Ah," said the headmaster of the primary school, where I was visiting at the time, "if you want to go diving for sponges, then Niyazi is your man! We will just have another glass of tea and then go round to the staff room and see if he is there."
The tourist hand-out maps of Turkey show an outline of the little Mediterranean island of Bozcaada with tiny figures grasping fish almost as large as themselves, or emerging from the sea clutching huge sponges. The seizing of fish by their tails or sponges by their roots, the leaflets inform you, is so much child's play. The idea had caught my fancy.
In the staff room Mr. Niyazi courteously left the marking of his papers, asked if I would like a glass of tea, and silently inspected the rubber flippers and the mask that I had with me. He then declared that we would, �nsallah (if Allah so disposed things), get a boat and go out for sponges that very afternoon.
When we got down to the waterfront the headmaster announced that he, too, might like a trip out. Suleyman, the boatman, sculled a rowboat to the harbor steps and we all, headmaster, Niyazi and I, got in. That the headmaster was taking no active part in the diving seemed pretty clear. I checked to see whether he had brought towel and costume with him, and he had not.
There was a little difficulty in getting the inboard engine started, but finally it fired and we bumble-bumbled out of the harbor and coasted parallel to the island, keeping some 200 to 300 yards offshore. At a point presumably known from experience, Niyazi shouted to Suleyman to slow down and we drifted over a submerged reef. We found a depth of two to three feet of water underneath us, and on either side, Niyazi explained, there were easy depths of somewhere around 20 feet. Suleyman tied a boulder to a rope in the bow and cast the stone anchor out on to the reef: it would hold us, he said cheerfully, as long as the wind did not get up.
Niyazi was the first to change into his swimming costume, one of those old-fashioned voluminous affairs made of wool that reach almost to the knees, and while I was still changing he hopped over the side, picked up several small boulders from the reef and loaded them into the stern of the boat.
My own swimming costume was not of a particularly advanced design. On the other hand, it was certainly far more dynamic than Niyazi's. Made of nylon, no elastic round the waist, it consisted of conservatively cut black swimming trunks that laced up the sides with string. Niyazi gave one quick look and said, with marked disapproval, "useless" and, as an afterthought, "impossible."
As the Turks are a very modest people and their own swimming attire is always of the most orthodox design ( Turkey is, to my mind, just a shade Victorian), I thought that Niyazi's "impossible" referred to the brevity of my costume, but "Have you any underpants?" he asked. "Let me see."
This seemed a strange prelude to sponge diving, but from my small heap of clothes I pulled out my underpants; these too were of nylon, and far briefer than my swimming costume. Niyazi groaned.
"Look," he shouted. He stood on the stern of the little boat, picked up one of the boulders he had dislodged from the reef, stretched the elastic waistband of his costume and placed a boulder against his stomach. When the elastic shot back into place, it held the rock to his stomach, increasing his weight by some 30 pounds.