We guessed they were hot-houses of some sort, which indeed they are. One of our very first encounters with the local village people was when two cheerful ladies were selling garden vegetables at a makeshift stand just behind the gate of the complex, which was normally closed. Of course they welcomed us, and laughingly asked how we liked their little village. We really liked the village and we really liked them; unfortunately, we didn’t have a kitchen at the time and were living on pide and ayran, so we didn’t buy anything that day. The ladies told us that the covered plots were for growing flowers, which they sold to florists and street markets. What we took away from that encounter was a feeling of “knowing the owner,” as in “we know the owner,” in case we were ever challenged while openly hanging on the fence trying to see into the tents.
Through the years we have asked around here and there, not gossiping of course, but gathering information, and found out a few more things about the property. We talked to a man we see sometimes working there, but he didn’t have much to say that we didn’t know, so there is a little aura of mystery about the place. It is leased, not owned; one of the village’s old families owns the land but never comes there; a man and his wife are the main managers; they live on the same street as the cat lady (who feeds about 50 cats twice each day), and they work very hard. The fact that flower sellers have to be up in the wee hours to cut the flowers, package them and get them off to market before dawn doesn’t help the chit-chat situation, either; we finally lost our curiosity and satisfied ourselves with snooping from the street to see what was growing and when. In the very early spring the narcissus is in bloom, the heavenly scent of thousands of the little flowers so powerful it could make you swoon. During other seasons, various other flowers are so violently colorful they seem to glow through the plastic sheeting; the sights and smells are definitely worth snooping for.
Our friend Fehruze
We have a friend who lives near there on the main road, named Fehruze, who is my gardening buddy. We trade plants, aphid stories, planting tips, etc. One day this friend had a guest for tea, a lady whom I had never seen. She was of a certain age, maybe 50, dressed conservatively, although her scarf didn’t cover all of her hair, and had a huge smile on her face the whole time I watched as I approached my neighbor’s house. It turned out she was an old friend of Fehruze’s, and she didn’t hear or speak, or read or write. She didn’t read lips, either. She made noises to emphasize communications that Fehruze seemed to understand, and was amazingly good-natured and friendly. I was enchanted, and fascinated watching them relate to each other. It seems Fehruze has invented a private sign language to communicate with her buddy, and while they don’t exactly carry on conversations, they communicate wants, needs and important information. I am good friends with a family in Ankara with two deaf children, and the situation couldn’t be more different: The kids I know, 18 and 20 now, have had good training and education their whole lives as well as modern hearing aids; the girl was even in a You Tube hip-hop contest! They both speak, sign and read lips, and attend a “normal” university. I realized this friend of Fehruze’s was the first deaf person I had met in my whole life who had grown up with no special training at all, reaching an independent maturity and becoming a funny, laughing and totally (to me) unintelligible lady, pretty much on her own. As it turned out, she works for the people who manage the flower company.
As often happens, once you meet someone, you see them everywhere. Besides seeing her at our neighbor’s, we saw Fehruze’s buddy working at the house that is the combination living quarters and shipping center for the flower farm. We saw her being picked up in a car on the dolmuş road. We saw her on her way somewhere “downtown” in the village. I discovered that she is not the touchy-feely type -- having been introduced to her by a mutual good friend, I always do the lady greeting thing with her, and I must say I love how she knows her lines, or at least when it is her turn to say them, because when I ask how she is, she makes a noise, and when I then say, “Thanks, I’m fine, too,” she makes another noise and nods her head. I also kiss her, but she would rather I shake her hand and kiss her while holding it, rather than hold her shoulders while I kiss her, like I do with most of my closer Turkish girlfriends. She is also definitely not a hugger -- one-two kiss, drop the hand. One day when we were “speaking” in the street and it was clear she couldn’t hear the cars careening around the corner towards us, I gently took her around the shoulders with one arm to get her out of the way and she jerked away from my hold, merely shrugging when I pointed to the car racing away up the hill; the woman didn’t get this far by being a wimp, that’s for sure.
Rolling with the Romani
In our village there are several nice fish restaurants, and Romani ladies come around selling flowers to male patrons to give to their sweethearts; I have a couple of favorite friends I always wheedle my husband to buy from, so I keep my eye out for them. One evening, imagine my surprise to see a particularly composed and graceful lady, flower basket in hand, wending her way through the outdoor tables of our favorite restaurant, and lo and behold I recognized Fehruze’s buddy! Alerting my husband, we waited until she came near us, and he had his money ready for her. She was friendly when she recognized us, but something told me not to jump up and start the greeting-and-kissing -- she was ON THE JOB. She graciously took our cash and picked out a nice posy for me and went on her serene path. I only later realized she was completely silent as she went about her duties. Her presence raised some questions, though: How did she get away with working the Romani ladies’ turf? Was she Romani herself? If so, she probably had family in the little Romani enclave between the village and Gebze. Someday I will remember to ask one of my friends that work the waterfront if she is a relative.
The reader may wonder why I keep referring to this lady as “this lady” and “Fehruze’s buddy.” Well, one day we were walking by the cat lady’s house and noticed the downstairs workroom of the flower people was open, and some people were working, cleaning up stem clippings and stacking boxes. We asked after our friend, whom we had heard worked there. Oh, yes, they replied, she had worked with them for many years, and was a very nice person. We asked her name, and they looked a little blank. “We don’t know. We call her ‘Dilsiz’.” We thanked them and left, and I began to repeat “Dilsiz, Dilsiz” so I could remember the name for the next time I asked after her. But all of a sudden I realized, just as my husband told me, that “Dilsiz” means “tongue-less,” or “person without a tongue.”
My heart took a hard little panicky drop then, and I might have choked up, but then I thought it could also mean “speechless,” which it doesn’t, really, but at least I didn’t start crying. Later, online, I considered “Deren” (one who picks flowers) and “Deste” (bouquet) as really nice “D” names -- she might notice if I call her something that starts with another letter -- but I decided that, for me, speechless’ new name would be Dicle (the River Tigris) because she flows so deep and so strong. So now, not only is Dicle the first deaf person I know who hasn’t had any formal training for the hearing impaired, yet working long hours preparing flowers for market by dawn and selling them by night, she is also the only friend I have who doesn’t have a name anyone seems to know. Someday I will ask Fehruze but I am afraid I might embarrass her, if she doesn’t know. So for the foreseeable future, Dicle it is; it has a nice, dignified sound to it.
Elsie Alan lives in Gebze with her husband