Thanksgiving in Erzurum

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Thanksgiving 2013
Erzurum, Turkey

I hosted Thanksgiving in Erzurum this year! The Fulbright Commission helped us secure two turkeys and a restaurant, Güzelyurt, in which to cook them. Last year in Erzurum, a colleague of mine helped me find a turkey, but when we’d acquired him, he was still alive. It was a messy process to watch him die and see his transformation from life to the center of a Thanksgiving feast. For more, you can read Hank Hindi’s story. As a result, I jumped at the opportunity to be supplied with dead, plucked, de-organed turkeys.

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Latasha Wilson Seems To Always Bring the Cold Snaps to Erzurum and the Wonderful Photography. (All of these pictures are her’s)

I arrived at Güzelyurt mid-morning the Saturday after Thanksgiving to start cooking. The cooks there helped me stuff the turkeys and insisted on sewing them back together with needle and thread. The concept of stuffing a turkey made a lot of sense to them, there are a lot of stuffed foods in Turkey. Poultry seasoning is uniquely American however and caused widespread interest amongst the cooks and the owner.

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Me, Turkish Cooks and The Center Island that is Entirely an Oven and Stove.

Then came the oven: it was the size of my apartment’s kitchen! It was an old-style oven with no temperature gauge that still burns wood. As I continued to check on the turkeys, one of the cooks would pull out the pans of turkey barehanded! He had hands like oven mitts. We talked and joked in broken Turkish.

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Gravy Making.

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The stove top is metal and all warming/simmer level. If you want to make it hotter you take rings off the stove top with a metal bar. One ring gets you to low heat — closer to the coals and burning wood. Two rings off lets you set your pot on the coals and boil anything.

When the turkeys finished cooking around four hours later, I made gravy. The cook nearly poured the half gallon of gravy over the turkeys, I stopped him just in time. The turkeys were lovingly wrapped up in paper and nearly a full roll of packing tape, and then transported by taxi back to my apartment and guests.

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OLD style oven

Ten Americans and fifteen of my Turkish friends and colleagues enjoyed these turkeys along with a range of side dishes and desserts: from mashed potatoes to çiğ köfte; pumpkin pie to baklava. Tom, a Fulbrighter in Bayburt, offered to carve a turkey. One of his Turkish friends Mutlu came into the kitchen and was laughing about how Tom was doing a woman’s work. I explained that it was traditional for the woman to cook the turkey and the man to carve the turkey. Mutlu jumped at the opportunity to take part in this tradition and offered to carve the second turkey. He spent nearly an hour happily carving a turkey perfectly. Thanksgiving was a joyous event this year, surrounded by my dearest Turkish and American friends.

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My Apartment and Friends

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Dessert! Emily and Her Beautiful Pumpkin and Apple Pies

A Cow, My Birthday and “Game Over”

Here is a cow, being led through the city center of Erzurum. The holiday of sacrifice is coming…
Cows say "Muuu" in Turkey, not "Moo". My camera cord is MIA, so this slightly blurry picture is all you get.

Cows say “Muuu” in Turkey, not “Moo”. My camera cord is MIA, so this slightly blurry picture is all you get.

I started teaching on Tuesday of this week, following last week’s extended bureaucracy and cups of tea. My students range from eager and curious to completely disinterested and unwilling.

My first day of teaching was actually my birthday as well. I wrote “October 8th” on the board. My first class of students said “month, day. you birthday?”
I replied, “Yes, my birthday. What day is today?”
“Tuesday.”
“Yes! What date is today?”
No one knew. We went through all the months of the year, counted up to the 10th month and then there was a look of sudden comprehension and a resounding, “Teacher! Your birthday! Today! Happy Birthday!!!”

I had my students ask each other questions and then introduce each other to the class. One of my students motioned to me that he was finished. I find it often helpful to play dumb and asked, “What?” He told me, “Game over!” Everyone picks of bits and pieces of English somewhere these days.

