By Bonny Ibhawoh,

A tribute to my friend, Oktay Aksan…

In one of the many Christmas parties hosted by Virginia and Oktay in their Westdale home, Oktay and I got talking about barbecue lamb. I had suggested to Oktay that I missed the elaborate whole lamb barbecue that I enjoyed so much growing up in Africa.

I asked if he knew of any restaurants where I could treat myself to spicy grilled barbecue lamb. He thought for a moment. He knew of no place where I could find the kind of spicy open-fire barbecue lamb that I craved. Then with that famous twinkle in his eyes he added “…but there is no reason why we can’t do this ourselves.” Really?

Preparing whole lamb barbecue would be a complicated undertaking, I reasoned. Where would we find whole lamb or even a barbecue grill large enough to grill it? “Don’t worry about that” Oktay assured. We could buy whole lamb from a nearby farm and he assured me that a large enough grill could be found. I volunteered to supply the condiments and we planned the event for summer.

But summer came with life’s other events and we didn’t get to have our barbecue lamb. At every Christmas party thereafter, we would renew our commitment to the elusive barbecue lamb. At our last Christmas party meeting, Oktay, though frail, was in high spirits. His enthusiasm for our barbecue lamb event hadn’t waned and once again we agreed to finally get it done this summer. We never got to it.

Although our meetings were infrequent, each encounter was happy and memorable, filled with laughter and banter. I found much in Oktay to which I could relate. Stories about his Turkish childhood held a particular fascination. Once, during our conversation, he suddenly burst out singing the Scottish folksong, “My Bonnie is over the ocean……” It is a song of my own childhood and it instantly brought me pleasant memories. Oktay was a gentle and personable soul. He will be missed.