Toward the end of the day I approached Bahtiyar which has a population of 1,500 to 2,000 people. It was about ¾ mile off the main road and up a hill so it would be a little walk yet.
One of the first things I ran into at the edge of the village was a middle school. Once again the yard was filled with kids. But instead of innocent second graders, a mob of 12-year-old boys ran over to meet me. I don’t particularly like being surrounded by large groups of young pre-teen boys. They are often the most unpredictable of groups. I never knew whether they had — have they learned manners yet or not?.
However this group was very friendly. So after a couple of minutes of walking amongst them my paranoia began to relax. I asked the boys if there was a bakkal in the village. They said yes, but it was up the hill a bit in the center of the village. They were happy to escort me there. As we walked they eyed my pockets and my pack, and I started to feel nervous, exposed and vulnerable, but I told myself that they were just curious, not greedy or covetous like the kids back in Germencik. I reminded myself how wrong the school principal had been about me that morning, and how I had wanted him to give me the benefit of the doubt, so I would need to do the same for these boys now. As we walked, I let them pull in tighter and continue eyeing my pockets and pack.
The boys led me up the hill to the village center where there was a bakkal and a kahvehanesi (coffee house). Before I could make it to the bakkal, though, the village elders waved me into the kahvehanesi.
They waved the kids away, and I walked up a small flight of stairs and sat on the porch with them. One of them was the father of the muhtar (the village mayor), so I silently thanked the boys for bringing me to the right place.
The village elders invited me to take off my pack and sit down and have some tea with them. I was physically very tired from the day’s walk and emotionally drained from the morning’s social activities, but I smiled and did as I was told.
They asked me where I was from, where I was going, why I was walking, etc. I asked them a bit about the village.
They told me its population was about 1,000. That’s about what I had figured, since I had spotted two bakkals.
They asked where I stayed on my trip, and I told them — gas stations, mosque gardens, public parks, wherever I could find a spot. They volunteered that I should stay there in the village that night. I was happy to have an important order of business already taken care of, and it was barely 4pm!
After a bit more small talk I asked if I could rest a bit. They said of course, and showed me to a table inside the kahvehanesi. I thanked them and sat down, but what I really wanted was a quiet place where I could lie down for a while and close my eyes.
A few minutes later I got my wish when a young man in his late 20s named Mehmet came over to my table. Mehmet and I had met a few minutes earlier when I was sitting out on the porch. Mehmet told me to come with him, I could rest at his house and then have dinner before coming back to the village. Mehmet and I left the kahvehanesi, the two of us walking down the road towards the edge of the village. I had only met Mehmet a few minutes before, but here in Turkey I often followed strangers into unfamiliar situations I barely understood. When I got nervous I reminded myself of two things: one, that the best experiences I’ve had have came from situations I didn’t understand, and two, that beggars can’t be choosers.
While we were walking, Mehmet volunteered that he had gotten married a mere month ago.
I asked him how he met his wife. Since it was a small village, I supposed he would tell me she was from the village too.
“I met her on Facebook,” Mehmet said. “She is from Turkey, but she goes to school in France.”
“Interesting. What does she study?”
Mehmet ignored my question. “I plan to move to France soon too,” he said. “I currently work as a sous chef in Antalya, and I can probably continue that kind of work in France, too.”
Mehmet’s home was about one kilometer (one-half mile) beyond the tea house, at the edge of the village. His front yard, which was packed dirt, contained a little wooden shed with some farming tools in it. A goat stood tethered to a tree by a rope around its neck.
Like the houses in most Turkish villages, Mehmet’s was made of cement and unpainted. It would be considered rustic by urban standards, but was quite normal for a small village. It didn’t really look like a home until you got inside the living area.
I took off my shoes when we got inside. Mehmet mentioned that his father had passed away, so now it was just him, his wife, and his mom in the house. Mehmet said a few words to a woman in one of the other rooms.
