the floor at my feet, immediately scattering in all directions – out towards the door, behind the water pumps, along shelves and through gaps where the tiled roof meets stone wall. I opened another door and this time a full-grown rat plopped onto the floor, looked a bit startled and then made a break for a gap behind a cupboard unit. Another door, another couple of rats…

The sheer numbers involved reminded me a bit of the last installment of The Hobbit when, just as the good guys think they’re winning, it turns out a whole new army of orcs has been laying low behind a hill waiting for the command to strike.

Slightly overwhelmed I retreated to the house…

“Where’s the cat?” I asked Bec.

“Dunno; he was hanging around a few minutes ago but I’m not sure where he’s gone.”

“Bloody typical. Just when I really need him, he buggers off.”

Forced to fight this battle on my own, I cleared everything I could shift out of the shed, armed myself with the garden hose and let rip with a powerful jet of water, hoping – somewhat like Frodo and his friends in later episodes of Lord of The Rings – a good flooding would drive the enemy from my lands.

So far it seems to have worked. I’ve left the shed door and cupboards open so they don’t make such comfy, dry and safe accommodation for guests with long tails and nibbly teeth. After recounting my battle to Bec, I even earned a vague: “Well done, dear.”

As For Rubbish Cat, I’m not sure how he feels. He does now sometimes sit at the door of the shed peering in – but I’m not sure if the look on his face is part of the atavistic hunting urge or disappointment that I seem to have removed his source of entertainment…

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Rubbish Cat and that look I now get after removing his source of entertainment

A Dog’s Life

We’ve not really posted much for a while, and there’s been a good reason. Something tragic happened in our little family and it’s taken time to come to terms with it.

We didn’t want to blurt it out but neither did we want to ignore it, and writing about other events in our lives just didn’t seem important.

Now, as we enter a new chapter, it feels like the right time to explain.

Our two dogs, Fidget and Fifi, weren’t perfect and it’s fair to say they gave us some challenges. But they were also our ‘Princess Pups’ – they enriched our lives and we loved them dearly.

Fidget

Fidget

fifi

Fifi

When we lost them back in May, it hit us all hard. Small though they were, the hole they left was huge. Without going into too much detail, high winds brought down power cables into puddles left as a result of a nearby pool being drained. On a walk one morning, the pups reached the live puddles first….

Anyone who’s lost a pet knows how traumatic it can be. It didn’t help that we were all apart at the time – Steve and Emma in the UK for Em’s exams, and me at home alone. We all agreed we couldn’t even think about another dog, that we needed time to get used to being at home without ‘the girls’ bouncing around.

Then I saw the photograph on Facebook. ‘Dave’ was a young German Shepherd who was found by holidaymakers. He was in a bad way and only had the use of three legs due to a break in the fourth that had fused as it mended. He’d been living on the streets and, although they were looking after him, they were leaving in a few days. ‘Dave’ needed a home, somewhere he could rest and recuperate.

I felt torn. Part of me didn’t feel ready to take on another dog, but I kept returning to his picture, looking at his face. “Help me,” his eyes seemed to beg.

After a couple of days I mentioned it to Steve and we agreed we would take him in, albeit on a temporary basis. Two days later, we brought him home. He was quiet and unsure of himself, but so gentle and trusting. He didn’t know how to play and was unaccustomed to treats. He didn’t like having eye drops administered – he had an infection – but he didn’t make a fuss while we did it. He’d sit patiently outside the door waiting for food. He accepted a collar and lead, but a short walk up the lane was quite enough to tire him out.

That was three months ago. And now?

The new boy in our lives - darling Dillon.

The new boy in our lives – darling Dillon.

He’s enjoying two walks a day of 5-6km each, and half the time he’s up for more. He loves shoes and regularly steals them off the racks outside the front door – he doesn’t chew them, just hides them in his secret stash. His favourite game is ‘fetch’ with a squeaky rubber ball, though more often he runs off with it to do a victory lap of the garden. He’s started to use his bad leg to walk and play, and can even jump easily – if not gracefully – into the back of our Land Rover. He loves other dogs and people; he’s kind and friendly and has the sweetest temperament, as well as a cheeky, mischievous streak. Essentially, now he’s safe and cared for, his body can use its energy to recover, rather than just survive.

