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Middle East Monica Dispatch

The City Mouse and the Country Mouse
February 9, 2000

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The following is a story about the theme that the trekkers are exploring in Turkey: "Wealth and Poverty." Questions and answers about wealth and poverty tie into all the other themes that the trekkers present in other site visits, such as "Youth and Society" (Mexico City and Zimbabwe), "Indigenous Peoples" (Guatemala) and the "Environment and Development" (Peru). As you read this, ask yourself a few questions. How do you personally define "wealth"? How do you personally define "poverty"? How does your society define those two terms? How does the economy affect individuals in the countryside? How does the economy affect individuals in the city? How do politics, government, and culture all influence people who are rich and people who are poor?

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Ankara, Turkey

In the vast, bustling city of Ankara, the capital of Turkey, a city mouse lived in splendor. With a soft bed to sleep on, quick and efficient Internet access, delicious vegetables at the local market, and visits to the local hamam (Turkish bathhouse), the city mouse was pleased and content. Indeed, this mouse considered himself a wealthy mouse, full of fortune, and he felt thankful every day for his situation.

In a small, homey village an hour away from Ankara, a country mouse lived in splendor. With soft mats to sleep on, all her friends and family nearby, delicious cheese that one of her neighbors made every week, and a potbellied stove right in the house to heat up water, the country mouse was pleased and content. Indeed, this mouse considered herself a wealthy mouse, full of fortune, and she felt thankful every day for her situation.

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larger view
Cheese, cheese, and more cheese

The city mouse, we may call him Mustafa, lived on the fourth floor of a yellow-and-blue high-rise condominium built on the outskirts of Ankara in a place where there used to be smaller cottages and a more rural feel. Big cities like Ankara grow more and more each year, and cottages like those below his balcony are becoming hard to find between the high-rise condos. In one year, more than a dozen of these condos spring up, like wildflowers in May.

"Places like Istanbul and Ankara grow every year as more Turks move to the big cities to try and earn more money," thought the city mouse. "Our roots are in the villages, but there is more opportunity in the cities." Mustafa knew that many villagers come to Ankara with little money. They would live in particular neighborhoods and work very hard, for little pay, in hopes of eventually earning a deed to their house. Some called these villagers "squatters." With a deed, some could sell their property - to the high-rise developers, for instance - and with the profit they could afford to buy a car, or pay off loans, or receive more education.

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Can you spot my condo?

The city mouse would be pensive sometimes as he walked in the bazaar to buy his fruits and vegetables. Sometimes he would meet children from those particular neighborhoods who offered to shine his shoes or carry his packages for some extra lira. These children didn't go to school. Instead, they worked 12 or 16 hours a day to earn money for food and necessities. (Read Andrew's dispatch on these street children in the next update.) While he himself was in the upper middle-class and lived comfortably, he knew that not everyone was as fortunate as him. Mustafa didn't know what to think about all that.

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Cold and quiet

The country mouse, we may call her Fatima, lived in a five-room cottage that her father built out of wood and concrete, directly off the main road. Her two sisters, a brother and his wife, and her mother and father lived there too. Two or three of her older brothers had left the village to go and work in Ankara. In one year, more than a dozen of the young men of the village had left to go and work, and their names floated through the small streets of the village like falling leaves in September.


hamam - Turkish bathhouse
bazaar - a market place or shopping quarter
lokantas - restaurants
shantytown - low economic group of houses, oftentimes crudely built

"One can earn more money in a place like Ankara where there is more to earn and more to buy," thought the country mouse. "In a place like Ankara, you could do many things besides farming, like my brothers who work in the bazaar and in the lokantas (restaurants)." Fatima, her family and all their neighbors worked in agriculture, farming the fields outside their village for wheat and sunflowers, which they would sell as flour and sunflower seed oil. They worked very hard and made enough to take care of their basic needs. There was always enough coal or cow dung to burn in the stove, and water to drink, and clothing to wear. There was food to eat: one time, for an afternoon meal with a guest named Monica, the family cooked beans in tomato sauce, rice pilaf, homemade cheese, homemade unleavened bread, rice pudding, and a drink of stewed fruit.

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Villagers farm or herd for a living

In the evenings, while someone would pour tea for the family to sip out of tulip-shaped glasses, the country mouse overheard phone conversations between her father and his friends who were coming from far away to work in Ankara. Fatima and her relatives would always help these friends with a little money or a place to sleep at night. Of course they would: Turkish values are rooted in hospitality and taking care of one another. But in time, in the cities, Fatima heard, this kind of hospitality would wear thin, just because there were many people arriving from the village, and many people with many needs.

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Monica is embraced by Fatima and her family

Fatima's father went to Ankara infrequently, but he was very interested in politics and the government. For instance, he knew of Turkey's involvement with the European Union and wondered if an open market would have a negative effect on villagers like his family but have a beneficial effect on city-dwellers. He also wondered aloud about political groups like the PKK and the Hizbollah, all of whom were struggling to make sense of society and spoke directly to unsatisfied people, both in the villages and the shantytowns of the city. Her father would speak of this as they all sat around the woodburning stove and sipped tea. Fatima didn't know what to think about all that.

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Care for some tea?

One day, Fatima received an urgent message telling her she must come to the city of Ankara to attend to business, and she must stay for at least three weeks. That same day, Mustafa received an e-mail requesting him to go to one of the small villages outside of Ankara, to deal with an emergency that would take him three weeks to sort out... What happened next?

I'll let you brainstorm about what kinds of differences both the country mouse and the city mouse noticed about each others' situation. Also, take some time to think of the similarities in their lifestyles. Their futures and their pasts are intertwined. What are the differing needs of Turks, regardless of where they live? I'll let you imagine the end of this story, but in the meantime, keep tuned in for more ideas about wealth and poverty and how the two are connected in Turkey.


p.s. - Please e-mail me at

Reader Comments: Check them out and share your own!

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Andrew - Turkish Torture
Kavitha - Seeds of a Revolution
Jasmine - Anatolia: Spirits of Old and New

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