Kolay Gelsin - May Your Work Be Easy

Trip Start Sep 09, 2013
Trip End Dec 16, 2013

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Flag of Turkey  , Kocaeli,
Saturday, October 12, 2013

To start our adventure in Turkey, Sandi and I chose to do a one week farm stay at Nar Egitim, near a small town called Kerpe on the Black Sea .  The farm aims to promote "ecological thinking" both in it's organic practice and through education, by offering short term training courses and retreats to Turkish citizens and corporations. Our job as farm stay volunteers was to pitch-in in any way possible, 6 hours a day, in exchange for food, accommodation and the experience of living and working on a Turkish farm.

Since it was our first stop in Turkey, job #1 was to get out of Istanbul, where we landed at Ataturk International Airport.    Once out of the airport, there were virtually no signs in English. We were clutching an email printout, with some basic instructions that our farm hosts had sent to us before we left Canada - but even though English is the most common second language in Turkey, it is not widely spoken (nor read).  With a deep breath, it was on to the Metro, then to Otogar (the main bus station) and once there, to sift through a bewildering array of bus companies to find the one that would take us to Kandira, the nearest big centre to our destination.  On two occasions, we obviously looked so stunned that locals gratefully stopped to help us.  Through our mutual (certainly most comical) hand signals and a bit of English on their part, we managed to get on the right bus.  Phew. 

Two hours later and we were on another continent (having crossed the Bosphorus Strait into Asia) but still in greater Istanbul...  obviously one HUGE city... and a traffic jam the likes I had never seen before (even worse than Los Angeles).  Turkish buses are modern and comfortable with both a driver and a steward, so we were served coffee and water along the way!  Bathrooms in Turkish bus stations, however, are another matter altogether - let's just say I took a deep breath before "going in," to spend my 1 lire (about 50 cents), to squat over the Asian style biffy. I truly might have hugged a porcelain pony (for joy) had I come across one that day! After three hours we arrived in Kandira where, amidst lots of curious stares, we (once again) received every kindness from locals to get us on the right bus to Nar Egitim.

Sandi and I were received graciously and enthusiastically at the farm by Nar (who is the creative energy behind the farm) and her extended family, most of whom could speak some English (Nar speaks English very well), which was a relief because by this time we were exhausted.  We were shown our sleeping accommodations and gulped silently - a bedroll, a sleeping bag and an army cot - rustic to say the least.  However, the welcoming warmth and generosity of the other volunteers (all half our age) brought some encouraging comfort - we could grin and bare it over the objections of our 40-something aged bodies, surely to come.

We spent the next week harvesting chestnuts, peppers and tomatoes, planting and weeding, helping to build a granary out of mud bricks and a rock pathway.  Sandi and I did this side-by-side with the other volunteers; Atta from Finland, Elissa from Germany, Selena from the US, and Robert from Northern Ireland.   I have to say that one of the truly special aspects of international volunteer work is the camaraderie and friendships built with fellow travellers. Countries of origin, age, and life experience take a back seat to the overall shared experience.  Of course we worked side-by-side with locals as well - Sandi and one of the hired farm workers, Huria, formed an especially dynamic duo. Unable to speak in each other's language, they shared the green thumb and a lot of laughs while managing to communicate by more comical hand signals! 

Every day we were fed well, especially at lunch, which was the main meal.  Lunch in the farm was a communal affair, where family, hired hands and volunteers all ate together.  Even though it was mid-October, most days it was warm enough to eat outside at mid day.  My favourite dish - and there were many great ones - was Turkish pasta... proper name unpronounceable, I'm afraid.  As the week went along, gradually we got more confident hearing and trying out Turkish greetings; "Merhaba" (hello), "Günaydm" (good morning), "Teşekkür lar" (thank-you) and "Kolay gelsin," (may your work be easy).

Volunteer work in another country and in another culture is never easy and I have to admit on several occasions, in the middle of the night, I wished only for a mattress.  However, the rewards of these experiences are often subtle, and on one occasion, at least, sublime.  Turkey is a Muslim country, and every morning just before dawn, the call to prayer rang out from the mosques in the villages around the farm.  To the unaccustomed ear, it is a strange and jarring chant to wake up to, especially when distorted by loudspeakers and distance.  One morning, in the early light, an unexpected response to the daily dawn call came from just beyond the borders of the farm, from jackals (related to coyotes in Canada) who are stealthy but common creatures of the forest in Turkey.  One, two jackals, then perhaps four or five, their howls rose siren-like in spirals around the call to prayer, a cacophony of man and beast to herald a new day which then rose into a crescendo, for what seemed like three or four dilated minutes. Then, at once, it all stopped, a deep and breathless silence.  I knew, all at once in that simple, mysterious and exciting moment, that I was very far from home.

One of the most interesting (and at times challenging) ways to get "off the tourist path" when visiting a country is to do a home stay or to volunteer in some capacity.  There are several organizations and networks that can facilitate this type of visit including HelpX and WWOOF (links below if you are interested).

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