Imagine living in a detached stone house with a fireplace and garden. Visualize the scenery and the sound of birds chirping in the trees. Traffic consists of flocks of sheep, goats or wild donkeys and there is always a parking space right outside your door.
This is life in a Turkish village, which many generations have sought to escape for the big cities and a more modern way of life. However, for me living in a village is the ultimate life of luxury, which I enjoy in the heart of the Ida Mountains in the Western province of Çanakkale.
I remember being apprehensive that I would be treated like an outsider when I first moved to the village and indeed I was, however only in the sense that I was given the opportunity to truly experience the generous hospitality attributed to Turkish culture.
Waking up on the first morning in my village home, I opened the door to see a pile of various packages left on my garden table. The packages included a canister of olive oil, containers filled with green and black olives, a huge chunk of goat cheese, a bottle of fresh milk, a dozen eggs, freshly baked bread and bundles of fresh greens. The only thing lacking was any sort of clue as to whom had left this precious gift.
After enjoying a spectacular breakfast, I went to pay visits to my new neighbors in an attempt to express my gratitude for the wonderful welcoming. Although I walked away with even more gifts of locally procured goods, I never did find out who had shown me such generosity without any expectation of acknowledgement, never mind reciprocity. These were gifts that money could not buy, and quite literally, so as my fellow neighbors refused to take monetary compensation and looked at me aghast when I tried to offer it. Life in the village continues to be one of sharing and I now take part in the Turkish tradition of returning a dish only when it is filled with something new.
Yet another spirited tradition flourishing in villages is to share important events in one's life in the form of a "hayır," which literally means a benefaction. A "hayır" is a form of expressing gratitude by preparing an offering for fellow villagers on occasions ranging from the birth of a child, building a home, purchasing a car or land and even commemorating the death of a loved one. This form of offering can range from distributing pastries or sweets door to door to serving a full sit-down meal and every villager is either included or invited while outsiders are also always welcomed.
The entire village pitches in for weddings (which are usually three-day affairs) and other milestone ceremonies as the women prepare food while the men set up the tables and serve the dishes. All the while a constant flow of guests arrive to take part in the event, which is held in a garden or the village school yard, thereby relieving families of the heavy costs associated with renting out spaces in bigger towns and cities.
Most villages also have a mosque and a local coffeehouse where one can enjoy a tea and while away the hours playing backgammon or watching the latest favorite television series or football game. There is a transportation service that takes villagers to the weekly farmers market held in the nearest town. However, on other days of the week, a green grocer truck drives through the village as does a truck selling fish and a van filled with house wares and textiles, quite literally bringing the market straight to your door.
Perhaps one of the greatest luxuries of living in a village are the weekly visits by a doctor as part of the mobile health care service offered free of charge by the Ministry of Health. A family practitioner assigned to the village comes one afternoon each week during which anyone can address their medical concerns over tea with a doctor they have grown familiar with.
My favorite part of living in a village is being encompassed by nature and surrounded with animals. Although my neighbors are out of eyesight and earshot, at any given moment I can easily spot a wide variety of birds, including owls, as well as squirrels, sheep, goats, cows, wild boar, donkeys, horses, foxes and even jackrabbits. There are also hours-worth of trails that lead deep into the forest which I venture on without any sense of fear only to end up running into local village women tending to their sheep or picking medicinal herbs or mushrooms.
To some my life may seem like an escape from reality and if so then I hope I am never found. Time seems to have stood still in my village and I hope it never speeds up to the fast tempo of the city, because I do not know if I could ever lower the high standards of living I have become accustomed to in a Turkish village.