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June 03, 2008, Tuesday

The carpet weaver’s story

Ayşe Hanım has the sort of warm, open face that it’s easy to assume she has sailed through life without a care in the world. A quick glance at her home is only likely to reinforce that impression.Ayşe lives, you see, in a little piece of paradise perched on the outskirts of Göreme, her home encircled by spectacular fairy chimneys that in the distant past formed part of a monastic settlement.

Recently, Ayşe was kind enough to host members of our “Open Houses” tour, an idea shamelessly filched from the United States where it’s quite common for private homes to be opened to the public to raise money for charity. Here in Göreme we have settled on this as one way in which to try and finance small improvements to the built environment. In return for a rare chance to peep behind the doors of the cave-houses, visitors help us pay for the repair of the fountains and other communal facilities.

At the end of the tour we were drinking tea in Ayşe’s sitting room where a framed photograph of New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark on the wall revealed that some mighty important bottoms had preceded ours on the sedir (bench seat). The other walls were no less revealing. On them hung two carpets which had been hand-woven by Ayşe in her youth. “This one took me seven months,” she said, “And that one took me 10.”

A loom was set up in the corner with balls of wool hanging down from it. “Do you still weave?” one of the guests asked.

“Only occasionally,” she replied, before going on to explain how it wasn’t just eyesight that suffered from the work. “You have to bang so hard on the rows,” she said ruefully, “that in the end even your teeth start to rattle in your mouth.”

Unlike most village women, Ayşe speaks quite a lot of English, more, in fact, than her husband. “Did you go to school?” an English woman asked her.

Again the look was rueful. “No. A couple of girls my age did go to school, but my father didn’t want me to. I think he thought I might learn how to write letters to boys!”

Her answer steered the conversation neatly round to the way that things in the village had improved for its women. “Now,” I said, “I don’t think anyone could ever be quite so ignorant as they used to be. It’s not just school. It’s being able to get about more. And, of course, it’s television.”

“Did you have a television?” another from the English group asked her, but Ayşe belonged to a generation whose imams had warned that the angels wouldn’t visit the homes of people shameless enough to invest in such contraptions.

“We had a radio, though,” she said. “My father didn’t like me listening to that either, but I would turn it on very quietly when he was away.”

As we thanked Ayşe for the tea and headed out through her glorious garden, I reflected that although the tours might be about architecture primarily, they made a pretty good introduction to village history, too.

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