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  Field Notes From
Crucible of the Gods



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On Assignment
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From Author

Erla Zwingle



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From Photographer

Randy Olson



In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs courtesy of Erla Zwingle (top), and Randy Olson

 

On Assignment On Assignment On Assignment
Crucible of the Gods

Field Notes From Author
Erla Zwingle
Best Worst Quirkiest

While traveling through the mountains of Georgia, I befriended a Tush shephard named Khvicha. I met his sister, Maya, when she came up for the summer to stay with their parents. She had the most beautiful smile, and we had some nice moments together. The day I left I went to Maya’s house to say good-bye. We were chatting when we fell into one of those little lapses in conversation. So I said, “Those are really pretty earrings you’ve got.” They were little drop earrings on a wire with a matching necklace and ring. So that passed, and we had coffee and candy. Then it was time to go. As I walked toward the car, Maya took my hand to kiss me, and I felt her put something into it. She had given me the earrings and the necklace and the ring. I was totally speechless and remained silent for what felt like an hour on the road. I had been in Georgia for seven days, so I was used to people’s overwhelming generosity. But I never expected anything like that.



I met a Russian girl named Naira who had come to Turkey to work as a prostitute. She had a lovely, delicate, oval face with very pale skin and large gray-blue eyes. She was very serious and frank and didn’t smile very often. She said she had studied law for three years but had to quit because she didn’t have enough money. Her father and mother died when she was young, and she first came to Turkey when she was 18. She works three days a week, one client a day. She said she never drank much before she arrived, but she always drinks before work. I found all of this very affecting. She was working hard to create a life for herself. But creating a life for herself didn’t mean this work, it was making the money to go back to school, to buy a house. I asked her if she wanted to get married and have a family someday. That was the only time she really smiled. She said, “Very much.”



I was having a good time in this little house in a yayla, a pasture high in the mountains in Turkey. The mountain women talked easily about marriage, boyfriends, and domestic life. We were talking about how romance used to be in the olden days, and all of a sudden, the old grandmother looked at me and asked, “Don't you have bracelets?” I was kind of taken aback. I don't like to wear much jewelry when I'm working. I said, “Well, yes.” And she asked, “Well, where are they?” I couldn't see myself saying “I don't have any,” so I said, “I left them at my hotel.” Then she asked, “How much gold did your husband give you when you got married?” I mean, she was really interested. So I said, “I don’t remember how much.” She looked at me as if I was supposed to know down to the gram. Then she said, “I was married when I was 15, and my marriage agreement was a thousand lire and ten gold bracelets.” That was like $5,000 today. Like every woman, especially of her generation, she was proud of her gold. Now every once in a while I say to myself, where are my bracelets?





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