Friday, February 14, 2014

CH 4 – Narration Exercise: Mandarin picking with the In-Laws

A sharp pain is spreading through my lower back, all thanks to the centre console of the car. I am 16 again on my way home from a party with 6 in a car meant for 5. Except I can’t follow the conversation, the music is definitely not Backstreet Boys, and there is no alcohol in sight. The reality is that I am 28, ridding home with my In-Laws after a day spent picking mandarins in the Turkish town of Sürmene. I think back to the beginning of the day that started out breathtaking but has led to holding my breath. 7 hours earlier the crystal blue of the Black Sea lay at the mountain’s feet, the air crisp and fresh with undertones of earth, and smoke. The sun had just topped the mountainside that ebbs and flows like a wave. The slopes are covered in tea bushes that look like giant dark green pillows. The varying shades of green are offset with a spattering of bright orange from the ripe manadarins. The houses are a mixture of wood and stone, nothing fancy, but sturdy and sound. The largest building is a Mosque with a blue dome, and when the call to prayer starts at 11am it echoes all through the valley. Here and there on the slope you can see people working the land. Some are burning pitch, most are women, wearing colourful head scarves and skirts that should clash, but they are as much a part of the landscape as the plush tea bushes. We climb a set of old stone steps littered with fallen mandarins up to the home of Cansu. A teacher with short choppy black hair and an easy smile. She works at the same school as my Father-In-Law. Her family has lived here for centuries, but now she only spends summers and weekends up here as it is too far from her job in Trabzon. She is the only one who can speak English. My Mother-In-Law Cevar has set herself up at a table outside and is gutting the small Hamsi fish that are very popular in Turkey. I sit down and pick up a knife in an attempt to prove that I may be foreign, but I am also helpful and not at all a sissy girl. I pick up the 3″ fish cut the head off, slice the belly open and pull the guts out. I glance over at Cevar expecting a nod of respect, but all I get is Mustafa, my Father-In-Law showing me how I to do it correctly. Mustafa thinks my inability to understand Turkish is in direct correlation to my hearing so he is forever shouting instructions at me. I refuse to stop until the 2 kilos of Hamsi are headless, intent on assuring my In-Laws of my worth. After the Hamsi are rinsed and the table cleaned up we sit down and enjoy some freshly squeezed orange juice, a crunchy cinnamon cake, and my all time favourite snack Börek. Börek is almost like a stuffed croissant but not quite as flakey. Cevar knows I love this dish and always makes it for me. Bellies filled up we all put a wicker basket with straps onto our backs and head over to one of the many Manadarin trees along the slope. It seems the trees have no owners and the fruit they bear belongs to anyone willing to pick it. By mid-afternoon the sun has disappeared into some clouds and two more teachers have showed up to help with the picking. We fill up the trunk of my In-Laws Ford Focus and head inside Cansu’s home to warm our hands around the wood fire stove. Dinner is Hamsi, salad, and more orange juice, and is followed up with several glasses of tea. I can now pinpoint this as the moment everything started to go downhill. The conversation seems to revolve around their work with Mustafa being the dominant player, he is the Principal after all. In this moment he reminds me of my husband who also tends to dominate conversations. I find myself smiling despite the encroaching boredom, wishing he was here to explain what the hell everyone is talking about. Cevar is not speaking very much. She does not work at the school and therefore is on the outs almost as much as I am. She glances my way and I give her a big smile trying to trick her into believing I am the most laid back daughter-in-law ever, even if it is a front. Cansu, however, is holding her own, energetically debating what I can only guess are educational reforms, since she is no longer keeping me in the loop. Perhaps she has used up all her English words. I really want to play CandyCrush but settle for memorizing a flower crochet picture instead. Finally we pack up and head to the car, and that’s when I realize pretending to be the laid back daughter-in-law has trapped me into sharing the front seat with Cansu, and a center console.

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