Born in 1944, Alan Fenn grew up on the Isle of Sheppey before joining the army at 18, by which time he’d already had three jobs. Active service damaged his hearing and after being medically discharged after six years he was very excited to receive a War Disability Pension of a little over three shillings (15 pence) a week!
Among numerous other jobs he worked with Prison Industries and earned the nickname ‘The Werewolf’ (though he was never told this to his face). He recently spoke to us about his life in Okçular, a village in southwest Turkey.
I’m sure you’ve never heard this before: where are you from?
I’m a ‘Swampy’, born on the Isle of Sheppey. The island lies in the Thames Estuary, just off the coast of Kent in the UK; it is steeped in history and was, at that time, home to many strange people. “Swampy’ types were rather like the people in the film ‘Deliverance’, keeping it in the family led to some interesting ‘quirks’. I was lucky that my father was a ‘Mainlander’ from Newcastle! I moved away many years ago, although work took me back there, I chose to live elsewhere in Kent.
And what did you do there, then?
I’ve turned my hand to many different things in my working life; apprentice (electronics); warehouseman; Kleen-ezy Brush salesman; hearing aid audiologist; soldier (Parachute Regt); stevedore; prison officer; publican; double glazing fitter; instructor and industrial manager for Prison Industries – any more? I say it makes me versatile, you might think it displays a lack of ‘stickability’!
How did you end up in Okçular?
I was working for Prison Industries at the Eastchurch open prison on the Isle of Sheppey when, 16 years ago now, my spine finally gave up the ghost. Years of abuse from hard sport and military service had come home to roost – doctors told me I could no longer work, that the condition was inoperable and I would probably be in a wheelchair within five years. My partner J and I had had a pipe-dream for many years to live in Turkey and my condition was the catalyst that pushed us to go live it. Okçular was pure chance – we had come over in the depths of winter to seek out somewhere to live and had spent several weeks touring all over the SE of Turkey. There were lots of great places, but we had been shown a plot with a two-room shack on it. It was near the end of a track, tucked into the forest with a view to a beautiful seasonal lake. The area was decked out with multi-coloured anemones and we were smitten! This was Okçular and it was here that we had our home designed and built.
One thing I will always be grateful to Turkey for is giving me my life back. About seven years ago my spine finally gave up on me – our dear local doctor introduced me to an Iranian spinal surgeon working in southern Turkey who carried out the ‘inoperable’ and rebuilt my spine. Today I can walk the mountains and valleys with J, see the beautiful flora and fauna and (with care) do many of the things I enjoy.
Have you lived abroad before?
Yes! My father was in the Royal Navy and at age eleven our family moved to Malta for two and a half years. When I was in the Paras we went to a few different places, but I don’t think those experiences can be counted.
So what’s so good about Okçular?
The villagers and the environment! The village itself is nothing special, just a typical, small farming community; it is the fantastic scenery and biodiversity that are so unique and special. The people are best described as the ‘Salt-of-the-Earth’ – they have taken us to their hearts and treated us as valued family.
And what don’t you like?
Until a few weeks ago, there was nothing to dislike – our life here was pretty wonderful. Then the local council in the town of Dalyan decided to open a quarry for three months just 50 mts from our house. We knew nothing about it until work started – on occasions we have been trapped in our home because the road is so broken by the trucks – it is pretty horrendous!
Do you feel like an insider or outsider?
J and I feel like total insiders; we are treated like villagers and family. It’s very nice that the village committee call on us for our opinions on various issues. My language skills are abysmal, but J is pretty good and together we do OK. One of the kindest gestures possible was made by the family of a close friend – they asked if we would like to be buried with their family when the time comes. Going home to be buried with family is very important for Turks and J and I are honoured and humbled by such kindness.
How do you support yourself?
When my back gave out, J and I decided that rather than struggle on reduced income in the UK, we’d become ‘economic migrants’ and move to Turkey where we could have a good life, free of all debt. Our income is solely from our various pensions – they are perfectly adequate.
Being retired doesn’t mean we don’t ‘work’ – J is a regular contributor to a monthly political magazine and I have written two well received walking and cycling guides to the areas around the village that also give some village history and stories as well as information about the flora and fauna. The books are ‘sold’ by various outlets and all of the money raised goes towards environmental and community projects in our village. So far we have provided a play park for the kids; won national media attention for the murals at the village school; provided an ‘antique’ outdoor chess set to the school and started a photo archive for the village. Anyone interested can visit the websites and learn more, there are also lots of photographs.
Seven years ago we joined the villagers in a successful campaign to protect the special environment around Okçular and have been active in helping others to resist the ravages of thoughtless, destructive projects. The national press and media dubbed me the ‘Man Who Protects Turkey from the Turks’ which was funny but led to some negative stuff from the Barons of Industry. I’m glad to say the dust has long settled (apart from this damn quarry!).
Any advice for wannabe Okçularans (<—I’m sure this is wrong. What do you call yourselves?)
Wannabe Okçularlı (say it ‘Okchewlar-lugh’) should just be open to their host community, recognise that the way it was back ‘home’ is not how it is here and acquire at least a bit of the language. Oh! And thank their lucky stars that led them here.
Is the move permanent?
Yes! J and I have never felt that we belonged more to a place than here in Okçular.
Finally, tell us about something typically Okçular? (or Turkish)
Being stopped in a long queue of cars, trucks and tourist coaches by the Jandarma Trafik, who proceeded to offer everyone a splash of lemon cologne (to freshen us), a carnation flower and a chocolate bon-bon together with – ‘This is National Jandarma Trafik Day – Congratulations!’ Followed by a big smile and a smart salute!
As we say here, ‘Burası Türkiye!’ ‘This is Turkey!’