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


Giving Thanks for Erzurum Life

Life has settled into a comfortable, but still semi-unpredictable rhythm. I’m really enjoying this year. I’ve got 4 classes of 19 year old engineers and tourism students. Their motivation stretches from taking away 3 different phones from one student in 10 minutes to “teacher I have missed you, tooooo long since last class!” I’m giving them an exam this next week. I don’t travel nearly as much and find myself very comfortable in Erzurum, learning to play Okey (a gin rummy like game with card-like dominos), hanging out with David, Emily and Asad lots, reading and meeting friends on afternoons and weekends. It’s really great to have David here, my life feels much less fragmented and more cohesive.

News from Colorado: Annaleigh Jane Adam was born last week on November 21st! Andrea and Bryan are going to be great parents! My Mom will give anyone a run for their money on proudest, most excited grandma. Skype will have to suffice until I can see her myself in January!
ImageBack in Erzurum, I really enjoyed going to the play “Orphans” this weekend with my officemate. I can catch enough of the dialogue to find it highly entertaining even if the philosophizing about the American Dream, in Turkish, is still too challenging for me to catch most of. I’ve started taking a Turkish class to try to combat such confusion–offered 0 or 15 hours a week–there is no halfway. It’s greatly helped me finally nail down things like to, from, in, and possessives, and confuse me more about definite articles. It’s taught by 3 University teachers, all of whom I’m connected to in several various ways.

I think those connections are something I knew would come with a second year, but I didn’t know how much. Diligent readers of my blog will remember that last year’s turkey was secured alive and then the process of killing and cleaning had to be attended to. This year, a Fulbright coordinator in Ankara has a brother-in-law in Erzurum who owns a restaurant (who Helen Marie tutored the daughter of last year) is securing one for this Thanksgiving. Now, never in Erzurum does “Pick up a turkey on Friday” actually mean it will be that simple. But…I have high hopes of it being de-feathered.

Another example of the Erzurum network: That play? Free since we know an actor’s wife. I still enjoy meeting new people and my expanded vocabulary of Turkish small talk but I really enjoy being a fixture in people’s lives, faith and friendships. As I look forward, it seems an easy thing for me to secure a job in Turkey, but rather anxiety causing to do the same in the US.

I’m excited to host my second Erzurum Thanksgiving this coming weekend and bring my colleagues, friends, and fellow Fulbrighters together to reflect on what a great year it is!

Also, my impossible Christmas wish is for the sun to set AFTER 4pm. Timezones. That’s all I want for Christmas.

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


I arrived home in Colorado less than a week ago. It’s good to see family and friends and eat different food.

I will return to Erzurum, Turkey in the Fall for another year with Fulbright teaching English at Ataturk University. Late-August/Early-September…something like that.

Huffington Post

So, I wrote a thesis last year about Religions effects on Economic Indicators of Growth. My thesis adviser then became my co-author and fixed my beginner mistakes and presented the paper at ASREC (Association for the study of Religion, Economics and Culture) in DC.

THEN Huffington Post decided it was interesting and wrote an article “Faith and Economic Growth: Drive to Succeed in Business Crosses Religious Traditions” about our paper! I’m excited!

Thanksgiving: The Story of Hank Hindi

Let me tell you the story of Hank hindi, our Thanksgiving Turkey. First, a short summary of the last couple weeks.

Erzurum has been awesome these last couple weeks. My students invited me to a sleepover and we went ice skating and go karting. Emily and I bought some couches at a second hand store, from guys who tried to tell us that purple velvet chairs were part of the set, and we needed to buy them. I went to a Turkish birthday party that consisted of Jenga and cake. I went to Trabzon last weekend a city full of life and delicious fruit and kofte on the Black Sea. Sumela Monastery (below) was built into the cliffs starting in the 400’s of what is now a National Park. Beautiful, beautiful frescos, surrounded by intensely green treed mountains and waterfalls. I’ve continued to meet really awesome Turks who have welcomed me into their lives.

Also, Georgia killed my camera. So sorry about that.

Anyway, Hank hindi.

On Tuesday, I was in my boss’s office with another teacher named Alper. We were talking about Thanksgiving and he was wondering what Americans eat.

I said, “Usually turkey, but I think we may just settle for chicken this year.”

Alper: “I can get you a turkey. I have a friend…with a farm…nearby.”


Thursday afternoon I come up the steps after lunch and Alper tells me: “I have your turkey. But it is still alive. We should go pick it up this afternoon. Let me go settle my students and then we’ll go.”

At this point, the other Americans happily peace out. And I wait in my office until it’s time. Alper and I drive about 10 minutes and pull off the side of the highway to a group of municipal buildings for cleaning equipment, or something. We wait in the gravel between them as Alper calls his friend, who calls his friend to meet us. I tell Alper, “In America, we would say, this is where a drug deal would go down.” The man comes out and greets us.

