Judgments are part of life.
Everything we do, every relationship we have is based on judgments we have made.
We size up a person or a situation, make a judgment and then live according to that judgment until something forces us to change our minds.
This is why we like certain people and others dislike the same people. We cannot get around making judgments. We have no other way to survive.
This is what is behind stereotypes. A whole group of people has been portrayed in such a way as to receive a judgment from another group of people. You can fill in the blanks… Fat people are____. Pretty girls are _____. Homeless people are ___. City dwellers are____. Village residents are _____. See what I mean?
Why am I bringing this up? Because I want to tell about an experience in which my stereotypes were blown out of the water…
PICK HIM UP
Late in the winter Christian and I were driving home from Aksaray and stopped to pick up a hitchhiker (we do this often here). A middle-aged man jumped in the car very happy to get a ride on the cold, wet day. We made introductions and the first thing Kamil said was that he had two wives, both of whom lived in his house. Needless to say, we were not expecting this tidbit and were curious about the village.
We determined that his village was about halfway between Aksaray and Nevşehir but about 12 kilometers off the main road. I was happy to take him all the way home as I wanted to see his village.
We arrived in a 40-50 home village and could only make it part of the way to his house as the unpaved roads were too muddy for my van to traverse. He exited the car only after we agreed that we would visit once the weather improved.
We drove the rest of the way home thinking about what life must be like for those villagers… for his two wives.
FOREIGNERS VISIT THE VILLAGE – BUT NOT THE FIRST ONES
Fast forward to July and we made plans to spend a day in the village having no idea what to expect. Nonetheless, I had some pretty strong stereotypes about the villagers who would be hosting us. I knew they were farmers and assumed they would be poor and uneducated among many other positive and negative judgments.
We arrived in the center of the village, parked next to the 100 year old mosque (a story for another post), stepped out into the dry, dusty square and walked up to join a dozen or so men sitting at the village tea house. The first two men we met started speaking German to us.
It turns out that every family in the village has a relative in Europe who comes back home for a couple of months every summer. Not only that but it is a Kurdish village as is every village in the area. They claimed that half of Aksaray is Kurdish.
The migration of these Kurds over the last 400 years is fascinating. Three families left Diyarbakir in the 1600s and settled in this village. All the current families are descended from these original pioneers. Then in the 1960s Turkey allowed its citizens to move out of the republic for the first time. Some brave men from this village, following in their ancestors’ footsteps, started new lives in Germany and Holland beginning what became a steady flow over the years. (Of course, Turks and Kurds participated in this exodus to Europe. I wrote about my landlord here.)
. . . .
After a few minutes talking to the men of the village, Kamil’s son appeared and led us back to his home. On the edge of the village bordering the fertile fields from which they get everything they need, Kamil’s two-story home opened up to us as we entered the dirt driveway which also served as a front yard, animal pen, and water source. We stepped out of the car into a virtual petting zoo with ducks, chickens, cows, pigeons, sheep, goats, and a donkey.
The son and second wife led us into a furnitureless upper room with mats and pillows arrayed for us to sit against the walls. After a short wait Kamil arrived having left his 12-year-old son to finish plowing and drive the tractor back from the fields (this news made my 13-year-old son quite jealous).
For the next four hours we drank tea, ate lunch, listened to Kamil tell stories and narrate the history of the village, met his family, and discussed the dead end quality of village farm life that pushes all the young people to Europe.
In spite of this I was fascinated by the self-contained ecosystem they had created. They bought the tea but the water was from the source in their yard. Kamil told us that he dug four meters down and found water that flows like an ocean, unending. The Kurdish bread which was like a thick tortilla was made with flour from the wheat they had grown, the eggs were from their chickens, the tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers were from their garden, and the yogurt was made from the milk from their cow. Everything was delicious.
CHRISTIAN HISTORY? AND TRESPASSING!
After our 10th cup of tea we visited the outhouse and went for a tour of Kamil’s “estate” and the village. After viewing the pens of all the animals mentioned above, we started down a dirt road that edged the village to see some caves. The first cave seemed to have remnants of a cross carved on the outside but was presently serving as the rubbish bin for that side of the village.
We went around the way a bit and entered a bigger mound of caves. At the same time a tractor was heading down the road and stopped near us. At first I thought they were just curious about the foreigners. But then the older man driving the tractor got down and started walking towards us. The following conversation was one of the most bizarre experiences of my life.
He approached us without smiling and asked which of us was from Germany. Apparently the news of our arrival had spread throughout the village. My friend introduced himself and the man asked where he was from in a very direct manner. He then explained that he had lived in Germany as well and said, “This is mine!”
Not really understanding we said that it was very interesting. He responded, “This is mine. Do not come back.” We spent the next few minutes trying to determine if he meant those specific rocks or the whole village. Kamil was 20 meters away and did not hear the conversation. We tried to explain that we were with Kamil and were just looking around. He said that Kamil was nothing, this was his, and we were not to return. After a few more minutes Kamil joined us, and we all headed back home with the angry man returning to his tractor and driving away.
Kamil became very animated when he understood what had transpired and made it clear that we should not concern ourselves with that crazy man. Ironically this occurred shortly after we had just talked about how everyone in the village got along so well. In the end we realized that it was like every other example of human relationships- messy.
Best we could determine the man thought we were trying to steal his land or that Kamil was going to sell it to us, and we were going to make millions charging tourists to see it. He wanted to protect his interests. Overall the villagers seemed to have a bit of an overblown sense of the fame and importance of their area. They assumed that everyone knew about the caves and the underground city that was near the village. As far as we know only serious archaeologists and locals know about any sites in that area. We need to do some more research to figure out what is really there. On our next visit we will try to see the underground city.
A few minutes later we were back in his front yard and saying our goodbyes while promising to bring our families on the next visit.
We began the day expecting to visit a poor Turkish village and ended up leaving a fascinating Euro-Kurdish village having made a new friend and changed our judgments!
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