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Urfa backstreets

Urfa backstreets

Since being in Urfa, my foot has been acting up. An injury last year means I have to wear specially made insoles to correct my walk while the webbing that covers my Achilles, reattaches itself and heals. This it just won’t do if I don’t wear them. Much to Murat’s dismay I have taken to wearing my Birkenstocks in the house as these were adapted when I was in the UK. However, now I am in Urfa, I really need to find some ‘house shoes’ that will take the insoles and keep them in place as the three days of walking around barefoot means I’m limping. I had intended to look for some sandals on the non-shopping trip on our first day, but you have read how that turned out. After visiting Fatma yesterday, Tuba, Kerem and I headed to the Çarşi for this very purpose. There was not a lot of choice to be honest and after an hour of slogging around, I ended up with little old lady sandals; all Clarks looking in cream with a nasty flower on the front. At 15tl, there were a bargain and will last me a week, after which, one of the regular Turkish dumpster divers in Didim can have them.

Another little problem I have encountered due to my foot is the Turkish toilet. The legendary ‘squat drop’ us Brits are unaccustomed to. I have over the years, worked out my own technique for using these but, with my ankle being in the state it is, I can’t quite manage the heels to the floor and find myself wishing I had circus folk skills. To add insult to injury there is no little bin, no hose and no lock on the door and there is just one toilet between the masses. I can’t Billy Smarts my way out of this one.

On the morning of day three, my flushed face, cramping stomach and “oh my god what am I going to do” thoughts are interrupted with a memory flash. Havva & Mehmet used to live in the apartment across the hall. In fact, they still own it and with great relief I realise that Havva must have the keys. When she hands them over, I grip them to my breast like a long lost lover and whisper sweet nothings in their ear.  I am extremely grateful for the solution and after my little visit, I make the mistake of handing the keys back to her and she puts them in her bag.

That night, after a dinner of spicy lahmacan, we are all sitting around on the balcony when Selim, who has been street watching, alerts us to guests approaching.  Those of us that have loosened our headscarves or, me in particular that is dressed in pyjamas, quickly go and tidy ourselves up in preparation. A man and woman arrive. I have no idea who they are. They sit on one side of the balcony opposite Miesa and in no time at all the conversation is very lively and very loud. It is in Kurdish mainly but I can follow some of it and gather it is all to do with Miesa’s relationship. It seems things have not been good and this explains why she is here and, why I could use her to pick a lock; she is so emaciated.  I have no interest in the ins and outs of her marriage and so I leave them to it, go through to the kitchen and fight Kerem for the burning laptop. This I put away in its case and take through to the spare room where my suitcase lives.

Hearing ‘people about to leave’ noises, I venture into the hall and find the man and woman saying their goodbyes. Standing next to them, I note with some horror, is Havva, wearing her coat and cradling baby Zeynep in a winter blanket? It turns out that the visitors are Havva’s parents and now, she is going home with them. My stomach lurches. There goes my salvation; jangling away in her bag.

I have made a novice mistake. I know the way Kurdish life is. I know people come and go from one night to the next. I know they house hop. One minute I’m sleeping next to a sister, the next an aunt, it’s just the way it is and I should know better. Now, I’m in a predicament, not wanting to ask for the keys in-front of this hallway audience. There is little I can do about it.

My plans for tomorrow are a day of shopping with Tuba and I am looking forward to a relaxing mooch. On previous visits, Tuba has been a dream of a companion, syrupy sweet and lovely. I had no idea she had turned into such a little madam.

The following morning, again I am up before everyone else and go about my business. The house stirs, we breakfast and I sit around impatiently waiting for Tuba. When I ask her what time we are going she say’s

“It’s too hot now; wait till it cools down a bit”

Laptop fiend Kerem & Cute & Fizzy Ozgur

Laptop fiend Kerem & Cute & Fizzy Ozgur

Fair enough, I think. The hours tick away as I read. Fatma arrives with two of her daughters; the green eyed teenager Gulpen & the cute and fizzy youngster Ozgur. Ozgur wraps herself around me like a scarf and plasters kisses all over my face singing “Kym abla, seni seviyorum.” I tell her I love her too.

Eventually we leave. Squeezed into the car are; me, Tuba, Ayse, Fatma, Kerem, Yaren, Gulpen & Ozgur with Selim driving.  We only nearly have one crash and Selim is a many years away from cataracts.

We are dropped off on a side street and as we pile out of the car, Havva is walking toward us. “Oh that’s a coincidence” I think, but I should know by now, there are no such things as coincidences here. It is when we start walking in the opposite direction of the Çarşi that I gather we are not going shopping.

