And so, its time to go (again)

Once again we have to leave. M would have liked to stay longer but the boys have to be back and school and I have to go back to work. So, like the storks, we are migrating back. While they are off back south, we head north to a cooler climate. We managed to see the storks this year as they set off on their migration, it’s an amazing sight and for a massive bird they are very graceful in flight.

This year has perhaps been the most relaxed I have had here for quite a while. That may be due to having three weeks to myself while the boys travelled around Turkey. But what is quite surprising is that this year I actually have a list of things I will miss, in no particular order:

Scents of jasmine and fig trees. Nothing quite beats the wafting scent of a fig tree as the fruit are ripening. While in Gozne we kept catching it on the breeze but could not see a tree nearby. In Troy standing under the fig tree means you are surrounded by this glorious smell. As for jasmine, that is a beautiful night time scent that follows you on evening walks. There is something about scents that are released at night that make them magical.

The swimming pool. I say this but I also know that they empty it as soon as the kids are back in school here, around mid September. It’s a shame because Brits would probably like to carry on using it till November. Lai had wished we could get a magical crane and take it back home but he didn’t quite understand that perhaps he wouldn’t like to swim when it wasn’t heated by the sun. I think the reason this is the first time I will miss this is because, despite the 17 rules (they have a new board so they are much clearer) it feels more relaxed and pool guy is not constantly on his whistle. He even ignored me wearing my sunglasses in the pool because I can’t stand the glare from the sunlight on the water if we go down in the morning.

Night swims. These are always a favourite. They aren’t quite as peaceful as they used to be as more people are taking their kids along. They have also changed the pool lights to blue this year and that gives it a different feel. Nothing quite like floating on your back, breathing in jasmine and watching the bats fly overhead or the stars appear.

Being totally cut off from work. This has probably made me more relaxed. Last year I was working so it was hard to switch off even when my annual leave started. this year I was totally uncontactable. Given that the past few years have been very stressful work wise and I haven’t been able to disconnect, which was really what I needed.

The sea. This year as we drove to Bogsak, the further away from the city we got the brighter the sea appeared to be. It felt as though it was a turquoise that was almost crystal-like. Seeing that can’t help but make you feel more relaxed.

Of course there are several things that I won’t miss, so let’s have a few awards again:

Most unidentifiable thing: a mysterious smell of wee. That’s right, a very strong pong of urine wafting through my window each day. At first I thought it might be the balcony drain but after putting bleach down, and the fact that it wafted in from the opposite direction made me realise that was not the origin. Sadly I have not been able to find the source and no one else seems to be able to smell it. And it is definitely not coming from me!

Things I will miss least (apart from the obvious) = This:

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Turkish electrics. I simply cannot understand why they have such a crappy system. They are forever falling out of the wall and regularly spark when you remove the plug. If France and Germany, and frankly most of Europe, use the two pin plug system why is it that Turkey has such a crappy socket system? looking forward to sockets that stay in the wall.

Most persistent irritation: (Obviously) Bloody turkish drivers. I know I say this each year but I just can’t believe half the things I see. Mad lorry drivers trying to chase me off the road (his lorry may have been registered to the Netherlands but that was no Dutch driver behind the steering wheel); parents who put a child in a car seat but neither strap the child in or fix the seat into the car; racing up mountain roads without a care for themselves or anyone else; and best of all the moped families where dad wears a helmet but wife and kids?

Strangest feeling while here: that even skin is too much to have on. I know it hasn’t been the hottest year here but it has been pretty close. The real killer is the humidity though. This is the first year I have felt that removing some skin would have a cooling effect. Obviously there would be other dramatic consequences but even so, it’s not a country you can wander around starkers (even in your own home–some people have a tendency to leave the front door wide open).

The ‘vaguely frustrating award’ goes to:

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This book. I bought it while at Hayfest because they had run out of Elif Safak, who I had gone to see. It sounded like a Turkish version of Thelma and Louise. Normally I get through a couple of books in the short time I am here but this took me ages. The ending is really good but working up to it was hard work. I nearly gave up 300 pages in. First work of fiction that can send me instantly to sleep, normally non fiction is guaranteed to cure my insomnia. But then I have been drifting off for little naps quite easily here. Clearly I am becoming a biddy. Even worse, I am now reading And the mountains echoed and have a distinct feeling I have already ready it.

Happiest time: meeting another Brit in the site, even for the short time she was here with her son. My boys and he played really nicely together and he even celebrated Lai’s birthday by coming bowling with us.

Nicest meal (and cheapest): an evening out in the Syrian streets eating falafel, fette, humous and salad. Rather a lot of chickpeas but a nice break from cheese pide.

