What Does the End of a Honey Road Look Like?


The. Honey. Road. I taste the syllables and shut my eyes. Memories with little emotion shaped parachutes land on my face. Some are clouds of dark fear, soaking through my cheek bones and wrapping their strings around my throat, making it hard to breathe. Others land lightly, pricked with sunshine, making my cheeks itch pink and my eyes water with happy confusion. It has been exactly 12-weeks-three months-82-days of in-season working, walking, and building Balyolu: the Honey Road – my honey-tasting social-tourism company based out here in Northeastern Turkey.

I sit on the narrow precipice of the Karsian summer and look back on everything that has happened, folders and folders of memories ear-tagged and cataloged in my brain under blissful, traumatized, irreplaceable.

Sentences jump out, their legs hovering in the air, hoping to capture a second in time:

Laughter filled nights. A little girl digs into her pocket. Nuts, a handmade paper windmill, and a hair clip. I have everything she exclaims! We snuggle between goose-feather pillows, sheep-wool-stuffed blankets, and five sisters. Cows flow like rivers over the land, filling valleys with patterns possessed by an unseen intelligence. Geese with stethoscope necks patrol the roadways, hissing at the errant car to slow down. Stay clear of this place. We are the sheriffs of these wild roadways. Steppes roll into hills. Hills slip into mountains. Mountains tumble into sharp valleys. Water bubbles. From rocks, streams, pipes, and cliffs. Fresh, cold, and milky with minerals. I see sunsets marred by black clouds, the hands of gods squeezing sanity out of the sky and throwing it down upon the fighting dogs below, who tear and rip at each other’s necks, seized with territorial martyrdom. I see sunrises, glowing softly on bee wings, golden specs carrying their light across the horizon, vicious daggers unsheathed in neutral meadows of purple pollination peace. Grandmothers embrace me. Aunts squeeze me. Little girls brush my hair. I am their friendly giant. Their father’s shake my hands and smile. I see baby children born, and I hold them close in the cold musky air of the mountain villages. I see baby colts die, broken legs and gravity crush them to the ground, full of dance yet fated to fall. I smell manure crackling on the fire, a slow warm burn that slices cold, leaving it in slivers at the doorway. I smell warm bread, melting homemade butter, a gold flaky mountain medicine. I smell the green crust of white boiled cheese. I feel its weight, crumpled in a newspaper, heavy in my pocket. Clay construction blocks clatter and scrape, earth’s glass shutters in my car as we climb, climb, climb. Building toilets, homes, a place, a region. My face throbs from burns, stings, cuts, wind, each red pulsing throb chants the local mantra, life here is hard. I pray for the bees to forgive me, to let me go unseen in their midst, to spare me their wrath. I pray for the roads to let me pass, to keep my friends and family safe from their spiraling pot-holed chaos. I console myself in conversations and village stories, wrapped in their winding tales of beekeeping grandmothers and grandfathers. My face falls at their hard decisions about school, and work, and marriage, funerals, weddings, births. My mind wanders to the shrill sounds of girls warding off hawks that stalk baby chicks, to the clicking of steady nibble bear paws eating ants from under rocks, to the silent baby wolves yearning to harness an echo.

 It has been two months since I have written here, keeping my serious words and thoughts far away. There has been too much to say, too much that has happened.

Every day, I receive emails of people wanting to come, to be here, to see this dramatically beautiful emotive place. And I want to show them. But I know that I cannot do this alone, “a standardized experience” in this place is more foreign than landing on Mars. You will not find an endless supply of lemonade, or a guaranteed jar of honey in these villages. They are raw, inextricably woven into the very land and seasons of the very interconnected world around us. You and I think the internet is what unites us. We forget the dramatic climate ripples that reminds the villages in this place that everyone else exists. Affected by every rain-drop, pounce of hail, ruthless day of sun, the people live and die by the results of the land. Tourism requires a little extra support from the world of steady electricity, neatly filled papers, and 24-hour-running water.

So I wrote a report, a report that summarizes the main facts and truths and details about everything that has happened. I wrote it for you, to learn about what I couldn’t say with prose and feeling and pretty words, because my emotions about this are far too deep, and the lessons are far too important.

Here it is.

the video.

the report.

My writing begins again today.

I am working as a National Geographic Young Explorer to document a modern story on ancient honey traditions in the South Caucasus until December 2012.

Where these honey roads will converge, how they connect me and you  remains to be seen. But I know the journey is far from over. And I’m ready to share it here in hopes that you never look at a jar of honey quite the same way again.

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About Cat

Catherine de Medici Jaffee is a National Geographic Young Explorer, a Fulbright Scholar, a Luce Fellow, the Founder of Balyolu: the Honey Road, and a lunatic about honey culture in the Caucasus. Raised on a farm in the Colorado Rockies, Cat grew up loving animals, dirt, and altitude. Her dedication and passion for animals, agriculture, and women leaders has launched her across the world as a Luce and Fulbright scholar: to raise Aigamo ducks in Japan, to research yak trade caravans in Sikkim, and to study rural women’s migration in Turkey. In particular, Turkey - with its fish hung like laundry from windows, its 9,000 species of flowers, and its delicious honey - continues to lure Cat back to its borders. Cat’s love for Turkey, the mountains, agriculture, and women’s leadership blend together sweetly in her new venture Balyolu and her blog Inspired Beeing. You can most frequently find her jumping on a mountain, running from angry bees, cooking in villages, hitching on dirt roads, or joking with Turkcell about her internet woes. Cat is joined by her partner in crime Claire Bangser, artist, photographer, writer, and globe wanderer who believes in creative storytelling as a way to powerfully connect people across mental and physical borders. From working with small-scale women farmers in Mali, to documenting peoples' lives along a 2,000 mile bike tour in the US, she finds that every person (and bee) has an important story to tell and much wisdom to share (speaking of Wisdom, Claire just published her first book, Ride Somewhere Far. Check it out on our Link Roll). These days, you're most likely to find Claire upside down, yodeling from a mountaintop, making tragic mistakes in Turkish, or eating meat for Cat.

Posted on August 16, 2012, in Business, Culture, Environment, Food, History, Hospitality, Travel and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Pingback: Bal Yolu

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