Three Days in a Shi’ite Village—Day One

Our two large buses were sailing down the empty Turkish countryside on a good dirt highway, and suddenly, it seemed in the middle of nowhere, they pulled to a stop. For several days we had been driving through and exploring the region of Cappadocia, where homes, stores, and churches were carved into the sandstone hills, where the locals lived in underground homes and whole cities were as many as eight stories deep underground. But here nothing was in sight but empty fields. Our bus drivers opened the doors, and just sat there.

Then we heard the musical scream of zurna pipes and the thud of drumbeats. Ahead on the highway walking toward us, we could see two Gypsy musicians with a swarm of village children following them. When they reached our buses the village children poured on board and presented us with freshly picked lentil branches. They showed us how to break open the tiny pods, pull out the seeds and eat them. We happened to have bags of candies, and gave them to the children, in return.

Gypsy Musicians in Turkey
Gypsy Musicians in Turkey

Then we all clambered out of the buses and were led about half a mile down the highway to their village green. The musicians started to play dance music, and the local towns­people took us by the hands and led us in Turkish line dances. Most of us already knew the basic steps, and we danced for almost two hours. Sometimes the dancers were led by men of the village, sometimes by women, and sometimes by someone of our group.

We had been told that Shi’ites are very conservative, and the men and women never danced together, and especially that the women never led the dance. So much for that story. On this day, at times young women led the dance, and men joined their lines. Sometimes older women led the dance. I did notice there were no dances done exclusively by women, but there were some vigorous dances done only by the men.

Some of our young women collected the children and danced in circles, singing “Ring-around-the-rosy, all fall down.” The children insisted on doing that game many times over. They also did the Hokey Pokey, with the right foot in, the right foot out, give your foot a shake, shake, shake and turn yourself about, as well as the Bunny Hop.

After that good workout we were led to an outdoor area that had many tables with benches. They sat us down, and as the sun set served us a filling meal. While we ate their nourishing country food there were formal introductions and speeches. First introduced, with the most honor, was the oldest woman in the village. Then followed the mayor, and the rest of the officials. By the time the speeches and translations were over, it was pitch dark. What now?

It seemed there were fifty-three houses in the village, and fifty-seven of us. Someone had made a list of who was to go where, but no one could find the list. The only lights were from three automobiles, our buses and a few flashlights. In the dark they lined us up against a fence, shined our bus headlights on us, and the villagers started to choose who would be sleeping and eating at their home for the next three days. What a strange feeling I had. No one wanted me. Village women and men grabbed other travelers by the arm and pulled them away from the fence into the dark, leading them to their homes. As a friend of mine was taken in tow, I asked, “Can I come with you?” She called back “No!” over her shoulder as she disappeared into the dark.

It was only a matter of a few minutes, although it seemed like an eternity, until a young man with a flashlight took my hand, and also that of another woman standing near me, and led us to his wife who was carrying their eight month old baby girl over her shoulder. They led us to their home on the edge of the green and invited us in.

What I didn’t know until later was that village houses were combined with livestock barns, and we had the honor of the only house in the village where we could use the toilet in a small room within the home; people in the other homes simply walked to the barn section of the building and contributed to the animals’ manure pile. But have you ever experienced a Turkish toilet? It consists of a cesspool hole in the floor with a footprint on either side.

We had already been given dinner by the whole village, so the young host put on a two hour session of introducing himself and his family to us using sign language; we had no language in common. He spoke Turkish, German, and French, and we spoke English and Spanish. From what we gathered from the photo albums he showed us, he had been in the army for two years, where he was stationed in southern Turkey, near the Kurds. He showed us pictures of his life in the army, of his wedding two years before and of many trips he had taken. It turned out that he was born and raised in Konya, Turkey, which is the Sufi Center of the country. He was Sufi, born and raised in a wealthy banking family. He was assigned to live in this village for three years to handle the finances of the agricultural cooperative of which this village was a part.

In Turkey all the boys learn to play the saz—their version of a guitar, and so he then took his down from off of the wall and entertained us with music.

My American roommate was a surgical nurse from San Francisco. She and I enjoyed the baby and the nineteen year old wife, as well. We had a comfortable room of our own with separate couches, and slept well.

In the morning when we came out of our room there was a sumptuous breakfast laid for us. In one corner of the room was a full four-foot high stack of rounds of flatbread, each one three feet in diameter. Torn off chunks of this delicious bread with fresh-cooked eggs from the chickens that lived outside the front door, wedges of tomato, cucumber, and cheese were more than we could eat.

After breakfast we walked out to see what was going on. Our host took me around the building into the bank, which was built onto his house. It looked as modern and professional as any small bank in the USA, with desks, safes, counters, and file cabinets. Outdoors again I could see, lined up at the edge of the common, about eight huge farm machines, which were clean and almost new.

Not far away was a wheat field and I joined the crowd to see what was going on. Four of the locals were threshing with scythes. One man would start at the edge of the field and cut a swath of three or four feet with every step. Behind him to the right was another man swinging his scythe and mowing a swath adjacent to the just mowed area—and then a third man followed to his right. As the mowers proceeded they seemed to be performing a dance together, swinging from left to right, back again, and with another step left to right again. After a few minutes of this, one of them offered his scythe to one of the men in our group.

With a little bit of instruction he mowed a few swaths, but it was apparent the skill of the village mowers was honed from many years of experience. Another man of our group indicated he wanted to try, and there was a lot of good natured laughing. Next one of the young women in our group stepped up to try. The scythe was heavy for her, but she cut a couple of swipes and then offered her scythe for someone else to try. I felt game for anything and stepped up to take it.

The scythe was about five feet tall. The left hand hold was about my knee height, and the right hold was about waist high. It felt about thirty-five pounds to me. As I got a firm grip and was lifting it to feel the swing I suddenly felt pressure along the backs of my arms and hands, my back including my legs, and then I realized one of the village men had spot welded himself to my back and was helping me swing and mow. What a sensation.

We had been told that men and women never touched in public, and here I was being not only touched, but embraced from head to feet. Everyone was laughing, and after a few not-too-successful strokes he let go, and I passed the scythe to someone else.

I came to the conclusion that they meant men and women did not touch in public with affection, but when it came to work it was another matter.

§(

Carolyn with dancers in Turkey
Carolyn with dancers in Turkey
Tour Group in Cappadocia
Tour Group in Cappadocia
Carolyn in Middle Eastern veils
Carolyn in Middle Eastern veils

In the hills of Cappadocia in Central Turkey
In the hills of Cappadocia in Central Turkey

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *