In this extract from Me, My Bike and a Street Dog Called Lucy, Ishbel recalls an encounter with a local Turkish woman.
The woman’s smile was warm, and I trusted her immediately. Lucy padded behind as I wheeled my bicycle through the big, green doors into the dusty yard of a house, with small huts for animals and fields behind as far as the eye could see. Chickens ran about, and I glanced at Lucy, knowing this could be disastrous. To my relief, she took no notice.
(Photo: Ishbel wearing the clothes given to her by Aysun © Ishbel Holmes)
The woman and I stood facing each other in the yard, she with her hijab, I with my bicycle. She looked me up and down with what was clearly pity. I glanced self-consciously down to see the holes all over my clothes, and then looked back at her and saw she was smiling. She reached out and gently pulled a leaf and twig from my hair. I was surprised they were in there, but then again, I couldn’t remember when I last brushed my hair. I didn’t even own a hairbrush.
The woman was dressed in typical clothes for rural Turkey – a mustard wool cardigan over a long wool sweater and a long, loose skirt. Her hair was covered by a scarf. She pointed to herself and said ‘Aysun,’ and I pointed to myself and said ‘Ishbel.’ She motioned for me to follow her up the steep steps into the house. I nodded and followed her in, leaving Lucy with the job of protecting my bicycle, which she had begun to take very seriously, never straying far away. Aysun led me into a bedroom with modern fitted wardrobes and a mirrored dresser, all of which seemed far removed from the crumbling village just outside. She pulled out different items of clothing and piled the bundle on the bed: a huge pair of traditional Turkish trousers, black with bright pink flowers; a long tunic sweater; a thick wool cardigan; a white vest; and a huge pair of white pants. I smiled, but inside I was horrified. These clothes were for winter in Russia, not sweltering Turkey.
Gesturing to a hairbrush on the dresser, Aysun took me to a shower room and handed me some toiletries. I got very excited about the soap and shampoo. My last real shower had been some 300 kilometres ago in Istanbul, although I did use wet wipes daily to clean up. The shower was hot and soothing. I savoured each moment while also trying to wash as fast as I could, not wanting to use up all the solar-heated water. I turned off the shower, and before I had even stepped out of the stall, a knock came on the bathroom door. I froze for a moment, a little fearful, but then pulled a towel around me and opened the door.
Aysun stood there, motioning me to follow her back to the bedroom, where she left me alone again to get dressed. I put the white pants on and they went right up to my chest. If I had stretched them, they would have covered my head, too. I was giggling so much I had to cover my mouth with my hand to be quiet. I pulled on the vest, trousers and top, leaving the stifling sweater on the bed. Looking in the mirror, I saw a Turkish mountain granny gazing back at me and broke out laughing.
The feel of clean clothes against my skin was wonderful. I reached for the hairbrush and tried to brush my hair but soon gave up. Instead, I sat on the bed untangling the knots with my fingers and feeling a bit overwhelmed at the kindness of complete strangers. I thought of going into foster care and how not one family member had ever visited me. I’d asked why and had been told it was because I was in a village so far away, an answer I accepted without question. But now, cycling the world, I realised that 40 miles wasn’t a lot of distance between family.
In the kitchen, Aysun was busy cooking eggs, and a spread of bread, cheese, jam, olives and tea was laid on the table. She motioned for me to sit and then served me the eggs. I didn’t want to be rude, but I knew I couldn’t sit and eat breakfast knowing that Lucy hadn’t eaten yet. I gestured toward the door, scooped up half my eggs, a bit of cheese, and some bread into a napkin, and excused myself. Once Lucy was lying in the sun with a full belly, I happily returned to demolish the traditional Turkish breakfast.
Afterwards, we sat together on a big, blue sofa in the living room, surrounded by photos of Aysun’s family on the walls. The respect and appreciation in both of our eyes diminished any awkwardness from the language barrier, and we used charades to communicate. She imitated working in the fields and that she began when the sun rose and stopped when the sun fell. She proceeded to show me her pains from the work. Her hands were red and sore, and she pulled up her sweater to expose her back, which she indicated caused her the worst pain. I am qualified in holistic therapies and could see the muscular tension across her back. Motioning her to sit down, I gently massaged the solid muscles. Aysun was very thankful and hugged me tightly when I finished.
To read more about Lucy and Ishbel's story, click here: