In terms of commutes, few could be described as more punishing: Every day, nomadic women in Ağrı brave elements to cross valleys by donkey to obtain milk from their husbands, who spend all season grazing sheep on high-altitude pastures.
“Women go to milk sheep under harsh conditions from time to time in rain and storms,” said Naciye Yeçik, a woman who has come to Ağrı this year for the first time to graze her animals.
Five families from Bitlis’ Tatvan district have come to Ağrı’s high pastures this summer with up to 60,000 animals for a hard season devoid of modern conveniences like electricity.
Women get started with the first light of morning, setting out on a challenging journey with donkeys to reach the mountainous areas where their herds are located.
Sometimes the women have to overcome scorching summer heat to reach the pastures; at other times, they have to deal with torrential rain.
For Yeçik, this year has been particularly difficult due to heavy rain. “It has rained a lot this year and the berivans [milking women] are coming back and forth to the sheep in the rain,” she said.
Every day, nomadic women fill the milk provided by their husbands in jugs, load them on the backs of their donkeys and return to lower elevations where they have their tents.
The women then typically cook the milk on a wood fire before making dairy products such as cheese and butter to sell or consume in winter.
“In this tradition, women hold the sheep’s head and men milk it. Berivans make cheese with the milk they bring,” she noted.
Hurriyet Daily News