November 8-24, 2014 / Near Antalya, Turkey
I Am A Guest
In planning our stay in Antalya, we were pleased to find a farm via the TaTuTa website where we could WWOOF ("Willing Workers on Organic Farms") in exchange for room and board. Even better, our hosts were from France and have two kids! Formidable!
Charlotte and Guillaume have farmed here for nearly ten years, and both also work part-time teaching French at a local university. The food they produce is all for their own consumption, and we were delighted to help them harvest and eat oranges, pomegranates, mandarins and lots of fresh vegetables from their garden.
I Am A Labourer
Our WOOFING work during our two week stay has included:
- weeding rows of lettuce, leeks, celery and other green vegetables;
- digging trenches to irrigate the beans that we planted later in the week;
- pushing 20-or-so wheelbarrows of rocks to reinforce the bottom of a chain link fence around the chicken coop;
- making pomegranate syrup in a cauldron over a eucalyptus-wood fire;
- feeding the rabbits, turkeys, geese, guinea fowl, chickens and ducks that live just beyond the gate;
- picking up their kids at school;
- cooking many of the evening meals on the days that both of our hosts worked late;
- harvesting the last of the beans and tomatoes to prepare for the next planting;
- building a fence to keep the birds from eating the new grass seed that Guillaume planted in the garden;
- doing some post-production on a Turkish language version of a video on infant feeding -- Charlotte volunteers with the local La Leche League.
After three months of travelling, the chance to do some physical work has been oddly refreshing. Now, I am not just Odysseus, doomed to wander in exile. No! I am Hercules heroically completing his labours by the strength of his will and might, watering the soil with my manly sweat!
I Am A Reader
In the evenings, I am working my way through Turkish Nobel laureate, Orhan Pamuk's My Name is Red, a murder mystery set in the 16th Century Ottoman Empire. Each chapter is told from the perspective of different characters or creatures -- living and dead -- and even objects, and it is never clear until the last chapter who the murder is. Many of the human characters serve as illustrators and calligraphers in the workshop of the Sultan, and their accounts are full of esoteric discourses on the relative aesthetic and moral merits of of Islamic vs. Frankish /Infidel art.
The book is hard slogging at times -- Pamuk breaks every rule of plain language and delights in constructing elaborate discourses and tangential accounts of historical events that can run for pages, even as the as-yet--unnamed culprit is holding a knife to the hero's throat. But having invested 400 pages of my life into this book, and still not knowing who'd-done-it, I had to finish it. (Spoiler alert: It wasn't the butler).
I Am A Stone
For millions of years, I have been minding my own business, such that I have, bearing the slow erosion of time that rounds my edges and polishes my surface to a smooth patina. Each grain from my body became soil and my gifts of calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and magnesium feed countless, thankless plants around me. The lithospheric cycle that began so many million years ago in a flurry of heat and pressure finally catalyzes a burst of photosynthesis, nourishes the breakfast of some lucky mammal, and returns again to the earth in a steaming pile. Some of my relatives may have been chosen by a so-called "ancient" Greek sculptor who chipped away at their edges to reveal the god within, but I, humble farmyard stone that I am, have been content enough to lie here amidst the detritus and ungrateful humous of those who dwell above.
Until now: the indelicate interruption of the pick, the furious hacking of the shovel and the disorientation of flight precedes my abrupt clanking amongst my fellow rocks amidst the rusty din of the wheelbarrow. We hurl headlong down the track, helpless against the pinning force of inertia.
A further indignity follows as I am tossed through the air and I thud against the hard face of the earth, pieces and grains chipping off me as I crash into the limestone nearby. I am then crammed against my comrades along the fence line. and here I will again sit undisturbed for millennia, except for the rude-interjections of urinating dogs and desperate chickens longing for escape into some dangerous unknown world beyond the safe haven that is this farm.
Some day, in the distant future, the tourists will come in their levitating otobuses wearing their plaid, leisure space suits and say: "Mais oui! That is Hodgson's Wall. It was built to last a thousand years."
Je suis un étudiant
Staying with two French teachers, bien sur, means that one must, quoi? parle francais, non? Charlotte and Guillaume turn out to be very patient teachers and let us natter on with only the most critical and timely corrections. Zoe and Trish are lapping this up, and Isaac is starting to understand more than we had expected.
Moi? Well, I'm doing my best to uncover the buried vocabulary and grammar that lies somewhere under the bedrock of my left frontal lobe. Shards of my previous attempts to learn French are uncovered as I dig deeper looking for the right word while the conversing winds blow by me. I do my best to catch up, but get caught on an unfamiliar verb or conjugation and then completely miss the next sentence.
