In the Fields by Day, On the Stage by Night

We woke up early on Thursday morning to catch a flight to Adana, where we then took a bus to a small village outside of Mersin that is home to Ümmiye Koçak.

Who’s Ümmiye? By day, she works in the fields or takes care of her family, as is typical of women who live in this small village in the Taurus Mountains. But at night, she writes plays.

In 2000, Ümmiye attended a theater production at a local high school in Arslanköy and watched her very first play. She was mesmerized.

From The New Yorker:

For a long time, [Ümmiye] had been puzzling over the situation of village women––the many roles they had to play. In the field, they worked like men; in villas, they became housekeepers; at home, they were wives and mothers. “I kept turning it over in my head, how is it that I do all these things,” she later recalled. “Then I saw Hüseyin’s theatre. That’s when I decided that the thing I’d been turning over in my head was theatre.”

Inspired by the performance, Ümmiye set out to create her own theater group. She gathered together a group of other village women, many of whom couldn’t read, and formed the Arslanköy Women’s Theatre Group. Soon, the group collaborated on their own play, based on their own difficult life experiences, which included domestic violence and forced marriage.

Over the past decade, Ümmiye’s troupe (still all-women) has attracted attention far beyond the borders of their small village. Their performance of Hamlet was covered by The Guardian; last December, even The New Yorker devoted a profile to this courageous group of women.

At the request of one of our professors, we traveled to the village to meet specifically with this group of women. As the sun was setting, we sat outside her house in the country, talking to Ümmiye about her work and it means to her.

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She explained how she spends most of her day in the fields, then spends several hours each night writing and working on her plays. Currently, she is working on a series of plays: one is a conversation between a mother and daughter about global warming. Theater gives her an outlet, a voice, she said.

The sun had set by time we got back to Adana, where we went to a kebap restaurant for dinner and settled in at our hotel for the night. The next morning, we had a quick tour of Adana by bus, before catching our flight to Cyprus. At our short glance, Adana is a very different city than those we’ve encountered so far––it looked and felt like we were more in the east.

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