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February 25, 2013, Monday

Pomegranate village (3)

As I head away from the derelict house in Nar village, near Nevşehir, where British teacher Joyce Roper made a home for three years in the early 1970s, I have some of the stories from her book, “The Women of Nar,” running around my head.

There was, for example, the grisly circumcision ceremony that she attended. She wrote: “Two fiddlers [were] scraping away as loudly as they could in a hopeless effort to drown the yells of a twelve-year-old boy. Men were holding him down with his bare legs apart over a big polythene washing-up bowl. An old grey unshaven drunken gypsy man was sawing away at his foreskin, every now and then refreshing himself with a swig from a bottle of raki...”

And this about a badly broken leg: “[The healer] grated a long bar of soap and mixed it with the meringue till it was all a huge stiff mass ... on some muslin headveils ... and made it all tight with some bandages ... [but] there were several breaks and the whole thing was smelly when the German car insurance firm said that she was to be taken to Kayseri Hospital. ... [S]he didn't come home for eight months.”

Or even this: “[She] led me out into a quiet back street and down some steps to a door which a woman answered. ... We were led into a cellar storeroom. ... I hastily chose three plain plates. ... [T]hat furtive way of shopping is forced by custom on the Nevşehir women.”

But not any more, it's not, I thought, remembering the happy crowds that these days flock to the Forum shopping mall to do little more than stroll up and down, gazing in the shop windows. It's easy to romanticize the past until we're forced to confront some of its less palatable aspects. Yes, I loved reading about the camaraderie of the Nar women as they worked together in their gardens. I loved reading about the weddings where the women danced to the beat of a def (tambourine) and the click of wooden spoons rather than having to stuff their ears with cotton to lessen the ferocious roar of over-amplified music as I've been forced to do at recent Cappadocian weddings. But can I really fool myself that life was better then? It's certainly highly debatable.

In the small belediye (municipal) building, I find Nuri Bey drinking a glass of tea in the kitchen. I show him the book with its black-and-white images of the Nar of 40 years ago. “Do you remember Sevinç Hanım [Joyce Roper]?” I ask.

“Yes,” he says cheerfully. “I was about 7 then, I think. She looked just like you. She could have been your relative.” Bezime Hanım had told me she was tall and blonde. I am short and dark. Clearly all yabancıs look the same to the locals, then.

Nuri Bey inspects the map sketch in the book and reels off the fate of the different house occupants. Höke: dead. Kesver: in an old people's home. Then he turns to the family trees reproduced in the book. He can't find his own name on them even though he had grown up in the same mahalle (neighborhood). Embarrassed, I get up to leave. In the dolmuş back to Nevşehir, the ghost of Sevinç Hanım keeps me company. I wonder what she would have made of the changes that have come over her beloved Nar.

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

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