By the end of the day, my brain hurts and I console myself in the generous vocabulary lessons of our hosts: Bordeaux, Merlot, Cabernet-Sauvignon, Pinot Noir...... The garnet elixir loosens my leaden tongue and makes me believe that for even for just a moment, je peux parler le français.
I Am Called "Usta"
"Would you like to give a lecture at the university?" Guillaume asked me the second evening.
"Who ....me?" I asked incredulously. "Give a lecture? About what?"
"Canadian politics, of course. My French language students are very interested in this topic. And as someone from Canada, they would consider you an "Usta" (expert). You could present in French for a small group of twenty or perhaps in English for maybe fifty or so. I'll talk to the students and set it up."
Gulp. Another sip of courage. "Sure....," I say. This certainly wasn't something that I had expected to do while WWOOFIng, mais pourquoi pas?
In the end, the students are busy preparing for exams this week, so they instead offer to interview me in English and post their video on their international-affairs website. The camera rolls as I give forth my considered opinions on Arctic sovereignty, the state of political discourse in Canada, immigration, my fellow citizens' probable amusement at ever being considered a potential super-power -- how, unCanadian! -- and the petro-fixation of our own Dear Sultan, He Who Shall Not Be Ashamed.
But I dodge the final question on press freedom, lest I extend my stay in Turkey inadvertently. Instead, I share how Canadians also face challenges in ensuring freedom of expression, access to information and democratic engagement: the gagging of federally-funded scientists and civil servants; the surveillance of private communication; the refusal to answer questions in the House of Commons, in press conferences, or to respond to access to information requests; the utter contempt displayed for refugees; the termination of the long-form Census that renders all subsequent data and surveys suspect; the auditing of civil society groups that might dare to criticize the oil-at-all-costs platform; and the utter denial of the existential threat of climate change.....But of course, I am free to voice my opinion freely, albeit it as a part-time dissident in a foreign land. Happy am I who can call myself Canadian.
I am a Corpse
Until now, I am still uncertain as to what happened. One minute I was contentedly scratching the ground, picking up a morsel or two of bugs and seeds, and enjoying the souvenirs of fine, French meals that land periodically in the middle of the yard. The next, I am floating somewhere above my feathered body, gazing back upon my recently-off-shuffled, mortal coil as I enter into the limbo of Bazarkh to contemplate my sins before the Day of Judgement.
Was it the cruel fangs of that foul hound of hell that dispatched me? Or some stealthy malady acquired from the drinking of rainwater next to the pen? Or perhaps it was a jinn brought to the household by those Infidels who arrived last week? Those Frankish fools who couldn't even speak a word of proper Turkish and who mocked our noble dialect with their high-pitched gobble, gobble, gobble. I will never know the identity of the culprit who did me in, but forever in Paradise I will speak of how happy I was to be one who could call myself a turkey.
I am a Traveller
I have always been uncomfortable with the title, "tourist". For me, it evokes an image of a middle-aged man with a loud shirt and a camera around his neck complaining about how the food / service / transport / scenery / whatever is not as good as it is "back home". I prefer the term, "traveller" because after all, my shirt is a boring grey.
At the same time, we can't help but enjoy some of the local touristic sites near Antalya, and we make the most of our time by visiting the local museum with its splendiferous sculptures of Ancient Greek gods and goddesses; ascending one of the rock faces of the local sports climbing area; and partaking in that most-ancient-yet-now-primarily-touristic-of-Turkish-experiences, a bath in a six-hundred-year-old Ottoman hamman. Towards the end of our stay, we also made a pilgrimage to Aphrodisias, another ancient Greek-Roman city high in the mountains, and splashed about the geological curiosity of Pamukkale (Cotton Castle), a series of cascading, calcite rock formations and hot springs. All wondrous things that are well worth the trip.
I Am a Pomegranate
Frap frap frap frap frap.....the wooden spoon hits one half of me and I spew out my seeds into the bowl, staining the table with the deep red-purple of my life blood.
The colour is reminiscent of sunsets in distant lands, the robes of royalty, the glint of Merlot in the sommelier's glass, the deep tone of garnet set in the stones of the rings made for the concubines in the harems of the Sultan, and the blood of the martyrs spilled upon the battlefields of Persia, Babylon, Gallipoli, and throughout so much of Anatolia.
The Infidel children submit me to further humiliation as they tromp, tromp, tromp and squish my last drops between their toes and gleeful giggling.
The next moment, I feel my essence being poured into the scalding cauldron, the smell of eucalyptus smoke augmenting my potency as I release my tearful prayers to the heavens. In my reduction, I grow stronger, thicker, sweeter.
Soon I shall grace the salads of the Sultans, or perhaps provide succour/ sucre to the indomitable Gauls residing in Antalya and the next weary travellers who labour heroically chez eux.