The sea turtles return to Kusadasi

Turtle Fact Sheet - graphic design by my daughter, Naomi Phillips-Morgan
We used to have a home on an island in the Caribbean and here, between May and October, the great sea turtles would come ashore to nest. Both loggerhead and green turtles, many over 5 foot long, would haul themselves ashore, painfully slowly make their way up the shallow shelving beaches and laboriously dig nests in the sand before laying their eggs and then, exhausted, struggle back to the sea.

It was an amazing thing to watch. Shepherded by the watchful island wardens who kept them safe during this vulnerable time the turtles were massive and slow but relentless and the process was sometimes painful to watch as the effort required was so obviously exhausting for them.

After the turtles had laid their eggs and covered their nests and returned to the sea the wardens would mark some nests and retrieve the eggs from others, hedging their bets with nature, and hoping to increase the dwindling populations of sea turtles.

Those nests that were left were guarded and monitored and throughout the nesting and hatching season the hotels on the shore would turn off their lights to avoid confusing any hatchling sea turtles in their short but treacherous journey to the sea.

That was Mexico and this is Turkey and I thought the turtles were gone from this part of the coast and could only be found down around Dalyan but now the turtles have returned to the beaches here in Kusadasi. After a ten year hiatus a nest has been found down on the beach near Davutlar. It is cordoned off and guarded and there is hope that the species is truly returning to the area as if there is one nest there may be more, in fact there will certainly be more soon as every breeding female lays several nests of eggs during a season.

I’ve always had a very soft spot for turtles. I remember the nights we used to sit on the beach on Isla and watch them come ashore. Whole nights under a moonless sky with no sound but the grunt of the turtles and the hiss of falling sand as they slowly scooped out their nests. It was so mesmerising you couldn’t leave, you had to stay there and at least give moral support!

In 80 days those hatchlings down on Davutlar beach will burrow up out of their nests and head down the potential killing ground of the beach towards the breaking waves.

During that first short, perilous journey they will lose 20% of their bodyweight and once in the water they will swim as far away from land as possible and there they will stay, out in the deep, following the currents, feeding on the ocean streams before finally, maybe 20 years from now returning to nest near the beach where they hatched. This nest down on Davutlar’s hot sands is some daughter of Turkey coming home, her sisters may not be far behind her!

You can read a brief article about the nest find here – http://www.ntvmsnbc.com/id/25234064/ – it is in Turkish so you’ll have to translate it via Google.

If you want to learn more about loggerhead turtles in Turkey you could do a lot worse than read June Haimoff’s book (Kaptan June and the Dalyan Turtles) she’s been working to support the Dalyan turtles since 1984, and there is more about her work on her website here – http://www.kaptanjune.net/index.htm

In which Mr Evils suffers a decline

Mr Evils on a normal day
A couple of weeks ago Evil’s wandered into the house announcing his royal arrival by yelling his head off as usual, suddenly he stopped, went cross eyed trying to look at his own nose, yowled mournfully, coughed a couple of times and then threw up a hair ball roughly the same size and shape as Madagascar.

Now despite his swaggering insouciance, faultless arrogance and high self esteem, or possibly because of these, this hairball incident horrified him. Evil’s is a young cat and he had never been sick before. The process obviously signified deep and desperate illness to his nasty little brain and he took to his cushion in front of the fire presuming the end was nigh.

He barely moved all day, just lay there, probably composing his epitaph and occasionally scanning a verse from Dylan Thomas as I had left Miscellany 1 on the floor (that was cruel!) – Rage rage against the dying of the light…

Evils sure than the end is nigh
By evening even I was worried about his lethargy. I checked him over, pressing his fat furry tummy to see if he had any blockages or pain, checking his eyes, ears and nose. He was a little pale but his saliva wasn’t sticky (oh having pets is fun!), he didn’t have diarrhoea (thank you spell checker!), no mucus, no sneezing, no obvious pain. He is wormed regularly, is inoculated up to his glittering eyeballs and has no fleas. So we ruled out respiratory tract infections, bladder infections, further hairballs and due to the time scales, poisoning.

But he wouldn’t eat and he wouldn’t drink and he wasn’t grooming himself. He just lay there, looking desperately weak and pathetic and possibly whispering “Stop all the clocks….”

He just didn’t have enough symptoms for an emergency call out of the vet but he definitely wasn’t right and he gave every appearance of sinking fast, “with his face to the wall, as the manner is of the poor peasant in his stone croft on the Welsh hills”……he’s got me quoting doleful poetry now!

Cats are weird, sometimes they get ill for no obvious reason and given his strange personality Evils may well be prepared to drop dead just to prove a point.

We decided to hydrate him just to cover a few bases and if he wasn’t better within the next twelve hours it was off to the vet, specific symptoms or no specific symptoms.

Nick was sent down to the ever open village shop with a politely worded but not wildly optimistic note asking for an empty syringe as the only other syringe in the house contained araldite!

Tunc, the massive and meaty shop owner, consulted the note with due care and then yelled for Yacob, his assistant, who emerged from the dark recesses at the back of the shop where he had been teasing his Elvis quiff to even greater gravity defying heights behind the biscuit rack. More consultation and then Yacob was worming like a ferret through the more inaccessible corners of the shop, emerging in short order with a dusty box full of surgically sealed hypodermic syringes. Impressed…oh yes! Is there anything this shop doesn’t stock?

Armed with a couple of empty syringes, some boiled water and sugar it was now time to hydrate Mr Evils.