The way the calender works this year, all of next week is a break for a religious holiday (the one that will likely be the end of that cow). Three days teaching, one week off. Beginning English speakers in Turkey are quickly sentimental. Some of it is the Mediterranean show of emotion versus the more reserved German-ness that pervades large sectors of the US, some is that Turkish has the same word for “like” and “love, and some is a warmness toward foreigners that Erzurum is imbued with. The second day of class, one girl at the end of class said, “Teacher, I miss you! Long holiday. I miss you!” The rest of the class nodded sadly. No matter how loud they can be, teaching in Turkey means having such sweet students. It’s probably messing severely with my self image, but I love them for it. And for the continuous snacks and nuts.

My birthday was Tuesday! I was surprised with lots of creative gifts. David made fried rice and Emily carved up a pumpkin to make delicious pumpkin pie that I got to share with my closet friends. It was a nice mix of Turks and Americans and of both languages all evening. The next day one of my Turkish friends invited me over, she and her friends had made me two cakes and dinner and sung half of Happy Birthday in English, half in Turkish! 11 of her friends were there, one girl told me she loved me. It doesn’t surprise or weird me out quite as much as it did last year, and neither does kissing 36 cheeks upon entering and leaving an apartment (3 per person, per direction going). My Turkish is pretty passable in social situations at the point, though my grammar needs serious help. My friend gave me a clock in a pretty box with candy and a Qur’an, surprisingly the first Qur’an I’ve gotten since moving to Turkey. She promised to buy a New Testament so we could talk about them together. At the end of the night she and her friend walked me to the bus stop, but instead bundled me into a car with a young engineer and an old woman who took me home and fawned over me.

Starting to teach again has showed me how much I’ve learned since last year. I know so much better how to explain things, conduct a class, react to student affection and noise, and adapt to different circumstances. I hope I can say the same about how much I’ve learned 12 months from now.

I will be in Cappadocia next week, land of fairy chimneys and underground cities. I’m in the process of resolving my camera issues. In Turkey there are few solutions but many processes.

Cappadocia

Cappadocia

I’m Back!

The Huge Cabbages of Erzurum

David and I with the Huge Cabbages of Erzurum

I’ve been back in Turkey for a month. It’s a very different feeling this year to move back into the same apartment and step back into a city, friendships and a language I can converse at least a bit in. It’s a great feeling! Also, David has moved to Erzurum this year and is working in one of the private English schools. As a result, the ways in which my life feels split over continents has lessened by at least one large one.

My parents came to visit my first two weeks in Turkey. We spent a couple days on the sights in Istanbul, the Great Cistern never gets less cool.

Underground Cistern

Underground Cistern

Then we rented a car and drove to the Dardanelles and Cannakkale/Gallipoli, site of the World War I battle between the Brits, Australians, and New Zealanders against the vestiges of the Ottoman Empire and Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. (Also the subject of a Mel Gibson movie, Gallipoli, where he looks very young and doesn’t sound all that Aussie.) Turkey has opened a simulation center there that puts any US national park/memorial to shame: Nine screens, 3-D, and they even managed to hold off on the heavy propaganda until screen 9.

We stayed at a lushly-treed Bed and Breakfast that night where the owner had lived in New Jersey for awhile. He did most of the talking, his wife did most of the work. She glowed at my meager Turkish and after two conversations (for those unfamiliar with Dratz vacations: we only stayed one night), she told my parents they could leave, but she’d keep me. She offered herself as my Turkish mother and 2nd home since I would be all alone in Turkey for the next year. Turkey is such a wonderful place and Turkish hospitality is unrivaled.

1233495_10153295891230451_2112911358_nWe went and saw famous Troy and also Troas, ruins just being excavated that show up in Acts 16:7-12. The next two days were spent being Greek ruined (meaning: being amazed at the history and how much remains but also lulled into a sense of sameness).
Troas

Troas

Assos

Assos

Then I flew to Fulbright orientation in Ankara to meet 75 Fulbright ETAs and garner some friendships and teaching techniques. A few days later I met my parents again in Erzurum, where life seemed to shift into place. They were amazed at the difference between being a tourist and a guest in Turkey. My friends know how to make guest feel special.

