Village People

Remember that old sketch “I know my place” from The Frost Report, the one were John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett satirise the class system? It’s old but it still works, just change the costumes and give John Cleese an estuary accent so he sounds like Jamie Oliver, inject the word Geezer a few times and you have a bang up to date piece of sociological satire. And not just British satire, its global satire because where ever there are humans huddled together as protection against the frightening dark there is someone looking down on someone else.

Chances are, in some alternately burning and freezing dusty corner of the Kalahari, some guy in a thong is squatting further from the fire than the others because his fluting clicking speech has too many vowels and he has a hand me down spear.

Being “village people” in Turkey is the equivalent of being the Ronnie Corbett character; we are considered thick, lazy, hidebound, cruel and we probably smell. We’re an easy target for the ever so sophisticated people of the towns with an iPhone in their hand and time on their hands.

I was reading a particularly unfunny expat bleat online the other day the main theme of which appeared to be that Turkey isn’t welcoming enough to foreigners and stereotypes them. I was probably the only one who noticed the writer had a casual pop at village people in the very first sentence, which made the rest of her post too ironic for me to take seriously.

When the minorities start laughing at you you know you’re lower than low!

I am village. Always have been, always will be.

Hang on a sec’ whilst I pop out and marry my cousin before tending an illegal still whilst breastfeeding……

……back now.

We are village people; our ladies wear headscarves because the dust of the fields is hot and unpleasant and lingering if you have three foot of hair. The baggy salwar pants that are tight at the ankle stop spiders scuttling up to bite your tender thighs (recent personal experience here!) and yet allow you to move freely.

We sit in the sun in the afternoons and pass away the hottest hours chatting, we look lazy but as we were picking grapes at 5am, we are entitled to a rest now and then.

We go to town on market day in our very best suit because it’s nice to get out of wellies now and then and we only have two choices of clothes – working and best.

We take good care of our animals because the horse you look after properly today will plough your field tomorrow and that’s kind of essential.

We are village people, we aren’t stressed by what we see in the mirror, we aren’t worrying that we can’t get the exact right kind of face cream imported into Turkey, and we aren’t worried that anyone thinks we’re fat; life is too short and too busy full of practical tasks for stuff like that.

We might not own a car but we may well own a mountain.

We might not have much but we share it automatically.

We understand each other even if you don’t understand us.

We ask our neighbours where they are going and how long they will be gone because their house is our responsibility until they get back.

We were green before green became the new black.

I know a lot of stuff; I can gibber about essentially useless things like redshift and string theory and I have read so many books that the corridors of my memory are lined like a library, and for all that I have learned, I know that the only really important thing is how to feed your family tomorrow and village people know that too, deep down in their bones.

I was in the bedroom yesterday evening, leaning on the window sill, looking out across village as the shadows spread out, swiftly turning into dark puddles of dusk in the streets.

The power was off to the village and I was watching the sun set and waiting for the Imam to appear at the top of the minaret. The black of the minaret and the silhouette of the Imam against the clear wash of sunset was something I wanted to see.

Down in the neighbour’s courtyard below me there was a bright orange glow from their fireplace, a rival for the sun setting behind the hills. Neighbour’s wife came to their courtyard door, her headscarf off, she wiped her brow and looked up at me, “Kerel, gel” she called me, “Gel. Bazlama

I hurried down the stairs, but carefully, sunset is swift here and the stairs were already dark.

Elif, the neighbour’s daughter, came out of the house with a round of hot Bazlama bread wrapped in a cloth. I love Bazlama bread. I can’t stop eating it, and smoking and fluffy, fresh from being cooked on a griddle over an open fire it is pure heaven. Pulled open and its soft centre spread with butter so the pockets in its open texture fill with melted butter it is the ultimate Turkish comfort food.

I was pathetically grateful for this treat. Bazlama dough takes minimum five hours to rise, it’s not the sort of thing you want to have a craving for unless you planned the craving yesterday.

As soon as I thanked the neighbours they brought more. “I yapmak” said Elif tapping her chest, “I make it” She is proud, she is happy, as she hands me another round. She is happy I like it, she is proud she made it.

I don’t think William Blake got it totally right, not so much a grain of sand, I see the world in a round of bread.

I see happiness and capability and pride, all the things we try in such complicated ways to achieve is here, in bread handed to friends by village people that know their place, and that place is amongst people who care about them.

It’s good to know your place!

Here is a variation on that classic sketch, the original isn’t around online anymore but this version is good and has Stephen Fry in it which is a bit of bonus.