It is Saturday and the sun is about to rise. The day is just beginning for many people, but while many enjoy sleeping in over the weekend, things are a bit different in Daday, Kastamonu province.
Movement starts here as soon as the imam recites the call to the dawn prayer. Soon after, you begin to understand why. Today is women's market day in Daday. Housewives between 40 and 80 years of age come to the circular park in the square and erect a market to support their families by selling vegetables and fruit along with homemade butter and yoghurt. Some of them sell things to avoid
becoming economically dependent on their husbands.
The women don’t appear to be professional merchants, as they have neither selling tables nor umbrellas to protect their products from the elements. They do not drive to work in trucks. Some of them haul their products in a gunny sack over a 20-minute walk from their villages, while some come by minibus from all over the province very early in the morning. Some are accompanied by their husbands.
They set up their stands at random, coming in early to snatch the best place to attract customers. They are not bothered by the market police, but even if they were, the sincere and lovely way they speak would prevent the police from intervening.
While buying something, you may receive a hug from one of the woman sellers. Due to their sincerity they gain permanent and appreciative customers even if they display their products in a plastic bag or on a newspaper. High officials living as far away as the provincial capital come to this market to shop both in winter and summer.
Academics from universities are among the favorite customers of Kastamonu’s woman shopkeepers, as they order whatever comes to mind, including molasses, jam, tarhana (dried foodstuff made chiefly of curds and flour used for making soup) and bazlama (flat bread baked on an iron sheet). Having such customers has even become a way to show off among the women. They cannot help but boast about their prestigious customers, because being chosen by such people indicates that their products well liked.
Do not expect cheaper prices here; their products cost the same as those in other markets and you cannot bargain over prices. If you do try bargaining, they tell you that it is very hard to grow produce and make all these products.
They are also very good at striking up a conversation with customers. They know about everything, which should not be surprising, since we are talking about women.
This is the current state of the market, but what about its history? Nobody knows how this market came to be or who started the tradition. Women and shopkeepers only agree that it has been around for at least 100 years.
I have spent every Saturday here for the past 70 years
Meliha Çadırcı is 83 years old. She has become frail due to age, but prepares her sales table with a veil on her head at 6:30 every Saturday morning. In spite of everything, she seems healthy as she lists her products in a very lovely accent. Upon learning that we are journalists, she covers her face with her veil, as many Anatolian women do, to prevent us from taking photos of her.
As our conversation deepens, she shares the details of her life with us, saying: “It has been a long time since my husband died. I have four children and I feel very sorry for them. My elder daughter’s husband was shot and killed, and she is alone with her three kids. My younger daughter’s husband died in an accident. I am fine with my sons, both of whom are teachers. They are taking care of themselves. I am here to make a living for my daughters.”
Aunty Meliha has a very sad story, but she does not come to the market just because of her daughters. It is a tradition, in a way. She has been spending Saturdays at this market for 70 years. When we ask her when the market was established, she only says that she has been coming since she was 10, when she would come with her mother. After getting married she started coming with her mother-in-law. Now she is accompanied by her daughters and daughter-in-law.
There are many women who face a destiny similar to that of aunty Meliha. One of them is 79-year-old Mahide Bıyıklı, who always wanted children but was unable to have them. Her husband died at a very young age and, since she did not inherit a pension from him, started coming to the market with her mother-in-law to make a living at the age of 20. Living in a village 10 kilometers away from Daday, she has been coming here every Saturday for the past 30 years. She starts selling milk from her three cows along with her homemade butter and yoghurt at 7 a.m. Her butter, locally known as Bıyıklı’s butter, is popular in the district. She earns TL 300 weekly and buys what she needs for her home. She also pays her bills with this money.
Young women also come to the market
Among the sellers are women younger than aunty Meliha and aunty Mahide, such as 48-year-old Sabiha Uzun, who has been coming to the market for eight years. She brings chicken, fruit and molasses, among other things, in her plastic bag. Uzun, who has two daughters, started working at the market when her elder daughter started university, in order to give her pocket money. She had to work for a long time, as her younger daughter has also begun attending university. And now she cannot help but come to the market. She comes to earn money to buy things for herself. Her earnings range from TL 50 to 300 on market days, depending on the season.
Among the market keepers are also some who started selling at the market out of boredom. Among them is 44-year-old Huriye Üzümcü, who was encouraged by one of her neighbors, who said to her: “Why don’t you come to the market? You sell whatever you can make and don’t have to sell much. There we even gather with other woman sellers just to enjoy ourselves. Spend your time with us.” Huriye joined the women’s market upon these words and has been working there for three years now. Her husband and daughter are curious about how this market emerged, but say the market keepers do not know how it came about. However, we think their stories give clues as to how it all began.