563606_10153295896805451_239839723_nMy parents packed up and left and life truly seemed to settle into a new rhythm. With David here, my roommate Emily back and my Turkish friends slowly filtering in for the new school year, life is fascinating and exciting but also ordinary. I enjoy hosting people at my apartment and, beside my parents, an American living in Kars (selling super delicious honey), two Fulbrighters from Bayburt and a breakfast for two new American families in town have been hosted at my apartment. It no longer surprises or irks me to spend 7 hours with a friend and feel it may not be long enough. Also, drinking tea and people’s kindness are the only things that make bureaucracy tolerable, once the US government restarts, perhaps the DMV should take notes.

My life and blogs will liven up once I have students and classes. Though I did make a brief trip to Dogubayezit and do believe I met a guy who smuggles Iranians over the Turkish border — though he kept referring to it as Couch Surfing….

Ishak Pasha Palace in Dogubeyazit

Ishak Pasha Palace in Dogubeyazit

Teaching, Living, Coalescing (TLC)

Erzurum Beauties -- while skiing (Photo Credit to Latasha)

Erzurum Mountains — while skiing (Photo Credit to Latasha)

This is my fourth week of teaching back in Erzurum, Turkey a little mindblowing for those Americans on/after Spring Break. It’s great to be back with all of the same students. Each class has really created its own personality and I’m trying to do better at catering to each class’s interests and needs, rather than having a set regimen. My least favorite class has been pulled into shape, and most days their dubious amounts of energy are directed in the general direction of learning English.

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My favorite English learning mistake was when a group of students were explaining a game show to me. One guy said:

“There are two persons. One asks questions. Other person push…. (confer with friends) …. push Ben-jah-min.”

“Benjamin? Push Benjamin? I don’t understand.”

“Yes! Benjamin!” (confusion).

Me: “Ooooooh. Button. He pushes the button!”

“Yes. Yes. Benjamin Button.”

I haven’t traveled since returning to teaching. Somehow, I’ve found reasons to stay in Erzurum each weekend. I went to the mall with students who wanted to play air hockey (there now exist 36 pictures of me playing air hockey) and go GoKarting. Last weekend I stayed the night at my friend Sevda’s house, each time I go she invites a near infinite number of people to come meet me — anyone in her life that’s ever expressed a desire or capacity for learning English. This time, there were six girls sitting around a low table making manti (the pasta/dumpling that’s so delicious). The friend from the theology department and the English teaching department were explaining and grilling me about Fethullah Gülen, Islam, and Christianity. I’ve also done a much better job of sustaining one on one friendships that seem to have more depth, especially as my Turkish edges forward and they continue to learn English.
155974_10152617531540640_232740878_nOne weekend I went skiing for the first time in 10 years. It turns out you can see my apartment from the slopes. It was a beautiful, bright sunny day with fresh powder on the group. The group of us that went got lessons from someone our colleague termed “the best”. Only a couple hours in did I learn that this was an Olympian (competed in Salt Lake) teaching us beginning skiing. Well he took us down the green run lots of times and then a yellow run (Turkey’s different, yellow = slightly harder then green). Then he told us it would be the last run he did with us and asked who wanted to go down the hardest black. I raised my hand, since I’d much rather go down it with him than by myself. It really was near vertical, and I was unprepared. I didn’t fall, but the instructor also held my hand on each turn back and forth and therefore I survived. That was my private lesson from an Olympian.

I’m attending the Turkish version of 12th Night tomorrow, and hurriedly reading the play so I have some idea what’s happening. I’ve really settled into living in Erzurum and am enjoying both that every day is different, but also that their is rhythm, and I can anticipate some things. There are good days and bad days; good weeks and bad weeks. For the most part I really enjoy my job and living here, especially since it’s only bitterly cold some of the time. My definition of normal has changed such that my life now falls within the realm of normalcy.

I definitely want to stick around next year.

11 Unique Things About Spain

I traveled to Spain after spending time in Central Europe.

1. Star Wars Siesta

Spain's version of a city park

Spain’s version of a city park

Plaza de España in Seville, Spain

Plaza de España in Seville, Spain

star wars set in seville

Star Wars was partly filmed in seville

Siesta is a Spanish concept that in essence means countrywide nap-time to escape from the sun: 2-6pm. I’m not sure about summer but in winter the Spanish seem to oscillate between using it for sleep and an energetic break time. Either way, nearly all businesses close for four hours. The first siesta I took was in Seville at the Plaza de España, a sun-drenched park covered in ornate tile and sleeping Spaniards. This scenic locale is also featured in Star Wars, Lawrence of Arabia and the Dictator. Yes, I napped near where R2D2 rolled.