Despite being the equivalent of Hannibal Lector in a fur coat Evil’s isn’t stupid enough to bite the hand that feeds him and so he will endure the kind of handling that has lesser cats going into Tasmanian Devil mode. He sat on Nick’s lap whilst I gently squirted boiled water into the side of his mouth. Hydrating a cat requires .5ml per kilo of body weight and I got about 4ml down him before he got fed up and started complaining.

It did perk him up a bit, and he managed to limp (on all four legs) over to his litter box and had a wee to much applause. He then returned to lying listlessly in front of the fire.

Come morning Evils still displayed no symptoms other than being miserable and cocking up his nose at food. He had used his litter box again in the night but hadn’t come upstairs to sleep on the bed like he normally does. Either he had something viral which wasn’t producing dramatic symptoms or he had really frightened himself with the hairball incident. Either way he needed some nourishment and being a somewhat sturdy cat he runs the risk of fatty liver syndrome if he goes without food for a couple of days and that can kill him.

Time for syringe number 2! I mashed up some cooked chicken livers with their stock and strained them and then sucked the liquid into the syringe. With the first tiny squirt of chicken liver into the side of his mouth Evils decided he was too young to die. Licking his lips frantically at the familiar taste of his favourite food he let me give him the whole syringe.

On the road to recovery and holding me responsible
Within an hour he was perking up and was grooming himself, within two hours he wanted more livers, by mid afternoon he was lying on his back purring and looking around for something to molest. Mr Evils was on the road to recovery.

He stayed inside for the remainder of the day and took it easy all the following day but by the third day he was back up on the roof stalking a stupid quail that had flown up there and eyeballing the sparrows.

Yesterday he brought me a rat; well most of a rat, the head was missing, he’s probably got it on a little stick somewhere, so he is now fully recovered. I don’t know what upset him; maybe it was a really mild upper respiratory infection and he couldn’t smell food and so wouldn’t eat it but more than likely I think he just shocked himself with producing the hairball.

I consider I saved his life, he thinks it was all my fault in the first place and I should have cured him quicker. Like my husband used to say, feed a dog and it thinks you’re God, feed a cat and it thinks it’s God!

Remembering to open my eyes to what is around me

Every day I notice the beautiful things about life here, the sunflower sunrises, the pomegranate sunsets, the quick changing light on the pine trees in the morning and I forget to notice the people things because they are now so familiar.

The stuff that the travellers who come here notice about life and living here is now part of the fabric of my reality and it is only when I explain things to them that I remember how different this place really is.

My neighbour cooking
My neighbours all cook on open fires, pretty much all year round, and many of them are now totally self sufficient as the village council is encouraging self sufficiency and diversity in the cottage gardens that patchwork the valley floor. My immediate neighbours are self sufficient in everything from meat and dairy produce to home furnishings (pillows are home made and stuffed with local raw cotton) and transport is via foot or horse. Their limited cash comes from the son’s job as a trainee hairdresser at the village barber and this is reserved for paying utility bills.

By the way, the neighbours find my utility bills hysterically funny. They don’t get jealous that I can pay a bill ten times more than theirs they think I’m bloody stupid for using so much electricity! They are probably right!

The cooperation of the villagers is fantastic, everyone works together from the family co-operatives that barter grape picking for firewood and vegetables, to joint cooking and preserving ventures when the harvests come in or a celebration is in the offing.

Communal cooking for a celebration

Group cooking takes place in the streets over fires and the other day in the square down from my house huge vats of hot oil were frying potato wedges for the feast that comes 60 days after a death. They were the best potatoes I have ever eaten – crisp and crunchy on the outside, fluffy and soft in the middle, and I would have seriously burnt myself if I ever tried to cook anything that way!

Cooking potato wedges in the street

Death is seen differently here. As I explained to some visitors the other day that saw the preparations for the feast, when the old lady who lived next door died there were very public and heartfelt displays of grief and her middle aged son sobbed over the communal coffin until they removed it to the cemetery. Now 60 days later the life of the old lady is celebrated and generous gifts of food and cakes are shared and happy times are remembered and the grief is considered passed.

Where do you stop explaining? When I mentioned the communal coffin I then had to go on to explain that there is only one coffin in the area and that is used to transport the shroud wrapped remains to the cemetery. People are buried in shrouds not coffins and the coffin is washed out and used again and again. It is all very respectful and sensible but probably too much information just after breakfast for even the most ecologically minded individual!

Not all explanations of village life are morbid though. Some are fun and visitors love to hear how Shadow our Labrador is changing Turkish children’s attitudes to animals. Shadow by virtue of being pretty and sweet natured is overcoming most Turk’s fear of dogs and village children that once cowered from her now run up and cuddle her and proudly pat her on the head.

Shadow successfully completes another Hearts and Minds Mission for dogs in Turkey!

And all that leads us into discussions of animals here and how they are seen and the attitudes about then and then we move onto Kurban Bayram, the feast of sacrifice, and how food animals are treated here and the talk goes on and on until I wear out my voice talking too much and trying to help people understand why this place is as it is and the reasons behind stuff that on the surface looks weird but is actually sensible!

Turkey is an endlessly fascinating and beautiful country, I know that, but sometimes it is only when I explain it to other people that I remember it is as much about the people and the life as the sunshine and the sea – so thank you to all the people who bother to come here and bother to ask questions and make me open my eyes and see afresh the amazing people that are around me.