Thanksgiving in Erzurum


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.


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.


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.


Gravy Making.


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.


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.


My Apartment and Friends


Dessert! Emily and Her Beautiful Pumpkin and Apple Pies


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).




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

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.
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.


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



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.


8. Carnival
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.

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.


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.

7 Things To Do in Central Europe

I’ve been traveling but really don’t want to rub it in too much for all you working/studying-stiffs in the US or to my Turkish colleagues that don’t get a winter break and have to go into the office even without classes. I’m very blessed to get to travel. So I’ve spent some time in central Europe and wanted to share some of my experiences.

1. Go to Poland, “Stay Forever, Then Leave”

Poland’s deepest love: JP2

It does not seem to matter where you go or quite what you do, everyone loves Poland, even mid-winter. When I was in Berlin, I asked at my hostel what was the cheapest way to go to Poland, the guy working there was from Poland and proceeded to plan out buses and trains to cover 6 days around Poland. He said the cheapest way was through a city named Poznan. Very specifically he told me to only spend one night in Poznan and then head to the next city.

The next morning I took the Polski bus (that kindly waited several minutes for me, since you can only book online). Once in Poznan, I ended up entirely lost. I met several old women who would very kindly chatter at me in Polish about how far away I was from where I wanted to go. But even wandering around with my pack was great in Poland. I ended up walking into a hotel/squash court where the receptionist and I struggled to understand each other but she was intensely kind and helpful. She ended up calling me a cab as I dripped dark, muddy snow on her perfectly white floor.
Charming PoznanI showed up by cab to a beautiful Old Town, pedestrian streets and the Frolic Goats hostel (named after two goats that escaped being slaughtered to frolic in the town hall) as it was starting to get dark. I checked in, met the three Asians in my room (how does that happen?…in Poland) and went out to dinner with the one from Taiwan. The next morning I wanted to see the city and broke the Berlin rule and asked to stay another night. The guy at the Frolic Goats said, “sure you can stay, you’re going somewhere else in Poland, right?”


The day was great, Poles seem to have no love of Poznan, but every foreigner I met loved the little place. When I checked out the same guy said, “Finally.” My day was highlighted by acting like I knew what I was doing and walking past security into the middle of a movie set. It was the filming of a historic scene of ice skating on a frozen lake in front of a beautiful church with quite the number of guys on horses.

I went to Warsaw after that and stayed in my favorite hostel of all time, the Oki Doki, where Serbian Bojan is the spirit of the place. My room had 10 foot ceilings and was covered in newspaper with a type writer set on the desk. Bojan took a group out to see the Jewish parts of the city (i.e. the out of the way parts of the ghetto wall that still stand from WWII). The Oki Doki also held a hot chocolate outing, pub quiz, and  free spaghetti night while I was there. Full marks.


Jewish ghetto Wall in Warsaw

Jewish ghetto wall in Warsaw

The old town of Warsaw has been spectacularly rebuilt since World War II. And Christmas was still here! I went to the Museum of Caricature. I also ended up at a fortress/prison that had an intensely interesting set of exhibits about Soviet era re-locating of people including the sending of Poles to the -stans and the pictures to prove it. That place was creepy though since I doubt a thing has been changed since it was a prison.

Huge Christmas Tree in Warsaw

Poland’s got to be the friendliest, least assuming, humble country ever. They’re awesome because they have no clue that they’re awesome. And I still need to go back to see Krakow because it’s supposed to be the best part. I managed to meet up with the guy from Taiwan I met in Poznan again in Warsaw. His advice, “Go to Krakow, stay forever, then leave.”

This Crosswalk Commemorates that Fredric Chopin is Polish. Poles just kind of shrug and smile.