2. Weird Schedule of the Day, the Day is Focused on the Night

Siesta kind of throws the day off “normal”. Some businesses, like banks, solve this problem simply by never re-opening after 2pm. Others re-open from 6-10pm. Instead of dark signifying the end of a day, it signifies a new beginning. Kids come out to play, old people stroll with their dogs, all well after sunset, meaning that night loses its fear in Spanish cities. As well, “normal” dinner time is shoved back to 9 or 10 pm. The restaurant I went to in Madrid was open from 9:30pm to midnight. So the parties don’t begin until after midnight and don’t really end until sunrise. The only time Spain seemed to sleep was 10am on a Sunday morning.

In Seville, this meant that people in my hostel had a syncretic schedule between Spain and “normal”. There was always someone eating, someone sleeping and someone trying to figure out what was open. Around 6pm the kitchen would fill with travelers, students, a doctor, a chef and me cooking and munching on food. (That chef deeply complimented me on my use of bay leaves.) From 8-9pm our hostel had free sangria. Then we’d figure out where to go to dinner together and what to do after.

3. Spanish Dancing

Flamenco Dancing: I’d seen pictures. I foresaw a tourist trap. Instead I found crazy intense rhythmic clapping and stomping and a highly emotive singer. Flamenco is a dance that is more about its sound and its emotion than its look.
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Street Performer: This guy was impressive. The two characters top halves are stuffed. The man’s feet are his feet, the woman’s feet are his hands. And he makes them dance. Naturally. SAM_0544There was also lots of dancing in the streets at Carnaval. We’ll get there…

4. Columbus and Other History

As I’ve said, Spaniards hang out a lot and don’t seem too worried about getting much done, other than partying. Why is that? Well when Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492, he brought back ridiculous amounts of gold and silver. So much so that it actually became illegal for nobles to work, because the country had so much money. There are a ridiculous number of parks, plazas and ornate churches. Life in Spain is not centered around work, but around parties and free time.

I also learned that King Ferdinand was not fond of Columbus, there were complicated arguments about profits. BUT Queen Isabella was very fond of Columbus, which might explain the King’s dislike. SAM_0488
One thing that money helped (re)build was the Seville Cathedral. This cathedral incorporates an old Muslim minaret, and is largest church in the world…by volume: meaning St. Peters in Rome has more square feet, but Seville has more cubic feet. Columbus is buried there. Well, the biggest chunk of Columbus in the world. They actually opened his grave up to check that it was him in 2006. 10% of him is there. Yes, that’s the biggest chunk.

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Columbus’ tomb

5. Tapas

When I was in Seville, I’d go out to dinner with friends and we’d share tapas. Tapas are lots of little dishes, like Turkish mezes or Chinese dim sum. I had some delicious eggplant grilled in brown sugar and patatas bravas (spicy fries) among others. After Seville I went to Granada. Every Spaniard I’d met said that “real” tapas were only in Granada.

“Real” tapas meant that you order a drink, usually sangria or beer, and food comes WITH it. This blew my mind, as it meant that Chinese tapas in Granada were considered real tapas because you ordered a drink and then got a plate of noodles, dumplings or eggrolls with it, automatically. Drinks were 2-2.5 euros. In Granada I had Spanish tapas, Mexican tapas, and Chinese tapas. It was easy to round up a group at the hostel to go for tapas because it was a tasty, cheap, good-way-to-bond meal.

6. Churros and Chocolate
SAM_0796Spanish-wide favorite snack. Deep-fried pastry covered in cinnamon and sugar. Dipped in liquid chocolate. Need I say more?

7. Granada: Alhambra, Street Art, Hippies

Alhambra

Alhambra

Granada is the Boulder of Spain with its hippies, good food and nearness to the mountains. This small city is also known for the Palace Complex of Alhambra built as a fortress in the 800’s and transformed into a Palace in the 1300’s by the Sultan of Granada. It wasn’t until 1492 that the Muslim Emirate of Granada was surrendered to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Big year for Spanish history. (1492 was also the year of the Spanish expulsion of the Jews.) The Palace may be one of the most intricate and detailed places I’ve ever seen.