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Small Iron doors

Two minutes later we are walking through an open door and pulling aside a curtain. I am intrigued. Having wandered in Urfa along these narrow Dickensian back streets before and seen the small iron doors, I have often wondered what lies behind. Now, as I stand under an arch in a half open courtyard, I see.

There stands a short chunky woman with a curious grin. She is holding a beautiful toddler in her arms who takes fright at all these faces and starts to cry. I have no idea who this woman is.

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We follow her through the courtyard toward a wall of stairs lined with pot plants, kicking our shoes off at a door to the right of them. Well, everyone else kicks off their sandals but I have to sit on the stairs to loosen the laces of my trainers, worn to contain the insoles.  The door leads into a lounge with an incredibly high ceiling. There are sofas. We all sit.

I am trying to fathom out the ceiling situation and realise there were originally two floors. If I were an Estate agent, I would say things like “light and airy. Period features. Generous windows” etc… Oh, hang on a minute, I am!

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The kids play in the half open courtyard

The woman goes around the room kissing cheeks, including mine. The chat is in full flow when the door opens and in walks Esra, another of Haci Amca’s daughters. I am now up to speed. We are in Esra’s mother in laws house and the baby is Somiye, Esra’s daughter.

Esra has left the door open. Across the courtyard, there is a door ajar and inside I can see an English Toilet. I am so excited by this and really can’t believe my good fortune. In my head I am calculating the best time to make my move. Certainly not now, while people are in and out but perhaps after lunch? After everyone has washed their hands and are busy drinking their 32 cups of afternoon tea? Yes, that will be the best time and with that decision made, I sit smiling.

Chatter chatter chatter from the girls and a brief explanation of who I belong too

“Murat’s wife. You know, Murat, son of Nedim, Haci Amca’s brother”

“Ah” the woman says.

I join in the chat occasionally but as always there is more than one subject between more than two people and I zone out for a while and slouch in my chair, leg folded under me. This is the only place I know where you can go into a stranger’s house and put your feet up on the furniture. It’s not considered rude at all.

From the opposite sofa Fatma calls me.

“Kym, buraya gel” she says, come on over. She pats the space beside her and lets her arm flow along the cushions gesturing for me to lie down and saying she will give me foot massage. My English head says “Oh no I couldn’t possibly” but my Turkish one is far less refined. What the hell; when in Rome eh?

I lay there under the breeze from the rotating fan as Fatma gently massages my aching ankle and I tell her how much I love her. It’s blissful.

She only stops when lunch is ready. The floor has been laid with a yellow plastic table cloth and on it lay bunches of mint & roka, fresh quartered lemons, sticks of radish, dishes of salt and stacks of fresh hot lahmacan straight from the baker’s oven.   Tearing one in half, I open it out, place a handful of mixed greens along the middle, over the top of the spicy tomato and beef filling, drizzle lemon and a sprinkling of salt over it all before rolling it up like a cigar. It’s delicious but, I can only ever manage two maximum; that’s my limit.

When everyone has had their fill and the cloth is being wiped over, I casually ask Esra where the toilet is, sounding as if I have no idea. As it turns out, I don’t.  She shows me out of the door and points left at a door in the corner down by the entrance. With some confusion, I glance across the courtyard at the English toilet. Esra follows my eyes.

“Oh, that’s not plumbed in” she says

With my dreams cruelly crushed, I slip my feet into someone’s sandals and limp along the courtyard, open the door and am faced with yet another squat drop, no bin, no paper, and no hose. Hmmmmmmmm

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Esra, Somiye and Yuksel wave us goodbye

An hour so later, around 5ish, they wave us off from the doorstep and we go our separate ways. Tuba, Gulpen and I are finally off to the çarşi.

After just one shop lined street, I realise that the only shops we will be going into are the ones Tuba wants. Each time I point out a shop, she say’s

“Oh that one’s too expensive. There is a better one we can go to”

I also note she has her eye on every shop window as we pass, looking not at the merchandise but at her reflection.  Hmmmmmmmm

At the covered market, we venture in to the aisle that sells scarves. Scarves are on my list. I intend on buying some for presents. At almost the first stall, I spy a row of pastel colours hanging down and I like the look of them. I reach up to finger a fringe as the stall holder says “buyrun.” I am just about to speak when Tuba says “guzel degil” offending the stall holder and pissing me off. I let it go and walk behind her glancing at other stalls but none have the pastels that caught my eye. She is about to walk around the corner to the next aisle when I tell her I am going back and turn on my heel. She has no choice but to follow, slowly, like a sulky teenager dragging her heels, which, I suppose, is exactly what she is.

