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Letter From Turkey from Peter of Turkana Farms


Hi all, Peter  here, from a quiet cove near Ucagiz,, Turkey.

We have left the Black Sea hazelnut and tea regions for the beautiful rocky and arid Mediterranean coast (no rain at all from May to late September in this part of Turkey).  At this season the region is watered only in valley regions by rivers carrying off snow melt from the mountains to the north and in winter by rainwater stored in large dome-shaped stone cisterns.  But by now both the rivers and the cisterns are running low.  And the beginning of the winter rainy season is eagerly anticipated. We found this out several days ago when we moored the yacht on a rocky promontory on the Bay of Fethiye and led our group through pine forests to the remains of the ancient Lycian city of Lydae, where we found Mutlu, a settled nomad, and his wife down in the valley below, near several stone cisterns.  There was not, we discovered, more than an inch or so of water left in the cisterns. Mutlu’s roughly built cottage was primitive, to say the least, but nevertheless outside were several solar panels and a tv dish.  Inside, the one room cottage was all organized as it has always been in tent living—all the bedding piled tidily against the north wall of the room completely cleared ready for its next use.  The only surprise was a small refrigerator.  Their summer living room was a rough raised wooden platform outside, attached to the cottage shaded by vines, littered with pillows and a transistor radio.

Mutlu graciously welcomed us to a seat near his garden, and his wife was soon offering us small tulip shaped glasses of wild sage tea.  He revealed he had 67 goats, and they were up in pasture, and that he actually now lived year-round in this valley, which presently only had three families in residence, but his nomadic identity became clear when he added that by winter there would be 27 families, these presently off with their herds in the summer yayli (camp ground) in the surrounding foothills.

His first complaint was that there was not enough water now to irrigate his small garden plot. We had noticed that the olive trees we passed  on our walk had for the most part very undersized olives, meaning they would not produce much olive oil if picked at that stage but would hopefully reach a harvest stage once the rains came.  But for some reason, possibly because they were older and more deeply rooted, some trees were laden with large green olives, and we stopped to help our yacht captain harvest enough to fill three large plastic bags.  We were also in a foraging mood, looking for wild sage and oregano, two of the region’s favorite herbal teas. Foraging has always been a major way the peasant nomads supplement their diet, particularly in the spring.

Obviously 67 goats were not affording much of a living for Mutlu’s family, but the occasional arrival of tourists like us was giving him and his wife an opportunity to supplement their farm income.  Just as a law firm, a kilim gallery and a travel business subsidize our farm venture, so the sale of wooden spoons, carved by Mutlu in the quiet time in the winter, and the braided and tasseled straps, woven by his wife for sheep bells, subsidized them.

When we learned that they had sent their 9 year old daughter off to live with an aunt in a nearby town so she could attend school, it became apparent this was one of their major expenses.  And we set to bargaining for wooden spoons large and small and a sheep bell on a tasseled braid, which brightened the visit considerably.  And we ended with the obligatory photo session and gratefully received bunches of dried wild sage as a parting gift.

At the age of 35, Mutlu, who looked 15 to 20 years older, had probably reached the limits of his resources.  Undoubtedly his daughter will not, once educated, accept his very circumscribed life. On the positive side for Mutlu, as we hiked back to the yacht, storm clouds built, and as we reached the boat landing, heavy rain began to come down, accompanied by some hail. So at least Mutlu’s cisterns finally would begin to fill again.


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