When Allah wants a pauper to be happy First he makes him lose his donkey Then he lets him find it
A lost donkey and a collection of stories don't appear to have much in common. But the joy of finding each of them lies in the renewed appreciation for something vital that perhaps was taken for granted. For his livelihood's sake, a pauper mustn't lose his donkey; for humanity's sake, we mustn't lose our desire to listen to - and recognize ourselves in - the voices of others. Nuri's Donkey takes readers to a remote village in Turkey, where they will discover funny, bittersweet, and stranger-than-fiction tales about people who are not so different after all.
In 1982 I went to this village with my then-husband to meet my in-laws. None of the villagers had ever seen an American or heard a foreigner speaking Turkish, so I was quite a novelty! Each day curious onlookers would gather at the house to stare and ask me questions . . . my sisters-in-law, feeling obliged to protect me, would try to shoo them all away. Four-year-old Yucel was persistent: he followed me everywhere while solemnly declaring, "Your eyes are green, your hair is white." When the time came for us to leave, he asked if he could keep me in exchange for one of his toy trucks.
REMAIN SILENT WITH FATHERS-IN-LAW
I stumbled into my first faux pas the day I arrived. Nobody had told me that a bride is supposed to remain silent with her father-in-law until he grants her the right to address him. But even if I’d known the rule, it would have been impossible to follow: my father-in-law was asking me questions and making me laugh from the moment we met. Rather than bothering with that piece of etiquette, he wanted to get to know—and hear the fractured Turkish of—the exotic foreigner now in their midst.
A few days later, with his father out of earshot, my brother-in-law Hasan asked, “When is Dad going to let Meliha and Umran speak to him?” (Meliha and Umran were twenty and nineteen, respectively, and both were married into the family at the age of sixteen.) The general consensus was that the family patriarch had been waiting for me to arrive, in order to give the three of us his permission in one fell swoop.
Pretending to be concerned, brother-in-law Yusuf then pointed out that “Emine” (the Turkish name they chose for me) was already talking. I was mortified. He was only teasing, however, and quickly reassured me that they assumed I would inadvertently bend a rule here and there. Besides, this father-in-law apparently thought the custom was silly. When the girls married his sons, he told them that if they wanted to speak they should speak!
“Then why don’t they speak?” I asked.
“To be on the safe side,” everyone replied. Meliha and Umran didn’t dare take him seriously because they knew he liked to joke around—and now, years later, the no-talk routine was hopelessly entrenched.
The tables were turned the day we left the village. Looking back through the morning fog, I saw my father-in-law staring quietly in the direction of our disappearing car.
Emily Bunker once belonged to a Turkish village family. She graduated from Stanford University with a BA in anthropology, and used to teach and perform Turkish folkdance.