Return to a Turkish village

The citrus-colored No. 6 city bus holds a crush of villagers. Inside with them, my wrapped house gift of sweet and salty pastries crushed and crumbling, I cannot move. I am going back to my village, the one I first visited 21 years ago when I was doing doctoral research on agricultural development. I drove there then in my Land-Rover, glad for its four-wheel drive with which to negotiate the rough track and the deep ford across the river. That same river would be dry all summer when water everywhere was scarce.

In the decade that followed, I returned from time to time to learn the fortunes of the people I knew there. My village, located on the Mediterranean cost of Turkey at the foot of the Taurus Mountains, had never been desperately poor like those settlements in the east and the interior. And yet, it had had its problems. A bad road, no bridge, shallow wells and ditches for a water supply, flies everywhere, and illness that killed so many children that a newborn baby wasn't registered until it had survived the first summer. Of course, there was no electricity.

But what now in 1981?

Ten years had passed since I last had seen my village. In the troubled times following the free elections of 1965 no party was strong enough to form a permanent government.

Then on Sept. 12, 1980, the military once more intervened. Under Gen. Kenan Evren, chairman of the National Security Council, 45,500 arrests were made. Assassinations dropped from 22 per day to one in 24 hours. The streets were bustling and the markets busy once again, and inflation had declined from 100 percent in 1980 to 40 percent, at worst, in the spring of '81.

How had my farmers fared through all of that?

The city bus was the first big change I noticed. The city nearest my village had continued to expand during my absence. In April in order to ensure planned regional growth, 22 villages like mine were incorporated as neighborhoods within the urban limits. Five years ago a paved road had been extended southward along the coast, and about that time a paved spur with a good strong bridge had been built past my village to the foothill hamlets just beyond. These things in combination led to bus service every other hour from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., six days a week.

And now the bus is underway. We pass along the streets taking on passengers, stop by the Work Bank and take on a crowd. A few of the women wear homemade, baggy, pantaloon-legged shalvars, their heads covered by thin cloths with hand-embroidered edges. The majority wear outrageous, store-bought skirts and blouses all made from fat flower prints. They show their new wealth and taste for shopping.

The men seem more alike wiht cotton shirts and poorly tailored jackets. One or two elders are there in coarse homespun trousers and round skullcaps. The men remind me of the old days as does the first group of women.

Finally we reach the village and I approach the coffeehouse, still there but dusty, scruffier. The boys of 10 years ago are now young men. They are back from working in the orchards as my older friends once did. The hospitality is the same.

Television aerials on the houses, power lines down the streets and lanes. A tap with running water in the coffeehouse -- and in every house, I later find out. "Brought from the mountains by the State Department of Waterworks." I can drink fresh water if I like instead of boiled tea. There are no flies. The children no longer die. Tractors have replaced horses. No goats, only a few cows.

Greenhouses glint through the orange trees. Another intensification of land use. Now tomatoes, two or three crops per year, are forced in greenhouses and yield the most money. But they're a lot of work and labor is scarce, so not everyone does this yet.

As we sit and talk about the trade-off between oranges and tomatoes and which is better to raise, one of my new friends suddenly says, without prelude, "You know, last year we couldn't have sat and talked this."

"Why not?" I reply.

He says nothing but stands up, holding his arms waist-high, left arm extended , hand cupped and sweeps the room with a swinging motion. "Tok, tok, tok,. . . ," he intones in imitation of an automatic weapon.

Life is once more normal in my village. No one leaves here for jobs in Germany; there's too much to do at home. Many of the grandchildren are now attending high school in town -- the bus helps. And others are off at college. The tomatoes aren't as good as the vine-ripened ones of 10 years ago, but the profits are better. The wholesalers still come. High prices for equipment and gasoline are passed along to the consumers, and the problems of a poor balance of trade and possible shortages are for the highest levels of government.

The important values like family, food, and hospitality properly given and received, remain intact. I am told confidently there will, be free elections in two years' time. General Evren might well win if he chooses to run. Bread is brought everyday from the bakeries in town. Television entertains.

One year behind America, the big question here is," "Who shot J. R.?"

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