Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Animal life in Antakya


Our yard

Seven months have passed since we moved into our old Antakya house, and during that time we have had some interesting experiences.
We have chosen to order our daily life according to the ways people years ago used to do in this part of town. This means that when you enter the courtyard from the front door, you see all the rooms, bathroom and kitchen included, have their door towards the courtyard without being mutually connected. The only exception is our bedroom on the first floor over the studio.
We like animals, so we bought some wheat to feed the birds. However, only doves (not pigeons) arrived. We always thought that the dove is a very docile animal. We were mistaken. They are having great fight over the wheat although there is enough for everyone of them. They run after one another, chasing the weakest or most timid ones of the away from the food. When possible the mount the back of each other, plucking feathers and down our of the neck of the loser.
One day a certain one of them seemed more tame than the others. When you walked up to it, it did not move but just looked up at you. However, it made some funny movements with its head as if it had a fly around it, and it went scratching its head now and then.
After we came home one noon it was lying dead in the courtyard with its legs in the air.
As mentioned, we are sleeping on the first floor with a window open towards the courtyard. One night we saw a shadow passing by. It happened to be a cat that had reached our window over the roofs and use our staircase to get down to our walled courtyard.
It may sound quite cosy, but the cats of modern Antioch are not at all like the cats of Istanbul who look like princes and princesses, so dainty and clean that they hardly touch the ground. Here in Antakya cats look like rats, and they spend the main part of their life roving around in the garbage you find on the street corners. Not a creature you want in your bedroom!
We put wire gauze in front of the window and had the traffic stopped.
Then one evening we hear a sound of something falling down from our roof. It happed to be a furry red kitten, and soon after we had the mother and father standing wailing on our wall. Fortunately they did not have the intention to get down into the courtyard to protect their child. This, on the other hand, tried to climb the wall to get up to its parents, but without success.
We let it out of the front door, and we do not know what happened to it.
One dark evening when we came back from travelling, we realised that we had an unusual guest. A hen was walking around in the darkness in our yard. It had evidently spent some time there, for it had eaten of our tulips. When we opened the door to the living room (remember that it faces the yard), the hen jumped in and we had to catch it there.
Some people in the neighbourhood keep chicken on their roof. We did not bother to find out where it came from, but put it outside the front door. The next morning it had disappeared.
When we came home from Istanbul last week, it was evident that something had happened in the studio and in our bedroom. We couldn't find out what. But the next morning we found droppings of a rat in the two rooms. We learned the one of the old forsaken houses in close to ours was being restored to its original state, and the snakes and rats living there had decided to move elsewhere. One of them was our guest. One evening while we were watching televisinon in our living room with the door toward the yard open, we realised that the rat was sitting just inside the door and watching television as well - or perhaps it was us it was watching. It was a nice looking rat, not like the ugly cats at the street corners. It was clean and friendly.
Nevertheless, rats have annoying habits. They want lebensraum and they are not housebroken. We found it advisable to get rid of it before it got a chance to bring in its clan. We found out that it was nesting in a shed outside our front door, so we poisoned it there. A pity, in fact. It was a nice animal.

These experiences have taught us a couple of things about life in ancient Antioch. People back then not doubt were living with the same experiences. All this may be commonplace for people on a farm; but this is in the centre of Antakya, even on a spot inside the original Seleucid town wall.