Most brilliant discovery: kolonya is the most underrated cleaning fluid. I’m using it for everything now. Even cleaning ladies over the years haven’t managed to sort out the mess on the bedroom doors created by someone sticking stickers al over them. My um would swear by her ‘sticky stuff remover’ but I have kolonya and that is way less toxic. I now also have clean doors, no tar on the car, and no permanent marker on my furniture. Get in!

Weirdest thing I discovered: Some Russian hooker retweeted my blog. I don’t really do twitter twatter, even though I have an account, so I am not sure why I looked today. But there it was, a notification that someone had retweeted my blog link and after a quick nosey I found out it was some Russian ‘lady’ wishing to give strange men a great time.

All in all I have really enjoyed my shorter stay in Turkey this year. But I am looking forward to going home (if not the flight). It will be nice to see my garden again and find out whether the bees have been busy this year. It will also be great to get the kids back into a routine and back to school. Sadly my lot do not switch to holiday mode where later nights translate into later morning waking times. Their internal body clocks are firmly set to 5am so they have maxed out and are thoroughly mardy now. Here’s hoping they sleep on the plane and on the drive home but for Smelly and Fatso even the fall asleep while in the car setting seems to have broken or they removed it. However, they have compensated for it’s loss by ramping up their ‘stir up into a frenzied hyper’ setting, which is not a great exchange in my view.

Things I am looking forward to the least: school uniform shopping. I have a day and haven’t even prepared by doing any online. Even if I had they would still need shoes and that part is most definitely something I would rather not do. Fun times.

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Everything changes 2

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Last week we drove up to the yayla in Gozne to visit M’s sister but I didn’t take my phone with me. As we drove closer to where she lives in the summer months we were shocked to see so many large construction trucks on the roads. We initially put this down to the growth of the small town and the increasing number of yaylas and villas being built. When we turned the corner we saw the real reason.

They’ve only gone a built a bloody great dam. And by the looks of things they have carved half the mountain out with it. To say it looks pug ugly is an understatement. Of course his sister is happy with this new development believing all the stuff about it being the only way to provide enough water. And while that may be true up to a point I can’t buy into it. To find out more just go and research Arundhati Roy’s essays on dam building in India. To give a very abridged summary: dams are outdated technology promoted by the world bank and those that are for hydroelectric purposes rarely produce the predicted amount of energy. Also, the promises of the water being for the public tend to be lies, as water hungry industries frequently come to build factories very close to the dam lake and reduce further the promised irrigation water for farmers.

Anyway, that aside, I wouldn’t mind so much if it also came alongside a message promoting water conservation. It’s not just dripping taps you see all over the place but constantly running taps. For a country that supposedly has little water, Turks seem to be very liberal in their use of it and lax in fixing leaks. Plus, it is just so ugly.

This year it has felt that wherever I drive there are great gouges out of the mountains in the name of progress. Either to build new roads/dams or to provide the necessary materials for all these huge projects. And yes the benefits of a wider road are ones I enjoy but that is only because it gives me more space to avoid the idiot drivers who think that playing chicken with the mountain is a great display of their masculinity.

Sadly I have little faith that following this devastating effect on the environment, the authorities will work to make sure they do some restoration. Why do I have such little faith? Because in this country they clearly are madly in love with concrete and the dubious progress it represents.

Gozne is growing, it seems impossible to stop. That is something I have known for a while as each year there are more signs showing new developments and more individual yayla projects popping up. But this monstrous dam was a real unexpected shock that has forever altered the mountain. Fortunately M’s sister’s yayla faces away from this towards the valley that eventually becomes Mersin. But turning your back on something doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

Gozne might not be as historically significant as HasanKeyf, which is soon to be flooded and lost forever, but it perhaps shows some truth in the idea that by keeping everyone’s eye on Hasankeyf there are plenty of other smaller dam projects getting built with barely a whimper. This doesn’t mean that no one protests these projects but environmentalists have little political strength here. They are not helped by the fact that for most people they just want a way out of poverty and protecting the environment is not high on their priorities. That said, there is a growing awareness and social media is certainly helping. But for now progress comes in the form of masses of concrete and huge environmental change.

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Happy Bayram? Musings

This is the first time in a long time that we have been in Turkey for Kurban Bayram (or the feast/festival of the sacrifice), which is why we are staying slightly longer than normal. This is the Bayram I really struggle with because of the whole sacrifice thing. Everyone is in this big race to find a suitable animal to slaughter, usually a sheep but for families clubbing together or those who wish to show their wealth or greater piety a cow. It’s not just because I’m a veggie that I struggle, there are quite a few reasons.

I struggle with the idea of all these animals being slaughtered on one day. Islam being so prescriptive means that this is the day the slaughter must be done. But it also instructs people to divide the meat into thirds. One for the family slaughtering, one for the wider family and one for charity. The thing is, in a large family, when everyone wants to slaughter their own animal it does mean that there is rather a lot of meat to go round. The whole charity part is great and some people now make financial donations rather than kill an animal they don’t really need to. Yet, the very nature of Islam means that people will stick rigidly to the rules even if it makes no sense to–no difference with many faiths I suppose.

