Dear 2024,

As the owners, the co-founders and the residents of the UmAy House, we had a challenging year in 2023 as you can imagine. However, we managed to bring together a lively crowd on the Noel/Christmas Day and Night so allow me to summarize it for you (hopefully you’ll get inspired and offer us more of these days!) 

Our co-founder​ Özlem Ezer arrived from Istanbul by train where she was spending her winter-break with the family. Around the same time, Sevilya and Kemal Bey also picked Mehmet Ateş who arrived from Izmir by bus. Mehmet Bey is originally from Antakya and spent quite a bit of time there after the earthquake, channeling aid successfully as a local who has enjoyed a strong network in Hatay region.​ He is the founder and manager of Servas Peace School and our correspondences have been going on for months​ regarding the post-earthquake psychosocial initiatives and workshops. 

It was a lovely Sunday morning. An amazing Hatay Breakfast was prepared for all of us by Sabiha Hanım who has been the main manager of the indoors since she settled in and made UmAy her home in mid-February 2023.  The house has never been in such good care and cleanness, and the garden too looks very happy with its edible plants that can be picked and added to the salad minutes before it is served. 

True, we planned this meeting weeks ago and our main mission as the ​aid-work-trio (Sevilya, Özlem, Mehmet) was to discuss the joint projects that UmAy team and Servas can work on for the wellbeing of the survivors in 2024. However, since all the people in the house happen to be Antakyalı (from Hatay) no matter how hard we tried, the food talk took precedence over the next 28 hours (we had to return in such short time)! Talking about food with all details brings so much joy, knowledge, and history while warming up the ones who met only minutes ago (which was indeed the case!) It is one of the strongest and quickest bonds that anyone from Hatay or the Middle East can tell you no matter how many problems the rest of their daily life or the country’s agenda presents on that day.

After a long breakfast as a warmup, kahve was served and we began discussing the circumstances on the ground in Hatay and began our step dance between realistic and dreamlike possibilities that we can work on in 2024. Servas team can host us in Hatay when we visit or offer workshops in their toprak evler (houses made of handmade bricks in the old school way) and we can also host small groups at UmAy for trauma-healing and educational activities. We hope that Orman Okulu will continue with some minor changes for the better ​(such as adding equine-therapy activities and games) and we can offer the same model in Hatay if the circumstances can be provided by Servas or through the other contacts of Mehmet Ateş. 

Seeds of Love, Wellness of All Beings: Kemal Bey is rich in heart and mind, stands out among the sensitive and daughter-friendly fathers of the region (like Ozlem’s father, Orhan, who risked his well-paid position as a young engineer in defense of keeping trees alive during a highway construction in Antakya right after ​the military took over the government in 1960).  UmAy is lucky to have a family man who saved his seeds and a bottle of olive oil along with his ID and purse during the earthquake evacuation. How many people would be sane (!) enough to prioritize these two items? Not surprisingly, since their arrival, the UmAy Garden is having a better time. His partner of 30 plus years told us that she is lucky to have a husband who has always helped with cooking and other house chores, which is not very common in the region. He always prepares the kahve (coffee of the region) for whoever is at home with him​ to share the kahve keyfi and serves it​. 

​It was Mehmet’s first time in Sapanca. As far as his persistent habit goes, Mehmet Ateş ​always travels with seeds everywhere (we learn). Not surprisingly, he arrived with his seed​ collection​.​ What is surprising however is the fact we suddenly had two men who -instead of talking about politics or football- were eagerly talking about seeds! It was quite a scene and we hope that you, 2024, will bring us more people who choose to travel with seeds in their bags and love in their hearts towards all creation. They were representatives of ancient traditions, ​farmers exchang​i​ng their seeds during agricultural fairs, saint festivities and local markets​.​ However, as the UN’s Food & Agriculture Organization reminds us, many other seed routes also ​have existed throughout history: the frequency of their exchange depend​i​ng on the situation, for example during catastrophic events, such as droughts, floods or earthquakes. The exchange ​can be practiced in multiple forms such as barter, inheritance, gift, purchase, payment for work, loan to exchange among family members. 

​We had a nice hike to Orman Okulu where Sevilya and her team conducted the summer schools last year. Mehmet fell in love with the area and was brainstorming while showing us the edible plants (and eating them too!) which is part of the training that he offers to the children in Hatay.  

The time flew by, we had the best hospitality where we didn’t have to worry about anything but talking, thinking and sharing. Once again, UmAy and its wonderful residents proved to be the ideal sanctuary in a difficult world. There is magic in the house, the kittens that seem to be changing in size and colors with each visitor, the fruit trees, daffodils with their strong perfumes causing dizziness in the middle of the winter…  UmAy has a spiritual character, it is very alive! All people who visit this house tell us that they are feeling better, safer, calmer, at peace, and are reminded of the beauty and the kindness that still exists on this planet and can embrace us. 

We wish you a wonderful service, dear 2024, please contribute to our efforts, be easy on us, will you?

All the best/Selamlar, sevgiler from…

Everything and everyone with a soul at UmAY