You may or may not know that it’s Ramazan here in Turkey; a month long fast between sunrise and sunset. There are just six days left to go and my village folk are showing the strain. Cheekbones are pronounced, belts are given an extra hole and sunken eyes gaze longingly at a table cloth laden with food as they wait for the Imam’s voice to float through the air and break the fast.
My latest sister in law ‘Ozlem’ is newly pregnant but still, she fasts. I have admonished her and asked her why she is, when she has every reason not to. ‘At least drink water’ I say, but she just shrugs her shoulders and looks at me through those sunken eyes; the shadows underneath turning dark grey.
How they are not falling over is beyond me. Under a black and red chiffon scarf, sister in law Sebiha is wearing a multi-coloured chiffon skirt on top of her pyjama bottoms. Her green T-shirt is made of that clingy nylon mix and over it she wears a blue and white stripped cardigan. There’s not a whisper of cotton about her as she wanders around preparing food, one hand pressed against her face to comfort a tooth infection. In the same position as her, I would, without a doubt, keel over. Even in my very thin cotton dress (to my ankles) and modest sleeved cotton shirt, my attire is getting damper by the second.
I often find excuses not to eat at the village during Ramazan as I hate to see them suffer so much. The family wander around like zombies and take on the look of the seriously ill. It’s upsetting.
I am not a religious person but I am a respectful one and so, I don’t push my opinions on them, nor verbally spout my European education at them but, even if I did, I know it would fall on deaf ears; ears attuned only to the word of the Koran.
There is only one area where I will make a stand and that is with the babies. Last night, my chubby little Melisa was wearing a long sleeved dress over a legless baby grow and when I picked her up, her clothes were damp and she was grizzling. Is it any wonder? Stripping the dress off, I laid her down and blew on her face, in between biting her of course. Normally, Dursun would be casting worried looks in our direction about now and normally she would be telling Sebiha to get Melisa some clean clothes to put on but, last night, Dursun just sat silently pounding cig kofte with a vacant look on her face.
We sit on the balcony and wait for Ezan. Mu is next to me, slumped against a bolster cushion. Ozlem’s slight frame is draped over a pillow, her head resting on her hand, Hussein, her husband, next to her poised and ready to eat. Mustafa wanders out, rubbing his eyes still half closed from his nap as Ayfer & Sebiha arrange the rest of the food on the table cloth.
Finally, the call to prayer rings out. Hands reach first toward water glasses and I watch the throats move up and down as they swallow greedily. I imagine minds shouting ‘halleluiah’ as raging thirsts are quenched. I feel only relief and offer up a silent thank you to their god, for getting them through another day without me having to take anyone to hospital.
During dinner, Sebiha asks me if I am going to the Saturday Market. I wasn’t planning on it as I’m not really a fan but, I don’t mind taking her and so I arrange to pick her up at 2:30pm. I’m under no illusion that it will be just her. Şeker Bayram is just a week away and there are new outfits to buy.
Sure enough, when I arrive at the village, there are more people waiting than car seats available. We manage to squeeze in Dursun, Ayfer, Sebiha, Ozlem, Kuçuk Murat, Helin, baby Melisa, two shopping trolleys and a buggy, but no partridge in a pear tree. I drive out of the village to the sound of Barry Manilow singing “looks like we made it” – How appropriate, I think.
The market is heaving. I groan but really can’t complain. I have eaten, I’ve got a bottle of water and even though I am more covered than a British woman should be in 100 degrees, I am at least wearing cotton and still have legs out from knees and arms out from elbows. Our little group weaves it way in and out of the stalls, stopping to look at dresses for little girls and shorts for little boys. As usual, the stall holders have upped the prices as they know everyone is out looking for new clothes for Bayram. At each stall we come across, that sells pretty little dresses, I watch Ayfer hold them up, checking the size for Helin as she asks the price. Some say ‘45tl,’ others ‘50tl’ and at this, Ayfer puts the dresses down and we move on. Clever old me, without thinking, has come to market with just 20tl in her purse! Had I not, I would have bought Helin a dress for Bayram myself. I do however save the day by finding her a cute little suit at just 15tl. Go me!
Ozlem turns to me and offers me a bit of a simit and I break out in a grin as she tells me she is not fasting today…..one less person to worry about. Little Murat and Helin are getting pushed about all over the place and I find myself constantly untangling them from some passers by şalvar or searching for them in the crowd as they slip out of hands and wander, as kids do. Calling to Ayfer, I tell her that I am taking them to the café and will wait there.
Of course, when we get there, it is also heaving and there are no empty tables. In my best Mary Poppins voice I tell the kids to ‘follow me’ or Turkish words to that effect, and make my way over to my father in law Nedim’s stall. ‘Oh bloody hell’ I think as I get there and see Crazy Uncle, Faik Dair and Bedir Amca sitting there with Nedim. The ‘bloody hell’ is for Bedir and Faik, both traditional uncles who I would not normally parade my knees in front of. They all greet me and I see Bedir look me up and down. There is no disapproval there, but it makes me uncomfortable just the same. To cover my embarrassment, I launch straight into a moan about the lack of tables in the café and no sooner have I said it than Bedir Amca gets up and says ‘gel’ and Crazy Uncle grabs my arm, propelling me back the way I came. At the café he barks at one of the waiters and a few old men are shuffled about to clear a table for us. Crazy uncle never fasts, this I know and neither, it seems does Faik I realise as the two of them sit drinking çay while puffing away on cigarettes. I don’t smoke in front of Bedir and so I sit there sipping çay and to pass the time I show him the photos from Urfa; photos of his daughter Myda in Akziyaret. Faik has wandered off and when he returns he has Melisa in his arms. She is handed over to me and I immediately open my mouth to bite her face. She knows this move and opens her mouth in parody of me and as I bite her cheek, she gums mine and pulls my ear. I love this little girl too much. She is my new Helin.
Sebiha and Ozlem have finished shopping but my Mother in law must be made by Duracell; she tells me just to take the girls home and she will get the dolmus later.
I really feel for the women during this period of fasting, especially as it has fallen in August this year; August, the hottest month here. They stay covered and carry on with the cleaning and cooking in this heat, without so much as a drop of water passing their lips. I don’t know how they do it; they really are running on empty. Village visits are bearable for me as I know the minute I get home I can strip off and sit under the air con if I want to, or, jump in the pool. I know I can eat what I want, drown myself in life giving water or, If I need to go out, I can do so in shorts and a vest. I also know that in the village there is no air con, no fan and no chance of the girls stripping off and wandering around in their undies, not even at bedtime.
Roll on Şeker Bayram when everyone can eat lots of sweets and hopefully put some of those pounds back on. As far as I’m concerned, it can’t come fast enough.