Saturday, May 9, 2009

Catching the Wave

It was such a little thing, but it made me gasp. We were driving back from the Ihlara Valley south of Cappadocia across a broad and treeless green valley covered with the short green grass of early summer. Through the raking late afternoon sunlight we barreled down the two lane road that was meant to get city drivers from point A to point B without having to fiddle with the local dirt roads. At an intersection an oncoming dump truck, its front seat crammed with 2 or 3 men and 2 women, turned in front of us. We slowed to let them lumber across our path and as the passenger window came into view, I saw the weathered face of a woman, her headscarf tied in a traditional manner. Next to her sat another woman, similarly dressed. She waved. Then her friend at the window did the same. As the truck turned and accelerated on its way, I saw a blue tarp covering the back. Half standing, half sitting on top of the tarp were 5 or 6 women dressed in what for them were work clothes, but to my eyes the skirts, blouses, and scarves seemed beautiful and exotic. I must have been waving because they all - one by one - caught the wave and in the end all of us were waving with both arms. I felt that if I stopped waving the slender thread of that moment would break and then it would be over. Both they and I waved as if we were long lost friends soon to be separated forever.

I have missed the company of women on this trip. Particularly in places and cultures where we are unlikely to meet "normal people" and especially in cultures where women are still sheltered and sometimes patronized, I haven't had a chance to talk to many women. I have a shadowy awareness that the way I look at life is uniquely my own and that it is different from a Turkish woman (read Ghanaian, Greek or British)(or Turkish, Ghanaian, Greek or British man) But being an American woman makes it improbable that I will never fully understand the generation and perpetuation of a life that is not mine.

When I lack a way to communicate with other women in words or in real time I have looked for alternatives to words and conversations. As I looked at the textiles made in Turkey I realized I was most likely looking at the work of the hands and sometimes the heart of a a Turkish woman. I am sometimes dazzled by their beauty and their skill. I never fail to appreciate the time and energy taken to create what amounts to a national product, but sometimes - especially in the older pieces woven in hopes of a home and family, in the spontaneous and sometimes quirky design of a horse blanket or a cradle, the voices of the women I will never meet speak to me. They speak of family pride, the dangers of jealousy, the hope for happiness and children, the strength of love - the weaving itself a language written with the hand passing over and through the wool or cotton or silk threads for many hours every day.

I think that's what made me gasp. The recognition that I had finally seen the woman that made the weaving. Women who are living a kind of life that is handmade; a kind of life that is passing away. These were the women who work for their families with the same hopes and concerns, loyalties and pride as the weavers I would never meet. And they waved at me with smiles on their faces and excitement. For once I was not a tourist but maybe someone like them.

No comments: