The Village People

Sitting in an academic conference room, I served on the search committee that hired him as Dean of Liberal Arts & Sciences. His scholarship on the writer Christopher Isherwood impressed me, as did his pragmatism and belief in the transformational power of education.

Walking down the narrow, uneven street to our 400-year-old Greek house rental, I first encountered them as they pursued their daily habit of sitting outside the courtyard and staring at the air. Spotting new blood, they pursued their other daily habit: dragging the marks in for tea and attempting to pry open their wallets. The crowning moment of our first interaction occurred when the wife slapped a headscarf on my head while yelling “Twenty lira!”

From the start, I enjoyed his humor and willingness to be honest and examine people and issues critically.

From the start, I felt taken aback by them and had to brace myself before wading through their stretch of street. I counted it a good day when I made it past without being tackled and urged to buy cheap beads for five lira.

Some months into our friendship and work relationship, he came to my Short Story class to do an evaluation. Jangling with nerves, starting out the class with a game of hangman on the whiteboard, I watched him lean back and listen to a favorite student as she stage whispered into his ear, “You’re the dean? You should give Jocelyn a raise.” In a one-on-one meeting later, I appreciated that he showed me a map of the classroom he’d drawn during the evaluation, and each seat was labeled with a student’s name. “How did you do that?” I asked, wonderingly. “In your job as dean, you come into contact with students and know their names?” “No,” he replied; “I was able to make this map because you used their names all throughout the class period. In a room of 40 students, in the first few weeks of the term, you used all their names when you called on them. That’s important. I noticed.”

Some months into our living as neighbors, they started calling us “komshu”–the word for neighbor, used mostly because they had no idea of our names. Although they attempted to throw our kids on the back of their donkey and tried to sell our visitors random trinkets, they eventually relaxed their hawking towards us and merely pushed offers of tea.

By the end of his first year as my dean, he’d become a true friend, usually stopping by for dinner and conversation at least once a week.

Before the end of our first year as neighbors, they had knocked on the door and asked for 50 lira to buy bus tickets to Ankara.

He has clear boundaries set for the use of his time, money, and energy.

They, shaped by an easy communal tradition, have no boundaries and sometimes pop over to hand a warm bowl of questionable leftover soup through the doorway. When Groom was deciphering the installation of our coal-burning soba heaters, Mr. Komshu notice and shortly thereafter took over the process, bursting into the house, shedding his shoes, becoming foreman of the pipes, and only counting the job as “done” once he’d had tea and cake.

He is fastidious, conscientious.

They are earthy, rumpled.

And me? I like to stand in the middle of All Kinds of Everyone and swivel my head back and forth. Sometimes the swiveling slows when the All Kinds of Everyone move towards each other and intersect in an oddball convergence.

…as happened the other day when my former dean (now friend and welcome visitor), Jim, met The Komshus. Walking past The Komshu Stretch of Road, attempting my usual shucking off of offers of tea, I got snagged. Mrs. Komshu grabbed my arm and jokingly whacked my rear end repeatedly as she hauled me into her courtyard. Fortunately, Jim followed. He does like to watch a spanking. Before we knew it, we’d been led into the Komshus’ main living space–a windowless room balancing dirt and mattresses in equal measure, the only bright point being a television in the corner that blared news of a missing 15-year-old girl.

After a few minutes of drinking tea and nibbling at dry and burned baked goods, we considered how to make a break for it. But no. Not yet. There would be no release before entertainment. Mrs. Komshu brought in a drum, showing us how to bang away before turning the thing over with a flourish, pointing to the hole in the bottom, and asking all onlookers to deposit “Five dollars!” As she continued whaling away with a provincial tattoo, Mr. Komshu began clapping and dancing, attempting repeatedly to pull my unyielding self off the couch.

Eventually, Mrs. Komshu yelled–as she does–“PHOTO! PHOTO!”

That request I could not refuse.

I’ve taken more than 4,000 pictures so far during our time in Turkey.

I’m sure I’ll take another 2,000 before we leave.


I feel completely certain

that I’ve already snapped

The Picture of the Year.








11 responses to “The Village People”

  1. Jazz Avatar

    Love the comparison – and that picture? Priceless.

  2. green girl in wisconsin Avatar

    You’re right–that IS the photo that illustrates all of the exuberance of new friendship and setting foot outside of our comfort zone.

  3. Julie Sucha Anderson Avatar

    My, my. You can tell a tale, girl. I can’t believe you only have three months left. I wonder how quickly, or not, the time has gone for all in your family.

    Take good care.

  4. Jeni Hill Ertmer Avatar

    Love your stories! And the pictures too! What memories you will have encapsulated by the time you leave Turkey to return home though -just incredible.

  5. Jenn @ Juggling Life Avatar

    This is wonderful!

    I immediately recognized her from a post when you first got there–the time is flying!

  6. kmkat Avatar

    What a wonderful way to tell the story.

  7. secret agent woman Avatar

    Although I fully understand how both culture and temperament shape our comfort level with the different approaches to people, I find the pushy selling in some cultures absolutely excruciating. I have a tough enough time of it on short travels, and might not do so well on a longer stay.

    Oh, to answer your question – I take some joy in arranging the family traditions and revel in how much the kids are attached to them. But I resent having the entire cost and effort fall to me year after year. However, I never let on to the kids that its an issue, because I really try hard to not ever put them in the middle.

  8. pam Avatar

    Wonderful Jocelyn. Just wonderful.

  9. Pearl Avatar

    I love how this was written. Perfectly schizophrenic and in keeping with your experiences.

    I don’t know how you can handle the constant requests for money…


  10. lime Avatar


    that is all kinds of hilarious fabulosity. how could you ever could have imagined such an intersection occurring is incomprehensible and yet there it is. i love it. and i think i love all three of them.

  11. logo™ Avatar

    I love it, definitely the photo of the year.

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