Tag Archives: life in Turkey

Eyes Wide Shut

Isn’t it funny how quickly we take things for granted?

One of the many beautiful views we enjoy on a regular basis.

I know how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful part of the world, but even in the short three years we’ve been here, I don’t always appreciate it on a daily basis.

Last night, driving out of the village to meet a friend for dinner – a rare occurrence; people think our lives are one big holiday but they really aren’t – I was struck afresh by the sheer beauty of my surroundings. Nothing in particular – simply that the sky was so blue and the woods still so green; Babadağ’s imposing presence loomed in front of us while the sun cast a soft, glowing light over the hills as it began its evening descent.

Due to the fierce summer heat, we’re currently walking Dill the Dog at the extreme ends of the day – around 6.30am and 8pm – and I realised I don’t always make the most of it. With the local goat population seemingly on hiatus during the hottest weeks, you feel like you’re the only person in the world as you walk in the woods sometimes – especially on the early shift. (I’m not a morning person and when it’s my turn I mutter and groan when that alarm goes off – but it’s a special time of day once you’re up and about.)

One of the storks – I disturbed it drinking from a pond.

We’ve been fortunate in recent weeks to observe porcupine scuttling across the path, a badger that’s set up home in the dried-out river bed, wild boar snuffling among the trees, a pair of eagles, a young fox, the village storks who have come back to nest for another season…. Sitting quietly and watching them go about their lives is a privilege.

Yet I know on occasion, when I’ve returned home and Steve’s asked the question we always put to each other – “Did you see anything?” – I’ve responded along the lines of: “Only the eagles.” Only? Since when did seeing a pair of eagles start out of a nearby tree and soar overhead become so commonplace? Ridiculous to think that I can get more excited about seeing a tortoise – as commonplace here as hedgehogs are in the UK – bimbling along the track ahead of me.

So, my summer resolution is to remind myself to take more notice of my surroundings. To look at and appreciate the things I see every day which I had already stopped noticing. I’m fortunate enough to live a life many would love – I should relish it every single moment.

Looking down across Fethiye from one of the mountain tracks.

The sun rising through trees in the local forest.

 

 

 

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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.

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?

The Learning Curve

It’s hard to believe we’ve lived in Turkey for more than a year now – the time really has flown. We’ve survived the relentless heat, the pounding rain and everything in between; there is so much we love and, naturally, some things we find less than endearing.

That will be a separate post; for now, let’s focus on a few of the important lessons we have learned…..

1. You can’t beat the dust. I’ll be honest, if you have OCD tendencies when it comes to cleaning, you’ll find it hard to live here. You can go through the house like a dose of salts with a soft cloth and a can of Pronto (our version of Pledge) but, come the end of the day, there’ll be a fine layer of dust on your previously-gleaming surfaces and they’ll look like they haven’t been touched for a month. In winter, when it’s wet, you can exchange the dust for muddy footprints across the balcony if you like. Fortunately I’ve never been that house-proud; it just means I get to clean less and not feel guilty.

2. Plastic tubs are our saviour. I find ants fascinating. Watching them dismantle a decent-sized lizard that had the misfortune to expire on our balcony and remove it bit by bit over the course of a couple of days was really interesting. However, I’m not so keen on opening a box of sugar cubes and finding the little blighters merrily munching away inside, preventing me from ingesting my morning caffeine fix. Whether it’s cereal, cat food, flour, spices…..everything needs to be packed away in plastic tubs to keep the critters out. My family finds my obsession with airtight containers hilarious. They’ll thank me when they realise it’s the only thing standing between the army of ants and their tubes of Pringles.

3. The only plan you can make is to be spontaneous. I don’t care how organised you’ve been in the past. If you want to live here, learning to go with the flow is the name of the game. Decided on a quiet family night in with a DVD? Forget it. Chances are, someone will drop round unexpectedly for drinks and meze. Enjoying a civilised barbecue and a couple of drinks around the pool with friends? Don’t be surprised if you find yourself hustled into the shower and some borrowed clothes so you can meet another group of people elsewhere. Embrace the unpredictability. It’s the only way.

4. Baby, it’s cold inside. While it’s true that outside air temperatures tend to remain considerably higher than the UK in winter, it’s a different story inside. Houses are built to fight the heat of summer and it really is warmer out than in much of the time. With no central heating, getting up in the morning is something to delay as long as possible – certainly until you’ve wiggled an arm out to grab the air-con controls and switched it on for 20 minutes to heat the room up. Layers of clothing become your best friends. On the plus side, I bet none of you were walking around on Christmas Day wearing a t-shirt and paddling in the sea…..

5. What’s mine is yours. As Brits, we’re used to the idea of personal possessions and privacy. If we want to borrow something, we ask. We accept it if the answer is no and, if it’s a yes, we give whatever it is back afterwards. And vice versa. Here, it’s more about giving than lending, and the thinking is thus: “If I need something and you have it, you should give it to me. If my cousin needs it, I’ll pass it on to him. If his neighbour wants it, she can have it. You can have it back if you ever need it again, assuming we can track it down.” The reasoning is pretty much the same whether we’re talking about garden tools, bottles of alcohol or even cold, hard cash!

