I love irony. And although I meet many people who have had the irony by-pass operation, even they would get this one; on one of our practice swims for our charity event to raise money for search and rescue group Akut, one of our swimmers got lost and we had to scramble the coast guard to err… search and rescue him.
Actually even they could not find him but he did turn up in a taxi two hours after we had arrived back. It is a long story.
He is a young Turk from Kaş and came for the first time to meet us, the Kalkan swimmers, and check pace etc. Being very fit, young, a triathlete and possibly because he comes from Kaş, he entered the water and then proceeded to swim rapidly out of hearing range at a tangent to the rest of us. He was soon out of sight too and that was the last we saw of him until the taxi hours later. He probably swam to Fethiye and back. Don’t know. Really! I never quite grasped what happened nor how came it that none of us or anybody else subsequently saw him in the water. Even the coastguard failed to locate him.
This year’s Mouse Island Swim has been way more challenging than the previous four because;
- We have been working with a large Turkish charity, Akut. This is a charity not much loved by the government, probably because of its independence but much respected by Turks. It made its reputation in the 1999 Istanbul earthquake when it was everywhere saving lives whilst the government dithered. So it is very careful not to offend government sensitivities or complex charity law.
- We have worked with local Turkish rather than just in the ex pat bubble
- People from Kalkan and people from Kaş have had to collaborate
- We had twice last year’s number of swimmers
In fact it was nearly was not the Mouse Island swim. War broke out inside the embryonic local Kaş Kalkan Akut Board about the legitimacy of the established English name ‘Mouse’ Island; the one that sits 5.9 km off Kalkan Bay. Yes! Yes! I know every tour boat and dive boat board shows Mouse Island and Snake Island. Yes! I know that a Google search for Mouse Island Kalkan brings back 32,000 results referencing it. But apparently it is not the correct English language name. No! the correct name is Red Island (Google references 0).
The Turkish name is Sıçan Adası. The Turkish word sıçan actually means rat. However the verb sıçmak also means “to have a shit” in vernacular Turkish. So sıçan can mean “shitting” as well as rat. Nonetheless Turks and English thought this quite amusing and were agreed that Sıçan Adası Yüzmesi 2015 should go on the front of our sponsored polo shirts. We are even thinking of renaming our swimming group The Shitting Rats with an appropriate logo.
So Shitting Rat Island in Turkish is fine but – and I am not shitting you – Mouse Island was rejected as an English translation. The local Akut board decided that the Sponsored Polo shirts, which 20 very generous local businesses were paying 1000 TL a piece (not shitting you there either) for us to wear would have to bear the legend Sıcan Adası Yüzmesi 2015 on one side but Red Island Swim 2015 on the other. Now nobody and I mean nobody – not one English Google search result returned a Red Island Kalkan result – has ever used the term Red Island to describe this particular piece of real estate.
At which point I put my neatly manicured big hairy ayak down and said “It’s going to be Mouse Island Swim. Better dead than red.” All of which prompted, a crisis meeting and hot words including the phrase (not aimed at me but another English Akut Board member) “Why are you taking the side of the foreigners?” Hello! We are not on the same side then?
This had all the makings of a classic academic dispute of which Kissinger said “They are so vicious precisely because the stakes are so small” .
In the end common sense won the day and it was accepted that Mouse Island would be the term used. However in another of life’s little ironies, the printing went wrong and they only got printed on one side anyway.
The serious point here is that working across cultures is way more difficult than it seems. This is a friendly place and we foreign residents have a great life but we live in our silos, or bubbles, as I prefer to call them. Under the surface there are many more tensions than we care to realise. Tempting then to retreat in to the bubble but that would be the wrong answer.
I am not surprised that a project like this has flushed out all sorts of misunderstandings and resentments but that is always the first step in any kind of rapprochement. Let the dog see the rabbit. Actually the resentments are not just between Turks and foreigners. I learnt that there is a major fault line too between the population of hip Turks from Istanbul, Izmir etc who have settled in Kaş in pursuit of a more laid back boho life and the indigenous Turks. Apparently war is waged in the social media. All the Kaş Akut members are currently outsiders but I hear that is changing.
For me in the final analysis it was a very satisfying and worthwhile process to work together with Turks from Kaş and Kalkan. I hope one or two of the ones I met will become friends. I am certainly thinking of doing the Meis to Kaş swim next year with some of the young dudes from Kaş. We also had a boat team from Kuşadası and from Marmaris along with support from Istanbul. They were a great bunch of people: sophisticated, modern minded and friendly. Having their two rescue craft with us on the swim certainly gave me peace of mind. John – the Only Pole in the Village – Federyzwcyvvzxxwxys has done us all a massive service in creating this opportunity to step up and work together. Hats off to him, I say.
And I like hanging out with younger people when I get the chance. Within Kalkan ex pat circles after all there are generally only two conversations in play
- The health conversation; various ailments – memory loss, joint pain, mobility issues etc – and health care system, merits of
- The food conversation; had the most fantastic meal last night at such and such restaurant, detailed inventory of food followed by cost
So breaking out and hanging out with the kids (anybody under 45) is essential for sanity.
Despite a poor season 19 Kalkan businesses stumped up corporate sponsorships of 1000 tl, and I have pictured their logos here. There are some great local businesses and I applaud them.
I am also very grateful to readers of this blog who donated generously in support of me or of the swimmers generally. Several made really touching comments about the blog. Definitely makes the effort worthwhile
So Akut will now get off the ground. And if you want to give it is not too late, you can use my Donate button.
In a couple of weeks Special K and I will be leaving Leto House in the care of house sitting friends until late November. We are off to South Africa for three weeks with a few friends, which is really exciting.
So in my next post I shall no doubt have something to say about that as well as an early take on our first winter in the mountains. And of course, against the bleak backdrop of Saturday’s major bomb blast in Ankara, the country will go to the polls in just under three weeks. Who knows how that will play out?
But life in small town Kalkan will go on and hopefully the tourists will continue to support our excellent Kalkan businesses.
In conclusion here are some pictures of the fifth and biggest Mouse Island Swim. As you can see I really am the oldest swimmer in town.