We’ve renamed him, as ‘Dave’ just didn’t seem to fit. He’s now ‘Dillon’ – or Dill. We always said we’d have a dog called Dill – and anyone who remembers The Herb Garden will recall he was Parsley’s best friend.

He’s carved out his own niche in our home and our hearts, so much so that we’ve decided to adopt him for good. We did wonder if we were doing the right thing – not because we don’t love him or aren’t certain we want him, but because, in our little backwater, he’s not popular with the villagers.

His breed, the way he looks, means he’s automatically regarded with fear and suspicion. The locals are convinced he’s a vicious killing machine that will decimate their flocks and probably rip out their children’s throats. Even though he’s always on a lead and barely gives livestock a passing glance as we go by, a couple of steps towards them has people almost leaping into the bushes to escape this fearsome menace.

We do worry, when we walk him, that he’ll sniff out poisoned meat and eat it without us noticing. Somebody could even come to our house when we leave him – though we don’t, very often – and feed it to him through the gate, or even shoot him. It happens, sadly.

But we’ve decided that we’re his best option and we’re delighted he’s going to be a permanent member of the family. The girls are forever in our hearts, but there’s space for him too.

It’s good to have a dog again.

It’s Been An Education

Today’s the day when GCSE results are announced. My social media feeds are full of congratulatory messages from parents and friends to their own and each other’s children, photographic evidence of grades, and excited updates about planned celebrations.
We’re still sitting here waiting to find out how Emma has got on. Because we can’t exactly pop down the road, we arranged for the exam centre to email us her results, and that won’t be until after 1pm UK time – so 3pm for us – when the office closes.
In hindsight, maybe we should have arranged for a friend to collect her results, but to be honest there’s a bit of me that says it doesn’t matter what happens anyway.
Emma already has four GCSEs under her belt (one taken at school before we left the UK and three, including English language, taken last year). She has pretty much educated herself for the past two years, and I couldn’t be prouder of her attitude.
Given her age and the language barrier, ripping her out of England and dropping her into the Turkish education system wasn’t really an option. So, instead, we decided to go the remote study route.
We signed up with an organisation in the UK, chose her courses, and off we went. She’s had an assigned tutor for each subject, who I have to say have varied wildly in terms of the quality and level of support they have provided.
Either way, though, Emma has had to be incredibly self-motivated and disciplined. We worked out a timetable together and helped where we could, of course, but ultimately we’re not teachers and we don’t have in-depth knowledge of anything outside our own specialisms.
She’s got on with it. She’s got her head down and ploughed on, and I really hope she believes me when I tell her that I am equally proud of her whether she gets As, Cs or Es. In all honesty, I don’t believe grades matter that much at this stage anyway; O levels, GCSEs, whatever they turn into next are really only a stepping-stone to the next level. I was pretty much a straight-A student, but nobody has asked me what I got in my exams since the year I took them.
Em has already been offered a sixth form place back at her old school in England, so we’ll be travelling back soon to settle her ahead of the new term. Whatever her academic qualifications end up being, she’s had two years of the most amazing experiences that will stand her in good stead when it comes to facing life’s challenges.
I can’t deny it will be hard to return to Turkey without her, and neither Steve nor I are looking forward to having an ’empty nest’….it’s a new beginning for us all.
Here’s to you, Emma. We’re so proud of the young lady you’ve become and wish you all the happiness in the world. Now go and check that email – it’s nearly 3pm.

Don’t Call Me Baby

Angry baby

I was sitting on a beach chatting the other day with friends who are not resident in Turkey but who visit regularly. Naturally, the conversation sometimes turns to the challenges we face living abroad and, although I can’t remember now which particular one I was addressing, I know I was elaborating on differences between life in Turkey and the UK.

Suddenly, in a pause, a compact, dark-haired lady sitting nearby interjected abruptly, asking: “So you live here?”

“Yes,” I replied, smiling, expecting the usual questions about what it’s like to reside in permanent sunny splendour, surrounded by beautiful scenery and such lovely people.

“How long for?” she added. And, suddenly, I knew what was coming.

