From making good tea to training in Moldova

Mesude – not her real name but her mother’s name – is one of the reasons I put çöp(m)adam together in the first place, one of the reasons we have come this far, and proof that people will supersede your expectations given an opportunity and some respect. Before setting up this endeavor, I overheard Mesude explaining that she was so tired as she had guests over the evening before, that she had spent much time preparing for them, but was pleased that they enjoyed her tea so much. While her brewed tea is undoubtedly better than my bags in boiling water, I thought there has to be more to a person’s life than that.Mesude – not her real name but her mother’s name – is one of the reasons I put çöp(m)adam together in the first place, one of the reasons we have come this far, and proof that people will supersede your expectations given an opportunity and some respect. Before setting up this endeavor, I overheard Mesude explaining that she was so tired as she had guests over the evening before, that she had spent much time preparing for them, but was pleased that they enjoyed her tea so much. While her brewed tea is undoubtedly better than my bags in boiling water, I thought there has to be more to a person’s life than that.

‘I am from Bursa and came to Ayvalik when I got married. My parents divorced when I was six years old. Was there stigma against broken marriages then? You bet! We were four siblings; two of us stayed with our mother, the other two went with our father. He ended up sending those two to the local orphanage, where you could pay a nominal fee for the state to look after children you couldn’t take care of. We didn’t see much of our father after that, as his second wife would not let us visit. Our mother became a nominal second wife and bore 4 more children. The other children would beat me up, send me to fetch water during meal time so I would miss dinner. Years later, when I  shared this with my mother, she chided me for having suffered in silence. But I heard what other people said about my mother – she was divorced, she was another man’s mistress – the last thing I wanted was for her to know more pain, so I said nothing.

‘I was a lazy student, never interested in school. I received my elementary school certificate and then stayed home to take care of my younger siblings, clean the house. The ones who used to beat me up had moved on, my mother was working in a local factory, and I liked being home, cooking, cleaning, having so much responsibility. Once I even painted the house, as I wanted to please my mother and hear tell me what a good girl I was.

‘I met my husband when I was seventeen. My family did not approve: my husband has only one eye but he is a good man and I knew it. We eloped and came to Ayvalik. My husband had my wedding dress made  for me; his family organized the traditional henna night. My oldest son was born within a year. My grandmother on my mother’s side came to help. I was so naïve and so far from my own family! We waited six years for our second child.

‘Though we were poor, my husband found money for drinking. No, no, he never harmed anyone, but he sure came home drunk often. When our second son was born, he got a job as a civil servant with the local municipality, stopped smoking and drinking.

‘Our boys worked every summer, from first grade on, earning their own money for their school expenses. My eldest son graduated from a two-year college and our youngest finished high school. After finishing their military service, they both moved to Bursa, as there are so few jobs here in Ayvalik, where they still work as electricians. As a family, we agreed it would be best for me to move in with them so they could save money for their own families. I stayed there for five years, cooking and cleaning for them until they got married.

‘I now have two grandchildren. For a while, one of our sons was out of work, so we helped them out a bit. But it’s time we looked after ourselves, don’t you think?’

Mesude and her husband, after 30 years, finally had their kitchen and bathroom re-done.

Three days before we opened our workshop, in yet another serendipitous aspect of The Garbage Ladies, she stopped me on the street and asked if I would help her and some other women find venues in Istanbul to sell their hand-knit sweaters. She has been part of our team ever since. The more responsibility she has, the happier she is. We have our moments in the workshop, as Mesude is also the person I have the biggest communication issues with. She doesn’t show her frustrations, but she has had to work harder than I have to meet me half-way.

We tease Mesude as she is afraid of everything, or so she says. Her fears are actually her wanting things to go well; she is in fact, one of our bravest, strongest women. It was Mesude who ran off when she heard someone was selling our bags without letting us know and threatened to take the bags – and offender – to the police station. It was Mesude who stopped the boss from selling items in the workshop, even to friends, as I always reduce the prices and ‘how can we survive if we don’t receive the money we deserve?’

The Open Society Institute Assistance Foundation has recently asked us to work with a poverty-eradication project in Moldova, working with disabled children and their mothers. Part of the stipend they will give us will be used to pay for Mesude’s passport, as she and I will travel together for part of the training.

Another humbling example in the life of the garbage ladies.

‘I am from Bursa and came to Ayvalik when I got married. My parents divorced when I was six years old. Was there stigma against broken marriages then? You bet! We were four siblings; two of us stayed with our mother, the other two went with our father. He ended up sending those two to the local orphanage, where you could pay a nominal fee for the state to look after children you couldn’t take care of. We didn’t see much of our father after that, as his second wife would not let us visit. Our mother became a nominal second wife and bore 4 more children. The other children would beat me up, send me to fetch water during meal time so I would miss dinner. Years later, when I  shared this with my mother, she chided me for having suffered in silence. But I heard what other people said about my mother – she was divorced, she was another man’s mistress – the last thing I wanted was for her to know more pain, so I said nothing.

‘I was a lazy student, never interested in school. I received my elementary school certificate and then stayed home to take care of my younger siblings, clean the house. The ones who used to beat me up had moved on, my mother was working in a local factory, and I liked being home, cooking, cleaning, having so much responsibility. Once I even painted the house, as I wanted to please my mother and hear tell me what a good girl I was.

‘I met my husband when I was seventeen. My family did not approve: my husband has only one eye but he is a good man and I knew it. We eloped and came to Ayvalik. My husband had my wedding dress made  for me; his family organized the traditional henna night. My oldest son was born within a year. My grandmother on my mother’s side came to help. I was so naïve and so far from my own family! We waited six years for our second child.

‘Though we were poor, my husband found money for drinking. No, no, he never harmed anyone, but he sure came home drunk often. When our second son was born, he got a job as a civil servant with the local municipality, stopped smoking and drinking.

‘Our boys worked every summer, from first grade on, earning their own money for their school expenses. My eldest son graduated from a two-year college and our youngest finished high school. After finishing their military service, they both moved to Bursa, as there are so few jobs here in Ayvalik, where they still work as electricians. As a family, we agreed it would be best for me to move in with them so they could save money for their own families. I stayed there for five years, cooking and cleaning for them until they got married.

‘I now have two grandchildren. For a while, one of our sons was out of work, so we helped them out a bit. But it’s time we looked after ourselves, don’t you think?’

Mesude and her husband, after 30 years, finally had their kitchen and bathroom re-done.

Three days before we opened our workshop, in yet another serendipitous aspect of The Garbage Ladies, she stopped me on the street and asked if I would help her and some other women find venues in Istanbul to sell their hand-knit sweaters. She has been part of our team ever since. The more responsibility she has, the happier she is. We have our moments in the workshop, as Mesude is also the person I have the biggest communication issues with. She doesn’t show her frustrations, but she has had to work harder than I have to meet me half-way.

We tease Mesude as she is afraid of everything, or so she says. Her fears are actually her wanting things to go well; she is in fact, one of our bravest, strongest women. It was Mesude who ran off when she heard someone was selling our bags without letting us know and threatened to take the bags – and offender – to the police station. It was Mesude who stopped the boss from selling items in the workshop, even to friends, as I always reduce the prices and ‘how can we survive if we don’t receive the money we deserve?’

The Open Society Institute Assistance Foundation has recently asked us to work with a poverty-eradication project in Moldova, working with disabled children and their mothers. Part of the stipend they will give us will be used to pay for Mesude’s passport, as she and I will travel together for part o the training.

Another humbling example in the life of the garbage ladies.