“Who is that?” I asked.
“That’s my wife,” Mehmet told me.
I had assumed she would be in France, and Mehmet probably noticed the quizzical look on my face.
“She’s home from school on break,” he continued. We walked through the living area and up the stairs to the guest bedroom.
“We are preparing dinner down in the kitchen, so why don’t you lie down and take a little rest here” he said.
I thanked him and lay down on the bed. The room was quiet and the bed comfortable, but there was no heat in that part of the house. Since I was still sweaty from walking with my pack all day, I quickly became cold. But still it felt very good to be lying on that bed in a quiet room.
After about twenty minutes Mehmet came back up to escort me downstairs for dinner in the living quarters. The living quarters were nicely heated, the walls painted, and the furniture nicely upholstered. My stomach began rumbling at the aroma from whatever his wife was cooking. Mehmet and I sat in the living room watching TV in our socks.
Soon his wife came in with a big tray of food that she set on the floor. The three of us sat around on the floor eating rural Turkish style.
Mehmet mentioned that he and his wife were big fans of Nutella, and he pointed to a big jar of the stuff sitting in the center of the tray. We had a Nutella- dipped dinner, smothered everything in Nutella, even the pickles.
I wanted to plow into that food as if there was no tomorrow, since I hadn’t eaten since breakfast the previous morning. But I tried to show restraint, watching my hosts closely so I could match their pace and not eat all the food myself.
After dinner Mehmet’s wife cleared the tray while Mehmet and I sat in the living room digesting our food, drinking tea and coffee and watching TV. I wasn’t sure whether I was going to stay for night at that house or not and I didn’t ask. I had learned that inhabitants of these small villages, especially the farmers, didn’t try to control things as much as I did. If I started asking specific questions like Where am I going to stay? What are we going to do next? they usually just shrugged their shoulders and said, “Oh, I don’t know; we’ll see.” I was learning that this didn’t mean they weren’t going to take care of me, I just needed to relax and trust everything would be okay.
A few minutes later, during one of the commercials, Mehmet stood up abruptly and said, “Let’s go back to the village.” I stood up and asked if I should bring my pack and he said, “Yes, bring your pack with you.” We put our shoes on and I put my pack back on. I said goodbye to his wife and thanked her for the dinner. Then he and I walked back into town to the kahvehanesi.
At the kahvehanesi the big event of the evening was back to back episodes of Kurtlar Vadisi (“Valley of the Wolves”), a popular Turkish action television show, essentially a Chuck Norris-style shoot-em-up where the tough-guy star chases after the bad guys and periodically knocks his less-disciplined underlings into line.
Before the start of the shows, Mehmet and I watched a few backgammon games and he and the others introduced me around to the people I didn’t know yet. Mehmet mentioned to me that the US was trying to push Turkey into war with Syria, but something in my face must have said I didn’t want to talk politics, and he immediately dropped the subject without saying another word.
The TV shows started and we all gathered around the set. Around the end of the first episode, the village muhtar decided it was time to supply me with a home for the evening. He walked over to my table and introduced himself and, after making sure my passport and visa were all in order, he told me to come with him. So I said goodbye to everyone and thanked them for their hospitality and I left the teahouse with the muhtar. He took me next door to the administrative building where they had a spare room they had planned to put me in for the night. Before showing me to my room, the muhtar needed to take care of a little administrative business with one of the other residents, a villager who was buying a piece of property and needed to register his deed.
I sat in the muhtar’s office while he did his paperwork, and when he finished he signaled for me to follow him.
We went out to the guest room where they planned to put me up for the night. It was a little on the dingy side with a couch that was a little too grimy to sit on and a rug that was a little too greasy to touch. A dim light bulb dangled from the ceiling.
Beggars can’t be choosers, I reminded myself, as I smiled and thanked the muhtar for his hospitality. I set up my tent, so there would be some fabric between me and the rug, then used the nearby outhouse and turned in for the night.