It’s Harder Than You Think To Do Favours For Sailors …

On more than one occasion since we moved to Turkey there have been occasions when we would have been totally lost without the intervention of our neighbours, Tommy and Mehmet, so when I heard there was a lot of work to do on their family boat over the winter, I was quick to offer my assistance and collection of power tools in return.

Used for tourist trips in the summer months, the Deniz Bey sails daily from the beach at Ölüdeniz, taking up to 30 people on trips along the spectacular Anatolian coast. However, every winter, the effects of wind, sun and sea need to be redressed – which means several weeks in dry dock for sanding, varnishing and painting.

Volunteering, I imagined a few afternoons plugged into iTunes, brandishing familiar equipment acquired from my dad or – often on impulse – from DIY superstores in the UK.  But despite admitted recent failings as a “proper man” in the eyes of the average Turk (Time To Man Up …) I’ll admit I was still a bit disappointed by the questioning looks that my offer inspired.

“Can you paint?” asked Mehmet.

“I think so,” I replied. “I have my own sanders and I did decorate quite a bit of our house in England myself.”

Perhaps it was the small smile from Bec – who has never quite forgotten the “Incident Of The Flooded Bathroom” back in 1995 – or maybe it was the absence of experience on boats, but Mehmet still looked doubtful.

Nevertheless, a few days ago, the call came: “Stiv? Is Mehmet. I work on boat while the weather is nice today. Can you help?”

“Of course,” I said. “I’ll get my tools out of the shed….”

“No need. I have tools. I come to get you.”

Half an hour later another new experience began. Unexpectedly, I found myself on the back of a scooter (without a helmet) being bounced savagely along a narrow mountain road en route to the boatyard in nearby Fethiye.

I’m a balding man of 53 but, nevertheless, on arrival what hair I have resembled a clown on a bad day. I also had to surreptitiously shake the cramp out of a leg before I could even begin to make my way to the dry docks.

Once there, I realised that, far from spending the day on nice, safe decks, I’d have to get used to the idea of working 20ft up on rickety planks, suspended between makeshift scaffolding mostly made up of elderly stepladders.

In short, it was hell. It takes a certain skill to wield a heavy-duty sander above your head when you have no handholds, a yawning drop beneath sucks at your heels and dust cakes the inside of your mouth and nose. I missed bits, which Mehmet had to point out before he could add a layer of varnish, and I must have been slow because there were plenty of times when he seemed to be watching and waiting.

Other boatyard workers passed beneath. There were shouted conversations with Mehmet, which seemed to end with looks in my direction and a little laughter. But, after what seemed like hours of torture which left my fingers tingling and shoulder muscles aching, it was time for a lunch-break.

It turned out even that was a challenge. If you’ve tried kokoreç then you’ll know what’s in it. If not, let’s just say I discovered sheep intestines are probably an acquired taste. Then it was back to several more hours of back-breaking work in the midst of a forest of masts and rigging, the shrill sounds of drills and sanders – and more Turkish banter.

The thing is, I loved it. I have spent most of my professional life in an office or at least in front of a keyboard, typing – but this was something completely different.

It was hard, yes. I was also aware of being a stranger in a tight-knit community which gathers in the boatyard every winter. But it was an experience – and one I have repeated more than once since.

A couple of weeks later, and now I get nods and handshakes. Indeed, the boatyard boss has shown me around and given me his card. It’s not like I’m ever going to be a professional – Turkish laws prevent that anyway – but it’s been fun helping out and should the Deniz Bey ever need me, I’d be happy to step up to the mark again.

Just don’t ask me to eat kokoreç though…

Mehmet on the boat

Mehmet ready to start work on board the Deniz Bey

A Sign Of Embarrassment

Sign

A red-and-white sign at the top of our lane reads “Çıkmaz Sokak” and, as we knew “sokak” translates from Turkish as “street”, it was a natural assumption that adding our house number would give us the first line of our new address.

The rest was a little less obvious. With no postal deliveries made to individual homes in Kayaköy, we sort of got the impression you could more or less make up your own and if we’d gone with “The Lane Behind Cin Bal Restaurant, Follow It Until You Fall Off The End”, nobody would’ve raised an eyebrow. It seemed the only important bits were the name of the village and the district number; as long as they were included, our post would find its way to the local shop for collection.

The first indication that things are not quite as simple as that came when we were going through the residency procedure.  Our ever-helpful neighbour Tommy had volunteered to take our application forms to the village head man for the necessary sign of approval – but he was soon back:

“You have not filled in forms right,” he said. “This is not your address,” he added, pointing to the line faithfully filled in 47 Çıkmaz Sokak.

“Oh but it is … There’s even a new sign saying ‘Çıkmaz Sokak’ at the end of the road,” I said.

“I know. But it is not your address…” insisted Tommy. “You have to go to belediye in Fethiye and get it changed.”

