Surrounded by forests and fields, our summer house stands in one of the last stretches of Turkey’s Mediterranean coast that has not been conquered and laid waste by mass tourism. Still mainly inhabited by farmers who harvest a little from back-pack tourists on the side, Olympos often attracts slightly eccentric people. Perhaps I’m one of them too, having lived in Turkey for 20 years now. As a correspondent for Dutch and American media I’ve traveled intensely in Turkey and its neighbor countries. I fell in love with the unspoiled beaches here a long time ago.
One friend from Ankara is an artist. She was adrift for many years and finally found she belonged in Olympos, after her relationship with a plumber from Istanbul hit the rocks. Their child and ours met admiring a Mickey Mouse poster in a restaurant in the nearby town when they were both two years old. They have been friends since.
The little boy is different from the village children: just like my daughter, he still loves to swim naked, aged 6, which is considered to be very ayip, against all moral codes, by local parents and their children. He makes up wonderful stories inhabited by fantasy creatures. If I should encourage another local child to do such a thing, his or her parents shrug it off as nonsense while staring at me with bewildered smiles. They worry about their irrigation pumps or their feuding neighbor and have no idea of the dragons that loom around. Our young friend respects and protects insects, whereas the village boys often love to squash whatever crosses their path. He will never throw a stone at a cat or kick a dog.
Our little friend is a happy boy, unburdened by the crippling poverty of his mother. There is no work for artists down here and even though she’s ready to do any work, the cultural divide between her and the peasants is so big that they won’t hire her. When she went to the kaymakam, a kind of mayor, to ask if she could use for free an empty school building to set up a summer art camp, he refused, saying ‘you don’t look poor.’ That’s true. She looks hip and sexy, and won’t take any crap from anyone. And she has never given her son the feeling that the lack of money means he is less than others. He wears his hand-me-down clothes –always too big- with great flair.
Yet, there is one big hole in his little life: he has no father. Once a year, or less, the father comes to visit him, and last year he went to stay in Istanbul for two months. This year his father couldn’t be bothered to make the 12 hour bus trip to be there when he got his first school report at the end of his first school year. My little friend doesn’t blame his dad. Instead he asked me if I could take him back to Istanbul at the end of summer, and drop him at the corner of the street where his father lives. ‘I’ll walk the rest of the way,’ he said. ‘The people there know me. They’ll show me the way, and I’ll surprise my father.’
My heart shrank. It was too painful to confront that lovely boy with the harsh reality that his dad just doesn’t care that much for him. I gave him a reassuring smile, knowing that one day he will find out that those mean dragons of his really exist.