This place (Math Village) is a hole in the fabric, off the grid, where it is our job to reimagine what values are necessary in this new society” Okan, participant
Wow! That is a tall order, but Rich and I found it was easy to agree with the “off the grid” part during our participation this week in Zeytin 2014 workshop. On Tuesday, we flew from İstanbul to Izmir, rode a train from Izmir to Selçuk, and found a dolmuş (minibus) that we could take to Şırınce a beautiful little town settled originally close to nearby biblical Ephesus. Does the name Şırınce sound at all familiar? Do you remember the Mayan apocalypse prophetized to happen in 2012? Turns out the prophecy included “safe zones” that included Şırınce and so naturally the population of the town swelled briefly to 60,000 on December 21, 2012. By the day of our arrival, the town was back down to 600 inhabitants.
The final leg of our journey was up a dirt road 1 km: our destination, Nesin Math Village, a 10 acre campus devoted to study and reflection. The setting is glorious but simple. No televisions or music other than what you might create. We arrived in the village in late afternoon as the shadows were deepening and the chill was setting in. We were shown to a cozy stone and timber room with a bathtub imaginatively tiled to represent a figure from a Turkish folk legend. A welcome warm dinner, a few getting acquainted games, and we retired to our room and settled in under our down comforter for the night.
Olive trees make up about 75% of the grounds of the Math Village and Şırınce is well known for its olive oil. On Wednesday, Rich and I launched the “Zeytin” workshop in the glorious main classroom. Over the next several days, we sampled some incredible spaces for teaching and learning.
It was a glorious five days with workshops on science, ethnography, economics, systems modeling, creative problem solving, crowd sourcing (all related to olives). It was fun to be a participant when not a facilitator, and we all, like Okan above, felt we had received a bit of a gift of intellectual space to think creatively and outside of the box. Thanks to all my new friends from the workshop who made this such a profound experience.
For Rich and I, the workshop was made especially wonderful by:
- Our assignment to interview local villagers about their food memories with regard to olives and olive oil. We spoke first with Ibraham and his wife, an elderly couple who have lived their entire lives in Sirince and later on with Murat, a young cafe owner born here, but having recently returned after time at the university and military service. Both families owned olive groves. These interviews yielded wonderful stories about the harvests, olive oil dish or “kuru fasulye” – a white bean dish each person claimed to be their favorite all time dish, opinions about the best oil and harvest ceremonies that included, according to Ibraham, the singing of a folksong, Zeytinyagli Yiyemem (when asked to sing it for us, Ibraham demurred). Later as we sipped our fresh squeezed pomegranate juice, we asked Murat about the song and he found it for us on YouTube. Both Ibrahim and Murat showed us 5 liter jugs filled with olives that each was curing for table olives.
- The day we spent picking olives in the grove and bringing our 50 kilos of olives to an olive press for production. Those 50 kilos of olives will produce about 10- 12 kiloliters of wonderful early harvest oil. Since our olives were not scheduled to be pressed until the next day, we brought home a liter of another farmer’s oil that was fantastic. We hope ours will be as good. Stay tuned for links on YouTube of the olive harvest.
- Patates and Tripod, two of the dozen Math Village animals who came to our classes, ate meals with us, and entertained us. “Patates” translates as “Potato” and this unabashedly sweet brown and black mutt stole everyone’s heart. Tripod, the three legged, deaf but bully of a cat made meals a bit challenging but his intrepid spirit was admired.
If we had any doubt about being “off the grid” we were reminded of it on our way back when we shared a very very crowded train with a bagful of chickens (the live clucking kind) and a large heavy sack of olives.
For more amazing photos from our trip, we invite you to visit Rich’s Dropbox.