“Eh? If it’s wrong – which I don’t think it is, by the way – can’t I just fill in a new form and start again?”

“No,” said Tommy gloomily. “Head man has seen it now so we must start with getting new address…”

We won’t bother with the details of what happened next. Let’s just say, after two days of form-filling, traipsing from one official building to another and smiling hopefully at stern-faced officials, the whole tortuous residency procedure was complete and the seals were put on our (ultimately successful) applications to live in Turkey. (If you’d like a bit more on that particular episode you could always read an earlier blog, The Day We Ran Headlong Into The Language Barrier).

However, the issue over the wrong address still baffled us – at least until our latest Turkish lesson at the weekend.

We’re on to verbs and teacher Bülent was explaining the verb “çıkmak”, which means “to exit” or “to leave”.

“Ah… So that means our road is the one which leaves the village,” I said somewhat triumphantly.

“No. Not really,” said Bülent. “‘Çıkmaz’ is not the same as `çıkmak’. I know it looks similar but ‘çıkmaz sokak’ means what you call a ‘dead end’ in English. Or maybe ‘no through road’.”

Yep. That’s right. For six months, I’ve been happily telling people we live at “No 47 No Entry”. Suddenly, all those odd or slightly pitying looks made a bit more sense. Tommy and the head man weren’t being obstructive either. By not really explaining why I had to change my application form, they were just trying to protect me from some future embarrassment.

I would like to end by recording my thanks to both – and by continuing to resist a powerful urge to crawl under something and hide.

In Praise of Wood Burners … Or Not

Wood burners are great, aren’t they?

After a long day, there’s nothing quite like flopping down in front of a cheery glow, watching the flames dance in intricate shapes while you sip a decent glass of red. Warmth radiates from the hearth and, while you wiggle your toes just a little nearer, the dog yawns and stretches luxuriously before settling again with a small sigh…

At least that’s the image most of us would have and it’s probably one the salesman would play on back in the UK where we already have central heating anyway. The thing is, in Turkey, most homes don’t have such luxuries. After all, it’s mostly blazing hot so why would you need to spend a fortune having a boiler and radiators installed, right?

Um … wrong.

Temperatures here this week have been below freezing more than once and, even when they haven’t, the sun has often been conspicuous by its absence. That means the log burner isn’t a luxury or an indulgence. It’s the most efficient and cheapest source of heat – but it also needs feeding. That means, as the summer season finishes in Kayaköy, the locals disappear into the woods with chainsaws.

At first, I quite liked the idea of self-sufficiency. We already had a huge pile of wood in the orchard so, rather romantically thinking of myself as Pa in Little House on The Prairie, I was looking forward to wielding a newly-acquired axe to cut it all to size. I reasoned that as long as I used dry days to wander down to the wood pile and chop enough for three or four nights, we’d be fine. There would be more than enough to last us through the worst of the winter.

It turns out I was wrong about that too.

I had no idea that a wood burner could have such a voracious appetite. Even before Christmas our stock was almost gone and I was wishing I’d used the warmer, drier weather in early October to head for the woods with everyone else. With no chainsaw of our own, we had to call in help.

“Yes. I fetch for you. How much you want?” asked our ever-helpful neighbour, Mehmet.

“Oh, I don’t know … As much as you can carry I suppose,” I replied, thinking he must know someone with a tractor and trailer.

Just two days later, I heard the toot of Mehmet’s scooter and, incredulously, watched him wobble down the drive with the first load of branches and small logs balanced between the fairing and seat.

“Er… thanks Mehmet, but I think I’ll be needing more than that,” I said, trying not to sound ungrateful.

“Yes, yes. I have more cut in woods. I bring it,” he said cheerily, disappearing after the few minutes it took to unload.

He was as good as his word too – even though he had to resort to the family car when the abused scooter’s drive shaft expired under the fourth load. Still, the replenished wood pile looked much healthier and I had no reason to doubt Mehmet’s assurance there would be enough to last a couple of months.

Turns out we were wrong about that too…

Just a fortnight later with the weather becoming increasingly hostile, we were getting dangerously close to the bottom of the pile again and I had to accept we were going to have to request a bulk delivery.

Reluctant to ask Mehmet to sacrifice another vehicle in the woods, we made the trip to Saffet’s place in nearby Hisarönu – a shop which not only seems to stock stuff impossible to find anywhere else but in numerous colours too.

“Yes, no problem… I can have a tonne delivered to your house; a mix of soft and hard wood,” Saffet confirmed. “You want it in bags?”

“No, that’s okay. Just get the guy to dump it on the drive. I’ll shift it under cover myself,” I said, still clinging to the Little House On The Prairie dream.

Three days later, after taking the delivery just as the light began to fade, I found myself moving a massive pile of logs from the drive to the lean-to next to the house by hand, in driving rain and gale-force winds in the dark…

Like I say, wood burners are great, aren’t they …?

Log burner

You can’t beat a decent log fire … or can you?

SP