So last night, five hours after arriving, I had internet. Having previously discussed this as a priority with Murat and having been assured that I could access the World Wide Web, I had assumed that I would be piggy backing someone’s signal. Not so.
Selim turned up at the house carrying a rolled up coil of cable. This was thrown from the kitchen window down five floors and onto the street, pulled round the corner into the local market and plugged into their dial up. I took my laptop from its case, set it on the kitchen table, plugged in the cable and nothing happened. I then watched Selim take my computer away and sat fretting like a new mother whose baby was out for the first time without her.
A few hours later, I wandered down five flights of stairs, walked round the corner and saw my laptop propped on top of the ice cream fridge, Selim fiddling with the buttons.
“It’s not working abla” he said
“You can use my friend’s computer” he gestured into the shop
I log on, check messages, send a few then wander back round the corner giving one last longing glance at my silver baby.
An hour or so after that, Selim has it working and brings it up. I sit it on the kitchen table and plug it in. Mistake number one.
Kerem is at my side in an instant.
“Kym abla, where are the games?”
I tell him there are none and I have some work to do
“Kym abla, I can get games on the internet”
I tell him that if he is good and lets me do some work, he can play games later. He leaves me for at least five minutes.
“Kym abla, can I play games now?”
I realise this isn’t going to stop. Thinking it won’t be long until he goes to bed, I let him log on to a game site and play for a while. When I return to the kitchen around twenty minutes later, Ayşe is on You Tube playing music. Hmmmmmmm
Eventually, I get access to it and decide to close it down.
It’s around midnight when the mattresses come out. The girls unroll them; line them up in a row and put sheets and pillows on them. Beds have been made up on the balcony for Haci Amca, Ide and Dursun and the rest of us get out heads down in the lounge. I am used to these hand-made beds that are filled with goat’s hair. We have one in the village and I find them really comfortable. The pillows are very firm and in the mornings, there is never a head shaped imprint on them but, I have never had trouble sleeping on them.
I have never had any trouble sleeping at all in fact. I even slept sitting up in a single wardrobe once; but that’s another story. I am soon out like a light.
It’s 7am when I wake up with a crusty nose. The air con has been on all night. Everyone else is still fast asleep. I take myself off to the wet room, fill the plastic font with warm water, take the tin pot and use it to throw water over my head repeatedly as I ‘shower’.
Taking advantage of the early hour, I switch on the laptop and do some daily’s; Twitter, Facebook etc..
Tuba wanders past the kitchen to the toilet and I hear her splash her face with water and wash her hands before joining me in the kitchen. She fills the kettle with water and puts it on the stove then sets about chopping tomatoes and cucumbers, pouring honey and jam from jars into bowls, warming goat’s cheese and generally getting all the breakfast dishes together. The house is stirring. I turn off the computer and go back into the lounge. Beds are being rolled up, their respective sheets left inside them. They are then carried into one of the bedrooms and placed on the bunk beds which no-one ever sleeps on.
Ayşe lays the balcony floor with a large cotton table cloth over which she places another which is red plastic. Tuba brings in a silver tray laden with dishes, places it on the floor then shouts over the balcony to the baker across the road. She clips a peg to a ten lira note, places it in the white cotton bag that sits attached to the balcony rail by white string and then lowers it down the five floors and onto the street. Reeling it up a few minutes later, she takes out a stack of hot freshly baked flat breads and some lose change.
We eat breakfast to lively chatter as we drink tea with far too much sugar in.
Today we are going to the çarsi (market). Ide, Dursun and myself, complete with headscarf, long sleeves and floor length skirt, leave the house to join a waiting Haci Amca in the car. He drives us there and drops us off… only nearly crashing once….did I mention he has cataracts?
At the çarsi, we are just a couple of feet in when we stop at a fabric shop, the owner a friend of Salims. Dursun spends half an hour choosing fabric to be made into skirts for daughters and daughter in laws. This done, I am looking forward to nosing around and doing a bit of shopping of my own. I really need some house shoes as my foot is a long way off from being fixed and walking in bare feet is preventing it from healing. But no. Instead we are off to the Cave of Abraham and will continue shopping after apparently.
Before we enter this holy place, Dursun and Ide decide they both need a wee. I wait outside holding Dursuns bag and Ides coat…yes that’s right, I said coat. Spying some unusual graffiti, I take some photos with my phone as I wait.
