By Serpil Kadilar…….
When the subject of childhood, the Turkish Cypriot home, and family dynamics arise among us, the conversation almost always surfaces common experiences or similarities which usually invoke laughter.
Let us begin with childhood – and our national childhood sport of “babuç dodging” (terlik/slipper dodging).
Ahh! The days to which we surely owe our agility when running from a flying babuç when a busy mother/hala (paternal aunt), deyze (teyze, maternal aunt) or grandparent didn’t have time /patience / or was simply too busy to chase you down to plant that well deserved smack on the bottom! We have seen the babuç fly at every possible angle- vertically, horizontally, perpendicular, 180 degrees (when it would accidentally ricochet from a household appliance,) with flexibility which shouldn’t even be possible from a bulky slipper. Perhaps it was that double leather buckled strap which made it so aerodynamic? Or was it the single strapped slim sole version which flew like a Boeing 737? I don’t recall. But I saw and continue to see that very same pair of slippers in every TC household I have ever been in.
Unless of course, you happen to visit one of the Turkish households where the head female is REALLY modern. Then you will find the pink or purple babuç with the fluffy top.
Either way, you’d know you’re in really serious trouble if your guardian rose from her seat, and headed in your direction. At which point, every Turkish Cypriot child must make a snap assessment – do I run, and remain silent for the next few hours hoping she’ll forget? Or do I display an Oscar deserving performance of bravery and take my punishment?
But lest we forget the outpouring of genuine love, care, concern and attention when we’d become sick or injured. The pampering of which felt so luxurious that we’d be “sick” for an additional two days more than necessary. Until we’d become bored of mercimek (lentil) or Tarhana (wheat and yoghurt ) soup, that we’d make a miraculous recovery…
And of course, that subject goes hand in hand with the “Turkish Cypriot medical kit”. Kitted out with products which includes olive oil-lemons, olive oil-aniseed, olive oil-mint, olive oil-honey….
Although, jokes aside, a lot of the stuff really did work and are now recommended natural remedies today.
Moving onto the myths and tales told to us as genuine advice.
Don’t swing your legs while sitting, it brings debt to the door. Don’t sweep up after a guest leaves, or they’ll never return to visit, (although I’m certain I have memories of certain female family members sweeping floors behind certain guests under the guise of “cleaning”….)
And fat children? Don’t worry! That will turn into height! I haven’t yet had the heart to break it to any elder that fat does not transform into bone and muscle mass. I’ve waited for this transformation for 30 years, and two children of my own later, I’m still 5ft 2 and a UK size 16!
Oh but the nostalgia of the Turkish Cypriot household! Where the smell of kuru fasulye (Argentinean beans) and bakla (broad beans) which we previously perceived as the smell of a criminal level fart merged with three times sweated out socks suddenly becomes the nourishment of our souls! Whether dressed in copious amounts of olive oil (of course), lemon, onion, garlic and salt – or cooked in a tomato and onion broth- with the super bonus if some meat was added into it.
And you’d know that cookery was serious when mother would wear her çember (headscarf fastened at the top of her head) and the aroma of dolma (stuffed vine leaves), börek (pastries ), or fırın magarına (baked macaroni) filled the air.
That set of white metal bowls and plates with the blue rim, used for serving food, while the finest China remains in the display cabinet, never to be used – not even on bayram (eid) even though mum swears it’s for special occasions.
That white pillowcase with a blue, purple or green stitched pattern which leaves wrinkles on your face by the morning but never seemed to have a matching duvet cover. The bathroom hand/face towels with tassels that never seemed to fray. And the ceyizlik (household dowry items collected by a woman’s mother which is then gifted to her daughter upon marraige) which is as untouched as the China in the cabinet.
Not forgetting that tin of chocolates or Danish butter cookies which, to our disappointment, was full of string and needles and various other sewing equipment.
As we moved on to our late teens, Turkish Cypriot weddings become a focal point of socialising and yes, bragging and gossip. It always starts well – until someone’s amca /enişte (uncle) drinks too much of the complimentary, limitless Bells whiskey – or Fatma Ablas daughter laughs too loud or Mülkiyes dress is too short (although no shorter than anyone else’s )
But it’s usually a great laugh, a brilliant social opportunity and gossip isn’t really taken seriously.
Weddings have a tendency to lead to a dünürcülük – keeping it real to tradition but not as strict a requirement as it used to be. An arrangement made between two families when boy likes girl or vice versa, the young man will visit the young lady’s home alongside his parents or elder representation where he will then request the young lady’s hand in marriage. Nowadays, it’s more commonplace that the young man and woman already know each other well, and dünürcülük is just a formality.
On occasions when the couple in question are not so familiar, they’re given the opportunity to get to know one another over a reasonable amount of time after a mutually agreed ‘söz’ (promise) is in place. Those who do not get on are not obligated to marry.
On occasions where the young lady doesn’t like the young man, the excuse of “our daughter wants to study” takes the number one spot on the reasoning list.
In the case that the man doesn’t like the woman, his choice of polite excuses at far more limited, especially as HE made the effort to go to HER home.
I wouldn’t be doing justice to this subject if I failed to mention the salt that replaces sugar in the Turkish coffee served by the young lady. And if the young man remains composed and drinks it, regardless of the awful taste, he’s deemed genuine.
Our elders, who we love and admire so deeply, are just as much the “apple of our eye” when they’re old, as we were the apple of their eye when we were dodging slippers. It’s only when we become adults that we truly understand and appreciate their struggles. The worry they felt during times of threat and uncertainty. The boldness of the decision of those who felt it necessary to emigrate to foreign lands, where they didn’t speak the language, isolated and homesick, year after year and yet, somehow, they managed and strived to give us a better life. The intelligence they have over natural remedies that cure us. The nourishment that was our normal diet, now deemed as super foods and anti-oxidants in the west only in the last 20 years (like pomegranate).
That lecture we’d hear at the dinner table, about how many people in the world were starving, and “eat your food!”, unknown to us, instilled compassion, humanity, gratitude and empathy traits that we weren’t even aware were being imparted.
That flying slipper, which we now laugh about, was not an act of cruelty, but discipline. To make us better aware of our actions.
The diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol which riddles their bodies – a result of all the bread they ate in order to give us fruit, vegetables, meat and fish. A result of the stress they lived through to raise us and the aches and pains throughout their bodies, from years of commitment to their younger generation. Because they never stopped when we turned 18 – they tried harder and some even reared their grandchildren to continue to give the opportunities they themselves never had.
If you’re fortunate enough to have your parents, grandparents and other elders alive today – go to them. If you have any gripes with them, leave them at the door. Humble yourself, kiss their hand and say thank you and truly be thankful. Because tomorrow is not a promise.
Everyone makes mistakes and choices in ways we may perceive as wrong. Even parents. The notion that becoming a parent suddenly equates to always getting it right and always having the answer is wrong. Use that empathy they imparted onto you – don’t judge them. Remember where THEY came from, how THEY were raised, what THEY experienced and be grateful. For you are alive and well enough to read this today.
And to those whose elders are departed – May their souls rest in eternal light and peace, their faces immortalised by your face and those of your children.
Günay hala with my younger son, Aydın Mehmet and my niece Amira.
I dedicate this article to my departed (rahmetli) Günay hala. The most remarkable, selfless person I ever knew. If ever there was such a thing as earth bound angels, she was one of them. May she be granted the highest ranks of heaven.