“Just under two years now,” I said – and waited.

“Oh, well, you’re just a baby then…” And BOOOOM!  She was off, relating stories of her own about her 18 years in country and very deliberately putting me in my place as an inexperienced incomer.

I’m not sure why it happens but I think it’s maybe because, as a resident of a country where so many head for their annual holiday in the sun, you sometimes find yourself the subject of some fascination. After all, you are living their dream and they want to know what it’s like. Start talking about it, and you can soon find yourself the centre of attention. Personally, it’s not something I’m particularly comfortable with but I’ve come to realise that others crave it.

I’m by no means saying all ex-pats do, but some seem to believe their years in Turkey are a badge of honour which ought to be respected and they don’t want to see a relative newbie steal their thunder.

Usually I shrug inwardly and leave them to it. In the early days then yes; sometimes the interest from holidaymakers we’ve met was flattering. But now, if anyone asks about my life here, I try to keep my answers brief. It’s partly because I don’t want to stamp all over people’s dreams with tales of the reality; they don’t want to hear about freezing cold houses in winter, flaky internet, unreliable water and electricity supplies and life with no Cheddar cheese. But I’m also aware I’m still learning every day myself and one of those lessons is that there might be someone with more time under their belt than me lurking somewhere nearby ready to pounce – and sometimes, as on this occasion, I find it irksome.

I’ll happily listen to good advice and I recognise there are plenty of people who have lived here much longer and know far more than I do about the potential pitfalls. But being patronised always puts my teeth on edge and I found being called “just a baby” particularly presumptuous.

The thing is, although I may have only lived in Turkey for a couple of years, I have lived overseas before. My work has also taken me abroad many times, even to a couple of war zones. But this particular lady seemed determined to pigeon-hole me as a romantic fresh from the UK, still wearing rose-tinted glasses with nowhere near the experience necessary even to talk to tourists.

It’s by no means the first time it’s happened. If you live in Turkey, I suspect you’ll find as we have that there is often someone itching to tell you how little you know, how naïve you have been or how much better they have managed or adjusted to life here. The trick is working out which ones are worth listening to.

Of course I don’t have all the answers and probably never will. I’ll freely admit we’ve made some howlers and learned a few things along the way. But isn’t that what life is about? I certainly feel I’ve as much right as anyone to tell a few funny stories to anyone who shows an interest.

But do me a favour. If we meet and I ever describe you as “just a baby”, slap me. Okay?

‘Have you tried switching it off and switching it back on again?’

It was one of those perplexing incidents. We drove home after a trip to the market to stock up on fruit and veg, had a cuppa, and then Steve got on with the job of cleaning Lenny the Land Rover. The same as we’d done on countless other occasions. Lenny

Some time later, our trusty truck sparkled inside and out. His blue paint gleamed in the sun. Various oils had had been topped up. Tyre pressures had been checked. In short, he’d been subjected to the TLC most Parsley vehicles experience. (Administered by Steve, I should hasten to add. I only just about remember to fill up with fuel.)

When the time came to move Lenny back under his awning, however, he wouldn’t start. There was absolutely nothing there. The key turned but there were no lights on the dash, no response from the ignition, no noise from the engine. Lenny was as dead as Monty Python’s famous parrot, whereas a couple of hours previously he’d been rumbling along in his usual dependable way.

I’d done a quick Google search and told Steve it looked like an electrical fault, to be met with a withering glance that clearly said: “No shit, Sherlock?”

He knows a lot more about internal combustion engines than I do so I shut up and went back to playing Candy Crush, while he changed into his scruffs and spent a fruitless hour trying to track down the problem. He disconnected and reconnected wires, checked fuses and cleaned cables, all to no avail. Eventually he gave up – it was getting dark – so we opened a bottle of red and hoped the Land Rover Repair Pixies would visit overnight.

In the morning, when it became clear they’d failed to materialise, Steve messaged our friend Ersah. He’s the guy we bought Lenny from in the first place – incidentally, if you’re looking for a good jeep safari, check him out here – and within ten minutes he’d arranged for a mechanic to pop round.