2. Attend An Opera in Budapest

Budapest sleet killed my camera, so this is thanks to Dresden

Budapest sleet killed my camera, so this is thanks to Dresden

The Budapest Opera House looks like it belongs in a movie about the 19th century. It’s regal with stacked opera boxes. It costs $10 to tour the place mid-day, but through a little careful price checking, it only costs $2.50 to go to an opera. You get bad seats, but it’s actually a lot more fun than I thought it would be. Dresden and I went and saw the Flying Dutchman. In German. With Hungarian subtitles. So it took a little patience. But it was a modernist take with hilarious t-shirts (all the sailors and women had their love’s face printed on their shirt) and glow-in-the-dark boots. Both seeing the opera house and hearing the orchestra were independently worth the price of admission.

3. Operate an Air Raid Siren from World War II (Hospital in the Rock) – Budapest, Hungary

Budapest is actually the connection of two cities separated by a river. 1. Buda atop a hill with a crazy-historied castle and old town. 2. Pest with its culture and more vibrant atmosphere. Beneath Buda is a series of caves that were transformed into a bunker-hospital during WWII. During the Cold War it was then turned into a nuclear bomb shelter, complete with top-secret refilling of the gas tanks (a “water flowering truck”). I toured the “Hospital in the Rock” and during the tour they take you everywhere. Near the end of it they explained the air raid sirens that punctuated Budapest’s life during World War II and the year long siege of the city, then occupied by Nazis, by the USSR. As an exhibit they show you two leftover hand operated air raid sirens. But instead of the normal, “Don’t Touch” signs, the tour guide asked, “Do you want to try?” Heck yes.

Fun fact: Sugár in Hungarian means radiation.

3. Swim in a Thermal Lake (Lake Heviz, Hungary)

View of the lake from the air, clearly not my picture, camera still yok.

View of the lake from the air, clearly not my picture, camera still yok.

Three hours outside of Budapest is a Hungarian resort town that few non-German or non-Hungarian speakers every make it to. It’s an entire thermal lake with a resort in the center. The lake itself is just barely warm enough to swim in…with snow around the outside. There’s a resort in the center of the lake that has indoor pools and Soviet style water message (six water jets at different levels that a tone tells you when to shift between). The water itself is supposed to treat Rheumatism along with a host of other illnesses, so the clientele is older.  When Dresden and I checked into the resort (for the “steep” price of $9 for 3 hours), “student” was a very unusual confusing word. Partly the lack of young people, partly the near absence of English speakers. However, since the water is seen as medical treatment, there are a ridiculous number of very proper Hungarian old women, wearing make-up and ridiculous floaties or water wings, and wearing them very seriously.

4. Attend Mass in Prague


SAM_0230 Prague. I bought myself a camera in Budapest

After wandering around old town, seeing Lennon’s Wall and John Hus’ church (a guy who tried to Reform the Catholic Church a hundred and fifty years before the Reformation), I wandered into the back streets and a small cathedral. As I sat there I heard an organ playing in a small chapel connected to the main cathedral. A third of the population of the Czech Republic is Atheist but the Catholic church I wandered into at 11am was alive, spirited, with a good mix of young and old. The organ was being played by a lively, 60-something man with one leg that was not at full capacity. The singing was being led by a joyous older woman with a strong voice and a commanding helpfulness. She found me a place in the Czech hymnal, not that having the words to Czech songs really helps me sing them… Such life and spirit in that chapel.

5. Visit Dresden with Dresden



SAM_0182While traveling with Dresden, we made both of our first trips to the town of Dresden. As an Elizabeth I’m use to my name being pretty common, especially amongst European cities. Most cities give me a street, maybe a square, Budapest even gave me a pretty ugly bridge. But seeing your name ever.y.where was a fun phenomenon to witness. Dresden, the city, is famous for the allies fire-bombing it during World War II. But the old city has made a comeback, the biggest cathedral is still getting its finishing touches. There’s also a cool artsy part of the city with a building whose gutters make music when it rains (first place I’ve traveled where I wish it would rain). There’s also a huge war history museum north of the main part of the city that fascinated both Dresden and I. It’s one of the few museums I’ve been in where it’s closed and I haven’t wanted to leave because I’m learning an intense amount. I got to re-ignite the IB love for Bismarck and learn about war and language. There was an interesting thread that ran through everything about World War II, this concept that WWI wasn’t lost militarily and that over-confidence by the Germans led to World War II. Strong dose of guilt.

