Turkish is an agglutinative language, meaning words are joined by adding suffixes to the stem. On most days, you’ll find me cursing this fact – Turkish grammar serves me up a dose of humble pie every day with its suffixes and buffer vowels. But today, I love this about Turkish because it’s given me a blog post title I couldn’t describe in English.

The suffix –ci/ signifies profession. Adding it to the word “newspaper” creates “journalist;” to “paint,” “painter;” and so on.

Zeytin means olive. Zeytinci, then, is the person who makes olives.

This weekend, I had the distinct privilege of training to become a zeytinci. Early on Sunday morning, after too few hours of sleep, the students convened on the pingpong table in the backyard for a breakfast spread. After feasting on five different types of cheese, the freshest tomatoes, still-warm pastries, and honey, we set to work.

Kadir Bey, the Lojman’s ultimate handyman and a mean football player, and Mehmet Bey, who also helps out around the Lojman, set up a huge plastic tarp underneath the olive tree, half of which juts out over the neighbor’s yard. Our two tallest students took hold of the wooden poles on each side of the tarp and quickly learned to angle and maneuver it so that olive waterfalls fell toward our property. Stray olives bopped us on the head, and two babies – a professor’s children – squealed and jumped around with more excitement than I’ve ever witnessed before. We sent up a student and Umran Hanım, who cleans the Lojman and is a wonderful morning conversation companion for me, up to a balcony with sticks to beat olives from another direction.

At the end of this stage, we had filled a garbage bag with raw olives of all varities: green, red, purple, huge, tiny, raisin-like, mushy. Now came the fun part of the process: sorting and prepping the olives. We divided the olives first according to color: green and not-green. Not-greens went into a bucket – they will eventually be black olives, but this process takes much longer than preparing green olives. The green olives were then divided down the table, with half of our crew cutting three vertical slits in the olive and the other half crushing olives with a rock.

A few hours and what must have been a thousand olives later, we had filled four hefty jars and a bucket. Now, we wait: every day, Umran Hanım will change the water in the jars with green olives, and twenty days from now we’ll have more green olives than we’ll know what to do with. I suppose I should start learning to love green olives, then…

prepping for olives
umran and chris hitting the tree
sorting olives


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