(first written in October 2002)
August, 2002, was when we made the transition from the security of a full time job with the council in a London borough; from a daily commute on the M25 motorway; from all that living in modern, western Britain involves and we relocated to a sleepy Turkish village in western Turkey, not far from the Aegean Sea and nestled in the shadow of the ruins of ancient Ephesus.
The view from our apartment windows was in a generally southwards direction. In ancient times the ground before us would have been open sea which, over a millennia of gradual silting, would have morphed into a marine marsh and with the passing of more time it would have transitioned into lowland and today, it is a broad, fertile plain.
The ruin of the Temple of Diana, renowned as one of the seven ancient wonders of the world, lies about 500 meters behind us and as the land around has silted and risen, the ruins of this once glorious temple now are located in an excavated hole in the ground, often filled with slimy green ground water and the haunt of a colony of very vocal frogs. My, how the mighty have fallen.
As mentioned, the ruin of the ancient metropolis of Ephesus is about a kilometre or so off to our right, or, roughly, to the west of us. This is one of the many Ephesus’s as over the millennia, it has been destroyed and rebuilt many times. Sometime due to the ravages of earthquakes and at other times destroyed by rampaging armies bent on destruction and pillage. There are many Ephesus’s centred on or near the shadow of Ayasoluk Hill – a modest hill rising once on the banks of the Aegean, now fully landlocked – the current, exposed ruins of the most ancient predecessor of Ephesus are found, as I said, about a kilometre distant from the hill. It is these excavated ruins which are open for public display. These are the ruins of the Romano-Greek Ephesus of the time of the apostle Paul. It was in this city that the riot in Ephesus provoked by the silversmiths occurred. It was here that the apostle Paul rented the lecture hall of Tyrranus and taught for many years. It was here, most likely in the large agora that Paul together with Acquilla and Pricila practiced their trade as tent makers.
It is interesting that due to the shifting nature of the city, always in the same general area, but in different locations, that the famous temple of Diana was situated at the base the Ayasoluk Hill and at a distance of maybe a kilometre from the ruins of Pauline Ephesus.
Today one could say that the present village of Selçuk is the living modern descendant of Ephesus especially as it, once again, is nestled up to flanks of Ayasoluk Hill.
Today, on this plain, that once would have been sea or salt marsh and separated Ayasoluk Hill from the location of the excavated ruins of Ephesus, the local farmers grow a variety of crops in the rich fertile soil.
In this region there are the ubiquitous olive trees – gracing the hills and uplands around the plain with a lush green cloak, but we observe no groves on the plain itself. The plain seems to be dominated by rows and rows of fruit and citrus trees; hard for me, a city boy, to know what is what. This is especially true as the season is early for citrus fruits and past the time for fruit – hence before us there is a vertible sea of indeterminable, thriving and flourishing green trees.
I have seen and recognised lemons – so I surmise that there must be other citrus fruit there as well.
There are fields of eggplant, peppers and tomatoes. If you want organic, then amongst the non-organic large farming enterprises you find these fields where everything is grown organically – sometimes a bit too organically, but we won’t go in to that now.
A few days earlier I was taking a contemplative interlude and was gazing out of the window, at the pastoral vista before me.
Immediately across from us, just before the citrus plantation there lies a small field planted with cotton. As I said, I’m a city boy and know nothing about farming and nothing about cotton, so I would not know if it was a very productive field or not, but in my somewhat ignorant city-boy view, I noted that the plants are quite low to the ground, ranging from about 40 cm to 80 cm in height. Maybe that is normal, like I said, I do not know. But the field was white as only a cotton field that is ready to be picked can be.
I noticed one or two women in the field picking cotton. By their dress, I could tell these were village women. Their heads were covered with a white triangular headscarf made of cotton with either beads or sequins crocheted on as a border and put on the head in such a way that all the hair is covered. Their upper body was covered in multiple layers of clothing, long sleeves, either sweaters or blouses, and additionally a sleeveless knitted vest over all the other garments. These tops were generally dark colours, browns, tans, some navy. To finish off this ensemble, they wore şalvar (in English pronounced as shalvar). These are extremely baggy trousers – really a skirt that has been sown half way up from the bottom to form baggy trousers. These were universally of dark colours and usually of a floral pattern fabric. Finally, dark coloured socks and plastic flip-flops – not ideal footwear for working in fields where mud and snakes would not be unheard of.
In the heat of the day, they do not take anything off. Dressed thusly, they labour from morning through evening – and trust me it is anything but cool here.
As I was watching, another woman suddenly appeared, rising out of the white/green of the field. She had been fully stooped over at the waist to pick the cotton and was not visible to me – hidden within the cotton plants.
Then another lady rose from within the sea of cotton plants followed by another and another. Then the first women stooped down and disappeared once again between the rows of plants to pick cotton.
There was no way of knowing where or when she would appear again. Stooped over, she would pick cotton putting it in a sack she had tied around her and she would work her way down the plants until the sack was full or her back could take no more – then and only then would she surface. How you maintain that position and labour, bent over like that is a mystery to me.
Watching them rise and plunge out of sight reminded me of a school of dolphins or whales which when swimming along, surfacing briefly and the disappearing into the sea once again. The difference here is that these women (the only man is the driver of the tractor, the toter of bales, the loader of cotton into the huge bags and part-time cotton-picker, and roster under the shade of a tree) spend the day from early morning, through the heat of the day to the evening bent over from the waist, picking, picking, picking cotton. The small, pre-school children play by the road while their mothers are in the fields. The 8 or 9 year-old daughters join their mothers labouring in the field.
Unlike the dolphins in the sea, where, when they dive beneath the waves they are in their element, free and sleek, this swimming in the cotton is unnatural, backbreaking, arduous labour.
Their reward after all the effort and exertion is almost enough to live on. (Note the application of the adverb “almost”, that is to say “not enough to live on”). Their reward for their perseverance and sweat is not enough to send all the children to school especially as that removes a pair of productive hands from the family income. Sending a child to school also costs money – uniforms, books, writing supplies – their hard earned wages are not enough for the basics of life that it is so easy to take not only for granted, but as a birth right and, in the west is so often couched in terms of a fundamental human right.
Decent housing, that is basic even primitive but dry, warm housing and adequate food; these are the goals these women aspire to. Aspire to, but many of them never see the reality. These fields are white unto harvest – but these harvest workers only share in the sweat, toil and labour. They receive precious little recompense for their labours.
They labour hard and long when there is work and suffer lack when there is none. These people have no practical or realistic hope in this world. All their efforts, all their toil, all their energy goes to try and survive today. There is no light at the end of the tunnel for them.
Death only promises an end to the pitiless labour in this life, but for them there is no assurance of acceptance in the presence of God. Life is hard – death is even harder.
For them, they have never heard that “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son” in order that we might have a fulfilling life here and the promise of a better eternity. Indeed, Jesus said He came that we might have life and have it to the full. You can still have little, there is no promise of wealth and plenty, but a promise to be with us until the end of the age, our ever help in our time of sorrows and His strength in the difficult time.
This is indeed Good News.
And it is to sharing this Good News that the Lord has called all who have “tasted and seen that the Lord is good”. Praise the Lord for New Life. Praise the Lord that He has given us this New Life. Praise the Lord that this offer of New Life is made to ‘whosever will’ through us. That the people living here may hear of the Lord of the ‘Spiritual’ harvest, which is also white unto harvest – and He has sent His workers out, not as these labourers in the cotton fields, but as his adopted children sharing the Good News in the power and provision of the Lord.