The fact that it all has to be done on a certain day is another part I struggle with. In the beginning there were few believers but now it’s the biggest religion in the world. So I find it hard to put together that God, who is supposed to be all knowing and all seeing, would make such a rigid rule that would end up with so many animals being killed in one day, and particularly at a time when preserving meat was not as simple as today (no fridges or freezers). I suppose it’s not that different from what goes on in abattoirs around the world each day but this isn’t always done in abattoirs. Many people prefer to slaughter their own animal, often in their own street or garden, even though this was banned years ago by the Turkish government. And, as a friend pointed out, perhaps it’s no different to the mass slaughter of Turkeys for Christmas and Thanksgiving, which are only shared amongst family. At least there is the important element of giving a good portion of the meat to the poor.

The whole idea of animal sacrifice to God bothers me. Which is odd given that, as a Christian, I should buy into the idea of Jesus being the ultimate sacrifice being human and everything. Not sure why that is more acceptable to me but perhaps I think about it in terms of Jesus being human and so having a say in what happened, whereas animals don’t, they are completely controlled by our desires (unless they are wiley and escape). Then again my own faith is built on quite a bit of doubt and scepticism that personally I find a healthy thing. If you don’t question and accept things as written then your mind is not open.

One of the rules about this bayram is that people are not supposed to sacrifice an animal if they are in debt or doing so gets them into debt. Unfortunately for a very prescriptive religion this appears to be one of those pick and choose rules that people frequently ignore. Many people don’t acknowledge they are in debt, often they treat credit cards as magic money and fail to see that when they buy an animal or pay the butcher with a credit card they are actually creating debt for their sacrifice. But then you can’t get people to understand this, in the same way that people will insist on fasting despite being ill, on medication, or any of the other reasons that Islam specifically says people must not fast.

Again, any of these things you can see in all faiths and people will pick and choose rules to suit them or not. Either way, we stayed for the bayram as M (and I) believe that it is part of their dual culture and we have always said we want them to fully understand both and not end up being kids with just two passports.

The boys are happy, they have been given quite a bit of bayram money, something they tend not to get when they are back in the UK. While they are busy working out how to spend it we did put a rule on it this year. M and I agreed that whatever M gave they would have to give away half to charity. Unfortunately when we explained this Fatso misunderstood and thought they only had to give 10 lira out of all their money rather than half their money from M each. He has been plotting for a while how he could afford a new Ben 10 figure and so this news has caused some disappointment. As for me, while I think it is important that they learn how lucky they are and to share what they have with others who don’t, I have been driven mad by his Ben 10 obsession because it is only because we are here and they have seen cartoon network again that it has emerged. Only a few months ago we gave away a load to charity because they never played with them. But it is their decision and hopefully it means he won’t be nagging me when his birthday comes around.

We have come up to the yayla in Gozne this bayram because Emine invited us for breakfast. My contributions were a peach sponge, lemonade, and some helva. Not really breakfast things but I have to use up some stuff before we go back to the UK. This led to a rather eclectic meal last night, so it’s nice to have a meal elsewhere that won’t cost us. It does also mean that I am here with a few but not all of the extended family. M’s other kids never visit while I am here. M’s brother has stayed in Germany and his older brother is in Bodrum. So we’re here with his younger brother, who unfortunately drives me mad and the boys don’t really like either. He has this horrid Turkish habit of grabbing the kids by the cheek and fails to understand that it hurts and then compounds this by laughing at them if they protest or cry. I hate this habit but his wife is no better because she has just grabbed Lai complaining he hasn’t said hello or given her a hug: why would he? He hasn’t seen you for over 3 years so has no memory of you. But being Turkish she doesn’t care to understand this and manhandled him, trying to force him towards him until I shout for her to leave him alone. I am not talking about a gentle tug here. All too often Turks do not understand that kids do not like you being right in their face particularly if they don’t know you.

Fatso has been really fascinated by the sacrifice element of this bayram and announced several times that he wants to witness the sacrifice or even do the cutting himself! I know that many Turkish kids do see this and perhaps it’s a good thing because at least them they fully understand where meat comes from and what it entails. Too many kids in the UK, and adults, merrily eat prepackaged meat from supermarkets and then balk at the idea of animals dying. “Oh I couldn’t eat a….” That is exactly my reason to not eat meat, if I can’t kill it myself I won’t eat it. But I do fear that Fatso doesn’t really understand what he is so eager to witness. He can be an incredibly sensitive boy and gets affected deeply by things that upset him, and this could be really upsetting. I doubt he will get to witness it but this could be an obsession for a while to come. The moveable nature of bayrams means that the next few summers we will be here for kurban.

