Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A visitor

Having not heard footsteps the voice surprised me with it's closeness. 'Komşu?' Neighbour.
When I appeared at the top of the steps the stooped old lady asked if I accepted visitors. She used her walking stick to climb the steps, leaning heavily on my arm, plastic bag swinging as she lurched upward. I guided her into the house, sat her on the couch and supported her with multiple cushions. Her stooped back was emphasised by a towel and several scarves around her neck, to protect from the breeze.

I offered coffee and biscuits and we chatted. She admired the house, congratulated us on the garden and explained that she was staying with her daughter in the houses behind us. She asked my name and tried to come up with a Turkish alternative. Mishearing my nationality she thought I was Dutch and launched into a story about her 17 years in Germany. She had to have a kidney operation and the nurses were kind, gentle and allowed her to pray before the operation. She ended with the moral that the heart counts, not religion, not nationality.
With her tight white curls and black-dyed eyebrows she looked a little strange, but her eyes were sharp and bright behind her bifocals. As I made more coffee she observed the room. When the children came in from playing she admired them both, but warned them against knocking the table.

She talked about being born in Erzincan, moving to Istanbul at four years of age and living in sight of the Jewish Graveyard, of her love for Edirnekapı. She nearly shed tears at her father's death at 48 years old, describing her parents loving marriage and her mother widowed at 32 years old. She talked and talked and all stories ended with the importance of the heart and of character. By now drinking sugary boiled water she proclaimed the greatness of Ataturk, his love for Turkey and its people, and of the civility of his divorce from Latife Hanim.
She asked me to fill her water bottle, put the remaining biscuits into her plastic carrier bag. She was polite, encouraged me to make the dinner while she sat there 'Don't think of me as a stranger'. Her daughter hadn't married and she asked if I could find a suitable husband for her. She told a story of a doctor who had been a suitor many years before.

Then she mentioned her husband, the tall man I would have seen him. 'Köpek, hayvan, şerefsiz.' Dog, animal, dishonourable. A triade of abuse followed; she didn't want to marry, her father gave her away. Her husband beat her father, still fights with her daughter; lazy, useless moron. May Allah curse him, may Allah punish him. He is older and healthier than she is, he doesn't have kidney, heart and back problems, he is waiting for her to die.

When the Handyman arrived home she recovered somewhat, echoing her desire to find a husband for her daughter 'Don't tell her though.' She rose awkwardly and I helped her as far as the gate, feeling her to be far older than her 68 years.


  1. Great story!
    And I love the sentence:
    she thought I was Dutch and launched into a story about her 17 years in Germany...)

  2. Nice vignette. The blog provides a window into an expat's experiences coming to terms with a radically different culture.


  3. Hans - she misheard İrlandalı as Hollandalı, then she tried speaking German to me!

    ShaneB - Thanks for the compliment!

  4. Great story. Thanks for sharing it. :)