Whenever I am overwhelmed with world news and think there are no solutions to the problems that surround us, I sit back in my chair and travel back to my childhood in the streets of Istanbul. I think of all the sunny summers and snowy winters, allergy filled springs and sad days of fall. Memories of those simpler times soothe my senses and bring back some joy to my otherwise busy days. Growing up in country full of traditions and strict rules covering our everyday lives, it was always refreshing to be with grandparents whose unconditional love and wisdom molded us as we grew up.
My grandfather liked to tell us stories which we were asked to listen carefully and try and get the moral of the story. It did not always work at the time but those stories were chiseled into my brain and from time to time pop-up reminding me of those wonderful days. I also seem to get the moral of the stories now that I am as old as my grandfather was when he told them to me on cool summer nights as we sat on our porch watching the stars and listening to the never ending songs of crickets.
One of the most important characters my grandfather quoted from often was a man named Nasreddin Hodja. I always tried very hard to figure out why on that particular day and under those particular conditions he told me that short but meaningful story about Hodja. Over the years, I tried telling these same stories to my childrenand now to my grandchildren but I do not think they make any sense to them in a completely different, computer-generated world they live in today. I still remember a lot of these stories and the circumstances under which they were told and they make more sense today than they ever did; especially when I think of them in terms of what is going on around the world.
I remember telling my grandfather one summer evening about the car our neighbor had just purchased and how beautiful and shiny it was and how it had a radio, vinyl seats and going on and on describing everything about this car to him. He did not react at all to anything I said about the neighbor’s new car; instead he looked at me lovingly and told me the following story:
One day Hodja and his friends were sitting at the coffee house. A young boy carrying a tray of baklava attracted the attention of one of the men.
`Hodja, look!’ he pointed, `That boy is carrying a tray of baklava.’
`It’s none of my business.’ Hodja shrugged his shoulders.
`But, Hodja, watch! He is taking it to your house.’
`In that case,’ Hodja asserted, `it’s none of your business.’
This everyday character of my youth, Nasreddin Hodja (Hoca) is believed to have lived in Aksehir in south-central Turkey in the thirteenth Century. He was a beloved character whose advice and opinion his towns-people solicited and respected. About 400 handwritten manuscripts that narrate his anecdotes have survived and are exhibited in a local museum. The title Hodja (Hoca) inTurkish means both a teacher and a religious leader, both of whom are supposed to be knowledgeable man. In life, Nasreddin Hodja was a small farmer with a few livestock and a small farm. He sometimes acted as an “imam” leading people in prayers and sometimes was a “kadi”; a judge who resolved local disputes based on his knowledge and interpretation of the Koran. According to legend, he was a hard-working and honest man; however he was not immune to little white lies and cheatings from time to time. Hodja was often poor, living a modest life, willing to do anything and take on any job to support his family.
It is almost impossible to know how old Hodja was at any given time. When he was asked how old he was, he always replied “Forty.” To this the inquisitive person responded “But Hodja, when we asked you your age ten years ago, you gave the same answer!” “That’s my word, and I stick with it” was Hodja’s standard response.
My grandfather had a very friendly but huge German Sheppard called Rex which he kept at the back of his store. One day, I went over to the store and asked my grandfather if I could take the dog for a walk. My grandfather must not have liked me taking Rex for a walk by myself; so he told me that one of the store clerks had just left with him for a walk. Just at that moment, Rex started barking up a storm. I looked inquisitively into my grandfathers eyes. Hesat down and in his soothing voice told me:
A neighbor came to the gate of Hodja’s yard and he went to meet him outside.
“Would you mind, Hodja,” the neighbor asked, “lending me your donkey today? I have some goods to transport to the next town.”
Hodja didn’t feel inclined to lend out the animal to that particular man, however. So, not to seem rude, he answered:
“I’m sorry, but I’ve already lent him to somebody else.”
All of a sudden the donkey could be heard braying loudly behind the wall of the yard. “But Hodja,” the neighbor exclaimed. “I can hear it behind that wall!”
“Who do you believe,” the Hodja replied indignantly. “The donkey or your Hodja?”
It is sad to note that the days of telling children stories from which they can deduct life lessons and morals, ethics and behavior is long gone. It is all computers generated now; just like this story I am writing on my laptop on an otherwise beautiful and peaceful Sunday evening on Marco Island.
Hodja was seen riding his beloved donkey to the market one day. Strangely, he was sitting backwards as the donkey slowly moved forward. One of the towns-people walked up to Hodja and wanted to know why he was riding his donkey, sitting backwards. Hodja responded in his usual, knowledgeable manner; “I know where I am going; but I do want to make sure I know where I am coming from”… Good advice for all of us today, isn’t it?
Currently a member of Marco Island’s Code Enforcement Board, Tarik Ayasun has given many years of community service to various organizations.