“What noise does this make?” I asked, holding up a toy dog. Surprisingly to me the reply was “hav, hav.” next I produced a sheep, but this elicited nothing but blank stares, whereas a goat was immediately identified as a “keçi.” In the north of England, dogs say “woof, woof,” and the countryside is overrun with sheep, but goats are few and far between. Already I had identified some unexpected cultural discrepancies between the wild life of Antalya and Britain, which forced me to rethink my approach.
A -- is for the annoying armies of ants marching relentlessly up the young sapling trunks of my citrus trees. Why they insist on clambering to the top of the trees only to come straight back down again, I have no idea, but in the process they wreak havoc on the delicate budding leaves. Common in England, ants are positively rampant in Antalya.
B -- is for the bülbüls (nightingales) identified by their flash of yellow and their distinctive song. They delight in stripping the dark purple mulberries from the tree in our garden and the bright red flowers off the bottlebrush plant.
C -- is for the cicadas -- in Turkish called “Ağustos böceği” (August insects). Unfortunately they start creaking away incessantly as early as June and don’t knock off till October (whoever gave them their Turkish name clearly wasn’t from Antalya) often with such intensity it’s impossible to have a conversation in the garden.
D -- is for the city’s dog population, which has grown as rapidly as Antalya itself. They bark and howl infuriatingly at cats, birds, each other and, in the case of our resident hound, even at passing flies. Like every Turkish town, Antalya has more than its fair share of street dogs, the luckier ones (identifiable by blue ear tags) have been inoculated by the belediye (city council) and are definitely all bark and no bite. Wealthier locals favor either small, fluffy pedigree breeds (poodles and the like) that they use as fashion accessories, or massive dogs (Rottweilers, bulldogs or Alsatians) that can often be seen dragging their wannabe macho owners around the park.
E -- is for the earthworms that have grown to gigantic proportions through living in our garden compost heap. One I saw the other day was the size of an adder. I had plenty of worms in my garden in England, but nothing to match these monsters.
F -- is for the huge bats that appeared in my garden last autumn. I described them only half-jokingly as vampire bats (well, they were a very eerie sight, silently swooping around the trees) to a naturalist friend. Intrigued, she came around one night, binoculars in hand, to keep watch. The bats appeared on cue. “Wow, they’re fruit bats,” she said, “I had no idea they’d got to Antalya.” Sometimes known as flying foxes, I expect to next see them again at the end of next summer, when they live up to their name and feast from the neighbor’s hurma (persimmon) tree.
G -- for the sight of the sacrificial goats that appear outside the neighbors’ houses in the weeks preceding the festival of Kurban Bayramı, innocently awaiting their fate.
H -- is for the honey bees that hum lazily around the lavender bush and the aromatic orange blossoms all over Antalya.
I -- is for the many varied insects living in Turkey. Small creepy crawly creatures are an endless source of fascination to children and the ones in my crèche are no exception, taking delight in reporting any sighting and shrieking in horror upon someone pickingvv one up.
J -- is for the jellyfish that appear from time to time in the clear blue waters of the Mediterranean below the park where I walk my dog. They’re not quite freaky enough to put me off swimming, though.
K -- is for the occasional kingfisher I am lucky enough to glimpse near the cliff edge when enjoying an early morning summer swim.
L -- is for the aptly named laughing doves, whose irritating burble wakes me up every morning. They seem to have taken over the neighborhood (see “N” below) and now massively outnumber the once ubiquitous collared doves.
M -- is for everybody’s least favorite living creature -- the mosquitoes with their unmistakable buzzing sound. Despite the best precautions, one always manages to squeeze its way into our bedroom and spends the night dive-bombing around our faces.
N -- is for the nest -- though it’s a poor excuse for a nest -- more a collection of twigs cemented together by dove excrement, precariously balanced on our bedroom windowsill. In this nest are now two “yavru” (babies) that need constant feeding, making it impossible for us to open the window.
O -- is for the octopus that our somewhat eccentric local bookseller claims to catch and declares delicious.
P -- is for the pack of vivid green parakeets which screech their way around the treetops of Antalya. Not an indigenous species, they add a touch of the exotic to the palm trees.
Q -- is for the cute little quail that perches in one of the many birdcages hanging in the back street shops near my house. The locksmith, the tailor, the television repairman and even the plumber hang out their birdcages in the sun outside their shops.
R -- is for the robin, the most English of birds, that hops around my garden reminding me of winter days back home.
S -- is for the skink -- a bizarre, iridescent lizard-like creature that slithers in and out of the cracks in the crumbling stonewalls of our garden.
T -- is for the easiest pets in the world -- tortoises. Unbelievably expensive in Britain but ubiquitous here. Toss them a few lettuce leaves once or twice a day and watch them grow. In four years, ours have gained at least four centimeters in diameter.
U -- is for the urchins that with one careless step can so easily spoil a relaxing swim off the rocks around Antalya. It takes hours to remove all the spikes from your feet.
V -- is for vermin, especially rats. One once dared to squeeze its way under the front door, made itself at home under the kitchen sink and eventually was so emboldened I found it nibbling on an apple and watching the TV alongside me. Next day I bought a handmade wooden rattrap -- one of those that caught, rather than killed, its victim. So the next morning there was my unwanted guest, caught in the trap and staring blankly at me. “Now what?” I wondered, and phoned my conveniently absent husband. He advised me to pick up the trap and drop it in a bucket of water, so I did. I’m not proud of my rat-drowning activities, but rats are, after all, vermin.
W -- is for the wagtails that strut their wagtail stuff in the local park and make a nice change from the ubiquitous sparrows.
X -- is for the X-rated and very loud mating calls from the local cats on warm spring evenings. They take every opportunity to procreate noisily, much to the aggravation of our dog.
Y -- is back to the irritating yapping of the neighbors’ two dogs, which bizarrely stay in the house all day and are chucked out onto the street each evening.
Z -- is for the Antalya’s one and only zoo, where next week I shall be taking my class of 3-year-olds to learn the names, sounds and habitats of a whole range of animals and inwardly weep for the moth-eaten bear that endures its captivity with blank-eyed resignation.