Memleket

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The trick to picking a perfect peach is simple: Gently squeeze the chot (stem and fruit junction); if the inside of the fruit is juicy and dark yellow, carefully roll the fruit and pull while holding the stem to avoid bruising.

After nine summers, countless days under the burning sun, and an overwhelming amount of fruit wasted, I became a connoisseur in picking the sweetest and most fragrant peaches in the village of Dipsizgol (bottomless lake), dramatically situated in northwestern Anatolia along the Sea of Marmara.

It was the memleket for the family, the homeland – the birthplace of my father and me, and home of my grandparents, my two uncles, and their wives and children, all living in a one-story house with a tiny stable and a coop in which they put two cows and half a dozen chickens. Somewhere near the house they had a small orchard with blossoming fruit trees; come early July and harvest time, they would need extra help, and we would leave behind our busy lives in suburban Istanbul and take a 4-hour ride to the memleket.

Being the naive, obnoxious kid that I was, I would complain about the place – how it always stinks and there is nothing to do. I had to wake up early to go for the morning prayer and help collect eggs. My knees hurt as I sat down on the floor to eat, clumsily trying to put the cloth on my lap. The sheets of the makeshift bed on the floor smelled like naphthalene and vintage fabric.

It was different, and I didn’t like it.

When I sniffed or curled my lip at something, my father would take me aside and tell me this was home. Slightly annoyed, I would swallow my anger and apologize, although I was never able to understand exactly why I had to get used to living in this strange, outlandish place when we already had a home.

To my further surprise, my father would become a completely different person in the memleket. He would speak the cryptic local Turkish dialect, wear rubber shoes, and drive a tractor around town. Watching him enjoying every bit of the memleket made me wonder why he had left in the first place.

After dropping out of middle school to earn money by herding sheep, he went on to high school despite my grandparents’ earnest efforts, abandoning the memleket for the first time. He never went to college, but he did build a stable career and life platform for himself – one he would never be able to achieve if he hadn’t left.Yet there he was, twenty-five years later, having the time of his life at the same place he willingly left behind.

Last summer was my last time in the memleket before leaving for the United States to turn over a new leaf in my life, just like my father did when he was sixteen. In hindsight, I don’t think I ever understood what he was trying to say until now, ten thousand miles away. I realized I have grown to long for the memleket, ​for something that is quite a ways from me – something that I felt I belong to and that belonged to me. Memleket is never only a place – it is part of one’s self-definition, embedded in human instinct. Memleket is the place that will gladly welcome us years after, where we are able to turn into the sixteen-year-old that we were before leaving. I am glad to have somewhere that I can call the memleket – wherever this path that I chose goes, I will have one foot behind in the memleket, where I will go back to be the same kid who wakes up for the morning prayer and collects eggs.

I will be the same kid picking the sweetest and most fragrant peaches in the entire memleket for the whole world to see.

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