Friday, August 29, 2008

Göreme businesswoman Lockwood shares insight on carpets

[EXPAT PROFILE] Göreme businesswoman Lockwood shares insight on carpets, Turkey
Most foreigners who come to live in Turkey opt to settle either in İstanbul or somewhere along the coast. There are, however, a few hardy souls who have chosen to live in rural Turkey.

One of them is Ruth Lockwood, the New Zealand owner of the Tribal Collections carpet shop, who came to live in Göreme in Cappadocia in 1988. Here she talks to Pat Yale about life, carpets and the changing face of Turkey.

You've been living in Göreme for 20 years now. What brought you here and however did you wind up staying for so long?

I had no intention of coming here -- I just wound up here after being unexcited by the Greek islands. Then I met my now ex-husband and stayed to make a pension with him. As the years have passed, I've come to love the country more and more. I thoroughly enjoy my work and the laidback lifestyle. But I still can't believe that 20 years have passed!

You must have seen some remarkable changes in that time. Would you say that Göreme is a better place to live in now?

The changes have been massive. Twenty years ago the lifestyle here was archaic with people riding past on donkeys or in horse carts. Everything people ate they made themselves, drying it, stewing it or sun drying it. They lived in a very natural way with little reliance on outsourced products. At first I saw this as a hindrance because I couldn't get some of the things I wanted. Now the longed-for improvements have come and I can buy almost anything. The sad thing is that as a result of these changes we have lost many of the old traditions -- the women baking bread in communal ovens, every roof covered in drying apricots, people making their own cheese and yoghurt. In one way it's a great sadness to see more and more people working in tourism. Obviously it allows them a better lifestyle, but nowadays only women and the very young work in the fields. Perhaps I didn't truly respect these traditions until they started to disappear.

Overall, though, for me Göreme is a much better place now. Satellite television, Internet banking and other modern conveniences have made life easier and helped reduce the sense of distance between me and my family. Also, to see people getting a better education and women being able to go out to work are wonderful improvements.

Now to the carpets. You work in a very male-dominated business. Can you tell us how you got into it?

I started out in the business because I had inherited a great love of oriental carpets from my grandmother, who had lived much of her life in India and Pakistan and collected carpets there. In the old days people would walk past carrying kilims for sale, but I didn't have the knowledge to know how to take advantage of the opportunities. Then I began to learn about carpets and became completely passionate about them. Even after 19 years in the trade I can still get just as excited when something special comes my way.

In the beginning I wasn't taken seriously and was regarded as a sort of add-on to make other tourists feel comfortable. But I had a huge advantage in that I was here when the borders of the former Soviet states opened. Carpets flooded in -- I saw thousands of them in a single day. Slowly my knowledge grew and I became an expert in old and antique carpets. Occasionally I still have to cope with dealers who come in and ask to see the "patron [boss]" and then ask for the male patron instead of me. But once they realize I know what I'm talking about, my sex is seldom an issue.

What tips do you have for surviving in a very male working environment?

It's difficult! It took me a long time, but eventually I learned never to challenge men head-on, never to disagree with them outright, but rather to enlist their help by asking for their ideas or giving them options and asking them to choose. A lot of the men in the carpet trade can be very conservative -- they're often from small villages or from the east. But in the end I'm the person buying the carpets -- if they rub me up the wrong way, I don't purchase!

The carpet business seems to be struggling. Where do you see it going in the future?

It certainly is suffering under the weight of many rugs imported from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran that are cheaper than rugs made in Turkey. There are also a lot of copies being made in China. As a more modern lifestyle has developed, Turkish women are less likely to want to weave. For example, 10 years ago there were around 2,000 women working on looms around one local village, but today the number has shrunk to just 120. It's almost impossible to continue with my specialization, which was old and antique pieces, because the lifestyle that sustained their creation (i.e. nomadism) has virtually disappeared.

On the positive side, DOBAG, Black Mountain Looms and Woven Legends are producing excellent new rugs using old designs and wonderful natural dyes. In some respects they're filling the gaps.

You're building a house in Göreme from scratch. That's a very brave endeavor...

I've always been of the opinion that bravery and stupidity are not far removed from each other. It has been one of the most humbling experiences of my life to try and build a new cave house and make it look old, as if it had always existed, without the help that should have been provided by architects. But the project seems to have a mind of its own and keeps evolving. When completed it should be a sensational house which will double up as a small boutique hotel with uninterrupted views across one of the valleys.

You have a teenage daughter and sorting out appropriate schooling has sometimes proved problematic. Any pearls of wisdom to pass on?

This was a hugely difficult issue for me. It's probably not so difficult for people living in İstanbul, Ankara and İzmir, but in smaller areas it can be hard coming to terms with the local education system and its limitations as far as exam results and subject choices are concerned. For example, my daughter went to an excellent private school in Nevşehir and wanted to specialize in foreign languages. This wasn't possible, so the only choice was to send her to a local public school where the curriculum was extremely limited and the teachers sometimes conspicuous by their absence. In the end I opted for her to do the last two years of high school in Australia, which has been very hard for both of us.

What advice would you offer to someone just starting out on a new life in Turkey?

Be as flexible and open-minded as possible. Be aware that it's somebody else's culture, not your own, and learn to enjoy all that that encompasses. Despite the setbacks, possible rip-offs and sometimes the lack of trust that leads to the exploitation of some foreigners, try to focus on the positives while keeping yourself firmly grounded in reality.

29 August 2008, Friday
PAT YALE GÖREME
Post a Comment