Back at the mosque, I pulled my sleeping bag and tent out of my pack. I marveled that no one was walking up to me and saying, “No, you’re not allowed to do this! You can’t walk across Turkey like this and sleep at our mosque!” I set up camp feeling like an imposter. It wasn’t supposed to be this easy.
There was even an outlet available for me to charge up my iPhone! How lucky I was! I sat on a bench, staring at the outlet, wondering if anyone would be angry at me for stealing electricity. I decided to take that risk.
As my phone charged I sat on one of the benches facing the water fountain. The fountains at the mosques tend to be about ten feet high, octagonal, with a faucet on each of the faces. Each faucet on the octagon has a bench facing it like the one I was sitting on. When people came to the mosque to pray they could sit to wash their feet, their hands, or their faces before entering.
I felt pretty sacrilegious using the fountains to simply rest and wash, and as I turned the faucet handle and cupped my hands under the flowing water I wondered if God was about to strike me down for using his water to wash my dusty face.
I looked around to see if anyone was watching. I saw no one; the village seemed deserted. Since Havutculu is a small agricultural village the farmers were probably out working their fields. Also, it was between calls to prayer and the mosque was deserted.
As I sat on the wood slat bench waiting for the sun to set, a man about 55 years old drove up in a fancy car with plates from one of the big cities in another province of Turkey. He got out of the car and as he started walking toward the mosque he looked over at me and blinked, surprised. Then he greeted me in English.
“Hello! Where are you from?” he asked.
“California,” I said.
“Is everything ok?”
“Can I help you with anything?”
“No, thank you. I’m just sitting here resting. Is it okay if I sit here?”
“Yes, of course it’s okay.” He added, “You’re also welcome to use the faucets to clean up or to do your laundry.”
“Excellent, thank you.”
When I questioned him further, he told me that he was passing through and had stopped at the mosque to pray. He had been living in Los Angeles for a few years now, and he was visiting family in a nearby village.
I had earlier been impressed with myself being a foreigner alone on an exotic adventure, existing in a land where I didn’t speak the language. Now here I was right off the bat talking to a man in English who lived in Los Angeles.
The man walked into the mosque to pray, and I continued sitting in the shade charging my phone. I had expected his permission to make me feel at home, but I still felt like an imposter.
There was no one around to make me feel that way. Except for the praying man from Los Angeles and a few passersby, it was pretty quiet. I sat on the bench as still as I could, trying not to disturb the world around me (and waiting for my phone to charge).
I watched and nodded as one man passed by and looked over at me apologetically as if waiting for me to give approval for his intrusion. Several people who passed by had no reaction to me at all other than a glance. There were a few, though, who stared wide-eyed, then hurried off. I wondered if I scared them. Maybe they thought of me as a ticking time bomb, and if they just treated me quietly and peacefully I would go away and not make this into an international incident. Or, maybe they thought there was an angry mob hiding somewhere waiting for me, ready to appear with their flaming torches.
But there were two or three who stopped, greeted me, and seemed perfectly okay with a stranger sitting in their mosque garden. They told me I was welcome to camp there, wash up in the running water, and use the restrooms. As the late afternoon hours wore on I began to realize that that the villagers as a whole were perfectly okay with a stranger sitting in their mosque garden. This reception surprised me. I still felt like an imposter, and couldn’t accept the idea that it was okay for me to be there.
Sitting by myself on a bench in the shade made me feel uncomfortable, so after my phone had charged I ventured out of the mosque gate to explore the streets near the mosque. I came upon a group of young men in a nearby cafe playing Okey (Turkish dominoes) and stopped to watch. I expected them to ask me what I was doing there and to send me to some village official to get approval for being there. But they just smiled at me and seemed happy to show me their game.
I watched for a few minutes and then walked back to the mosque. At one point several farm workers all riding together on one tractor drove by the mosque. They slowed down to stare at me and kept staring as their tractor crept past. A few minutes later they reappeared, apparently having circled the block so they could come back and stare some more. I didn’t know how to read the blank expressions on their faces. I thought maybe they were going to return again to run me out of town. I stood waiting, but they didn’t come back.
As the sun began to set I again walked about 500 meters into the village and had my first dinner of the walk. There was no restaurant. The village was too small to support a restaurant but it was large enough for a bakkal, which is a corner market. I walked into the bakkal and bought a container of yogurt and a loaf of white bread, and some cheese. For dessert I bought the local version of a Kit Kat.
Three or four small tables with dirty tablecloths were set up under a grape arbor outside the bakkal. Even though the late summer sun was setting, it was still rather hot, and I was grateful for the shade under the arbor. I sat down at one of the tables, brushed some of the dirt away, and ate my first dinner of the walk as I watched the men and women of the village come back home on their tractors.
I thought to myself, Wow, I am going to survive this. I had survived the first day. I had walked; I knew where I was going to sleep that night; I had talked to someone; nobody had killed me; I was sitting at a table having my dinner, and the farmers were going back to their homes to have their dinners. I was okay!
After eating, I lingered at the table a few minutes to watch the sun set behind a semi truck parked across the street. Beyond the truck the green of the fig trees and farms on the rolling hills began to darken and cast long shadows.
When I’d finished lingering, I stood up, said goodbye to the people in the market and thanked them. I walked back to the mosque but before I crawled into my tent, a guy on a tractor towing a wagon full of farmers stopped at the camii (mosque), waved, and said hello. After he had explained me to the people he was towing, he drove away.
Then, even though it was early, I crawled into my tent and fell into a peaceful sleep within an arm’s reach of the mosque wall, very happy and relieved to have “first blood” out of the way.