My bike ride home from school takes me through what appears to be an old dumping ground. Piles of broken concrete, pieces of bricks, bags of trash, and clumps of asphalt dot the side of the road like termite hills providing homes for the many stray dogs. This dumping ground is also sprinkled with bits of thistle and clover, clumps of grass, and numerous other weeds and flowers. Often this field is being grazed by local sheep and cows and tended by the moms from the neighboring houses in the mornings, and by the children of those same houses after school.
About a month ago a group of young girls ranging from about
10 to 14 years old and dressed in traditional colorful Turkish skirts and scarves with embroidered flowers came running from all sides of the hill calling "Merhaba" and "Hello". Within seconds they had surrounded my bicycle and brought me to a stop. As I've discovered in all groups of children, there is always one gregarious sole who takes over as translator/spokesperson for the group
and we carried on a typical first conversation in Turkish/English (Where are you from? What's your name? How old are you? What's your job? We love you. Come to my house.)
After about 20 minutes I was able to pull myself away and head home but only after promising I would come to their home one day.
For the next month, on almost every ride home from school, the girls came running while shouting Penny, Penny we love you. Come to our home. Followed by my response I love you too..Today, no. Soon.
After learning that tonight's school concert had been cancelled and I was free for the evening, I decided that soon would be today. Pedaling up the steep hill in first gear and reflecting on today's baseball lessons, I was startled back to reality when, running beside me was one of the farm girls.
Come to my house?
OK?...(look of surprise)One minute. My friends. Come.
She pointed to a girl wearing a blue flowered shirt, a long white skirt and a hand-embroidered scarf, who could speak a fair amount of English sitting with two friends under a shade tree watching the cows graze.
The girls jumped to their feet excited to break up their afternoon with an American guest, grabbed their switches, swatted the cow behinds, and herded the the full uddered mamas to a new pasture away from the pine trees and thistle. Do those weeds make the cows sick or make the milk taste bad? I tried to ask. I think the answer was yes but what I understood even more was that she milks the cows, her mom makes fresh yogurt, cheese and ayran and they also had fresh bread to eat. The food would be great!
You should understand that I prefer NOT knowing the chicken who laid my eggs, nor the cow who provided my milk. I like to believe that all my eggs and milk have been properly chilled, date stamped, and produced with the utmost attention to bacteria and health codes. But, here I was headed towards an afternoon snack of homemade everything from a house that may or may not have electricity or running water. I said a quick prayer to St. Hygienia and hoped for the best.
As the cows, girls, and I rounded the corner to "home" we were met by a stern looking Turkish mom. Her daughter gave quick introductions and a smile and welcome ensued. The children directed me to put my bike in the chicken coop, and I awkwardly locked it. Locking it was a tough decision but I wasn't prepared for it to be stolen (possible) or ridden by every kid in the village (probable) and I wanted to get home at a decent hour.
We entered their house, a one room stone affair with Turkish carpets covering the floor and walls, an older refrigerator, a small 1960's vintage TV playing a fuzzy Turkish soap opera, and bed mats stacks neatly in the corner. The room was dark but surprisingly cooler than outside. They offered me Turkish coffee, not tea. What a treat! They then brought me a platter of enough cheese, yogurt and bread to feed me for a week. The group kept multiplying and pretty soon about 20 women, girls and children were crowded in the tiny one room house. Everyone was talking at once and one mom kept telling them to be quiet and let me eat. I was thinking please keep talking, I really don't want to eat. However, to be polite I ate four or five tablespoons of yogurt. It was pungent and much tarter than I'm used to and a little hard to swallow...Was it truly the flavor of the yogurt or the sight of the cows? I can't be sure. The cheese was much better although, like much Turkish cheese, saltier than I'm used to. The corn bread was delicious.
I asked if I could take pictures and they were delighted. The girls took turns taking and being in pictures. Then they started looking through about 300 of the 800 pictures on my camera. They really liked my husband, my children and the tulips in Istanbul.
The joy and happiness of this tiny village of people and the generosity of people with so little to give was humbling. I will remember it until the cows come home..and that's a long time because I don't have any cows.