07 April, 2010

Karacabey: Development

It is rare to find the drama of life so distilled and expressed in a single theme as i did on the second day in Yolağzi, as the drama of the tractor my friend and guide Oğuzhan had unfortunately mired continued to unfold.

In more traditional Turkish families, decision-making is a patriarchal process, one in which the grandfather has a large say. Oğuzhan explains that the reality is a bit more complex; because of the respect accorded older men in this society, grandfather's opinion must be solicited, or cleverly swayed. For example, when taking out a loan for a new tractor, my friend persuaded his grandfather that Tayyip Erdoğan advised farmers to buy Başak tractors, and thus precluded disagreement. Having met said grandfather, i can fathom both the necessity and humor in this tale.

Because of grandfather's fiscal conservatism, the Aydıns had until now only driven cars owned by the family business. This morning, Yilmaz showed up at the door in an ancient Renault, and an hour later - after a hair-raising test drive, passing a tractor on a curve on the narrow road out of the village - the Renault was theirs.

Our first destination in the car was a kavak (poplar) plantation a couple kilometers away on the floodplain. There, an operator in a bright blue New Holland was chisel plowing among hectares of new kavak whips, single, naked stems perhaps seven meters tall. As we disbarked to ask for assistance freeing the still-mired tractor, Oğuzhan expressed dismay with the growth of the kavak plantation. He seemed to think of capitalism as a bad word, where it involved the sale of traditional land. "The people who sold these fields will either go hungry or become slaves," he said, conveying a pride in self-determination common to farmers the world over. (See my review of Thai filmmaker Uruphong Raksasad's "Agrarian Utopia".) Despite the new relation of land and capital, customs of lending assistance die hard. And the massive New Holland was a four-wheel drive.

With the Aydıns' tractor free at last, two aunts piled into the car with us for a trip to Karacabey, the center of trade and distribution 12 kilometers away. It is an agricultural city with a rapidly growing population of forty thousand; factories, canneries, silos stretch along the highway towards the surrounding fields. Dropping Faruk and the aunts off, Oğuzhan took me to the bustling market, a collection of sellers that convenes beneath this vast roof every Tuesday. Eating şambali we walked among the sea of wares, from clothing and shoes to fresh produce and fish - even (nominally) organic spinach. A storm was gathering rapidly, and the energy of sudden wind intensified an already electric atmosphere.


It is impossible to capture in words. If i could paint, i'd paint the horse-cart on the corner, children held by the wrist nearly darting in front of the car; narrow crowded streets between high-rise buildings painted an array of pastel colors; signs of mixture - Caucasians, Georgians, Roma, Kurds, Turks - in the pazar; tractors, bicycles, strollers, motorcycles, the vibrance of a place actively growing, of people who belong to the factories, canneries, and the herds of sheep grazing at the edge of housing projects. But until you see a lightning bolt framed against the chaos of wires, satellite dishes, rooftops, and minarets, sky steel-grey against the silver-green of olive leaves; until the street between sand-colored buildings grows dark, the vendors' umbrellas caught in a gust of wind and you taste brick-dust blown from the broken street - until then you will not understand Karacabey. Lightning split the sky and rain, then hail, began to fall.


After rain, Yolağzi village spread damp and green and quiet. Storks - called leylek in Turkish - sat in their nests. My friend said leylek have a special significance to Muslims: in their migrations, twice yearly, the birds overfly the holy cities Mecca and Medina - and thus the birds themselves tie believers to the five pillars of Islam; in a way they bring Mecca and Medina to this rural village. The leylek are haci, pilgrims.

From the mosque, and from loudspeakers throughout Yolağzi and Gonu, ezan - the call to prayer - echoed over the damp landscape. Here in the village it is preceded by a series of dial tones. When i asked why, Oğuzhan explained that while not every imam is a capable cantor, recordings are forbidden, thus ezan is broadcast from elsewhere, live five times a day. We fell silent. For my friend, it is a familiar sound hard to find on our campus, as if campus were a different, almost areligious world. The loudspeakers' regular intrusion, and the fact that on occasion they were also used to broadcast advertisements  - a shipment of fresh fish at the village store, for example - once something he disliked, had now become the aural essence of home. To me, a sound which in the Kızılay metro, from the hillside near our dormitory, or among the buildings of Ulus was the apotheosis of foreignness now echoed through Yolağzi as a familiar thing i would come, like my friend, to miss.

As dusk fell we walked the street out of the village. The discussion brought back much of my old enthusiasm for traditional agriculture, and for its precarious position in modern, developing Turkiye.