This is also the bayram where Muslims are supposed to go on Haj/Pilgrimage. (I have similar feelings about having to do all this on certain days for it to be true Haj, to those I have about everyone sacrificing an animal on the same day but hey ho. M has announced that he wants to take the boys in a few years. This, I can see, is going to cause some arguments. Aside from the fact that Smelly is becoming more adamant that he is an atheist with humanist leanings, I really cannot agree with him taking them. For me a pilgrimage is a solemn journey that you can only take when you feel you are ready and have reached a point in your faith that you feel it is time. The key thing here being YOU. For me, it would be cheating or deceitful for the kids to be to be led to believe they have completed the Haj when they had not done it of their volition or had a deep enough knowledge of the faith to understand what they were doing. Many people may disagree with this and argue that children can make significant faith decisions. In fact, my former church now accepts children for communion before confirmation. A decision I supported but not one I necessarily would agree with for my kids, mainly because I don’t particularly buy into the child baptism bit. Plus I tend to think that it’s not a true faith decision if that is the only faith they have ever been exposed to. Let’s see, who knows what will happen in a few years time.

For now though, the kids are playing happily, their cousin has been told not to use them as an opportunity to try out his crappy English on them and to speak to them in Turkish, the men are on the balcony talking about whatever while the women have only just sat down from serving and cleaning, and the cock is crowing because he is in no danger of being killed anytime soon–no matter how much the neighbours may want to turn him into soup to stop his infernal crowing at ungodly hours.

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It’s all fun and games?

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Like most families we like (sort of) to play games together. We have our favourites such as Uno, Whot!, and Sorry. Even so, it’s not always a harmonious, fun time playing games in this family.

For ages M resisted playing games until he saw that it was a good way to spend family time and that they did have value after all. People of M’s generation, closer to my mum’s than mine (yes there is a bit of a gap), especially those brought up in more religious families tend not to play games. For many they either see it as akin to gambling, particularly if it’s card games, or it is associated with ‘man place’ as my sister’s ex once called it. (He was intrigued by the Kiraathane and how only men were in them and wanted M to take him to experience this strange men only world). In manplace, a world where women never tread, even to serve, men of all ages congregate. They are usually quite forlorn places with strip lighting and formica tables where men while away the hours, drinking coffee and playing games. Mostly it is backgammon or Okey (in the UK you can find it as Rumikube a sort of tile based version of rummy). Occasionally there will also be card games going on. So for M, this whiling away the hours (often while the women were working) under the guise of doing deals, was something he viewed as a waste of time. And therefore, games were also an incredible waste of time with no value.

After quite a while I managed to persuade M that games such as chess, backgammon, and even card or board games do have value. Not only to teach people about taking turns, but also how to develop skills such as strategic thinking, planning ahead, mathematics, fairness, and even how not to be a sore loser or ungracious winner. The latter are what the boys struggle with the most, especially if they are tired, we are learning a new game, or they just darn well feel it is there turn to win. Unfortunately this means that sometimes everything goes to shit and instead of having a lovely time as a family there is quite a lot of “it’s not fair” and “I never win” or even “I’m not paying anymore”. Despite all this I persist, mainly because I think that the skills the boys can learn are important even if they are incapable of developing a poker face.

Since Elai always has his birthday when we are here we do try to get him at least one present from one of the toy shops here. The thing is that prices are ridiculously expensive over here because most of the toys are imported and the ones made in this country (sadly) tend to be pretty crap. It means that mostly I end up buying his presents from the UK, bringing them all over here and then taking them all back home again. I always try to look at the games section, while they look at the dreadful action figures that they never play with back home, are twice the price, and are suddenly the most fantastic things they have ever seen.

Up to now the games section has always been dominated by backgammon and Okey sets, plus a load of imported/Turkified games such as monopoly. One year we did attempt to buy what we thought was a Turkish game, turned out it wasn’t, but we couldn’t figure out the rules. This year though, our trip to the toy shop was more successful. The games section appears to have shrunk but the obligatory backgammon and Okey sets, along with travel sets for 5 in one games that also include ludo and chess, remain. However, right at the end of the shelf  we found two games that were new to us. Kizma Birader (Don’t get angry with me brother) looked like a Turkish version of Sorry! and was pretty cheap. Sticky 10 looked like a non Turkish game but it was also less than 5 quid so we bought both.

Don’t get angry with me brother has turned out to be quite a fun game even with sulks and tantrums. Unfortunately we had to get M to translate the slightly confusing instructions because not of the boys could, much to my disappointment. Quite why it has a dice, when it is played according to instructions on cards like Sorry! is left unexplained. Quite why there are two card holding places again goes unexplained. But after ignoring those two oversights it’s a perfectly playable game with a few differences from Sorry. There are more cards that send you backwards and further. There are only two sorry cards (jokers) and you can’t use them to start a pawn. There are more split cards but you can only split into two. There seem to be fewer opportunities to bash your opponents back to the start but still as many sulks when it happens. I have had to pull back on shouting “Boom!” when I do this because apparently this is not funny (unless they are doing it to me.

