I would like to introduce to you a new friend, Alan Fenn. Alan is a “virtual friend.” One of those to whom I referred on a previous blog – one I have never met but highly revere. In my mind, Alan is many things; an author, a blogger, a political virtuoso, lover of flora and fauna, and best friend to his wife J. Below is an interview with him about one of his books.
Q – Tell us about yourself – where are you from, where do you live now, why are you in Turkey?
I was born on the Isle of Sheppey, which lies in the Thames Estuary in the SE of England. Originally named the Isle of Sheep, it is steeped in history with connections to Nelson (who kept Lady Hamilton in a house in Queenborough); Winston Churchill, who learned to fly at Eastchurch Aerodrome, which was the birthplace of aviation in the UK; the island was also the site of the Nore Mutiny by sailors of the Royal Navy.
Much of the island is low-lying so, if you were born there, you are known as a ‘Swampy’! Locals were rather like the ‘Hill-Billy’ characters in ‘Deliverance’ – most likely the result of isolation and inbreeding. Whatever, ‘Mainlanders’ avoided us like the plague!
Formal education was never my thing; although I managed to scrape through technical college. From there I wandered from job to job (as you could in those far-off days of full employment) – electronics apprentice; warehouseman; shop assistant; door-to-door brush salesman; served in the Parachute Regiment for six years; dock labourer; speciality salesman; hearing aid audiologist; prison officer; publican; prison service industrial manager; etc etc! Some might say this demonstrates a marked lack of stickability – I prefer to say it shows flair, flexibility, adaptability and, if you must, a low boredom threshold!
17 years ago I was diagnosed with severe, inoperable spinal degeneration – my working life was over and I was told I would likely be in a wheelchair within five years. My partner J (of blog and composting fame) and I had nurtured a pipe dream to retire to Turkey, so, she took early retirement, we pooled our reduced pensions, burned our bridges and became economic migrants. What a wonderfully positive move it has proved to be.
Finding our village of Okçular in Muğla Province, SW Turkey, was pure chance; we were bewitched by the plot where we built our new home. Surrounded by forest and mountains, richly bio-diverse with neighbours to die for, we could not have dreamed the script that our lives have become.
7 years ago my back finally gave way. Our local village doctor fixed me up with an Iranian spinal specialist, practicing in Fethiye, who operated the NEXT DAY! The results were astounding for me – I knew when I came around from the op that a ‘miracle’ had been performed. Although I still need to exercise care, I can now walk the mountains exploring for flora and fauna. Life is pretty wonderful!
Q – Tell us about the book – what is it about, why did you write it, how did it come about?
The Okçular Book Project came about as a way of giving something back to our village for all the support and kindness they have shown to J and me over the years. The catalyst was an attempt by outsiders to open a quarry and cement works in Kocadere Valley. Kocadere is a fantastic place, even judged by the standards of Turkey itself. The villagers asked us to help fight the development, which we did; being foreigners, we were targeted as ring-leaders by the ‘developers’ and serious threats, like hacking off my arms with a machete and gun attacks were made. Our neighbours countered by putting an armed guard around our house. Attempts were made to have our home bulldozed as illegal – it was a very stressful time. The village was successful in stopping the destruction of Kocadere, one of the first campaigns of its type in Turkey, overturning 16 licenses in the process. Today the valley is protected and there for all of us to enjoy.
Out of the stresses came a bond; more than just friendship, it’s best described as being ‘made’ family – J and I have never felt so strongly that this is where we belong.
In order to give something tangible back we devised the Book Project; we drew together (with a lot of help) some history of the village, some stories from some of the old folk – Eski Çınarlar (Old Plane Trees) as they are called locally, half a dozen walks with maps, and lists of flora and fauna – all in English and Turkish. We called it ‘Okçular Village – a Guide’ and published it at our expense with ALL of the income from ‘sales’ going into environmental and community projects in Okçular.
The book has been a run-away success, with sales via the internet taking it as far away as the US, Europe, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and even China, as well as Turkey. To date we have been able to provide the children with a play park, decorated the village school with fantastic murals that drew national media attention (it even brought the sales and marketing director of the Polisan Paint Group on a special visit to the village), we restored a (nearly) antique outdoor chess set and made a playing ‘board’ for the school chess club. Planted up gardens at the school. We have an on-going photo archive project that aims to preserve and make publicly available photos from Okçular’s past. Recently I agreed to use book funds to provide wi-fi for two classrooms which lack a connection; a rack for 20 bikes; toner packs for copying work sheets, and full sets of books for each of six classes.
As a result of repeated requests for additional walking/cycling routes around our area, we self-funded a wonderful new book called ‘Backways and Trackways’ that is proving to be even more successful than the original guide – again, all of the money goes into village projects.
Q – Are there any passages you would like to share with us?
Yes, the opening paragraphs from ‘Okçular Village – a Guide’
Welcome to Okçular. Here we’ll try to open a window for you into our village, the beautiful, natural environment that surrounds us, our way of life which is fast disappearing, and give you a chance to meet some of the villagers who have a story to tell.
Some were born when the last Sultan was still on the throne. They remember the rise of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the War of Independence and the founding of the modern Republic of Turkey. Theirs is a fascinating tale!
We hope that through these pages we will give you a Magic carpet ride where you can “Ooh!” at the beauty of Mother Nature and “Ahh!” at the storytelling.
Q – Who would enjoy the book or find it useful? Who is the intended audience?
First, anyone who lives near or plans to visit the area around Dalyan/Okçular. Second, those who enjoy learning about life in other cultures. Third, anyone who wants to support the aims of our Book Project.
Q – Where can we buy the book? Do the proceeds benefit any particular group?
Locally there are a number of businesses and individuals who ‘sell’ the books. It is also available online via www.okcular.net/shopping All of the ‘sellers’ are supporters of the Book Project and take no profit or commission. If anyone has any difficulties then contact me direct: email@example.com The benefactors are the community and particularly the children of Okçular.
Q – Tell us about your blog. How long have you been writing it? What do you write about? Why do you blog?
Archers of Okçular (Okçular is the Turkish word for archer) – started life, and continues at www.archersofokcular.blogspot.com, as a political blog. It recently passed the 20,000+ page views per day and growing mark. Following an article by journalist Jane Akatay about English language bloggers in Turkey, I sounded out two outstanding exponents – Jack Scott @ www.perkingthepansies.com and Natalie Sayin @ www.turkishtravelblog.com – about joining the clan. I felt I had a few tales to tell that might amuse or entertain a few people. my blog about living, loving and travelling Turkey, www.archersofokcular.com, is targeted at anyone who finds my ramblings of interest – very much ‘take it or leave it’. If no one but my family read it, then that’s OK by me – the fact that a few others seem to enjoy it is gratifying and amazes me no end! If the adventure that is the daily life of J and me is instrumental in encouraging others to explore Turkey ‘off the beaten track’ or to view our adopted country through a different lens, then I feel the time spent writing is well used.
Q – Anything else you would like to share?
This is an amazing country, populated by amazingly generous and kindly people. Turkey is much more than the tourist Meccas around the coast – go explore it and ‘open up’ to the people, you will be rewarded beyond measure.