We walk over to a gate between a warehouse and a smaller building. The man opens the gate and ushers me through first. Inside there’s one turkey standing on a porch, about 5 chickens and 10 rabbits. Is this the farm? No, these are animals who haven’t been moved to the farm yet. I keep looking around, yep, only one turkey. The turkey and I make eye contact.

The man has a big stick and ushers the turkey into the warehouse. Alper asks me, “Have you never seen a live turkey before?”

“I have, but never one that’s about to die.”

Four minutes later the man comes back holding the turkey underneath the wings and with a knife and a rope in the other hand. The turkey is chill as can be. Alper takes the knife and rope. He cuts a piece of rope. And ties the turkey’s legs together.

The man hands the turkey to Alper and we walk to his car. Alper tells me that the turkey use to be bigger, but hasn’t been eating as much lately. Yep, my turkey is the only one on a diet. He opens the trunk and sets the turkey inside surrounded by books and papers. We get back in the car and Alper says, “Now I will find someone to clean the turkey.” Fabulous. Because as much as I want a turkey for Thanksgiving, I really would rather it not be alive.

He finds a friend and a friend’s mother who will help us. We chat about the similarities of Thanksgiving with the Muslim Feast of Sacrifice. “We sacrifice a sheep, you sacrifice a turkey.” And how much closer Turks are to their food. He tells me he’s never killed anything before, but today might be the day.

We pull up to a group of apartment buildings and see his friend standing in the door with a large knife. We chat with the mother on the second floor through the window as the turkey is retrieved from the trunk, by the wings, and taken between two apartment buildings to a little patch of grass.

Alper has the knife as they stretch out the turkey’s neck and hold down the body. At the last second, his friend says something. Later I find out he said, “Man, you look like you’re going to cut a salad. Give me the knife.”

They switch places and stretch the turkey’s neck out again and saw at it quickly. I’m standing about a meter away and the blood spurts in my direction. Close enough that I jump out of the way, and think, “at least my converse are red.” The turkey spurts blood with each heartbeat as it shivers and shakes for the next couple minutes into death.

When it stops moving, the guys hands are covered in blood. One of them picks it up by the feet and hands it to the teyze (friend’s mother/Turkish for “aunt”). She tells us to come back in a half hour to an hour and that it’ll be clean.

We drive back to school, then Alper goes to wash his hands and teach his class. The next break comes and we drive back out to retrieve the turkey.

We go upstairs to teyze’s apartment and sit in the living room as she wants 10 more minutes to clean the turkey. Alper has a private class to teach and calls to tell his students that he’s getting Americans a turkey because it’s very important for us to have a turkey for this holy-day.

We go into the kitchen and the turkey feet are sitting on the counter next to a bowl with the liver, heart and other internal organs, and a bigger bowl with feathers. The turkey is in the sink and she’s scrubbing at it and picking out little black stubs of feathers. The teyze tells Alper it isn’t ready yet, and he assures her I can take it from there. She says to leave it there for another couple hours and she’ll just cook it for us.

Alper asks me, “Do you know how to cook a turkey?”

“Yeah, I do.” He assured the teyze I know how to cook a turkey. She still wanted to cook it for me. After a couple minutes, he convinced her to give it up and she grabs a plastic grocery bag. They slid the turkey inside and the wings have to be readjusted to fit inside the bag. They loosely tied the top of the bag and we drove back to school. At that point, we named him Hank hindi. Hindi being the Turkish word for Turkey.

I walked home to put Hank in my fridge. Got Turkey juices everywhere. I pulled a bunch of little black feathers out. And then it was a process of finding out he was just the right size to put in my fridge and just the right size to put in the oven. To the point where he hit the top of my toaster oven, but would fit in with some shoving.

Saturday morning came, and I made the stuffing. The teyze, probably never dreamed I would stuff Hank, so she’d cut into his chest cavity quite a bit. I toothpicked him together, stuffed him and added some more toothpicks. Then covered him in foil and shoved him in the oven.

The next five hours were full of Fulbright scholars from all over Turkey, chopping crazy amounts of vegetables, making mashed potatoes, “Ayve surprise”, apple cider and other delicious things. We made some stir-fried vegetables, corn and every guest seemed to bring a delicious dessert to go with Emily’s pumpkin and apple pies.

We went from a room full of chopping Americans, in the middle of the day, to an apartment packed with 25 Turks and Americans eagerly awaiting a Thanksgiving feast. I checked Hank and waited. And checked, and waited. Finally he was done, and we were making uber amounts of gravy, and trying to figure out how to carve Hank.

Then we ate Hank.

And well, then there was a full table of desserts, but all that was left of Hank was a carcass that will make very good soup. Since this is a story about Hank, I’ll end it here.

He tells me that the turkey use to be bigger, but hasn’t been eating as much lately.