One of the main principles of çöp (m)adam is dignity. Respect for self, others respecting the work the garbage ladies do. Initially, I had much loftier notions, such as teaching better manners, better nutrition, giving information on basic health issues like covering your mouth when you cough.
While we have not given up on all those other concepts, in actuality, all our energies are directed to basic logistics: staying afloat and improving our communication. Well, Melih and I are working on trying to keep us afloat and I am working on what is my communication problem.
Communication in this part of the word in general is much less direct than in many western countries, and certainly less than in the USA. Turkish seems to go in a spiral. I call it an IUD form of communication. Eventually the point is gotten to but there are a whole lot of steps to be gone through before then.
Like so many others, I grew up with the story of Alice in Wonderland. It is only in running this endeavor that I really understand some of what Lewis Carroll was getting at. A word can mean whatever the speaker wants it to mean.
‘Which mug do you use?’
The purple one
There is no purple one but I chose one that is not white, pick it up and ask, ‘this one?’
Yes, that’s the one.
(the mug happened to be orange)
I recently realized that perhaps some of my life here could be a chapter from the book ‘The Man Who Tasted Shapes,’ by Richard Cytowic.,,
The conversational frame is more important than the content. Each and every day one of our ladies says ‘I can’t imagine eating food without salt’ to which another replies, ‘I can’t eat anything salted’ to which another adds ‘I don’t care for sweets. I wonder why?’ It’s not what is said it’s that there is a common theme, eating, and each person contributes something about the theme.
Listening skills have not been given importance and we won’t even go into the concept of analytic skills. It’s not that I was expecting these skills to exist, after all, our target audience is women who have had few opportunities in life and most of our ladies only made it through fifth grade. But I find myself living the reality rather than the ideology that there is so very much more to development, to providing opportunities than just that, giving people opportunities. I feel a bit naïve, never mind frustrated, realizing that there are so many issues that I never considered when I entered the world of enablement through creative trash.
Before I moved down to Ayalik full time, conversations with my own neighbors were along the lines of their statements and my obvious responses
‘Are your parents coming this year?’
‘It sure is hot today.’
‘Off to the beach?’
‘That sure is a lot of garbage you’re throwing out.’
Neither they nor I ventured farther. And yet they were never anything but kind to me, making me feel welcome, making me feel part of the neighborhood.
So, what was I expecting, when I decided to provide a venue for women to come together, a space that was their own, where they could feel safe and feel not just that they belong but that the space belonged to them?
The first ladies who came to our workshop were in fact my neighbors. I knew only a few of them by name, and was not sure I could place the people with the residence, as I mostly saw them sitting together on someone’s stoop. They were all polite and friendly to me as I was to them.
I had hoped the women coming to our workshop would see the space as theirs, a place for them to come, feel comfortable, safe and secure. Men had many places they could go to. In villages, towns such as this and specific neighborhoods in larger cities, men go to the tea house daily to play cards and backgammon with their friends. Many women have no such space unless it is their own home or that of a relative or neighbor.
Much of the initial conversation in the workshop was about the techniques, the challenges, the fun involved, as well as common themes and digs at each other that come from having known each other for some time.
For some reason, I tried to share an anecdote but got stuck on the word ‘rainbow.’ I could not, for the life of me, remember how to say ‘rainbow’ in Turkish. And that was key to what I was trying to explain. So I tried to explain rainbow, ‘when it is raining, or after it rains, what do you call the arc of different colors that appears?’
I was not ready for their having no clue as to what I was talking about.
‘An umbrella?’ offered one.
‘Getting rained on?’
By that time I remembered the word for rainbow but the momentum was lost and not only in translation.
I was not yet aware that many if not most of our conversations were to flow along word association rather than topic or content and that this was only the start of what would turn into my own most challenging aspect of all this. I cannot fault our ladies as they are not used to anything else. I don’t fault myself either as I am used to other ways of communicating and different audiences.
People come to the workshop and ask if my ladies have grown since they started coming. Few people ask me how much I am learning and I feel that I have only just begun.