At the Cave of Abraham, we take off our shoes and place them in little cubby holes just inside the door, throw loose change in the donation plate and crouch down to enter through the arch to the dimly lit cavity. It is completely full. There are women everywhere. Some in small groups, some on their own and some with children playing around their legs as they pray. I follow Ide and Dursun past the wall of water that sits behind glass to the far end of the room, stepping through a sea of headscarves as we go. Finding a corner, I stand in it, head nearly touching the ceiling and watch as Ide and Dursun find spaces to perform Namas. At my feet is a young girl, head bowed and reading her Quran. Quite how she does in this light I’m not sure, but she is totally absorbed. I watch Ide and Dursun stand; their hands at waist level facing up before kneeling down and touching their heads to the carpet. They repeat this a few times and eventually end up on their knees, hands again facing upward as their bodies rock slightly. When they are done, they each take one of the Tespis (prayer beads) that hang on the wall and count the beads as they pray. Ide turns; there are tears in her eyes. On the way out, we stop at the glass wall. Ide and Dursun peer through it. There is a woman standing with her head and hands pressed against it, she is praying and crying, another woman joins her and does the same. I can’t help but think ‘wailing wall’. Before we leave, both Ide and Dursun start touching the roof of the cave and proceed to rub their hands over their heads and faces. Ide goes for a second rub of the rock and this time she rubs her hands over my head. I have just been blessed.
With backs to the entrance, they both gesture for me to do the same and all three of us reverse out of the cave bums first.
“Yay, shopping” I think, but no. They now want to go to the mosque to perform Namas even though they have just done Namas in the cave. Hmmmmmmmm.
It’s the time of day for women’s prayers apparently.
We cross the sun drenched courtyard to the mosque, take our shoes off at the door and put them into small numbered cupboards then proceed across the red carpet to find a space among the lines of women already praying. I find a space at the back and sit slumped against the wall holding Ide’s coat and Dursun’s bag.
They find spaces, Dursun in the front row, Ide in the middle.
Next to me on my right are two very small, very wrinkled brown women wearing the purple headscarves that denote Arab descent. The one closest to me has hands covered in tattooed symbols and I can see she also has them on her chin. Along the corridor of women come three more very brown and wrinkled heads also wearing purple headscarves. Where do they sit? On my left of course. Without being rude, these women look like the typical depiction of crones. I sit in between them as they pray, their words coming fast and in whispers as they hold their tattooed hands in the air. If this were a movie, a cauldron would complete the scene.
The women in lines are at various stages of prayer. Some standing, some on their knees heads bowed to the floor.
Mentally, this is further East than I ever wanted to come.
As I am thinking this, the Imam is calling to prayer. A “Salem Alekum” rings out through the air on beautiful clear notes and I feel tears spring into my eyes. What the hell?
I sit contemplating this until Dursun and Ide have completed their Namas and we leave the mosque and the scary wrinkled women behind.
“Yay, shopping” I think, but no. There is an urgent need for çay. We sit by the lake sipping hot sweet tea as Ide & Dursun put the world to rights and I listen to the tranquil splash of the water fountain.
Finishing our tea, we pay the few lira and stand to leave. “Yay, shopping” I think but no. Dursun tells me Haci Amca is waiting for us so we have to go.
We walk back toward our drop off point which just happens to be by the family curtain shop. Of course we stop there. This is where the family girls all used to work the first time I came to Urfa. A row of three sewing machines, the obligatory curtain pole with a swag here and a tail there, bundles of material strewn across a table, a grubby sofa and sister Zara, the one with no chin, who greets us with kisses. I am not being rude when I say she has no chin. She really doesn’t. When she was a kid she had a bad fall and smashed her face, breaking her jaw at the front. It never got fixed.
Dursun tells me to sit. This bothers me. If Haci Amca is waiting then why would I sit? I do already know the answer; I just don’t want to admit it to myself. Instead I paste a polite smile on my face.
Pulling fabric from her bag, Dursun shows Zara the material she has bought and asks her which Terzi (Tailor) she would recommend to make the skirts. A phone call later and there stands a short chubby man, displaying yellow horse teeth as he grins at Dursun giving her quotes which she refuses and he leaves. Next comes a younger shalvar, sandal wearing man with big hair who reminds me of Starsky without the cardigan. He takes one of her pieces of fabric away with him. We wait.
Returning some ten minutes later, he hands Dursun a skirt made of the black and white chiffon at the top of which is a four inch piece of black elastic. She goes to the back of the shop, lifts her skirts and pulls the new one on over the top of her flannel pyjama bottoms. It only reaches her shins.
The offending garment is given back to Starsky with a “you don’t know what you’re doing” look and he leaves. Dursun then picks up the bag of remaining material and leaves the shop with Zara saying “ten minutes” to me as she goes.
The words “kill me now” run through my head.
Give her her due; she is back in ten minutes. Five minutes after that Starsky reappears and hands her the skirt. Again she goes to the back of the shop, lifts her skirts and wiggles into the new one. It now reaches her ankles but there is a big ruffle around her midriff where he has added an extra foot of material and she looks six months pregnant. Once again she hands it back to him.
This whole episode continues for two hours before we leave the shop and head home. Somehow I have kept the polite smile from sliding off my face.
Back at the apartment block, we climb 95 stairs in 50+ degrees.
Inside the apartment Ayşe sits at my laptop with Kerem playing games. I touch my hand to it. It is burning hot.
The smile finally retreats. I am going to kill Murat.