‘Spring has started, you don’t need wood for the heater anymore, do you?’ I asked my neighbour when I saw her chopping wood. I knew what she was chopping it for, I just needed to start the conversation. ‘It’s for the barbecue, why don’t you come and join us!’
The first real spring weekend in Istanbul seemed a good occasion to join the neighbours barbecue. Well, it takes place in the neighbour’s garden, but many passers-by call in, kids from several families play around the house and take a bite to eat, so it’s more of a neighbourhood barbecue. And it’s a good example of why Turkey suits me. Neighbourhood barbecues in Turkey are kind of rough – like the hamam, which you can read about here.
The barbeque is built out of stones arranged in a rectangle on the ground, with one side left open. The grilling mesh is put on top. It’s not very level, so you have to be careful. Yes, the accident happened: pieces of chicken meat fell on the ground and got covered in sand and lumps of charcoal. No problem, rinse them with water and they can be put back on. Well, why not?
The table was not covered with a cloth, but with newspapers. Besides chicken, there was a big bowl of salad, and a lot of bread, of course. For the kids, the meat was stuffed in a piece of bread, along with some salad – all pushed in with the thumbs. I got a plastic plate with 2 pieces of chicken and a pile of salad. And a huge plastic cup with Cola Turka. I hate cola, but now I found it somehow okay. One of the kids accidentally bumped her cup of cola and it fell, the cola spilling over her trousers a bit. Not a word was said about it, no hurrying to clean the table or the trousers, she just got a new cup. Her clothes were incredibly dirty: she had just been playing in the sand, apparently kneeling down in some charcoal that blew out of the barbecue and by the way, her face was dirty too. But all the kids’ hands were washed before eating, with water from a huge bottle.
A basket was hung out of the window in the second floor of the house. Somebody put some chicken wrapped in newspaper in it and a piece of bread and it was pulled up again. Passing neighbours also got pieces of chicken wrapped in paper. The kids just shouted ‘Et!’ (Meat!) if they wanted more. I of course modified the cry when I wanted some more salad, and just shouted ‘Salata!’ (Kidding.) One of the neighbours came by with home made helva (a sweet made from sesame seed) and really, that was the best helva I ever had. The left-overs of the meat were just thrown anywhere in the garden, and some cats and seagulls quickly came to pick it all up. Then there was tea – what else?
At the end of it all the plastic cups, plates and forks were wrapped in the partly cola-soaked paper, and the whole huge ball of rubbish was put on the barbecue, and immediately lit with a few matches. Everybody took what was hers – I took a grilling mesh – and went home. Soon afterwards the rubbish fire went out. No traces of barbecue left.
I remember a b-b-q we had in our family garden in Izmir. My brother in law, a working class Kurdish man who struggles to get part time work to support his family was carefully tending the b-b-q as I sidled up to him to have a manly chat around the fire. A sliver, I mean a sliver of meat fell into the ashes and Metin went to retrieve it, I stopped him and said, “gerek yok’ (It does’nt matter) but he looked at me in amazement, “gerek var, ya!” (Oh yes it does matter) and i always remember that story to illustrate the differences, inequalities and priorities in mine and Metin’s lives. To me, that tiny piece of meat could of frazzled up in the ashes and did not give it a second thought but to Metin he was prepared to take of the mesh and dive his hand into the ashes to retrieve it. He works so hard that he appreciates things more than I!