This was my 220th Fulbright day in Turkey, my 19th consecutive day traveling on the road, and my fifth day without a shower. My purpose here was to research women and rural migration, so I turned my counting towards locating women out on the street or in public places in the towns. My forehead bumped against the glass window as I counted. Six young men working beside their fathers, 15 more sitting in a kahvehane… Although I counted men over and over – on that day and many after – the number of women on the street amounted to zero.
Behind closed doors in the protection of homes, I had spoken with many women since I arrived in Turkey. They were frustrated; how their daughters did not attend school, or how the perpetrators of honor crimes threatened their friends. They told stories of dam construction projects jeopardizing their villages, and of the lack of local opportunities driving families to cities where more unemployment awaited their arrival. Their words filled the public spaces that were otherwise empty from their absence.
Instead of women on the side of the road, I saw bees. I was mesmerized as fields of flowers speckled with blue bee boxes rolled into alpine mountain tundra. The scenery felt like the farm I grew up on in Colorado, where my grandpa grew alpine Irish seed potatoes, and my family organically raised goats, cows, rabbits, and chickens. Here on the high tundra plains of Eastern Turkey, I was at home. But I quickly learned that even in this pristine countryside, indigenous bees and plant species were threatened
Over the next two years, I dreamt of Turkey, women, and the environment. What if women became the leaders of an eco-economy, both profiting from the delicious honey, and protecting the bees and natural resources of the land through ethical agricultural practices?
With an income, and access to education and regular basic health care, would it be easier to rise above the many obstacles they faced? If we connected tourists and consumers to the landscape, the product, and the producers, would this help raise awareness about the intricacies and importance of honey and bees? What if we established a tourism experience that moved beyond eco-tourism – where tourists revive the environment instead of just minimizing environmental degradation?
Slowly, the seeds for the venture Balyolu grew. Balyolu became a vision for the honey industry, for women, for rural communities, for local bees, and the unique experience of tasting honey right from the source – honey that is untainted by pesticides, chemicals, or contaminated blends.
Balyolu is building an experience that will change how we count. Instead of more bees dying, and more families migrating from their villages for lack of opportunities, the number of bees, and the number of women rural leaders becomes so great– they are countless.