Sezgin arrived and, after the necessary glass of çay, got to work. Steve was heartened to see him repeat most of the things he’d done himself the previous evening, although with no more luck. Then Sezgin noticed a sort of handle under the driver’s seat….

Turns out, Lenny has a master switch for use in emergencies. Who knew? And Steve must have knocked it by mistake in the heat of his car-cleaning frenzy. Twist it, and the whole vehicle cuts out and closes down. Twist it the other way, and we’re back in business. As if by magic.

So the Land Rover Repair Pixie does exist after all, and I now know what I believe is true – it’s never a good idea to get too carried away with a chamois leather and a bottle of AutoGlym….

“Do You Want To Phone A Friend …?”

Remember Chris Tarrant? I do … and let me explain why.

Genial and quick-witted, there was a time when it seemed Chris was everywhere. Radio shows, games, books and of course perhaps his most famous role as host of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. And that’s why he sometimes pops into my mind when I try to speak Turkish.

Why? Well, in the show, if you didn’t know the answer to any of the questions Chris fired at you, you had three “lifelines”. You could ask the audience, you could go 50/50 and eliminate some of the wrong ones or you could phone a friend. And, if I’m honest, I’ve done the equivalent of all three while trying to make myself understood in Turkish.

As an example, let’s use our attempt to buy some tempered glass for the wood-burner after the last sheet detonated rather dramatically in the middle of a family evening in front of the telly the other night.

We looked up “glass” “fire” and “wood-burner” and set off for the shop in Fethiye and, on arrival at  the workshop, found three guys in conversation, the middle one stopping to raise an inquiring eyebrow. We’ve done more than a year of Turkish lessons now and I had been reasonably confident we’d be able to say something like: “Hi, we need two sheets of tempered glass for a wood-burner.” Sadly, despite the preparation, nothing came out.

Try as I might, I just couldn’t marshal the words into a sentence quickly enough and, as I became increasingly aware of the long pause, I panicked. I pointed at some glass, I said the Turkish word for “fire” and hoped that was enough.

But no. The shopkeeper replied with some quick-fire Turkish and all I could do was look at him helplessly – and that’s usually where Chris Tarrant steps in.

“Do you want to use one of your lifelines?” he asked in my head, when actually, what I wanted to do was just make myself coherent. “Do you want to ask the audience?”

I looked hopefully at Bec. Nope. No help coming from there. The other two guys in the shop had wandered off and there was no chance of catching their eye either.

“Do you want to use your 50/50?” Chris was asking. I fumbled with my phone hoping the translation app was still open so I could show the shopkeeper the words we looked up earlier in the hope he could make sense of what we’re after from that. It wasn’t.

“Do you want to phone a friend?” inquired my imaginary Chris, although in the real world, it was actually Bec with her own mobile in her hand.

“Hmm?” I asked dazedly.

“Do you want me to call Bayram? He’ll be able to explain what we want …”

“Oh. Right. Yes. I suppose so.”

And minutes later there was a telephone conversation going on between the shopkeeper and our bilingual friend while I stood ashamed that, yet again, I couldn’t string a sentence together in Turkish – or at least not one that I was confident would make any sense.

After over a year of trying to learn a new language, I’m okay in the markets, bars and restaurants and I can even manage rudimentary car maintenance phrases after a series of issues with our Land Rover. But it’s when you enter a new scenario or when you’re dealing with officialdom that linguistic shortcomings become far more evident – and it can underline just how far you still have to go.

We’re fortunate to have a teacher with endless patience and a sense of humour too. Indeed, Bülent seems to find the stories I tell about how I’ve struggled this week quite amusing. But, then we’ll settle down to run through where I went wrong.

Besides, as Bülent points out, if we added up all the time we’ve spent in lessons together, it only comes to just over 100 hours, which is about three weeks if we worked on a nine-to-five basis. Is it really realistic to expect to be able to speak a new language fluently in such a short time? Probably not.

It’s true the effort you make to speak even rudimentary Turkish is appreciated by locals, and reciprocated in their smiles and even in the price you pay in the lokantas and at some of the market stalls. It is definitely worth the effort.

Nevertheless, I suspect it’s going to be a while before I’m free of Chris Tarrant.

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