However, the city has more. It has an Arab quarter with steep, winding streets of whitewashed walls. There’s some cool street art, my favorite was a painting that incorporated stairs. At the top of the ridge is a youth correctional facility that use to be a church (odd mix). On the other side of the hill, is a neighborhood that doesn’t officially exist. It’s a series of caves that use to be populated by gypsies and are now squatted in by hippies. Rent-free living. Though half of them don’t have water or electricity. With a high concentration of hippies comes a high concentration of substances but also parks where strangers jam in the park and groups stand around and practice juggling.

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8. Carnival
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An Austrian woman, a Kiwi girl, 2 Swedish guys and I decided to go to Carnaval together in Cadiz. The deal, set up by a university student group, was 20 euros for 5 hour bus rides from Granada to Cadiz and back and 13 hours in Cadiz, and breakfast. However, the hours you are then are 5pm-6am.

Cadiz has 160,000 inhabitants on a peninsula on the Atlantic, where Columbus left on 2 of his 4 voyages. This little city hosts the third largest Carnaval celebration in the world (after Rio and Trinidad) for 10 days, though no one seems to know quite how many costumed people descend on the city. And it is all night, city-wide, costumed street party. We’re talking pirates with tricked out cars starting dance parties in a plaza. The difference from Halloween is that groups dress up together, so there’s 20 Marios together, pacman and ghosts, a flock of chickens, eggs, whatever you can think of.

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I  went from wearing my superman socks, to having a cape, to having a Sponge Bob poncho and painting my face to look like Sponge Bob. It was a good night. Though somewhere there was a parade and somewhere there were groups doing ironic skits about Spanish politics, the party was just too massive to find them.

Creepy Sponge Bob for Carnival in Cadiz

Creepy Sponge Bob for Carnival in Cadiz

9. Art and Whimsical Architecture

After Cadiz and Granada I went to Madrid. Where the highlight was seeing the Prado and works by El Greco, Goya, Velazquez. However, my favorite painting was Caravaggio’s of David with Goliath’s head. While I was at the Prado I ran into Rachel and Alyson who are Fulbrighters in Erzincan and we spent the rest of the evening hanging out and eating some delicious food.

Then I made my way up to Barcelona where Gaudi’s whimsical architecture reigns supreme. Here are a couple of his buildings and parks.

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Church of the Holy Family in Barcelona

Church of the Holy Family in Barcelona

Park Guell designed by Gaudi in Barcelona

Park Guell designed by Gaudi in Barcelona

10. 1 Billion Rising

One Billion Rising in Front of Barcelona Cathedral

One Billion Rising in Front of Barcelona Cathedral

In front of one of the major cathedrals was an event put on by One Billion Rising, that incorporated woman and girls — young and old — dancing, doing skits and playing songs. One Billion Rising advocates against violence toward women around the world. It was a cool event to stumble upon. For Baylorites: a mixture of SING and Tunnel of Oppression.

11. Hot Chocolate and Hospitality

The last hostel I stayed in was in a nice neighborhood outside the hustle and bustle of the center’s tourism. It was more like a house than a hostel, with a Spanish host (Jose Maria) who spent an hour telling every guest about his hostel and his city. What a beautiful, calming place for 6 euros a night. I also slept in a tower. A good place to rest and be refreshed. Not just this hostel, but every other hostel had free hot chocolate in Spain.

A Town Slated for Destruction, A Wrestling Festival on a Mountain Plateau, and Card Games With a Turkish Bus Driver

Wrestling Festival VIP Tent with New Friends

I ended up leaving Saturday afternoon from Erzurum for Yusufeli, a late start to an amazing weekend.

Yusufeli is a town at the confluence of three rivers a couple hours north from Erzurum. It reminds me of a Colorado mountain town, with rafting and little hotels, and locals that love the outdoors. Except that this town is slated to be underwater as a result of a hydroelectric project, though the date of destruction is unknown. The construction of the dam and infrastructure for it is in full swing. Every form of electricity generation has its drawbacks. But Yusufeli is not just some random town, but a town with character and a unique feel.

