There is a small park a couple of doors down from my home. I never go there. The little pools are always dry. The walls covered in graffiti. The benches are dusty. The playground in the back is usually empty. Teenagers hang out and smoke there. Visitors to the hospital seek refuge from the shade there. Once there was a young guy who walked our streets for a week, and said he lived there.
My husband and I only use the park as a point of reference, now that we share a car. The car is parked in front of the park, across from the park, just pass the park. And so on.
Last night, the park was something more, something beautiful, something magnificent.
My husband came home late from running errands after work. We had a late dinner during which he mentioned that a large screen was at the park displaying photos of two boys. “They must be the muhtar‘s sons.”
Since I was heading out to feed the stray cats anyway, I walked over there. The screen, draped between two trees was no longer displaying photos, but rather showed a bright sunny star-like design. Red and white bows hung from the gates. Two tables anchored the gates, with large white flower displays and a candle in the middle of each one. A few steps in was another table with a flower display and candle. Two large photos of the boys shown in sorrow.
The pools were full of water and to my delight, a fountain bubbled. Two tall candles surrounded another flower display on the pool. Children lit smaller candles and sent them off to sail across the water.
White chairs surrounded and park benches surrounded the pool. A large white banner was strung across two more trees. People were filing in. And as they were seated, they were served a large tray of dinner and drinks. A table in the back of the park was set up for tea service. And there at the gate was the muhtar. Dressed in black, he welcomed each and every guest. His wife sat on a bench in the front of the crowd.
This was the second anniversary of the death of their twin sons who died in a traffic accident. They were both on the same moped.
I immediately went home and threw on a pair of slacks. I didn’t think twice about it. I wasn’t invited, but I knew the muhtar and his wife, and I wanted to show my support. I left my camera behind, so I would not appear disrespectful. I slipped in the back without being noticed, and took a seat along the side wall.
A few moments later, I realized my friend, Necati, was also sitting on the wall. He moved closer to chat. Our friend, Emine, from the pastane also came to join us. Later, Semiha came and sat with the Muhtar’s wife. Eventually, there was a crowd of at least 200 people in our small park.
It was then that I realized why I love my neighborhood of Aşağı Ayrancı so much. It is a true community. These folks had come out to support the muhtar and his wife as they continue to grieve. And here I was, accepted as part of the community. The muhtar noticed me sitting on the wall and made his way over to shake my hand. I was then offered dinner, treats, lemonade, and tea.
A movie started to play on the screen, a Turkish classic, Yilanlarin öcü (Revenge of the Snakes – 1962.) There were no subtitles and I found it hard to follow. Necati chimed in from time to time telling me the story and handing me a cigarette.
A boy killed a snake. The snake was a symbol of bad luck to come. “It is an allegory.” It was a story of the struggles of a community, between rich and poor. “Have you ever been to a true Turkish village?”
I don’t know the true meaning of the movie. I left early and didn’t see the ending, but I would like to see it again with subtitles. I did see a lot of sex and violence. I can’t help but wonder why this film was selected on this day.
It is a simple tale of a young couple and their little boy trying to live a suitable life in a small Anatolian village. This is a multi-layered film in which the antagonists include the mother in law, the new neighbors- with whom there is a serious land dispute, the town chiefs, and government officials who are oblivious to the needs and concerns of the average person. The snake is a symbol for the incoming troubles that will haunt the couple.
Maybe it symbolized the struggle of the muhtar against a larger population who shows complete ambivalence to the rules of the road. Maybe the film demonstrated his grief over his loss. Perhaps it was simply his favorite, or a favorite to his sons.
As I left the park before the end of the film, there stood the muhtar, just outside of the gate, ready to shake my hand again. And he thanked me. I didn’t have the words to tell him what I was feeling, my compassion, my sorrow. So I simply took his hand between both of mine, and held it a little longer.
I rushed back to the park early this morning so that you would have photos to get the feel of the park. The benches were back in place. The chairs had been removed. But the park somehow felt different.
There was not much left to divulge what had taken place the night before. There were paper cups strewn here or there across the lawn. The empty pack of Pall Mall’s that Necati had shared with me was left behind on the wall. As I spent a few minutes picking up the few pieces of trash, I admired the big white banner still hanging between the trees. The small unlit candles floated in the water.
But there was something more. The two tall candles that sat on the fountain’s corners were still lit. It is possible that someone lit them this morning, but it wasn’t yet 7a.m. Perhaps the muhtar had lit them as he headed out for work?
As I turned to head out of the park once again, I noticed there was another banner hanging closer to the entrance. The banner contained similar words to the other. And it had a photo of each boy. This banner also contained their names.
Turning back to the gate, it was the first time I noticed that the wooden sign above the gate identified the name of the park, Eren-Onur Demircan Ikizler Parki , a tribute to the twins who lost their lives here in Ankara, to a senseless traffic accident.
And then I thought of the answer to Necati’s question.
Yes, I have been to a true Turkish village. I call it Aşağı Ayrancı. A village full of pain and struggles, compassion and love.
Başın sağolsun allah sabır versin mekanı cennet olsun.