6. Stop By the Bone Chapel in Kutna Hora, Czech Republic
SAM_0273A chandelier that includes one of each bone in the human body. The bones of at least 40,000 people. Human bones making the Schwarzenberg coat of arms. The wood-carver’s signature in bones, the one who “organized” it all. It was also just above freezing in the chapel and Erzurum cold outside. Enough said.

7. Play Around at the Music House in Vienna

Schönbrunn Palace

Schönbrunn Palace

I went back to Vienna, I really love that city. Every street is so pretty. And the Schonbrunn Palace gardens are just as gorgeous covered in snow as when they’re covered in flowers. This was my first time to go to the Music House in Vienna though and it’s perhaps my favorite museum of all time. A four-floor, multimedia extravaganza that teaches you about everything from how you hear to letting you mix and distort 6 out of 100’s of sounds at a time. I also got to conduct a version of the Viennese Philharmonic that actually kicks you out if you’re bad. It also told the real stories of people I think of as stodgy composers, but perhaps that’s just cause I learned about them in Elementary school. They’ve also got a program that uses Mozart’s Name Game algorithm to instantly make a song out of your name. The whole place is pretty sweet.

Alright friends, that’s what I’ve got. For those of you hungar(y)-ing after posts that counts as 7 blogs, right?

Turkish Sleepover and Small Classes

My Turkish sleepover involved two very nice Kurdish girls who speak as much English as I do Turkish. That meant it quickly spiraled into three word sentences, lots of dictionaries, smiles and confusion. However, it was highlighted by about 10 glasses of tea, great food, pomegranates, dancing, and them doing my hair. There was also a midnight trip to get sunflower seeds, getting lost and the singing of love songs. I was also quite confused by whether a phone call one of the girls got was a wrong number, a stalker, or a potential suitor. Perhaps all three? All I know was that there were at least six calls from him, and several long conversations some with him, some about him. The next morning, after waking me nicely in Turkish they gave me all the food in the house of 5 girls since they were leaving for Bayram — which equaled about 20 servings of food and 8 loaves of bread. And I feel like this food could have fed five thousand. I was also invited to come milk cows, bake bread and bring my boyfriend to her house.

Each of my Monday and Tuesday classes were attended by 3 to 5 students. What could have been strange, but was actually quite a bit of fun. It’s only in those small groups that the quietest students open up, talk and are willing to make mistakes. In each class I could feel their fear and tension at the beginning of class (always punctuated by “Fine thank you, and you”), but through each two hour class we broke through that — playing bananagrams, me over-acting in ways they thought hilarious, or simply drinking tea together. I also played some pretty awesome ping pong with my students.

Turks are amazingly gracious even as students. Each class I told I would buy them tea, and, while they’d let me feed them chocolate, none of them would let me buy a round of tea. In some classes, one student would take it upon themselves to order everyone else to sit down, other classes would each get money out and compete for who could catch the çay guy’s eye to pay first. One class told me to stay in the classroom and that they’d get it (and chocolate) and bring it back up. Another class all wanted to take a smoke break but didn’t want to leave me behind. We went outside, and they showed me why they bring their books to class: to put atop the cement ledge and sit on, as insulation. Chivalry is far from dead in this land, there was a lending of a coat, opening of doors and always the guys rushing to pay for everyone involved.

A student told me the Iluminati killed Michael Jackson, Dan Brown should be proud. Also Eminem was a part of the Illuminati, but isn’t anymore.
Also there was a festival in the main square on Sunday with roller hockey, taekwondo, ping pong, volleyball, and Erzurum bars dancing. The organizers did some serious blasting of “Eye of the Tiger”.