However, instead of moping, residents of the town are very busy…by Turkish standards. They are very busy…constructing buildings. Why? Because the government is going to reimburse all residents and owners of Yusufeli, so constructing a building pays off exponentially. Rather wasteful and pointless in the scheme of things though.

Upon arriving at “Green Piece Camping”, I talked with the owner and his wife for awhile over tea. Their 17-year-old daughter was doing the work of putting passport numbers into the computer and playing Gangnam Style. Her Dad was watching TV – a Turkish guy in his 40’s playing guitar – and turned it up, telling us, “This is a very popular Turkish singer.”

I saw his daughter shake her head slightly, so I asked, “What do you think of this music?”

“I don’t like it.”

“What kind of music do you like?”

“Korean music.”

“Oooh! I like Korean music too! What bands do you like?”

She launched into 5 minutes without a breath of listing bands, singers, and dramas. She’s been taking Korean classes for the last 3 years and wants to study abroad there once she goes to college. Instant friend. Who knew that kpop would be my connection point with Turks?

Turkish Kpop Friend

I walked along the river, to the base of the cliff atop which castle was precariously built. There were kayakers along the river and beautiful gardens and grape vines. The sun set and beautiful stars came out. That night the other Americans with me went out drinking and got caught in an endless number of toasts with a group of Georgian men with booming voices.

The next morning, I headed back to Uzundere to meet Rahmi — Turkish bus driver with unlimited patience for bad Turkish — for a wrestling festival. The bus ride did not treat hangovers kindly. Rahmi took switch-backed dirt roads winding up into the mountains. These are the roads where you have to back down when you meet another car and wait for cows to cross the roads.

All of a sudden we came to a hillside covered in trees and parked cars, along with a crowd of several hundred people. There was a ring of grass around which there were two sides with men, one side with women and children and one side with a tent filled with VIPs and old men. We stood behind the men’s side and watched Turkish folk dancing.

Then the wrestling began. We were told that it was a shame we hadn’t been there the previous evening because the wrestling had started last night and lasted all through the night. Anyone who had slept, had slept outside.

By wrestling, I mean on fair grass with a crowd that cheers like I imagine a Texas high school football crowd cheers. All ages and weight-classes of boys and men wrestle. Though most of it is in the take-down as actual wrestling in the dirt seemed  rather painful. There was an ambulance on site, that left at least once. The favorite hold seemed to be to grab the top of the pants and the bottom of a leg and then throwing the other guy to the ground.

So about ten minutes into the wrestling, Rahmi tells us to follow him and he takes us to the blue VIP tent, where a mixture of adding chairs and kicking old (but not old enough) men out occurs so that we all have first and second row spots. Once we were settled, Rahmi left to go sit back in the sun, I guess cause he wasn’t a VIP. The men served tea, tiny peaches and mineral water to me. With the mixture of the Eastern accent and not having half their teeth, these adorable old men are completely incomprehensible. But that doesn’t mean they don’t try and it doesn’t mean we didn’t become friends. That’s the picture at the beginning of this post. Those are the guys who, every time another pair of wrestlers would enter the ring would tell me “two boys” in Eastern accented Turkish…at least 20 or 30 times. There was an MC who would announce everyone, interview people, and anything he felt like when active wrestling wasn’t occurring. The whole festival was being broadcast around the country, several news vans were present. During one of those breaks I wasn’t really listening and then I heard “…Amerika….” and I started paying attention. He said it again and then we were ushered up into the ring to have him say something about “Our honored American guests, who do not speak Turkish but only English…” and something about us not having hats or headscarves and everyone laughed. He had us introduce ourselves, said something else and we were ushered back into VIP tent to be re-surrounded by familiar friends.

Upon leaving, we ended up having more time then we thought, drinking tea and sitting next to a bus parking lot. We played frisbee and Rahmi and I taught each other card games. This teaching/learning process was really fun because it was centered around a few words, but mostly guess and check. You play a card and find out what happens. Usually games are simply variations of other games, but Rahmi taught me games that were nothing like anything I had played before. I taught him Speed and Egyptian Rat Slap. We had an amazingly good time for several hours.

