When I meet people for the first time and tell them that I live in a cave-house in deepest Anatolia, that is the kind of reaction I usually get. Sometimes it’s asked apologetically, as if the questioner is a bit ashamed to suggest such a thing but can’t help their curiosity nonetheless. But when the questioner is a Turk very often it’s asked rather sniffily. Foreigners, you see, hear the cave bit and at least think it sounds potentially interesting, perhaps even a bit exciting. Turks, on the other hand, think only of the backwardness of such an existence. It’s not the go-getting modern life they themselves are looking for. Why, they wonder, would I leave a sensible urban lifestyle to set up a home that sounds so Paleolithic?
It’s a question I’ve asked myself a few times over the recent winter, believe me, but in general, of course, I relate more to the yabancı way of looking at things, and in truth I probably did think it would be quite difficult when I first came here. But that was more than 13 years ago now, and in that time the interesting thing has been that the greatest difficulties have had more to do with the things that test us all in life no matter where we live: namely, unexpected human tragedy.
When I think of the difficult moments here they have almost all had to do with death and bereavement. These things are hard enough to deal with in one’s own culture when one understands the etiquette and has a solid grasp on the requisite things to say. (Actually, we British are notorious for doing our best to get out of saying the requisite things and crossing the road to avoid having to talk to someone newly bereaved if we can possibly get away with it.) The problems multiply exponentially, though, when one must pick one’s way through the minefield of linguistic differences, aware all the time that with one false word a well-meant condolence can easily metamorphose into unmeant offense.
I suppose I’ve been thinking about this rather a lot as there seems to have been a bit too much human tragedy to deal with here recently. Nothing will probably ever match the awfulness of having to call on a friend who had just lost the third of her three children to suicide, but this winter I found myself dragging my feet on the way to pay my respects to a family who had just lost a son to yet another traffic accident.
All the way there I could feel my evasive British instincts struggling to get the better of me. First I called on a neighbor, hoping she could come with me to ease the strain. Then, when that hope proved futile, I snatched at the straw that was not being able to identify the right house. But this is Göreme, and while I was dithering in the street I was quickly spotted and found myself whipped into the appropriate mourning room for women. My heart ached for the poor bereaved mother. It was hard, hard, hard, but not in the way that the people who interrogate me generally imagine.
Pat Yale lives in a restored cave-house in Göreme in Cappadocia.