In a previous post (sometimes it feels like a previous life), I mentioned that I am an archaeologist and that I have worked in Turkey. It is amazing work; literally digging up the past and holding it in your hands. I love it, but it is always hard to be away from my friends, family, boyfriend (at the time, husband of course now) and cats. I can’t even imagine what it would be like if I had to be away from Little Man for that period of time. Some day… but not today… For my first couple of field seasons in Turkey as a graduate student we only had access to internet once a week when we went into town for our day off. The connections were slow, power often shut off randomly and we had to deal with the extra vowels of the Turkish keyboard. In order to feel connected to my distant loved ones I would jot down stories in my notebook of things that were happening over the course of the week. Then on our day off we would all head to an internet café and from there I would email my latest story en masse to friends and family. In a strange way this let me feel connected through the shared experience of reading and writing about events, even when the events weren’t being experienced together. It feels remarkably similar to what I am doing now with this blog.
In the move to Canada I came across a folder of printed out emails that I call my Turkey Tales. I boxed them up (they are around here somewhere…) with the thought that they would be fun to read later on (like years from now). When I started this blog Dave suggested that I should see if any of the Turkey Tales would work as posts. It was a good idea, but I’d have to find that blasted box first. Then on a recent visit from Dave’s Mom she mentioned a particular story that I had emailed during the field season just before Dave and I married. It turned out that Ruth kept this particular story in one of her email folders and opens it up from time to time when she wants/needs a good laugh. I asked if she could forward it to me and she did. As I re-read this “post” I started smiling and chuckling as remembered it through the written version.
Me and fellow archaeologist/soccer star “Cat.”
The story itself deals with a soccer match between we archaeologists and our Kurdish workers from a local village near the excavation site. The match took place during the summer field season directly before my wedding to Dave. I had forgotten some of the details, but especially now as Dave and I celebrate our eighth wedding anniversary it seems apropos (that’s for you Dave) to share the story here.
The summer before our wedding Dave and I were apart for about three months. I was in Turkey excavating for nine weeks and got home one day after he had left for a six week field season in the Republic of Georgia. He would come back from that field season with a mere two weeks left until the wedding. When he left for his fieldwork he’d left me two letters; one was the perfect love letter (a note on the outside instructed that I was to read this one first) and the second was a list of things for the wedding that he was supposed to take care of… but didn’t. Doh! Around the time he was writing his second letter, I was preparing for this soccer match.
The Saga of the Soccer Match
Here is the saga of the soccer match… Last year the dig team played a soccer game against their excavation hands from a local village. Everyone had such a blast they decided to make it an annual event; the yubangi (foreigners) against the locals. This year the excavation season has been difficult. We had all the problems with the workers’ strike, and the village that we had to cut off relations with was the one from the soccer saga last year. Even though we could not work together at the excavation anymore the team still wanted to have a game, and it was decided that the archaeologists would make up one team, and any of our workers regardless of which village they hailed from could make up the other team. This decision was extremely naïve on our part, as the different villages and lineages did not necessarily get along and there was a definite internal pecking order that we were oblivious to.
I was asked to play but was afraid of making a fool of myself so decided to embrace my chicken-ness and play spectator instead. Another female excavator felt the same way and we plotted to be cheerleaders and not allow ourselves to get dragged into the actual event.
Game day. After a full day of excavation we left for the match. We piled into the van, all of us in various forms of excavation clothes including worn and dusty khakis, torn runners and t-shirts, the women with our Kurdish headscarves firmly in place. In short, we were unimpressive. We got to the soccer pitch a little early so our team would have time to warm up, play around with a ball and hopefully not embarrass ourselves too much. As we pulled into the parking area we saw that the other team was already there, and our jaws dropped. Not only was the other “team” there but they were all wearing professional uniforms; matching jerseys with numbers and names, striped socks, boots, the entire kit. Apparently the team of Kurdish villagers we thought we were going to play were actually a regional semi-pro team. To make it worse they also were only from the one village and had told all of our other workers from the remaining four villages that they couldn’t play. For a moment our team considered calling the match off, but the strike had left all of us a bit nervy and the chance to run around playing soccer, not doing anything academic, was too good to pass up. The game would go on.
Not only was the opposing team different from what we expected, but so was the pitch. It was carpeted and smaller than a normal soccer field, which was great since if we’d had to run on a normal sized field I think we would have expired. The sun was going down, as was the temperature, but it was still well over 100 degrees F in the shade. While we had been doing hard physical labor for weeks, excavation is not largely cardiovascular and every one of the archaeologists was winded within minutes. The Turkish game was also played differently. You could play the ball off of the chain link fences surrounding the pitch and the goals were very shallow.
The fan base was unique as well. In rural Turkey it is unseemly for women sit with men whom they are not related to, so there were no female fans on their side. There certainly were no female players; and therefore no Kurdish women making spectacles of themselves. The same cannot be said for the American side. The bleachers were filled with the other team’s kinsmen and a handful of excavation workers that had not been “called up” to the team. And then there was Jenny and myself; hooting and hollering, jumping up and down, and all around acting remarkably unladylike in the Turkish/Kurdish sense. We apparently scandalized the neighborhood as we would learn the next day. Good Kurdish women do not cheer or raise their voices like we did. Nor did they heckle the opposing team with comparisons to various parts of a sheep’s anatomy. We were obviously not good Kurdish women.
Me in Urfa looking over the Balikligol (Fish Pond) and wearing the same headscarf from soccer fame.
Needless to say, we started playing and pretty quickly the slaughter began. Our Kurdish cook and driver had agreed to play for us and they were both surprisingly good; much better than any of us. I’m not sure why we were surprised by this, but we were obviously pretty slow at that point. They are the only two who kept the “match” from being a wholesale blowout.