Sticky 10 was far more of a gamble. I assumed that it was not a Turkish game and in the packets that were open in the shop the only instructions were in Turkish. I assumed I would be able to go online and find the instructions but yes I was the ass. There are none. Plenty for another sticky game that I have played as part of a social club bingo night. But none for this. Thankfully I had bought the only sealed pack in the shop and when I finally opened it there were both Turkish and English instructions. Turns out that it is some kind of Uno/Whot! mashup. The boys love it and Smelly especially. So much so that we are buying a second set so that we can take one back to the UK.

Finally we have some family games that we get to keep here. We had to keep Uno here because some bright spark decided to rip the box to pieces but apart from that, and the other nightmare game, we only really have toys that the boys have grown out of. It now means that I won’t have to keep bringing our UK games over to keep them entertained and risk losing them. In three weeks without me I came to find that they lost all the Whot! cards somewhere on their travels, so that needs replacing.

The other success has been to teach the boys some basic card games with an ordinary pack of cards. So far we have played rummy, with varying degrees of success as they struggle to grasp a run and the 3, 4 split. I also showed them pontoon, which Smelly thinks is great and wants to start gambling sweets when he plays–hmmm backfired a bit there.

Hopefully, Don’t get angry with me brother (what a great name) and Sticky 10 are the first of a new wave of family games we can find here. Hopefully the boys will get better at losing and be more gracious winners. Then again, I might be asking for a bit much there. After all, what is a family games night that doesn’t end with everyone in a sulk because somebody did something that was “so unfair” or because they “never win” and the whole world is against them, or with me thinking “why can’t this ever be fun? this is supposed to be fun!”

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Everything changes, questionable progress

We have had our Mersin flat for 6 years now. When we first came our view from the back of the flat overlooked citrus groves with one lone pink building in the distance and the car dealership in front of it. Six years later the city has begun to catch up and each year we come to find fewer citrus groves and more buildings. Up to now we had been pretty lucky because the trend was to expand northwards but, as with everywhere else in this country, land means money and money comes in the form of profit made from building apartments at least 10 stories high. Give it a few more years and it is unlikely that we will see much more green and the wonderful mountain breezes we enjoy will be gone with it as the ever taller apartments block its path.

Earlier this week, on our unfortunate mountain escapade, I had promised the boys gozleme on the way up the mountain. M was unsure that we would find a place selling this on the way up to Findikpinari (I love these names: hazelnut spring) but suddenly we saw signs for a place called Atlas Garden. We started to follow and became more dubious along the drive as it took us completely out of our way. There appeared to be nothing else around apart from signs for an organic farm (that we never found) and while trying to remain upbeat for the boys I was secretly thinking they had put up signs and not yet opened or closed down quickly. How wrong I was. It turned out to be a really nice little place with it’s own bread oven and limited menu to reflect that. (It also had fantastic loos and they are always worthy of comment in this country). But best of all what they did, they did really well. Plus, and this is the main point of this tale, they were positioned almost in a valley that rose to give amazing views of the city below. What lay before us was a green valley with farmland and trees opening up to a panorama of the high rises on the horizon before the sea. On seeing this, M suddenly said “what an ugly city.”

I was a tad taken aback by this declaration. I mean ,I had always said it was as ugly as sin and the only thing differentiating the various blocks were the shapes of the balconies. But this was the first time I had ever heard M say anything so blanketly (yes I know it’s not a real word) negative about his home town. He grew up and lived most of his life here and would tell stories of little bungalow type houses, the diversity of the city, Greek friends (who eventually left), and we even wanted to buy and renovate one of the old houses at one point; sadly not to be as we just did not have the money and time to invest in such a project. But now it seems, that looking at it from this view, he sees what an abomination it looks like from afar. And it is growing. Turks, it would appear, are not going to let go of their love for apartments any time soon. And before you all start saying that it’s to do with demand and the growing population, the fact is that there are absolutely loads of them empty here. And in some cities, like Ankara, I am told by those continuing to build, that the market is flatlining; the apartments aren’t selling.

Turks though, are full of hope: Allah Korusun on every vehicle meaning God protect me, despite them not wearing seatbelt and cramming the car so full it’s fit to burst. Allah korusun, God will protect me; my flats will sell and make me rich rather than bankrupt, and so on. I hear it all the time that soon they will make money, that they won’t give up on a business that maybe running them into the ground physically because soon things will get better and they will make their fortune. And while some do get rich, others don’t. And yet, the hope doesn’t stop and nor does the building. In fact, driving to our new favourite beach yesterday we saw that the building is continuing along the coast but it is of a different kind. Boutique hotels have become a trend and there are emerging a few more ‘luxury’ hotels, even next to us. The crabby pansiyons and self catering apart hotels are becoming fewer, gradually. The Mersin to Silifke coastline is trying to go upmarket(ish).

