As I've mentioned many times in this blog, the Turks are a brave nation. They single-handedly freed their own land from a multitude of occupiers and are perpetually ready to do it again. Any trip on the nations roads will tell you that these people have no fear. A man will slice his own arm off, rub a bit of lemon cologne on it, light up a cigarette and calmly say "tsk, it's nothing".
But I've discovered a weakness; a chink in their armour if you will. Something that sends a shiver down the spine of any God fearing Turk. Something so feared, they'll always make sure they are carrying something to protect themselves (and others) from it. So what is this foe? What is the Turkish Kryponite? For a Turk, there is nothing as horrifying as a mild breeze.
The fear of catching a cold is absolute and even in the height of the hottest summer, a Turk will always make sure their lower back and neck are protected from any kind of cool air.
Actually it's the cold in any form. Cold water, cold floors, cold breeze, cold sea... they are all potential menaces.
Whenever I talk to my nan about my mum and days gone by, the one thing that sticks in her mind is how "she always walked around barefoot and never covered her childrens' feet". The fact that the ambient temperature was 50 degrees matters not. The shortest route the devil can take to whisk away your soul is through your feet via cold tiles or cold water hitting your stomach.
Through the years, I've been ill many times in Turkey. Everything from throat abscesses to dysentery and every time I come down with something, the response is always the same: "you must have got cold". It's certainly a possibility but having lived 31 years on a small island in the North Sea, I'd probably say my body is pretty resilient to all things 'chilly'.
Taking a wild guess, I'd wager it was swimming around a couple of metres above a cracked sewage pipe that blessed me with Amoebic Dysentery (being, as it is, an 'anal>oral desease). I'd go further to say that eating meat from a sheep's carcass that'd been swinging in the midday sun for god knows how long led to the numerous times I've been scared to sneeze for fear of ruining my shorts. But, no, it must be the fact that I wasn't wearing slippers.
This isn't just a wives tale. I hear doctors make this diagnosis. I wonder, though, is there any truth in it? Could it be that we're wrong and they're right? Just what damage can the cold really do?
"The results are back and I'm afraid you have a rather aggressive form of Gonorrhea. Now, I want you to think back. Have you drunk any cold water recently?"
When offering water to someone, you always have to ask "would you like cold, room temperature or a mixture?". Everyone has their own way of taking water and it's always best to ask.
Children never drink cold water (though, bizarrely, ice-cream is all good). Children a wrapped up like Inuits as soon as their arse leaves the sea. Childrens' feet are constantly monitored for any indication of dropping below 'warm'.
Here's an experiment you can try at home. Below is a picture of me with my gorgeous niece Lily. Show this picture to a Brit then show it to a Turk and notice the difference in the response:
You probably got responses similar to...
British response: "My God, she's gorgeous. Look at that fat belly! And those feet! I could eat her up".
Turkish response: "My God, her belly's not covered! ...and her feet! Poor thing. Oh my God!" followed by a stream of prayers along the lines of "God protect her", clutching their ear lobes and knocking on the table (it's the "God protect you" gesture).
When I was a baby, we lived in Turkey for a year. In Antalya, arguably one the hottest areas of the country. I was just months old and mum would lie me in my cot and point a fan at me to stop me from cooking in my own sweat. On seeing this, my grandmother would begin to pray for God to intervene and cut the electricity to block. It just ain't done I tell you.
When my Turkish family used to visit us in the UK, no matter what season they arrived, they'd be wrapped up in scarves, gloves and full length fur coats. "It's like ice, I tell you. Ice!".
I mentioned the throat abscess I had once. My neighbour came in to see how I was doing (I was fine. I just had a sore throat). What happened next, will haunt me till the day I die (probably of a cold neck). She rubbed my entire body in Deep Heat, wrapped me in blankets and closed all windows and doors to keep the warmth in. This was one of the hottest Summers on record, by the way. Ever cooked Salmon en Papillote? You see where I'm going with this.
The other night I was having dinner at my cousin's house. As I sat there on the balcony, I looked out to all the other families doing exactly the same. It's a lovely sight to see people enjoying the evening with their loved ones, chatting, debating, laughing and tucking into the delights of the Turkish kitchen. But if you look closely, you'll notice that theirs a constant ballet of people switching seats to avoid the evening breeze.
Throughout the summer, you'll hear Turks complaining of sore throats ("I must have got cold"), or lower back pain ("I must have got cold"), headaches ("I must have got cold") and a whole host of other cold-related ailments.
I know that now having written this post, I'm opening myself up to the most severe bout of the flu but I simply had to share this rather curious difference in our cultures. Excuse me now while I take a cold shower and sit on the balcony to dry off with a nice cold glass of water. May God protect me.