My Turkish is crawling forward as friends, acquaintances, students, and passersby all take it upon themselves to teach me a word in a store, a phrase over çay, or a grammatical construct on the stairs. I’m going to Georgia (and possibly Armenia if there’s time) for Bayram, so a brief break from Turkish, traveling somewhere with an incomprehensible script and difficult language. Walking around the city today, I saw a man pulling along a sheep with a bunch of parsley in the other hand. That’s meat and vegetables, Erzurum style. I’m peacing out on the blood in the streets tradition, at least for this year.

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.


Orientation has been great so far: 8 hours of day of interesting and useful information broken up by 3 delicious meals and 2 tea breaks. The Fulbright Turks have taken us to see Ataturk’s Mausoleum, but other than a couple walks around the neighborhood we’ve been fully scheduled in the hotel, meeting other Fulbright ETAs, listening to lectures and learning Turkish. Yesterday was by far my favorite day so far. After lunch we met our university representatives.

The assistant rector or Ataturk came to see us for Erzurum folks (2nd in command of the whole shebang). He sat down with the four of us and started in Turkish. I was the point person and managed a good five minutes of Turkish. Then one of the Fulbright staff translated for us. The rector really seems to have our back and made a phone call during the whole thing to check that our on campus apartments are fully furnished and ready. The university is 55,000 students on campus, big place. It’s cold. It’s wonderful.

That evening the Fulbrighters were invited to the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corp’s arrival in Turkey at the US embassy house. We arrived to an outside garden greeted by trays of hors’ d’oeuvres and glasses of wine and whiskey. We all looked at each other and nervously agreed, “now we mingle”. I walked up to two Turkish men and introduced myself in Turkish. The first thing Metin and Ibrahim did was hand me business cards. They’re part of an NGO named “Kimse Yok Mu” (Isn’t There Anyone?). They handled a bunch of US aid given for the earthquake in Van a couple years ago, but actually mostly deal with money Turks give to charitable causes around the world (i.e. Bosnian orphans, Burma and Peru). One of them had worked in New York for 3 years as the principal of a private high school that won a bunch of science award (perhaps Gulen affilated?) He talked about his kids who are my age and both in the US for school and how early in his life he’d made and sold baklava. The deputy chief of mission (#2 to the US ambassador) came and greeted us all (more exchanging of business cards) and remembered the aid grant the US had given, after he left, Ibrahim and Metin both asked me why I didn’t have business cards. They asked about Fulbright and what I was doing and after checking for a third time if I had a business card, settled for telling me to email them.

Mingling continued and I talked to an American woman in her 50’s who came over in her 20’s teaching English, married a Turk and had taught for the last 36 years. Then the Deputy Chief of Mission spoke to the group and introduced one of the women who came 50 years ago with the Peace Corp who talked about being here when JFK was assassinated and how Turks would come over to sit with them and grieve. She talked about Turks’ disappointment and consternation when America and NATO didn’t support them in Cyprus, and how the Turks had gone to Korea for us. One of the other women from the Peace Corp in the 1960’s had been a nurse who helped set up the university hospital in Erzurum that still thrives, back when there were 2 cars in the entire city. And we thought we were in adventurous! The next woman I met was a Turkish marblist. (Whose first words were an apology of not having a business card.) She talked about what being a sculptor was like in Turkey, her exhibitions and the students of her studio. She was wearing high heals that would continually sink into the grass. You could see her getting shorter and shorter and then extricating herself from the grass, but being very much stuck exactly where she was. She has come to the US for her masters 23 years before and stayed with a host family who was at the reception as well. They had kept in contact and visited her 5 times over the years. Such long-standing relationships! It was definitely the most I’ve ever liked mingling.

At this point we were whisked from the reception, where we all had eaten too much, to dinner at a really nice restaurant. We ate, struggled in Turkish and joked with our vice-vector once again as he told us he would be our “guardian angel” through the year if we ever needed anything. Eight appetizers, a salad, three kinds of meat and three desserts later we left the restaurant and returned to our hotel around 10pm. It was definitely a good day.

I’ve got another week of orientation in Ankara and then I’ll head to Erzurum.