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September 19, 2012, Wednesday

The end of an era

I’ve been away from home for a few weeks and finally get round to ringing my neighbor to catch up on the news.

Her voice sounds chirpy as she enquires as to my whereabouts. Then: “We found an apartment in Nevşehir. We’re moving today,” she says and my heart does a double flip.

I can’t honestly say it comes as much of a surprise. She’s been talking about moving for ages now, and last year’s dreadful winter was the last nail in the coffin of virtually anyone without good reason to be staying in Göreme. Fatma is a stoical soul but I knew perfectly well that she dreaded the thought of another winter in her damp cave-house with buckets poised to catch the drips.

“Where is it?” I asked, and inevitably it was in one of the high-rise blocks that have proliferated on the outskirts of town.

“It’s big, Pat,” she said happily. “Three rooms and a sitting room. And it’s got natural gas.” The latter, I knew, was probably the biggest plus. Over the years her body had been branded more than once as she brushed against her stove.

“How much is it?” I asked.

“Four hundred and fifty lira a month,” she replied. So that was that. It wasn’t a bad price at all, certainly not for a big, new place with central heating. She would never have been able to find its equivalent in Göreme, where the clean, easy option of natural gas is not on offer anyway.

“I’ll miss you.” I knew I shouldn’t say it when the decision was so obviously right for her but still I couldn’t stop myself. We’d been through so much together, you see.

When I’d first come to live in Göreme, Fatma had been living downstairs from me with her three young children. She had taken me under her wing and it was by her side that I’d made many of my acquaintances in the village. It had been to converse with her that I’d done battle with Turkish. I’d shared so many moments in her family’s life -- the bad times when one nephew was hit by a car while riding his bicycle and killed, and when another nephew accidentally swallowed poison; the good times when her sister married a German Turk. Then there had been the ups and downs of her own decision to go out to work as her sons grew up. “Abla [Big Sister],” she calls me, and even though she’s never met my mother she always enquires after her and sends gifts when I go back to the UK.

I remembered in particular one occasion when I’d mentioned in passing that I’d like to be buried in the Feriköy cemetery in İstanbul. That had come as a surprise to her. “Here in Göreme I’d have to be buried outside the cemetery,” I explained.

“Don’t worry, Pat,” she said. “We’d still come and visit and weep by your grave.”

That answer, so sincere and so unexpected, had brought tears to my own eyes. Nevşehir isn’t the end of the world and of course I’ll be able to visit, but still I know that things will never be the same again.

Pat Yale lives in a restored cave-house in Göreme in Cappadocia.

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