Then the bus came, I sat in the only open seat between two men who effervesced cigarette smoke, and there were whispers of “kar” (snow) as the bus drove back to Erzurum.

I start teaching tomorrow, but the schedule was only finalized today. It seems students are not expected to show up, we shall see what my first 8am class brings.

Turkish Hospitality on the Way to a Waterfall (and After That…and On and On)

In Turkey, you make plans. They rarely work out. Instead, someone takes you under their wing and makes your day better than you could ever believe or come up with on your own.

On Tuesday, I was told not to come into the office. The four Fulbrighters made plans to go a waterfall about an hour bus ride away near a town named Uzundere. I traipsed down to the bus station around 10am, bought a $5 ticket to Uzundere for 11:30, and went to buy some bread and drink 2 glasses of tea. I got on the bus, which wound its way to the other bus station in town and stopped. There was a second bus from which a horde of people descended onto our bus.

As people looked for seats on this intercity bus, the guy who sold us our tickets, came back and said, “Uzundere?” We nodded. And he pointed off the bus.

We got off the bus and asked the driver which bus. He waved opaquely to a line of vacant mini-buses. That’s when we learned, we were not being directed to a faster or correct way to get to Uzundere, they’d just oversold seats and decided to kick us off the bus. Artvin Ekspres, I shake my head in disapproval.

We found a mini-bus to Uzundere with neon orange seat covers and no one in it. Sat in the back anyway. Soon the driver came over, poked his head in the door and asked “çay?” Sure…yeah, and piled out of the bus.

We drank 2 glasses of tea with bus driver Rahmi, a conversation of pure Turkish and patience. (Though briefly Rahmi looked through an Intro to Turkish book, repeating English words out of it, with an other middle-aged Turkish man leaning over his shoulder.) We learned that his mini-bus was not leaving until 1pm, there weren’t any buses from Uzundere to the waterfall, and it was actually 24km outside town not the guidebook promised 8km. At this point, doubt about the day’s plans reached in all time high. Could we take a taxi from Uzundere? How long would it take to see things? When was the last bus back? What happened if we got stuck in this tiny Turkish town? Maybe just try again tomorrow?

Rahmi assured us that he knew the(?) taxi driver in Uzundere. One of us asked if he had a taxi. No, no taxi, but he said he had a car. Well, it’d been 3 hours with little movement, might as well keep trying. Life is an adventure. And it’s Eastern Turkey, which means life is a surprisingly inexpensive adventure. Rahmi told us Uzundere was great because of the waterfall, a church, and picnics.

We headed back to the mini-bus, which in addition to it’s outrageous seat-coverings now included a full-sized door down the aisle and other passengers. We stopped at several locales in Erzurum to pick us a bag of mail, some newspapers, prescription drugs and a small child. An hour later, we pulled into Uzundere, a town tucked into the mountains with a population of 3,200. I didn’t see a single woman without a headcovering, including the manikins. That makes it the only town I’ve been to that’s more conservative than Erzurum.

I have a theory that conservativism in Turkey is directly correlated with elevation.

Rahmi dropped each person and delivery off at their door…including the door. Then it was just the five of us. He stopped by the side of the road and ushered us out of the car. He traded his mini-bus keys with a guy who had car keys, and waved us in the car. Now this was not any car, it was a driver’s ed car from at least the 80’s, with peddles on the passenger side. And then he just started driving out of town. Up, up and up into the mountains. So much for his taxi friend.

We stopped when we got to Tortum Lake, already a good 16km from Uzundere.   Then he drove on to Tortum Waterfall. No buses in sight (internet, why do you lie?). Now Turkish guidebooks are not the most truthful or well-researched. In the English guidebook of Erzurum, it states that Tortum Waterfall is the 3rd highest waterfall in the world, after Victoria and Niagra. Tortum is impressive, but I googled in afterward, and it doesn’t even make wikipedia’s Top 35. Therefore my interpretation is that Tortum is the 3rd highest waterfall the authors, who only kinda speak English, have heard of.

The Turkish word for waterfall is şalale (sha-la-lei) which is a rather beautiful onomatopoeia

However, there was a nice set of steps down to the base of the waterfall.  Rahmi probably took more pictures than I did. Especially of us. With his phone, he was either talking or taking pictures with, at least 50% of the time. There was a lot of, “very, very beautiful” from us.