This is a bit scary because it makes me wonder why. Is it because the west has become so expensive it is starting to out price even the middle class Turks? Is it because Turks are becoming more discerning and demanding better quality accommodation? Is it because of the ‘new airport’ that has been promised for years and still has not materialised? Is it because Mersin finally wants to be seen as a tourist destination rather than yet another area of the country that gets overlooked because it isn’t interesting enough?

Whatever the reasons it’s sort of good but at the same time selfishly bad. The green is going and the concrete is rising. The beaches will become ever more attractive to the beach mafia and the belediye who see them as a way to earn money while absolving themselves of maintenance. In Fethiye this year the locals (expats and Turks) have become enraged at the local council for allowing ALL the beaches to be turned over to the beach mafia and prices have tripled on some of the beaches there, which already were under the control of these guys. Weirdly though, as we past our old favourite beach near Kizkalesi we saw signs saying under new management. On the way back we saw fewer sun loungers and no massive speakers booming out toons. Swings and roundabouts obviously. Perhaps people stopped going to the beach. Perhaps the old mafioso pissed the belediye off. Who knows. Too late for us to go back this year but we will look again next. It could all change again. Things change massively in Turkey in such a short time.

This year it has very much felt that things have moved on from an old familiarity really quickly. I have already written about how there is very little left of the Istanbul I know. Soon though, I think that Mersin will start to have the same feel. It’s not just the building. Closer to Mersin there is a long coastal promenade that runs from the part of Mezitli that my sister-in-law lives in, right down the coast to the Centre of town past the marina and only stopping where the main road ends. This year half of this has been torn up, children’s play areas removed, piles of rubble everywhere, and (perhaps worst of all) large rectangles of crisscrossed metal that tell me concrete is soon to be laid over what was once an area of grass. Why the F they love their concrete so much I will never understand. I can only hope that they are not about to build things there or have yet more pointless, ugly installations that are most definitely not art but fakery. This park is loved by everyone in Mersin. It just needed maintenance not a penis enlarging project on behalf of the Mayor, who seems incapable of spending money on other things the city actually needs but is very happy to buy the biggest flag he can find and create concrete monstrosities to declare Mersin Buyuksehir Belediyesi for no apparent reason at all other than he thinks people may forget where they are. How could we every forget where we are? It’s declared at what feels like every five metres along with flags, and posters of your damned face.

It’s not just here that change happens but this year, for some reason, I seem to have felt it more acutely than before. The friend I made left on Sunday with her son. And while chatting to her meant I didn’t get time to sit and read my book, and while friendship is not something I crave now that we only stay a few weeks each year, her going left me really quite sad. I suppose it reminded me of the transient life I seemed to have in Ankara, where friendships were short-lived and fraught with the possibility that it was based on being on of the few yabanci’s rather than a deeper connection. Her leaving, and knowing that she has decided not to return here next year because she’s had a bit too much of the huge family and the Turkish kids ignoring hers despite being related, took me right back to the isolation I felt in Ankara.

Who knows what I will find here next year? Definitely a few more concrete blocks, perhaps a few more upmarketish hotels, probably more beach mafia, a bit more of the mountain road widened? Highly unlikely things to happen are; the beach in front of our apartment being cleaned up, the mayor having a vision that involves people rather than concrete, the motorway extending beyond Erdemli to take some of the awful intercity lorry traffic away, or green areas preserved. Either way, it’s always interesting to find out, even if sometimes a little depressing.

Have a bit of Mr Bowie

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Kolonya, an intriguing fluid

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we actually put this stuff on our skin

Kolonya, or Eau de Cologne as it’s called back home. Yep, that stuff your gran (or great gran depending on your age) used to slap on that was scented with lilly of the valley or lavender. Over here the most common one is the classic lemon flavour. But there are others, probably hundreds. I had a friend who used to collect the different flavours on her travel round Turkey:

Apricot, from Malatya (obviously), grass from god knows where, and tobacco-Oh, Oh just hideous memories of every cheap perfume from my childhood, Tramp and Charlie were probably made with a tobacco base.

Now though, companies have got trendy and have shifted to lime, violet and all manner of flavours. Not rose, that I have seen, though. I doubt that would work.

Turks simply love their kolonya. It’s proffered at every given opportunity: as you leave someone’s home, as you arrive at someone’s home, as you leave a restaurant, as you leave a public toilet and so on. If it can’t be given in liquid form then a little pack containing an infused wipe is handed to you, or even present on a plate. M loves to collect these little packets of joy and carry them round in his man handbag till an opportunity arises to offer someone one.

