The people we met

Ioana Calinescu
We went on every little street in Kiyiköy and looked into the people’s yards where we saw the women stripping the corn cobs of their kernels, hanging the laundry in the sun and working with the pots in the kitchen, the children playing with hand-carved wooden fishing vessels, the men sipping tea after tea while sitting at tea tables or preparing their fishing nets by lantern light…

The huge sea waves were lashing out, the little magnetic fishing harbour and the beach stretching behind it had us all spellbound. And, apparently, we weren’t the only ones fascinated by it. The road to the beach crosses an old and rather ramshackle culvert, daily trodden upon by flocks of goats and herds of cows driven to the seashore to cool off. There was only one man on the beach. Armed with a shovel, as soon as the waves receded, he would dart to the ground grubbing for angleworms which he used when fishing on the harbour dam.


From afar, it looked like a workers’ barracks, from up close, a little fishermen’s restaurant (made of plate), with an earthen floor and copper stove in the middle, with clean vinyl tablecloths and family pictures on the walls and, to top it all, Atatürk’s framed picture in a place of honour. Outside the dusty heat was winnowed from time to time by blasts of wind, inside it was chilly, the place smelled of cleanliness and boredom and the owner of the restaurant was happily running to and fro, ecstatic to finally have clients. After having served us tea and got to arranging various objects (which appeared to be in the right places), he sat down at the table next to us and, a wide smile on his face, started to talk. He seemed glad and not at all embarrassed by the fact that his jabbering was all Greek to us.

At one point he rose to his feet and beckoned Petruț to follow him. He led him to the kitchen in the back where the fish were ready, all cleaned up, their bellies cut up and arranged like soldiers waiting for their clients; he showed Petruț the kettle of hot tea and all the drawers and shelves arranged in an obsessive order. We promised him we’d return in the evening to have dinner and he thanked us by touching his heart with his hand. When we left, we paid for the tea and the guy took the money, placed it on his forehead and then flung it to the ground. And thus came to be our first word in common: ‘handsel’. Afterwards, he discreetly followed us to the first place in the harbour where we stopped for another cup of tea and popped up out of the blue, offered to pay for our drinks and bragged to the fishermen that we were his friends. This time, however, we had an interpreter (the harbour administrator), the only speaker of English in that little bay.

We returned to the restaurant in the evening, but our friend wasn’t by himself this time. A young family with a five-year-old little boy was sitting at one of the tables. The place was so small and the walls were keeping us so close to one another that the conversation developed naturally in English, as if in the living-room of a common friend, a man of the world. The father was Turkish, the mother Bulgarian and the child spoke to the mom in Bulgarian and to the dad in Turkish. They were currently living in Bulgaria, though the dad had previously lived in Romania. The talk revolved around the Black Sea. In brief, the Bulgarian would vilify Bulgaria’s seaside, we’d do the same with the Romanian one, while the Turk would speak proudly of the Turkish seaside, but would also manage to find a few nice words to say about the Romanian and Bulgarian ones.

After this subtle lesson of elegant and moderate patriotism, the conversation turned to a subject that had us all worked up: arugula. How come the arugula of Turkey looks like a huge radish and is available everywhere, while in Bulgaria and Romania you can find it only in certain supermarkets, in small quantities and overcharged? We racked our brains trying to find an explanation, then we advised one another to grow our own arugula, some on the balcony, others in the garden, according to everyone’s country and financial possibilities…which turned out we had already done and had developed beautifully. In the end, we all warmly shook hands and let our new Turkish friend negotiate our bill with our old Turkish friend. The result: our bill was considerably smaller than theirs, although we had had pretty much the same things…which stirred a little heated discussion between the two Turks, something like Turks will be Turks and, if possible, they will swindle you of your money, a big smile on their face.


From afar, she appeared to be a tiny woman dressed in a burqa, a shadow walking parallel to the walls. When she got in front of us and saw Petruț trying to photograph her, she coquettishly arranged her headdress and smiled into the camera. Actually, it wasn’t a burqa she was wearing, but rather a black, not very strict, cloth which, during our time together, she took off and put back on several times (depending on the wind force), revealing a bold fuchsia headgear. She laughed a lot and sat facing the sea, her gaze piercing the horizon, showing us something in the distance and telling stories we couldn’t understand anyway. She beckoned me to sit next to her and she started to ask me questions (I became aware of that by the interrogative tone used at the end and the eagerness in her eyes). At first, her gestures and signs led me to understand she was waiting for her son to return from the sea, then I realized the son was supposed to leave for the sea, but was prevented by the sea storm, and, finally, I understood that she was actually waiting for the sun to set which I think is the right version because the second we heard the call of the muezzin, she suddenly got up and said ‘haydi!’. And this was our word: ‘haydi!’ (‘come on!’ in English and ‘haide!’ in Romanian). She gestured she was going to eat for the first time that day. The sunset marked the end of the day’s fasting.


We met Rose in a traditional Turkish camping in İğneada, a small village-resort on the Black Sea coast, very close to the Bulgarian border. Because we couldn’t understand her name, she told us it meant ‘rose’ in Turkish. So we should call her Rose. She is a math teacher in Istanbul and in the summertime she makes earrings and bracelets which she sells at the resort fair. She sleeps in her car during the entire summer and, because she doesn’t put up her tent, she is exempt from paying the daily three-lev fee. Traditional Turkish camps look like happy refugees’ camps. The camping places are enclosed by various signs and entire families put up three or four high used tents made of military canvas, thus recomposing a real household, with a place to wash she dishes and a mirror in front of which the men can shave, a little stove working on wood where they make the tea, with a little table and carpet (set on the grass) where they eat and welcome their neighbours (who come to visit), with kettles hanging on trees and cooking cauldrons lain in the sun to dry. Rose is the only speaker of English and she invites us to sit on the little carpet with other five people of different ages. We quickly learn that she’s just visiting, but the others are part of a three-generation family and have come to spend their summer at the seaside. The grandmother’s rocking her grandchild in an improvised hammock, while the others are waiting for their sons who have gone fishing on the lake behind the camp. We stayed there for an hour, during which time they made tea twice, smoked and made fun of the boys who’d most likely return empty-handed. They described their life to us, how many surgeries and children they had, how they all met and how much they loved one another.