After exploring Goreme in the snow, and after Mum bought not one but two carpets, we were heading back to the hostel via some lanes we hadn’t been up yet. We met a woman, hunched and grey and clearly struggling to make it up the hill. She spotted us and in very broken English said ‘Church, you look I take!’
Beckoning to us to go with her, we followed as she slowly led us up the windy, slippery cobbled street. Pausing often to catch her breath, she put her hand over her heart and said ‘bad heart’. She was very keen to show us this church, which was on the way to her house, and she led us through what may once have been a gate but was now just planks of old, rotting wood, over piles of rubble and through a half-buried doorway. Once inside, another archway led to a round, domed room that was now used for storage – we climbed up big white sacks of animal feed to peer at the very faded remains of medieval wall paintings. It was one of those times that I was very glad I keep a small torch in the pocket of my bag, as the light filtering in through small windows carved out of the rock walls was very limited – so much so that taking photos was all but impossible.
After spending some time marvelling at the church and its antiquity, as well as its modern usage, she invited us to her home for tea – an invitation that came with a smile that couldn’t be refused. And so we followed her further up the hill and through an old wooden fortress-style gate into her home, built into a fairy chimney and painted a fresh clean white inside. The main room was rectangular with a curved roof, like the cradle-style churches we’d seen at the Open Air Museum. A small wood stove sat at one end, and she put pots on to boil the tea while we sat on the couch looking at the pictures she had on the walls. She brought us a plate of different snacks to nibble and insisted that we eat while she called her daughter, who she told us works in a hotel and speaks English. Through her broken English and my even-worse Turkish we worked out that she was fifty-two, only a year older than Mum – although she looked far older and I’d have guessed her to be in her late sixties or early seventies having seen the difficulty she had walking up the street.
When her daughter arrived, she translated for her mother and told us her story. She had married young, and her husband left her within a couple of years of their daughter’s birth. At that time it was unheard of for women, especially married women, to work outside the home, but because she was a single mother who did not want to live on the charity of others she took jobs gardening and cleaning for other people to support herself and her daughter, and make sure that she got a good education. Because of this, she was ostracised from the community and while tolerated and employed was never really able to be part of the community, being looked down upon by everyone else.
A life of hard work, mostly outside, took its toll and at fifty-two she suffered a heart attack and required open-heart surgery – for which she had to travel quite far, as she still does for checkups and other appointments. This was about four months before we met her. She showed us her scar proudly when her daughter told us about this, and we realised that this was one tough lady. Unable to work, her daughter supports her and although she tries to ensure that her mother does not exert herself is apparently unable to stop her from doing things like going to the market, even though the walk back to their home is quite arduous for someone with her ill-health – especially in the snow, when the streets are more treacherous than ever.
She now spends much of her time crocheting and knitting, and we were moved off the couch so that a box of her work could be brought out for us to look at. Fresh cups of steaming black tea were placed on the table as we sorted through beautiful booties and slippers, as well as a collection of cotton scarves, the edges of which were decorated with delicate lace, hand crocheted. They were lovely, and Mum purchased two of them. I think she bought them intending to give them as gifts, but she was unable to part with them because of the memory they invoke and the story of a wonderful afternoon. Our host tied one around Mum’s head, to match her own headscarf. She seemed genuinely delighted to welcome us into her home, and it did not feel as though she was telling us a story to elicit sympathy to sell some scarves – I don’t believe it was for an instant, my cynicism taking a day off.
As we were leaving, her daughter rushed away to find a bottle of wine to give us. It was a re-gifting – she had been given it by a guest at the hotel she works at, but she doesn’t drink alcohol and said that she wanted us to have it and remember her and her mother. It was touching, and I wished that we had something to give to them in return. They insisted it wasn’t necessary, but I still felt disappointed.