I haven’t really thought much of it, apart from it was a bit old fashioned but smelled nice and made you feel a bit fresh and cooler. Until this year. This year I have discovered that this stuff is far more than something to kill germs when there is no soap, to get grease of your hands after a messy meal, or as a very poor alternative to deodorant. I’m not even sure why I went down the road I did, but the discoveries have been a tad frightening.

It all started with M’s great idea to get the kids packs of sharpey pens. Thanks for that M, let’s dispense completely with Crayola washable or even Tesco’s own. Let’s just hop straight to the most expensive brand of permanent marker. And let’s let our three preteen kids use them to draw to their hearts delight, everywhere. Perhaps even off the paper.

Having seen the results of their creative burst, and much of that being delightful marks on my gloss white coffee table (I know, don’t judge me, it was actually cheap and can be used as storage and stuff), I thought to myself “How the….am I to get this off?” First thought was that I have no acetone, a recommendation from a friend to get those marks made by plastic toys off a plastic bath. So then I move to: I wonder if Kolonya will work? And so the wondrous cleaning properties of kolonya were revealed to me.

I also discovered that Lai quietly pays attention while I do things. I couldn’t quite work out why he seemed to be covered in purple smudges all over his belly. I knew Fatso had experimented with drawing on himself but the colouring in of Lai only happened once, when he was 1, and there were a lot more colours involved. For some reason Fatso drawing faces on his legs and belly were tame and I let him get on with it. It wasn’t till later that Lai announced that cotton wool and kolonya hadn’t worked to shift his purple belly artwork, it had just smudged it about a lot. Fatso had not tried this removal method as he was very proud of his handiwork.

Two days later though there was a new experiment.

After a disastrous drive up to the rickety wooden yayla, which left me refusing to speak to M and ignoring everyone, I banned him from doing anymore driving and so it was up to me to get us down the mountain. Oh great joy. Mountain driving my absolute favourite. Only…..we hadn’t quite expected the utter stupidity of the karayolari (highways agency). They’re currently busy widening the road, so a significant portion was wide but basically dust. Great skidding potential. OK, I could manage that, go slow. Aha, that’s how it was going up, coming down was a different matter entirely. Remember I said they were stupid? Well, in most countries they lay tarmac on one side of the road and keep cars off. This would reduce 4 lanes to 2–nothing unusual there as that is what it had been before. Karayolari are clearly not into sensible decision making and the use of cones and traffic management on a mountain road. Oh no. They had the tarmac and the equipment to lay it, so on a Sunday–knowing that plenty of people would be travelling up and down to visit relatives etc.–they laid their lovely wet, black, tarry, tarmac across all four lanes. Woohoo! So I am instructed to go as slow as humanly/carly possible so as not to splat the entire car with this delightful concoction.

The sensible thing would have been to get to a car wash as soon as we got to Mersin. But it had been a long and stressful day and we just wanted to fling ourselves in the pool for a night swim. The tarry mess had to wait.

Next day, at the petrol station they tell M that the automatic/fun carwash won’t get rid of the tar. We have to go to the back of the station to be foamed and pressure washed. That, they assured us, will work. Needless to say after this I then noticed puzzled looks on the very tanned toothless man who did the carwashing. It hadn’t come off. So then M is scrabbling round in a bin and starts rubbing newspaper all over it and saying he needs solvent. This is something that tanned toothless man is supposed to be acquiring but his manager frowns and they all disappear. Next thing I know, M has a dirty cloth that he says has petrol on it. And while he is rubbing away to try and get the tar off I suddenly decide to experiment with one of the magical packets he keeps in his man handbag. It works a treat turning black quite quickly and appearing to take a significant amount of the bumper.

I then disappear to the station shop to by a bottle as we don’t have one in the car. (I had bought one for the car a week ago but M took it up to the flat). The next think I know I am squirting it all over the wheel arches and bumper while M points and scrubs. We then clean our hands with it while I mull over the fact it gets rid of tar but I am still putting it on my skin. I am far from convinced that it’s main ingredient is simply alcohol.

Although, it doesn’t stop me later discovering that it is also great to squirt over yourself after a day at a beach when said beach does not have a shower and the sea is really salty. M, myself, and all the kids, liberally squirted with it before heading home.

Perhaps though, when I realised that my face felt grainy while driving, putting a bit on while sat at the traffic lights was not the best thing to do. Turkish kolonya close to your nose means you inhale a rather toxic, foul tasting, scent and end up coughing it all out, much to the amusement of the three boys in the back.

Now I am just left wondering whether I should just give up on other cleaning products and fling kolonya everywhere.

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It’s Ma burfday, it’s ma burfday

 

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It’s not my birthday, it’s Lai lai’s. Seven years ago he took his sweet time arriving. His birthday marks how long we have owned the Mersin flat. We celebrated his first birthday at my sister-in-law’s flat while the renovations were happening before we moved all our stuff in.

