On the first day of September, we got on a couple little buses, one from Izmit to Kandira and the next from Kandira to Kerpe. Our destination…Nar Farm and Hotel, where we would be volunteering for the next three weeks. We arrived in a sun-drenched noontime, and we were immediately shown to the large tent where we would sleep for our time there before being recruited to help set out lunch. The tent reminds me a bit of the Lost Boys’ hideout…or the Room of Requirement in the 7th Harry Potter book…cots and cushions with bags and clothes lying here and there. The noon meal at the farm is always a huge spread as all the workers, volunteers, and some of the hotel staff all come together to eat.
On our first day, we were set off to pick through the bulghur…taking out rocks, chaff, and so on. The following day was a harvest day. Each day begins with a Turkish style breakfast of bread, jams, cheese, olives, and tea. By 9 o clock we begin our work. On harvesting days, that means bringing in all the produce that will be brought to the Organik Bazaar held every Wednesday in Istanbul. Peppers of all kinds, tomatoes of all colors, and beans of all size were the main contenders. But each week, there were also other items like watermelons, apples, hazelnuts, eggplants, and whatever else we could find flourishing out in the fields. My favorite part of the harvest was the sorting, where different produce was set aside for size, color, and prettiness.
When we were not picking, digging up, plucking, or searching for fruits and veggies to bring in, we spent a lot of our time weeding. And not just little, cosmetic weeding of the flowerbeds. Whole sections of field that had been allowed to grow wild or go to seed had to be weeded by hand to protect the crops that were still growing amongst the tall grasses. Back breaking work, but at the end of six hours, there is a certain satisfaction to seeing organized rows of plants where before there was just a jungle. In the afternoons, we especially learned to listen for the call to prayer that usually came around 4:30, as that signaled that we only had a half hour of work left to go.
On rainy days, we were kept inside, shelling beans, cracking nuts, shucking corn, or picking more bulgur…basically anything that needed to be taken out of its natural casing so that the animals or humans could eat it properly. These long mornings and afternoons were wiled away in good company, though, as the main staff like Huriye, Fatima, and Vildez took us under their wing and a sense of family sprang up among the volunteers. In our first days, there were only two other volunteers….but at the high point there were 12-13 of us altogether. We made a rowdy, congenial bunch and there was no shortage of nut jokes on the days we spent harassing the hazelnuts.
On weekends and afternoons, we were free to do a little more exploring. Sometimes, we walked along the road on the way to a neighboring village of Kurtyeli. Greeting the other local farmers with some of the few Turkish words we knew, we would wander along rolling hills and a winding road lined with blackberries and flowers. One Sunday, we saw a wedding being set up in someone’s backyard…another weekend, three different cars stopped to offer us a ride. The locals have big hearts and love to offer everyone a ride in their car and a cup of tea.
Of course, one of the highlights of being at Nar Farm was its proximity to Kerpe, a gorgeous little seaside town tucked away on the Black Sea coast, far from the long claws of the tourist industry. The beach lies in a protected cove and during the week, it was nearly deserted…left to the whims of the locals and volunteers like us. We enjoyed walking along the seaside shops, sipping beers on the sand, and hanging out at the fishing pier every now and again. The water was extremely clear in this area, so even in the deeper parts, it was easy to see the fish and underwater life through the teal waters.
Kerpe is known for more than its fabulous waters and charming atmosphere. Just south of the main beach area, following the coastline or taking a shortcut through the town, the beach takes on a completely different look. Famous rock, weathered into shapes which fire the imagination, line the coast here. The first time, I went by myself while Sangbyeong was fishing…and the second time we went up there along with a crowd of other volunteers from the farm. There was one outcrop, that juts over the cliff edge, where grave souls can catch a brilliant panoramic view of the sea and the whimsical coastline. Both times, I saw even more daring people jumping from the higher rocks into the waters below!
On our last day, we finished the work day with a “hayride”…riding in the back of the tractor, which was loaded with cornstalks that we hand cut and bound into clumps. Staring up into the beautiful blue sky from a nest of corn, we wished goodbye to the fields. Before dinner, we hitchhiked back into Kerpe for a last swim. We got much more than that…a beautiful sunset lit up the waters as we soaked in our last minutes of the Black Sea. On the way back, it was getting dark and we were trying to catch a ride. An older gentleman called to us, and I used my little Turkish to tell him “Not far..3 km…we are tired. Nar Farm and Hotel.” Miraculously, he understood and told us to wait at the corner. He ran home and got his car to drive us home! Such kindness. It was the mark of our time in Kerpe. Much like all the special friendships that we forged there, with both Turks and other volunteers.
Our last evening in Kerpe happened to be the last day of summer..the autumnal equinox happened at 5 AM local time, and we woke to have breakfast and then headed out. Yet again, we caught a hitch to Kandira, where we got a bus to Izmit that continued onto Harem station on the Asian side of Istanbul. With the change of season, we are also making a change of continent…from Asia to Europe, crossing the Bosphorous on a windswept afternoon and into our next adventure.