Introducing Fatma Teyze

We would like to introduce you to Fatma Teyze – not her real name but a name she is fond of. Fatma Teyze is one of our exceptions to the rule that only women who have never previously worked for pay can work with us. She came, admittedly, with strong connections, a bit of insiders’ pull if you will, and with an infectious smile and laugh that got me on a bad hair day. Fatma Teyze did in fact work in Germany for many years but more on that soon enough.

Many men in Ayvalik are from the town in that their ancestors came from the Greek island of Lesvos or Creete during the population exchange, a painful stain on the souls of both Greece and Turkey. Many of the women in the çöp(m)adam workshop came to Ayvalik as brides, for sociological and anthropological reasons I have yet to understand.

A number of people I know who are of Fatma Teyze’s generation live a devote life, praying five times a day, while still stopping with respect and pride when the National Anthem is played over the loudspeakers here in town ever Friday at 5 pm, holding on to the core that formed Turkish identity last century. Fatma prays when she is in the workshop, in the back room when the weather is warm, and next to the wood stove in the winter. She prays for us, prays for me, prays that we will be able to continue this enterprise. She also sings the national anthem and tolerates our teasing at her favorite song. Just last year she went on ‘umre,’ a pilgrimage to mecca, not quite a haj but a holy visit to a place that is sacred to more than a fifth of the world’s population.

Fatma Teyze attended elementary school until fifth grade, then went on to work as an apprentice with a nearby tailor, where she learned skills that would hold her in good stead for much longer than she could have imagined.

As was – and still is – so common, the family decided who she would marry: a good man who made his living hauling this, that and the other thing with his horse cart. Automobiles were rare and the country was poor; this method of transportation that is quaint and on it’s way out today, was the best way to get items from Point A to Point B fifty years ago. It still happens to be the best way to get wood delivered to my house…

Their first child was born within their first year of marriage. Anytime any of our ladies in the workshop get married, she will deliver a gentle soliloquy on the importance of waiting to know each other and how two people will live together before starting a family. Fatma Teyze says that she did not want a second child – the first was enough work, especially with finances being so tight – but after 6 years, she gave in to the pressures of her parents and in-laws and the second daughter was born.

Finances were tight and there were calls for guest workers to work in industry in Germany. Fatma Teyze had a friend who was working in a textile factory in Bavaria, and the two friends decided to work together. Fatma’s husband completely disapproved of the idea, to which Fatma responded, ‘look at our finacial situation.’ Leaving the girls with her mother, she left Turkey to join the hundreds of thousands of guest workers working in Germany.

This went on for fourteen years. The husband finally joined the guest-workers; sometimes the girls would join their parents, but mostly they stayed in Ayvalik, with their grandparents, attending school growing up with the extended family while their parents worked abroad to make ends meet. The first time she talked to me about this aspect of her life, she cried. Now she relates it all with matter-of-factness, in part because she is proud to be a great grandmother and is well aware of t

For reasons not remembered, or not enunciated, the couple paid into the husband’s pension plan but not Fatma Teyze’s. When the husband died in 1994, she was left with only whatever savings they had stashed away. She learned about çöp(m)adam when she visited a friend who has been with us since the beginning, and saw one of our bags that the friend had made.

This lady still rolls out her own phylo dough by hand, puts on special jewelery when she visits her friends, and with humor, stresses the importance of a woman’s anatomy to men. She laughs in a way that diffuses tensions when they are high, can get to the core of an issue diplomatically, and helps keep things in perspective at the personal level. Sometimes we need to see what others can bring to us, to our workshop, to our goals, thus waving our criteria a bit to open our doors to someone who has so much to give while being such an essential aspect of who we are.

Another story, another reality, another glimpse into the life of one of our garbage ladies.