In the last ten minutes of the game our cook was in goal and called for me to come and take his place. He wanted to go forward in order to try to score a couple goals so we won’t lose so pathetically. We had stopped counting at this point, but I think the score was something along the lines of 2 to 10. The ringers had been taking it easy on us at the end.
Not wanting to disappoint our cook who had miraculously made coming home from the excavation to his meals something to look forward to… I agreed to go in. You learn early on that to keep an excavation team functioning, you’ve got to keep them happy. The best way to do that is to keep them well fed. We don’t have many bells and whistles in the field, but good food goes a long way. In a future post I’ll share the story of the “hairy red sauce” of the previous field season and you’ll see how important this can be. Ugh!
So the cook wanted me to take his place. We were already short handed on the field, and in order to save my supper (literally) I was going into goal. There was no way this could end well.
My “uniform” consisted of a clean (relatively) white t-shirt, loose green palazzo pants, an embroidered headscarf and sandals. I was hardly something to strike fear into the hearts of those wanting to slam the ball into the net as hard as they could. May I also add that I have never been in the goal? Ever. And that the Turkish ball was different from standard soccer balls, being a little larger and really heavy. All I could think about was that this ball would leave a mark.
The sun had gone down and the field’s lights weren’t good. I was sure that I would be the biggest embarrassment of a goalie ever, but at least my ego would have taken one for the team. Small enough encouragement.
I got in the goal and quickly took off my flimsy sandals before I twisted an ankle. I did not want to repeat an injury to my feet like I shared in the Family Dinner post (posted on 9-12-13. The soccer match took place one year after the salmon dinner). A ball was quickly, but softly, kicked at the goal and I ran after it like I was chasing my cat, bent at the waste, bum in the air, arms outstretched. I had just as much success blocking the ball as I’ve had catching Zadi when she zooms through the room. I was undeterred, however.
When the next shot came, I pushed a player from other team out of the way and somehow ended up sprawled across the goal with the ball outside of the net. Not my most graceful maneuver, but an effective one. All I could think of was Dave saying “that’s my girl.” Then a third shot came and I was able to block it pretty easily. I promise you I was not getting cocky, just lucky. I was sure that any second a ball was going to come with my name on it and I would be nursing a broken nose for the wedding.
Me in Istanbul posing before Dave and I went out for a dinner to celebrate the end of a successful field season. All 10 toes accountd for.
And then it came. I still don’t remember it coming; never saw who took the shot. All I remember is a stinging fire in my middle thigh region across both legs. Everyone gasped as the resounding slap echoed off the concrete walls. Players froze not sure what I would do. My girl friends on the team said that if they hadn’t loved me before, that sacrifice would have bought their hearts.
And the ball was just sitting there right in front of the goal…
And my brain finally realized that I should probably pick it up…
So I did and then dramatically collapsed in a heap on the floor hamming it up. Everyone started laughing again and I was a hero, though we still lost 5 to 10. At least I only let in one.
And now each thigh has a nicely yellowing half moon bruise that when I stand with my legs together share a remarkable resemblance to a Turkish soccer ball. I never thought that taking one for the team would smart quite so much. After the match the winning team served us hot tea, and we eventually went home to nurse our wounds. I needed an ice pack.
I’ve since tried to figure out which of the workers took that shot. My current workmen seem to have developed a convenient case of amnesia and no one is willing to fess up. One did bring me a nicely woven head scarf beaded by his mother. I wonder which one of his cousins is the guilty party…
It’s been just over eight years since that story took place. What a remarkable ride. Happy anniversary, Dave!
Dave and I after our first field season together as a married couple having cocktails at the Pera Palace, one of the grand hotels in Istanbul designed in the Orient Express era.
These are the buttons you see above Dave’s head in the previous picture. High tech at the time, you could push to call a waiter for food, your barman or your groom for your “ride home.”
The biggest smiles and relaxed poses always show the end of a field season.
Cacık (Chilled Yogurt and Cucumber Soup)
Thinking about Turkey made me nostalgic and when that happens I often have to make a Turkish dinner. Cacık (pronounced zhazhik) is a chilled yogurt and cucumber soup that is fantastic on a hot summer or fall day. In Turkey this is what I always want at the opening of my meal. It is refreshing, cooling, and also stimulates the appetite for whatever delicious offering is coming next. I recently made cacık as part of the meal to welcome Dave’s Mom back to our place after a ferry from the mainland. Another plus for this soup is that it takes minutes to prepare and can be held in the refrigerator for hours before being served. If that isn’t enough incentive to try cacık, it’s also a great way to use up any late summer cucumbers that your gardener friends “gift” you with.
1 tsp. salt
Pinch of sugar
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tsp. dried mint (or 1 tbsp. fresh)
1 ¾ c. plain yogurt (fat free is fine, just use a good quality yogurt)
1 large cucumber
2 tbsp. cold water
In a medium-sized nonreactive bowl mix the first five ingredients well. Set aside.
Peel the cucumber and slice it in half lengthwise. With a small spoon remove and discard the seeds. Then finely dice the cucumber and add it to the yogurt mixture.
Add the cold water to the yogurt-cucumber mixture and stir. The consistency should be thin, but not watery. Depending on the type of yogurt you used you might need to add a little more water to thin it out. Cover the soup and place it in the refrigerator for 20 minutes or up to a couple of hours to keep it chilled until ready to serve.
Note: On an exceptionally hot day add less water to the soup and instead float a couple of ice cubes in each bowl. As the ice melts it will dilute the soup and keep everything refreshingly cold. Afiyet olsun (bon appetite in Turkish)!
Click here for a printable recipe card for Cacik.