An August birthday means that he is almost a year behind many of his fellow classmates and yet only on school year behind his big brother, Fatso. It also means that he gets to celebrate his birthday in Turkey each year, which makes arranging parties with his school friends a bit awkward. It also means Fatso sees this as a great injustice because he has never had the opportunity to celebrate his birthday here.

The bigger issue for me is that his birthday falls right at the time when (as JaneyinMersin  would put it) Satan ramps up the temperature and humidity in one final push up to Zafer Bayram–30th August. At this time of year even having skin on your body feels too much and you’re constantly hot, wet, tired, and probably angry too. Unless of course you are some mad psycho who loves 37 degree heat and 60%+ humidity; the combination of which actually feels like 33,000 degrees and 150% humidity (and yes before you all say anything I am exaggerating a bit and I do know that 150% is not a real thing).

So far this holiday I have swelled up like a barrage balloon, fallen into a limp torpor, and had really bad headaches. So add a birthday into the mix, where said child wants a cake, the only thing that can possibly happen is a disaster.

At home I make cakes. I’m quite good at making cakes. Admittedly I stick doggedly to the 8x8x8x4 recipe with imaginative variations, or the divisions thereof. But my cakes aren’t half bad. I don’t do the creative icing shit though. Like I have time for all that. Half the time the boys have dived into the cake before it’s even cool let alone given me time to add some form of icing. Art is not my forte plus I just cannot be bothered spending hours creating some kind of masterpiece with fondant icing that the kids tend to leave anyway. I will leave that to my other, more talented friends, who actually enjoy that type of crafty stuff while I can avoid the expense and time.

Cake baking at this time of year, with Satan’s evil plan is another matter entirely. There is not good time of day to bake. I don’t have aircon in the kitchen, only a breeze blowing straight through the house but that is not enough to stop the hot and the wet and the grr that comes with doing any sort of movement. You wake and it is hot, it stays hot and gets hotter, it gets a bit hotter then just when it might start to cool the breeze stops completely for about an hour or two and it feels like hell. Then it’s just hot again but gradually a few degrees less hot. You get my drift. Hot baking, this will never work.

And yet, only one year so far have I said “sorry Lai I am buying a cake”. Even then it was only because he declared he wanted a ladybird cake that we had seen in a shop. Each year I do the good mummy thing of baking in Satan’s kitchen and each year there is some kind of disaster. I topped it all this year. Not one but two disasters. the first was in part my own stupidity but the second, well we’ll come to that.

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Lai requested a rainbow cake. The one with all the layers that perfect mums take time to do all the separate colours in separate tins and put together with something in-between. It’s hot, I’m in a torpid stupor and I am doing this at 7 am in the hope that it’s vaguely cooler, which it is not. So I make two batches of 8 mix and know that as soon as I am layering them all in the tin, it is too much. This is not going to rise magnificently. But I hope and pray that I am wrong. I am not wrong and within 10 minutes the losing begins. I inform Lai immediately that this cake is likely to be a monumental disaster. Lai is very easy going, he also knows that mummy is very far from perfect and has her limitations. In fact he’s actually said it didn’t have to be perfect layers just so long as there was a rainbow in the colours. The things is the rainbow is rapidly oozing out so goodness knows what is happening inside.

Lai is very philosophical and tells me that I have tried and he is sure it will taste lovely. With a tray hastily put under the dripping mass we pull some out after 10 minutes and he is right. It does taste good, and you can almost see a rainbow. It’s OK mummy he reassures me. Thank goodness it is him. I doubt Fatso would have taken my cranes so well. In fact he goes to the other extreme and has declared he just wants a slice of bread for his birthday.

Disaster 2

See the first picture. Marshmallows. Why? Because I couldn’t be bothered to do icing. We’re meant to be going bowling and so lathering it with whipped cream or the gross ‘cream shanti’ (dream topping) type crap isn’t going to go down well in a car journey. Also, my previous experiments with butter icing haven’t gone that well. Their idea of icing sugar or powdered sugar as they call it, is-well- a touch on the grainy side. Whereas UK icing sugar is a powder as fine as flour, here its just a bit finer than caster sugar. I could grind it finder, but again–faff and all that.

So. I remember a trick from a site where they do recipe hacks, called Tasty. Well tasty can stick their hacks right back where they found them. Apparently putting marshmallows on top and sticking in a hot oven for 10-20 minutes should make them melt deliciously to look like frosting. It most certainly does not. I only did this to try and cover up the unholy mess created on top by the oozing episode. now I just have browned dots of marshmallow all over the place.

I have to take this out in public.

Ah well, it’s only once a year. And at least I won’t be surrounded by competitive judge parents. Well, I might but they’re not ones I am really bothered about. The perfect cakes thing has all got a bit much back home, rather like party bags. I’m not joining in. We’ll settle for homemade that may look like shit but (have faith) will taste bloody brilliant.

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