“In the early hours,” he snarled, “they come round banging on drums with no consideration for Christians or other people,” to which the tempting response was a swift, “Have you ever considered taking your holidays at home?” because personally I saw the Ramadan drums as a precious part of traditional Turkish culture that should be cherished.
To that end I remember getting up in the middle of the night while staying at the Karballa Hotel in Güzelyurt so that I could follow the drummers around town. They turned out, when I found them, to consist of a middle-aged man and his elderly mother who walked alongside him with a stick, which she used to rap on the gates to reinforce his “time to get up” message. I was particularly impressed by the drum, a real one unlike the old olive-oil tins, which, at that time, were being used in Göreme.
But now suddenly there seem to be plenty of Turks who think along similar lines to that irate Australian, except that they’re not worrying about disturbed Christians, but about what the drums are doing to their own precious beauty sleep. First I heard that they were thinking of banning the drums in Ordu on the Black Sea. Fair enough, I thought, that’s such a modern town it probably doesn’t make much difference. But then I heard the same about Gaziantep, followed in short order by the suggestion that the drums might be banned in Avanos, too.
A straw poll of locals threw up a wide variety of opinions. An İstanbullu living in Ortahisar thought it was a good idea, pointing out, as everybody does, that we all have alarm clocks now which means that there’s no need to wake up those who don’t want to wake up just to suit those who do. “And why at 2 a.m.?” she asked. “You can eat until 4 a.m. anyway.”
She was a non-faster, of course, so in Göreme I tried a faster. “I don’t know,” he said. “I kind of like it. It’s traditional. Anyway, some people still rely on the old technology. My grandmother listened for the drums to tell her when to get up. She couldn’t set an alarm clock.”
But of course his grandmother is no longer with us, and by that logic the drums are fated to die a death very soon anyway as the generation that struggled with alarms passes into history. When I mentioned Avanos, he shook his head. “Not surprising,” he said. “It’s Little Moscow over there,” evoking the town’s famous leftist history. Then he reminded me that Nevşehir is not only sticking with the drummers, but also has a cannon to announce the time of iftar (the fast-breaking meal).
Then I asked a fellow yabancı, and it was the usual story, the most fervent upholders of tradition often turning out to be the incomers. That night I sat on my terrace watching the drummers make a circuit of my mahalle (neighborhood). Then out of the shadows emerged a hotelier in a hissy fit. “There are people on holiday trying to sleep,” he shouted. It looks as if the days of the drummers may indeed be numbered.
Pat Yale lives in a restored cave-house in Göreme in Cappadocia.