Our workshop is located at the intersection of two formerly main streets in the old part of town. One cobblestone road was the main road to Izmir. The other now gets more traffic as it connects the main road leading to local villages to the town. It is a lively intersection, with basic commerce mostly for the grain store and much socializing that revolves around Seytan Suat’s teahouse. With our recent presence, the four corners now represent the state of women officially in the workforce in Turkey: ¼ for women, ¾ for men.
Technically we rent two places for our workshop, side by side. They used to be one piece of property, formerly a tea shop, divided up for each of the owners’ sons. Somewhere along the line, something happened, and the owner and his youngest have not spoken to each other in years. The fight must have been rather intense as the two brothers still do not speak to each other either. I had a doorway opened in the newly dividing wal to we could aess our materials without going outside and then in again. I also had the urinal changed to a ‘modern’ toilet. A urinal is fine for the clientele of a tea shop in this part of the world but not for ladies, garbage ones or otherwise.
Two landlords, father and son, worlds apart. The son and I have always gotten along. He even shook my hand when I signed the original rental agreement and smiles when he greets me. His father, well that relationship was over a year in the making.
When I first rented the space, the old man could barely contain his contempt for me. I used to wonder if it was because I was foreign, then if because I was a woman, perhaps even because we are threatening the status quo. None of the women in his life worked for pay and I assumed he saw the role of women in the home.
Over the year, I was to learn that he would have treated anyone else just the same. He would have yelling bouts full of colorful language to anyone in the neighborhood he was angry at. His wording was rarely original but he made his points clear. It took a while to understand if it was okay to laugh or if one really take his anger seriously. No one in the neighborhood likes him and they all vacillate between arguing and just ignoring him. Now and again there will be a decent conversation between the 3 male owners of the property at our intersection, but mostly people seem more content when Yasar Bey goes on his own way.
‘HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA’ he roared one day after we locked up. ‘Official working hours are over????????????? HAHAHAHAHAHA’. I had been waiting for more people, men in particular, to challenge what we were doing, so in a way this was expected. It still hurt though, especially as I saw how proud our ladies were that they indeed were working, whether within official hours or not.
I was insulted personally and had to hold on to keep anger as well as tears back. I reverted to coping skills from childhood and told myself that I would not drop to his level, as I saw it. I reminded myself that we are doing something rather different and that we need to win over the locals, whether we got along personally or not, and that change was difficult to deal with. The owner of our workspace had been here for a lot longer than I had, and it was, after all, his neighborhood that I was bringing change to. I vowed to never let him see me weak, not then, not at any other time.
When the weather was warm enough, Yasar Bey would sit at the base of the steps to his home, three meters from our main entrance, for hours. I always made a point to greet him, always asked how he is doing. It has taken over a year, but he has warmed up to me, to us. We now are on civilized terms, even able to joke with one another. I cross that tenuous line of teasing myself as well as others about my infidel status. Recently I told Yasar Bey that he was jealous as he was not a true infidel as I was. Many people really get upset when I speak like this but he can fire right back. ‘I’ll take you hunting so you can shoot your own pig.’
Not too long ago, there was a funeral for a high school boy who was killed in a terrible car accident. I did not know the young man personally but I felt the weight of his schoolmates as they walked by us en route to the mosque for the funeral. There was not a dry eye in the workshop.
The funeral procession had come and gone and we had gone back to work. I had stepped outside the workshop later in the afternoon for a phone call and saw the elderly fellow sitting on his stoop. I went over and asked him how he was doing. He said ‘fine,’ but I sensed he was not and said so.
I asked him if he went to the funeral. I figured it was probable that he did as the young fellow who was killed lived two streets behind him.
The old man looked up at me and said,
‘You know, I really hate accidents like this. They are just awful.’
There was a look of deep emotion in his eyes and he held on to his words long enough for me to understand there was more he wanted to say.
‘I can still see the limbs of the 8-year old girl and the family friend who were in the car that I crashed into. I got out of my car and picked the pieces up and put them in a pile and covered them up with my shirt. I hate accidents like this. I had forgotten everything until this happened. You know, the court case went on for 7 years. When it was done, they put me in prison for 11 months. I couldn’t do anything there, hardly could even sleep. We never know when our time is up nor how we will go. But I will never forget that little girl.’
I now understood why he was such a grumpy old man and so antagonistic to so many.
I said that I was so sorry and that this must be a huge burden to bear and that I did not know if I would be strong enough to carry such a weight.
‘You get over it after a while. God gives you strength and you don’t think about it so much. It has to be that way, else how could you live?’
I really do not know.