Cracking Almonds in Babushkas …as we look fear in the face in Turkey

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There was just a touch of lace around her face, trying to pretty up a wrinkled old face, lined deeply from hard work. The old woman’s scarf wrapped around her neck and head and covered all visible signs of hair or what color it was or how little was left. I couldn’t be accurate in judging her age.

On her robust body, she wore a long gathered skirt, a blouse and a long knitted button down vest…sneakers. She held a cloth bag by its handles. She sat in the bus shelter waiting for a bus to take her to Avenos and watched me, smiling. I was trying to figure out how she kept the end of her scarf on the top of her head without a bobby pin. She was trying to figure out who I was and who I was with.

In broken English with a Turkish accent she attempted a conversation. “Are you from America?” (yes)

“Is that your husband?” (no, it’s my son). Any more children? (a daughter). “Is THAT your daughter (a Korean girl standing next to me whom I exchanged small talk with. No.) We all laughed. She blushed and laughed too. “I said, “She could be if I had two different husbands.”

When the bus pulled up, my new friend got in first. Bryce and I walked carefully down the aisle trying not to wack anyone. When I passed my new friend, whom had claimed a seat, she patted her knee and offered her lap for me to sit in. I was floored.

When I first decided to take my son to Turkey for his graduation present, the most frequent response was, “Why?” Followed by, “I don’t think it’s safe.” I was advised to be hyper viligant, contact the department of state about our whereabouts in the country, keep ours ears turned to the news and avoid crowded places where many tourists congregated.

As I walked down the bus asile, contemplating the old woman’s lap, I was feeling pretty vulnerable. (not!) Had it not been a short bus ride, I may have taken her up on her offer.

Canceling our trip to Turkey, planned 11 months ago- as soon as flights can be bought, crossed my mind in a fleeting momen, as I listened to the paranoia. We were not going anywhere near the border of Syria. We were too excited for this adventure to throw away $1400 and give in to fear. When my diplomat nephew said not to worry and HE proceeded to buy a flight to join us, I knew there should be no worries.

Everwhere we went, we were met with not just cordialness but warm friendliness. It made me feel foolish about considering abandoning our trip after I was in the country by about 5 minutes. WHAT was I thinking?

But it was the group of older women that lived around our hotel who really gave me pause. We saw them everyday as we came and went about our day, heading to the bus station to visit a nearby town or off on a long hike up a picturesque valley.

They sat alongside the stone cobble drive, on old foam sofa cushions. Their big skirts dipped between their legs as they sat sprawled with a cinder block between thir legs. With a smaller chunk they slammed almonds and poked them put of their shells. I chatted away in English. They chatted away in Turkish, neither of us needing to know exactly what the other was saying. They took turns presenting their plams up to Bryce and I with the sweet extracted nut kernals. We all laughed and chattered and understood everything. They were still at the slamming at 5 pm that afternoon and we exchanged the same pleasantries and scored some more nuts.IMG_0616

At the end of the next day, we see five old women laden down with plastic grocery bags, the thin stretched-tight handles cutting into their manly hands from the weight. In between two of the women, the weight of two more heavy bags were shared, each carrying a handle to help with the load. I sent Bryce running ahead to offer his assistance. They jibbered happily in Turkish as Bryce took the bags out of their hands. We didn’t realize they were our nut-cracking neighbors at first for many of these older Turkish women dress and look similar.

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The next morning as we’re leaving for the day, the women are in the open house next door, on the floor again, on old sofa cushions, rolling out dough and chopping it into tiny shapes like pastina or orzo. Their knives moved rapidly, obviously from years of acquired skill. Another women cut dough into strips for noodles. Another ran dough chunks through a pasta press. They invited us in. I wanted to stay and work with them for the day. I started to ask questions, and one ran and got our hotel owner to translate.

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“They want you to know that this is the flour that was in the bags you helped carry.”

(we figured that out).

“WHO are these women?” I ask our hotel owner. “Are they related?”

“Just friends, one lives here and one here and one here and one here,” as he points to the surrounding homes.

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“Is it a job?”

“They don’t do this for work. They have gotten together to make their pasta for the winter.”

Of course. Make their pasta for the winter.

When we returned to our hotel at the end of the day, the pasta was drying on racks, or on blankets on the side of the stone drive. The Call to Prayer echoed throughout the village. Life was good.

When I posted a photo of our neighborhood girls on FB with a caption, my writer friend MaryAlice Yacutchik- whose ancestors hail from Russia, where they wear babushkas, as do mine in Poland, said, “When we get old I want to get together and wear babushkas and make pasta and crack almonds.”

It’s a deal. Something to look forward to.

This is why I travel. To feel foolish for being afraid of these lovely people. To be reminded once again how we in Amercia are so afraid of other cultures, other religions and how it can hold us back from experiencing magic and the best part, discovering that we are not so different and people have warm hearts all over the world. And this was only two in a long string of wonderful memories as we spent two glorious weeks in the wonderful country of Turkey.

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4 thoughts on “Cracking Almonds in Babushkas …as we look fear in the face in Turkey Leave a comment

  1. This post goes straight to my heart, Cindy, with your wonderful message of our true relationship with people in other countries. And I could totally see getting together with you and your friends in our babushkas to crack almonds and make pasta for the winter! XO

    1. we are starting to take orders for a group home when we are old and our husbands have passed= we will each do our special job (will not be cleaning) but we will work together, be it cracking almonds or making pasta. would you like tone on the list? a sense of humor is imp- i think you first the bill!!

  2. Thanks for the story behind the pictures. I am glad you remind folks not to be afraid of other cultures and religions! Travel truly reminds us that people all over the world are not much different than us! In fact, we have more in common than we realize. The world is not that scary and if we would just step away from all of the negative stuff we hear on the nightly news maybe we’ll be able to come to a better understanding of ourselves and others. Thanks again for your post! Keep us the great work and keep traveling!!!!

    1. you are right, Earl. every single time i go, i learn it again and again and feel more at home everywhere in the world- it is a wonderful feeling, being able to easily chat with folks on the other side of the planet, and not even know what they are saying, but of course you do, they are saying that we are the Family of Man and I am like you

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