‘Abla’ translates as ‘older sister’ in Turkish. It’s a widely used, respectful term of address by Turks of all ages when they are speaking with those ladies they perceive to be older and/or wiser – Abla, or not. You can hear it any day in any market anywhere in the country; it is particularly prevalent in touristic towns when cheeky young market traders are flogging their fake ‘Sloggi’ thongs to greying, foreign matrons who giggle with delight at the first appraising looks they’ve had in many a long year – ‘These are so naughty, Abla. Full of Turkish Delight, just like you;- only 15 lira, Abla; but for you I make a special price!’
Which brings me nicely to Our Ablas – that is J and my older sisters. Not, I hasten to add, that I have ever seen them buying anyone’s thongs in Ortaca market, let alone fake Sloggis. But I digress . .
They used to come to visit separately each year, which was not surprising because I don’t remember them ever meeting each other in all the years J and I have known each other, until we came to live in Turkey. Anyway, one year we got the dates wrong and they ended up with an overlap of about a week. As it turned out, they got on famously and resolved to make their annual visit to us a joint venture in future.
This suited J and me fine as it halved the number of trips out we’d have to do. It also suited in another way – they never seemed to stop talking so J and I could flit around, doing our own thing with just an occasional ‘Really!’, ‘Is that so?’ or ‘Would you believe it?’ thrown in feigning deep and abiding interest. We’ve been here so long now that we have little idea about the people and events they’re chatting about. I did suggest to J that we could probably wander off to market or have a weekend away without either of them noticing, but neither of us has ever had the ‘bottle’ to test the theory out. One should, after all, show respect for one’s Abla or face the social consequences; Turks, understandably frown upon such boorish behavior.
The sisters pleasure in each other’s company led to J and me inviting them to accompany us on one of our trips – not in Turkey this time, but on the Trans-Mongolian Train from Moscow to Beijing. It was an amazing adventure filled with sights and sensations with side excursions thrown in. One in particular involved living in yurts in the wilds of a Mongolian National Park. There was horse-trekking; learning to erect a yurt; cooking wild yak meat in buried ovens and how to make everything else you need to survive from yak milk. Oh yes! And white water rafting – which brings me to the point of this story. Whenever our Ablas come to visit, we always tell them to travel light; you don’t need to pack towels and blanket – we have them here. If we find that you really do need welly-boots in Turkey in August, we can get them locally; and I think you can leave the kitchen sink at home this time because, if you remember, we already have one! It really is like that. Between them they bring a whole new meaning to a ‘bit of excess baggage’.
Anyway, back to the train trip; we told them, categorically, that whatever they brought with them, they would have to carry it – be warned, we said! Which brings me to the final photograph – here they are, stripped down to the bare bones and raring to get going on a bit of Wild Mongolian River Rafting.
Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü