Enough about me, for a while anyhow; it is high time for some of our ladies to tell a bit about themselves! I am proud to present Handan – not her real name, but a name that she likes.
‘I can’t make the wrapper bags that most of the other women make; I can’t crochet plastic bags as that puts too much strain on my neck. But I can do other things and I can do them well.
‘My grandfather came to Ayvalik from Crete when he was 17. My grandmother was from Africa, and they say that her mother was black as the night. My grandmother was the lightest of the four children, and a favored child. She died at 98, healthy and robust until the end. They say it was the breast milk her mother fed her until the age of 7, added to bread, with a bit of sugar that made her so strong. My father grew up poor: when he was 7, he had to help his uncle with paint jobs. Me, I grew up comfortably. We weren’t rich, but we were never hungry, we always had shoes on our feet and no one made us work when we were children.
‘I had a very happy childhood though my family never had much money. Before I was born, my father was a stone worker, breaking larger stones to smaller ones. But right after I was born, he got a job with the State Highway Works, so I was known as the girl who brings good fortune, as his new job came with a regular salary, health insurance and a retirement plan. I never saw my parents arguing, and certainly never fighting. But now and again, my father would bring home lor tatlisi (a special local dessert, made from a cheese akin to ricotta), but he called it ‘peace dessert.’ It wasn’t until I was in my teens that I understood why he would bring it home.
‘I studied hard and always got good grades until I started junior high school. One day my science teacher smacked me across the face so hard I fell on the floor. I was 13. I hadn’t done anything, at least nothing that I was aware of. I went to the principal’s office and complained. I later learned that my teacher had had an argument with his wife, so was in a grumpy mood. Because I had complained, the teacher carried a grudge and basically ignored me in class. I stayed in school until the spring, and then, I’m not sure just why, I mean, I was young and it’s hard to remember now just why we did some of the things we did then. Anyhow, I dropped out of school. The principal came several times to talk with my parents, but my father said he wouldn’t make me do anything that made me feel bad about myself.
‘That same teacher happened to live right above the apartment my husband and I rented when we were first married. One day he saw me and said, believe it or not, ‘If you had continued to go to school, you wouldn’t have married this man.’ I love my husband, yes, yet I would have liked to have finished school! I thought I could be a hostess for an airlines, travel all around, earn my own money.
‘As I didn’t have to go to school anymore, I hung out with my mother, I went where she did. I liked to crochet and would work on pieces for my own hope chest and for others. My grandmother taught me how to crochet; she was famous for her handwork. As I learned from her, many people would order pieces from me. I crocheted at least 10 pairs curtains, and as far as I know, most of them were sent to Germany. I never caught up to her though: my grandmother would use up a spool of thread in one day; it took me 2 days to crochet the same amount. Yes, there was a time when there was more importance given to hand work, but it’s also true that machine lace wasn’t so easy to come by.
‘Sometimes someone would ask my father if I would come and work for them, but my older brother wouldn’t let me work anywhere. I wanted to work, I knew a lot of people who knew that I would be a good worker, but my brother’s word was stronger than mine.
‘My mother met the man I would marry before I did. A relative recommended him, my mother checked him out and we were married six months later. Did we know each other? Well, we knew who the other was, and that was about it. I was 17 when we got married.
‘For 14 years on New Year’s Eve, I prayed to get pregnant. My husbands’ family put a lot of pressure on us to make a family; my own family didn’t say much. After seeking medical assistance and really thinking it would never happen, 16 years ago on New Year’s Eve, I finally got pregnant.
‘It’s my husband who I get my strength from, who I lean on. My husband is a great person. From the beginning, we got along well. We got along so well for so many years that I think we cursed my husband’s health even though people tell me I shouldn’t think that way. His cancer is in remission now and I thank the Lord for looking after us.
‘I come to cop(m)adam as there is a very different atmosphere here: it’s like I enter a different world. I like the other women who come here; I enjoy being part of the larger team. I don’t come for the money as we don’t really need the money. I come because I love to be in the workshop. The money I earn is my own and I save most of it. Oh, let’s be honest – I like the fact that I earn my own money! When I come to the workshop and there isn’t any work for me, I get depressed. When I am doing handwork, I lose myself and the word around me. It’s like I’ve found a personal level of freedom. Coming to the workshop makes me feel better about myself, makes me feel stronger. If my house were closer to the workshop, I’d come every day. As it is, I walk 20 minutes each way. I don’t complain as walking is good for my health and my wallet as it’d be 4 lira return to take the bus.’
A closer glimpse into another day in the life of the garbage ladies.