After that we drank tea at the top of the waterfall. And we had almost the same conversation that we’d had back at the bus station. (Are you students or teachers? How long are you here? When did you get here?) Rahmi had this ah-ha moment where he figured out that we could be friends for a long time and have lots of picnics in Erzurum and Uzundere. He told us the last bus back to Erzurum was at 8pm, and asked what we should do until then. It was about 4pm and that was his invitation to spend the next 4 hours with us, along with the last 4 hours.

We went back to the lake and had a picnic there. Rahmi moved seat-sized rocks for us to sit on during our picnic. Then our conversations got interesting. He wanted to know about America. What we do in the evening, whether there’s manti, whether there are cowboys…

After that, Rahmi wanted to take us to a church nearby. We drove off the main road, into a little town. It was so small that he honked at whatever tea house he went past. “Your friends?” “No, just saying ‘hi’.” In the middle of this little town, was a huge Gerogian Church built in 963. It’s slowly disintegrating, but utterly magestic, right next to tiny tea shops and houses.

Rahmi asked us what churches were like in the US, and nobody had the vocab for that. There was an old guy there whose sole purpose of retirement was to dress nicely and get as many people as possible to take his picture. I obliged.

Afterward, Rahmi drove back to Uzundere, a good 50km round trip. We got gas and one of the other Americans wondered how much this “taxi ride” would cost us, if we would have enough to cover it. But these were acts of hospitality and friendship, as only Eastern Turks provide in this sheer quality and quantity, with no previous interaction.

In a town of 3200, Rahmi knows everyone. He handed the keys of the car to a different guy who drove off, I kind of doubt that’s even Rahmi’s car. We sat outside, drank 2 more glasses of tea, met his friends and played backgammon. While I know the concept of backgammon and ever some strategy, they play so much backgammon that they rarely consider a move longer than half a second. That means if you consider a move for more than that, you don’t know what you’re doing and Rahmi or his friend will move for you. Lets just say I didn’t win, but it was fun. I think he might actually be moving my pieces in this picture.

It got later and Rahmi handed a 12-year-old five bucks and told him to go buy food. He came back and prepared a spread of the freshest of grapes, tomatoes, cucumbers, cheese, olives and bread. It put our picnic to shame. We had long discussions over dinner about American history and family history. There was serious interest in who Americans are. Are we really just Germans or Irish or Italian? Where’s your father and mother from? Your grandfather? Your great grand-father? And on up the line. One of his friends named each ancestor back 7 generations and said that was the point his family moved from Kyrgyzstan.

They also spent a serious amount of time trying to figure out what the English word was for “your aunt’s daughters.” I think they were trying to communicate that we should consider ourselves their nieces.

Rahmi then looked up the English word for “invitation” and told us to come back on Sunday for the (looking up another word) oil wrestling festival that has live music. Now that sounds like culture. We nodded and he began writing down bus times for us, always ending with a pantomime of us getting off a bus, calling him and saying “Alo?”

At 7:40, Rahmi heard the bus coming and ran into the street to flag it down. One of the Americans asked, “How much?” referring to his grand tourism of the last 8 hours. Rahmi took it to mean for the bus back: why, $5 of course. The bar for hospitality has been set high.

Summary: Drank 2 cups of tea. Got on a bus to Uzundere. Got kicked off the bus. Sat on an unmoving mini-bus to Uzundere. Got invited to drink tea by the bus driver, Rahmi. Drank 2 cups of tea. Got back on the mini-bus that now included deliveries of mail, prescription drugs, a small child, and a full-sized door. Upon arriving in Uzundere, Rahmi directed us to a student-driving car, which he drove 25km to Tortum Lake and Waterfall. Drank 2 cups of tea. Had a picnic. Talked about cowboys in Turkish. Drove to a HUGE Georgian Church in a random town. Drank 2 cups of tea. Played backgammon. Ate dinner. Got invited back for Sunday’s Wrestling and Live Music Festival. Got back on a bus to Erzurum. Summary: 8 cups of tea, 8 hours of Turkish Hospitality…there will be oil wrestling on Sunday.