Streets of Urfa

Streets of Urfa

There follows the usual scenario. The stall holder turns to Tuba & Gulpen and asks about the “Yabanci” (stranger/foreigner). Tuba says I am their “misafir” (guest). Bored with this I speak up from under my headscarf and tell him that yes, I may be a foreigner but my husband isn’t. My husband, I say, comes from Urfa and as it’s my husband’s money that I am spending then I expect to pay the same as he would. Thankfully, he understands Turkish as I could not have said all that in Kurdish!

The stall holder stands with his mouth open and Tuba and Gulpen are laughing their heads off. I barter and buy and get him to chuck in a scarf that Tuba has been admiring also. Though why I’m buying the little moo a present I don’t know.

We wander through the market but there is nothing I want to buy. I am always perplexed as to why the clothes stalls sell everything in Nylon. Just looking at it makes me break out in a sweat.

We are now heading toward Baliklgol.  Remembering a shop that sells metal souvenirs, I turn to walk up the stairs in that direction.

Urfa center

Urfa center

“Where are you going” Tuba says “We are going to the cay bachesi.” I tell her to go and I will join her later but she knows she can’t. This teenager can’t leave me alone to wander in case she loses me and, fearing the wrath of the family, her and her sulky face follow me.

I buy a few more gifts before we head to the çay bachesi. I know why she wants to go there. Tuba likes to be seen and where better than the tourist centre of Sanliufa?

She is dressed every inch the modern Muslim in skinny jeans, jewelled sandals, a trendy shirt and a beautiful turquoise scarf wrapped around her head and neck accentuating her good looks. Good looks that are currently plastered in too much make up, even though it stays put and does not run down her face, like it would if it were on me.

I too want to go to the cay bachesi but my reasons are quite different. I have had two lots of spicy lahmacan in less than 24 hours and I know there are very clean public toilets there.

When I return from the toilets and am walking toward the table, I see that there are two boys on the table next to ours and one of them is taking photos of his friend across the table, but, to me it looks like he is holding the camera to the side and actually taking photos of the girls. I look at the girls, they are giggling.  “Oh shit” I think.

Speeding up I stand in the middle of the two tables and with my voice raised ask who the hell he is taking photos of. Both the boys and girls lower their heads and Tuba tells me they don’t know what I’m talking about. I don’t believe her but for now, the situation is diffused and my dilemma is do I say anything about it? Here in Urfa, that flirty behaviour is just not done. What are my responsibilities in this situation and, have I actually just done enough by kicking them into touch? I drink tea and ponder.

After mulling all this over, I decide not to mention anything until I get back home and there, I will tell Murat and leave it down to him what he does with the information, after which, I am going to kill him.

It’s getting quite late as we walk toward the bus stop. I suggest taking a cab but Tuba dismisses the idea.  I know why; ıt’s all so that she can be seen.  We sit at the bus stop but then she announces that there are no busses that take actual money, so we best walk. We start walking but I warn her I am getting the next cab see. The problem I have now is that I don’t know the address and this little madam is being extremely tiresome. She keeps walking off in dismissal of my request and I have no choice but to follow the sway of her flirty hips as she parades along inviting male glances. She is young, I get it. She is out with a yabanci, I get that too but what she doesn’t get is, if I decided to blow the whistle on her, she would be in an awful lot of trouble. Perhaps she thinks I don’t understand their ways or perhaps she thinks as a Yabanci, I don’t care. She is wrong on both counts.  It’s dark now and there are no cabs in sight and we have also ran out of busy streets. Now there is no-one to show off to, she has the cheek to say she is tired. I turn on her then and tell her she had the opportunity to get a cab and now she better speed up as we are very late as I bolt ahead in trainers, even though my ankle is thumping.  Her phone rings. I hear her say we are very near but we are still walking ten minutes later. Her phone rings again and she is saying there have been no buses.

As we are finally approaching the apartment block, sulky madam Tuba is replaced by the syrupy sweet one as she hooks her arm through mine and in a sweet voices asks me to lie and say the reason we are so late is that I took too long shopping. I also smile and in a sweet voice say “olmaz,” not possible and explain that as a guest I don’t want to be disrespectful. She tells me it’s not. My ankle hurts, my clothes are sticking to me and I’m not in the mood for teenage games so I tell her that I will be telling Haci Amca the truth and it is all down to her vanity. She looks absolutely horrified. I have no intention of grassing her up but she is currently getting a little portion of just deserts. As we mount the first of ninety five stairs, I tell her that if she gives me a nice long foot massage, I won’t say a thing. She eagerly agrees.

This is a long way from the relaxing sightseeing trip my husband promised me. I am going to kill him when I get home but, in the meantime, I do wonder if things can get any worse……….

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