Watching the moon

I was exhausted after travelling, after talking Turkish the whole day and after meeting too many people. The last visit Rosarin and I paid was to yet another village family. The TV was too loud, the coffee too bad, the talk too long – and for a big part in Kurdish so I didn’t understand a word. I know it’s not considered very rude to fall half asleep on the couch, so I did: I closed my eyes. Nice side effect was that nobody started talking to me any more, which was great because I was too tired to concentrate on listening and talking. So you would think I would fall into a dead sleep when half an hour later I was in my bed. Did I? No, I didn’t. I was wide awake, watching the full moon. For the first time in my life, I was roof-topsleeping, and too amazed for sleeping.

Via one of the Dutch readers of this website (hello Constance!) I got in touch with Rosarin, a Kurdish-Turkish woman living in the Netherlands. She invited me to make a trip with her to the south eastern province of Gaziantep, where her family is from and whom she was going to visit for a couple of weeks in the summer. I didn’t need to be persuaded, packed my bag and jumped on a plane.

The visit to a small village of maybe not even a hundred people, was impressive. Rosarin had some family living there, and they had just returned to the village. In the summer, they take their cattle to a yayla (highland) in other parts of Turkey. Their own province is partly too dry, and partly not accessible for cattle grazing  for security reasons: the continuing fight between the army and the PKK makes the area too dangerous. This summer, for example, two men who were gathering herbs in the highlands in the southeast were actually killed by the army, who thought they were PKK fighters.

In September and October, the villages slowly become inhabited again. Not only with the people, but also with everything they take with them to the yayla’s: herds of sheep and goats, chickens, beehives, a few horses and a whole lot of donkeys. Besides people and animals and houses, there is nothing in the village: no shop, no school, no bakery, not any state representative, no post office. And it’s also not needed, because everything can be made at home. At breakfast, there was butter, milk, cheese, warm bread, eggs, big lumps of honey, dried meat, olives, herbs, yoghurt – yes, I over-ate.

The houses are not very big. I saw a few with one big room used as a kitchen, one living room, a hall and one extra room. Behind a curtain in the living room during the day the mattresses are stored: you can fold them up and stuff them on shelves. At night, the mattresses are put on the floor in the living room. Or on the roof, for example when it’s too hot, or when there are guests. Since both were the case, beds were made outside. Rosarin and I lay down right next to each other in the middle of the roof, and right next to me were three other women and a little boy.

First, I couldn’t sleep: the moon was full and beautiful and made the night rather bright. Rosarin too couldn’t sleep. Next to me on the other side, I heard some soft snoring and breathing. The little boy was in the middle, for safety reasons – as you can read here, roof top sleeping isn’t always safe. But in the end, I fell asleep, and I woke up with a cool morning breeze on my face (there is a pic here!) and the sounds of women coaxing donkeys to go in the right direction: they were just passing by below my roof. The donkeys had water cans on their backs – I intended to go with the women to the well a few kilometres away from the village, but of course, that didn’t happen: I’m a city girl, I’m not used to go to sleep when the sun goes down and wake up when it rises. The beds next to me were empty, and also Rosarin was up already.

I looked down at the donkeys, my eyes wandered off to the house of our hosts and I saw the mother was busy making a fire to bake bread. In the field just outside the village a shepherd was passing by with his sheep, some girls and boys in uniform were about to leave for the next village to go to school. I got dressed under the blanket and stumbled down the stairs. For a second, I wanted to tell the house owners that I had such a great time sleeping on the roof under the full moon. But I decided to shut up. No need to comment on something that is just such a natural part of every-day village life.

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