In November 2010, I paid a visit to my mother’s home town in Çanakkale, Turkey. The waters Helen of Troy bathed in. The coast Alexander the Great battled for. Land of ancient gods, witness to countless myths of love and war.
My childhood summers passed in this Aegean seaside village. Our tradition was to visit the fields after a dip in the turquoise waters. We would pick sweet green peppers and blood red tomatoes from the vine. My uncle would crack open a watermelon right then and there. I would bury my face in a giant slice, lick the sweet and the salt of the Aegean off my cheeks.
After migrating to the US, I skipped one too many of these summers in Çanakkale. For other experiences. Going back, everything that was same old felt better than anything shiny and new.
No more watermelon in November, of course. But on this lucky trip, I caught the tail end of the olive harvest.
Aegeans speak of olive trees like people. Like gold. The joy and pain they bring to families. The stories of the trees freezing to death. The mourning of it all. The decades it takes for that first fruit to come. The many generations involved. The precious seed. The medicine in each drop of olive oil. The benefits for the skin. Hair masks and soaps.
Mom put us to work. We shook the fruit off the branches, filled our baskets with mixed green and black olives, ready to be seasoned.
My mother had her eyes on the fields, checking on our fruit trees and other crops. Her gaze was like a radar. She noticed everything. Out of nowhere she found some wild berries. Collected some poison ivy for medicinal tea. Quickly cleaned out the bad weed taking over the roots of a walnut tree. She was constantly doing something.
At some point she let out an “Aaahh!”
Our little pack turned around. She was on her knees picking some white beans off the ground. The farmers had completed their harvest, spared the seeds for the next season and left some scraps behind. One would easily ignore this insignificant amount of leftovers. But my mother excitedly collected them as if she discovered a precious bounty.
She said: “Bi yemek çıkar.”
“Enough for a meal.”
This puts everything in perspective. Enough for a meal.
It’s not just this instance with the beans. Her whole life is about getting crafty, making the most out of the little she has. Avoiding wastefulness is not a trend she follows. It’s her default state of being. She picks out produce at the supermarket the same way. She cooks and cleans at home the same way. She restores historical buildings for a living. Her architecture. The same way.
And she doesn’t have it easy. My mother is a woman caught in the wave of a massive culture shift in Turkey. From doing her homework in candlelight as a kid, to becoming an independent woman architect in an exponentially growing city, Istanbul.
I’m seeing it clearly now that her humble roots have been bullied by some kind of indigested modernism in Turkey. I’m guilty. Unfortunately, I’ve done my fair share of that bullying.
“Mom, why would you bother with that? Why don’t you focus on making more money instead of picking a fistful of beans.”
As a teenager, this is what I’d be most likely to say to her.
The 90s when I grew up, consumerism had not fully hacked into the Turkish culture’s backbone just yet, but it was in the works, big time. My mother’s careful expenditure was associated with poverty or lack of education. Her kind of intuition was belittled as common peasantry.
This segment from Harari’s Sapiens, (Chapter 17) explores why this phenomena is not accidental, nor unique to Turkey.
Most people throughout history lived under conditions of scarcity. Frugality was thus their watchword. The austere ethics of the Puritans and Spartans are but two famous examples. A good person avoided luxuries, never threw food away, and patched up torn trousers instead of buying a new pair. Only kings and nobles allowed themselves to renounce such values publicly and conspicuously flaunt their riches.
Consumerism sees the consumption of ever more products and services as a positive thing. It encourages people to treat themselves, spoil themselves, and even kill themselves slowly by overconsumption.
Frugality is a disease to be cured.
Consumerism has worked very hard, with the help of popular psychology (‘Just do it!’) to convince people that indulgence is good for you, whereas frugality is self-oppression.
Sounds like what the world has been telling my mom all her life.
It took me moving an ocean and two continents away from her to see things in a different light. Of sunny California, where tech giants are battling for renewable energy, and Hollywood Goddesses for justice and equality. In the capital of cinema new myths of love and war are written. I’m sensing the mythical history of my mothers’ lands mirroring our present time.
Our Planet is forcing us to remember some of the core, timeless and practical values. The movement for sustainable living and healthy society is determined to get it right this time.
Humans, we might be closer than ever to waking up to our privilege. Our throne on top of the food chain.
A disease to be cured?
Seeing the plentiful in a pinch is rather royalty.
My mother is a keeper of the ancient wisdom, indigenous to our Planet. She flows in harmony with our Earth’s generosity. If her gut takes her on her knees, she’ll do it. She doesn’t hesitate getting her hands dirty. She knows the time it takes beauty to flourish. She knows the value of a single seed.
This is not about scarcity. She doesn’t pick up the beans because we are hungry. Not because we can’t afford supermarket beans packaged in plastic.
This is not about abstinence, nor sentimentality. No. She’s tuned into something real.
She does it because it’s her true nature not to waste the gift. She’s open to the random chance of finding a fistful of beans right there for your taking. She is tuned into the joy of living.
This memory comes back to me more frequently nowadays,
I join Her Highness.
We collect a fistful of beans,
One by one.
Like pure, white jewels
Like little pearls, sprinkled out
on dark, moist, fertile soil
waiting to be discovered
by their righteous owner.
Like found treasure.
“Enough for a meal.”
Thank you for reading.🕊 All photographs were taken by me.
Turkish version of this post: