Monthly Archives: September 2014

It’s Not Unusual – But I Blame Tom Jones


The “ghost village” above Kayakoy

Perched on the side of the mountain overlooking the valley, Kayaköy’s “ghost village” attracts visitors from all over the world.

The population exchange in the early 1920s saw the original Greek settlers repatriated to their homeland, with the empty homes they left behind offered to Turks sent home in turn from Greece.

However, deterred by rumours of poisoned wells – and as they were farmers more used to level plains anyway – few moved in; gradually, over time, the old town was left to decay until an earthquake devastated the area in the 1950s.

Timber was in short supply so the local authorities allowed indigenous Turks to take what they could from the empty buildings. Today, just the walls still stand as a testament to a turbulent era described beautifully in the book Birds Without Wings.

The story has helped to ensure that, every summer, thousands of visitors head for the mountains above Fethiye to see the ruins for themselves.

And with tourism booming in Turkey, it’s not surprising that there are now at least two dozen bars and restaurants dotted along Kayaköy’s winding lanes, catering for both tourists who stay in local accommodation and the day-trippers who arrive on quad-bike safaris, on coaches or even on horseback.

Most establishments offer “gözleme” – traditional Turkish pancakes – and, of course the famous “kahvaltı”, a generous breakfast of salad, cheese, olives, eggs and spicy Turkish sausage, nuts, dried fruit and honey, often finished off with melon and sweetened tea.

After a few months here we already have our own favourite haunts – just as we did back in the UK – and a couple of nights ago we were enjoying a drink with friends in a restaurant where a group of ladies in their 50s had stayed for a week of yoga classes. The 12-strong group was saying its farewells before heading home to the UK and it had been a restrained and refined affair.

But then someone swapped the gentle background piano music for a spot of Tom Jones.

Perhaps there had been some over-indulgence when it came to pre-dinner cocktails or the sauvignon blanc, or maybe it was simply the balmy Mediterranean evening – but it wasn’t long before there was dancing and, by the time Tony Christie took over with Amarillo, even the waiters were being encouraged to throw a few shapes.

To cut a long story short – and to protect the innocent – an hour later we’d all gone through a bit of traditional Turkish dancing, Abba, Adele, some Elvis and the inevitable rendition of Pharrell Williams’s Happy – and there was little sign of anyone wanting to go to bed.

The sight of the normally super-efficient maitre-d’ gyrating on the bar and whirling his tie around his head, a normally-reserved and shy member of the waiting staff stripping off his shirt for a particularly energetic Turkish dance and the host’s rendition of Zorba the Greek (a couple of times) are going to be with me for a while.

I have no clear recollection of how it happened but I found myself pouring drinks behind the bar so a few more staff could do a bit of dancing and then being left to blearily jab my finger at the sound system to keep the music playing.

By all accounts, the next day, all was back to normal; everyone was at work and apparently none the worse for wear.

I wish I could say the same but, for me, although one night of spontaneous excess was great fun, it also felt like something of a watershed in our own relocation. We were part of an evening which, for one reason or another, we’ll all remember.

That means, for the first time, we have an experience in common with members of the Kayaköy community – even it is a little embarrassment that, just for a couple of hours, we all forgot we’re not 20 any more



The Day We Ran Headlong Into The Language Barrier…

Before we came to Turkey we were determined to make an effort to learn the language. We reasoned that if we wanted to integrate into village life, then being able to communicate without resorting to the usual pantomime of sign language would be important.

We made friends with the owner of a Turkish restaurant in Yorkshire and tried to visit once a week to practice the pronunciation of a few rudimentary phrases we thought might stand us in good stead. We bought phrase books and – although one evening with friends descended into an inevitable and puerile quest for rude words – made enough progress to be able to count to 20, say “hello”, “yes”, “no”, “pleased to meet you”, and even “Can I have the bill please?”

The thing is, once we arrived in Turkey, every attempt to use the language seemed to be greeted with accented but perfectly understandable English. Communication, it seemed, wasn’t going to be the problem we thought it might be …

But that was before we encountered officialdom.

If you’re a foreign national and you want to live in Turkey, then you need a residency permit – and that’s when you’re likely to come across bureaucracy for the first time.

I’m sure Turkey is no worse than anywhere else. Every nation has to have its established procedures and each one must seem equally convoluted to an immigrant. But here, anything official is definitely conducted in Turkish and, having been lulled into a false sense of linguistic security, suddenly, all our shortcomings were exposed.

Despite help from our Turkish friends who patiently tried to explain what was happening (thankyouthankyouthankyou), I’ll admit I lost count of how many offices we visited – or even why. All I can remember is sitting in front of a procession of desks while council officials, the village headman, tax officers and even policemen argued – sometimes vehemently – with our interpreter about details on the multitude of forms we’d filled in.

Perhaps the worst moment was when, during one encounter with the “belediye” – the equivalent of the district or county council – I noticed grins among the Turkish families waiting their turn at the desk as, without looking up, the official dealing with our case started waving our forms above his head, muttering something aloud which I took to be some sort of jest.

I thought smiling might at least help to portray my forbearance of the procedure, or at least that I was trying my best to co-operate – but the gimlet eye and sudden stiffness in the bearing of the officer suggested otherwise.

I still have no idea what our offence had been. Maybe there was a detail missing or a box not ticked … but, for an awkward ten seconds, it seemed our applications were in jeopardy. An interjection from Ahmed, our driver and interpreter, seemed to diffuse whatever faux pax we’d committed and minutes later the official’s stubby finger was tapping a final form I had to sign – but it felt like a close-run thing. The disdainful and pained look the official threw me as we left said it all.

After that, even the appointment at the harbour-front offices of the Fethiye passport police seemed more amicable. There were still no smiles, but at least the silence and the regular thump of an official stamp on a piece of paper felt reassuring. All we can do now is wait and hope our applications are successful.

If you found this blog and thought it was going to be an idiot’s guide to residency applications in Turkey, I can only apologise. I’m afraid I’m still none the wiser about the proper procedure myself.

However, if you are about to embark on a residency application, I’d thoroughly recommend having someone who speaks fluent Turkish alongside you at all stages of the process.

As for us, Turkish lessons have now begun in earnest with two-hour sessions booked for every Saturday. So far, we’re not much further forward than the Janet and John stuff – but at least we’ve made a start…


Rats! My Secret’s Out …

A truculent water supply, which seems almost vindictive in its choice of times to splutter and fail, is something we’ve grown used to over the few months we’ve been in Turkey. Mid-shower is a favourite or perhaps shortly before the preparation of a meal. However, although inconvenient, enforced dry periods never seem to last all that long; besides, we’ve learned to keep a large, plastic bottle of water squirrelled away – enough to rinse hair full of shampoo, fill a saucepan or boil a kettle.

It was therefore only in passing that I mentioned the latest hiccup to neighbour Mehmet when he popped round the other day. After all, it seemed a good idea to establish if the problem was village-wide or confined to our house.

But I should have known better. Before I could assure him we had contingency plans, Mehmet was on his feet and heading for the outhouse and its wheezy, unreliable pumps. I tried to persuade him it wasn’t necessary to start tinkering with the machinery in the cobwebbed recesses of the ramshackle shed but he had the door open before I could stop him – and he immediately took a step back.

My secret was out.

As it has the last half-dozen times I’ve had cause to enter the outhouse, the large rat which has taken up residence in the tin-roofed building scuttled along a tool shelf and squeezed through a narrow hole – the entrance to its inaccessible den somewhere in the wall cavity.

We have two cats so I had been hoping, over time, they might fulfil the expected role of rodent assassins and I wouldn’t have to get involved in disposing of our latest guest. But now the rat’s existence was known to others and my own role as man of the house was once again in question.

“You see that …?” demanded Mehmet.

“Erm … what?” I asked, in the vain hope I could get away with what was coming next.

“A big rat!“ replied Mehmet with obvious disgust. “You must kill it or it find its way into your house. It eat electric wires,” he added with graphic hand gestures to illustrate sharp little teeth nibbling cables.

“I haven’t got anything to kill it with,” I countered.

In silent reply, Mehmet reached across to the shelf in the shed and lifted down a rat trap I’d never noticed.

“You put cheese here. Rat eats – and then SNAP!” Mehmet explained patiently.

To be honest I had seen similar contraptions before; it was a humane trap which, if it worked, would successfully curtail the roamings of our resident rodent – but without killing it.

“So, once it’s in the trap, what do I do with it?” I asked, in the hope Mehmet might know some quiet place where rats could be released without heading for the nearest property.

“You fill bucket with water and …” another hand gesture made it clear where the phrase “drowned rat” may have come from.

It’s now five or six days later – and I still haven’t set the trap.

It’s not that our resident Roland scares me; other than the smell, which has become gradually more potent, knowing he’s somewhere in the shed doesn’t bother me. It’s just I’m being terribly British and, although I know Mehmet’s right and there is a risk the rat could find its way into the electrics, I’m not keen on the cold-hearted killing of a living, breathing animal.

Of course, that will probably have to change; Turkish culture doesn’t include a sentimental Disney tolerance of vermin and setting the trap is on today’s to do list.

But, once it’s occupied by a furry little body, I know I’m going to have another decision to make – and, in a way, the outcome will be an indication or just how far away our old life in the UK has become.