Where we now live is a developing area, and in Ankara that means the slum houses are being replaced with apartment buildings. The word slum is a rather poor translation for the word ‘Gece kondo’, and fails to really describe what the houses are in reality. Many of them have been around for so long, and are actually legal, so to use the word slum conjures up images that would be more likely seen in places of much greater and deeper poverty in the third world. Being long-established does not mean that the houses are in any way pretty or could be gentrified in the way that run down areas in the UK have been, but to a foreigners eyes they are often preferable to the faceless apartments which take their place.
The apartments also have the added disadvantage of tearing down the community which these areas have built up. Depending which area you are living in, the more luxury (if it’s possible to describe a flat as such) an apartment which replaces the ramshackle home, the less likely the original inhabitants are to continue living in that area. Meaning wealthier families move in, and with the wealth goes a greater desire for privacy, and as such new communities are not really developed.
Living in an area where there are still a considerable number of the cramped, tatty houses does allow you to see more of the culture that the educated elite would prefer you didn’t. Up till a few weeks ago, when the weather finally turned cold, these tiny homes were still playing host to large numbers of people coming together to celebrate weddings, circumcisions, and even ifthar dinners. The quantity of food, not to say the size of the pans, coming out of these really small houses with probably only two gas rings to cook on, gave the impression that inside there must be a Tardis. The reality is simpler, lots of women very used to cooking large quantities of food, for extremely high numbers of people, in a very small kitchen in very large pans.
Thankfully, although we are living in one of the new, faceless apartment buildings (much to my horror but what else can we do here), we are not in an area that has become known for wealth and luxury. We’re lucky that several of our neighbours are the people whose tatty, tiny, cramped, shed of a home was demolished to make way for this 6 storey building. Some may not regard that as lucky, but for me I’ve lived in an apartment where neighbours barely know each other, let alone speak, and I know which one I’d chose again if I ever have to. Here most of the neighbours know, visit, and speak to each other. Better than that they share. There is no fear here of knocking on each others door to ask for, or offer help when needed. So I am rather happy that someone managed to give me a piece of advice a few years back, ‘never return an empty plate’. Trouble is that this can become a bit of a double-edged sword.
It starts very simply with one neighbour celebrating an event, or even just cooking a rather large quantity of something that their family can’t possibly eat all of. So then comes a knock on the door and a small plate of food. Being vegetarian means that often I can’t eat what is offered but the husband is very happy to have an opportunity to eat some meat. Then I’m left with the plate and the dilemma of what to fill and return it with, and the added problem of having to conjure up something quick, well within a couple of days at least. In the beginning it all was going well. I enjoy baking cakes so with the help of Smelly we threw some bits together and hey presto, a reasonable cake to cut up and distribute. Then I fell into the trap of feeling it was my turn, but no rush so when I’d made something I was particularly proud of it was time to share. This had the advantage of being my plates returning so no pressure to produce anything more. Some in the apartment cheated and went out and bought something to fill the plate, but it was still tasty so we weren’t bothered, but it wasn’t something I wanted to do.
Trouble is, despite enjoying cooking I tend to find that my enthusiasm ebbs and flows. At the moment being a stay at home mum seems to mean that there is more ebb than flow and the boredom has begun to set in. I feel like all I ever do is cook for someone. When this mood sets in I’m doomed for a while and anything I conjure up in the kitchen seems to be mediocre at best. This is not the time that you want a plate to come through the door from a neighbour. I’m then left with a plate and absolutely no inspiration. Then the worst happened, wracking my brain for something simple yet tasty to cook or bake, the first batch of biscuits were a disaster. No worries, try again the next day, I wish–that turned out to be the worst plan. Obviously a few more days had passed than I’d realised, this time the knock on the door was my neighbour’s daughter asking for the plate back. I really can’t find a good word to describe how awful and even ashamed I felt. It wasn’t just that I’d broken the rule about returning an empty plate, but far worse I had it so long they’d come to ask for it back.
My neighbours, it seems, didn’t regard this as a terrible snub. She came round needing help the other day when her daughter was ill. We weren’t much help, but even so a few days later as a thank you, a plate of tasty food was brought to our door. The thing is the plate is still in my kitchen waiting to be filled and I’m still awaiting inspiration.