Nihat bey, the commander at the jandarma post, had told me to find and say hello to Hoca at the end of the day, so all day long I walked thinking, I can’t just camp anywhere tonight, I’ve got to find Hoca. Whatever I do, I’ve got to find Hoca.
In the early afternoon I stopped off at a tea garden near Ortaoren with an irresistible view of the river valley below. I ate patatesli gozleme,a pancake stuffed with boiled and lightly-seasoned potatoes, drank some tea, and had some conversation with Hilmi, the grown son of one of the tea garden’s owners. Hilmi was a sailor with the merchant marine and at sea for six months out of the year. When he was home he worked the tea garden owned by his mother and uncle.
But as I was looking out at the view from the tea garden I saw the storm rolling back in and knew I had to get going because I still needed to find Hoca.
Shortly after I left the tea garden the storm rolled in, except this time from the opposite direction. Instead of a warm rain coming from the Mediterranean, the storm was blown back in by a wind from the north causing me to lean precariously to the right. The rain was colder than it had been the night before.
After a few minutes a car pulled up beside me and stopped. It was a guy I’d seen at the tea garden.
“Get in the car!” he called out. “I’ll take you wherever you want to go.”
I said to him, as I’d said to countless people on the walk, “Thank you very much for the offer, but no, I’ve got to walk.”
He finally gave up on me and turned around and disappeared back the way he had come.
Fortunately, the rain lasted only a short while. The clouds and the wind remained, however, and I was left cold and soaking wet but happy to be walking through such beautiful territory.
About 3 p.m. I reached Degirmendere (windmill creek), the village where I was supposed to find Hoca. Degirmendere is just a couple kilometers from where the steep v-shape of the river valley ends and turns into rolling hills through which the river meanders until it reaches the sea.
I came up on a section of the road crowded with parked trucks and thought that looked like a good sign. I started asking around about Hoca, and the third person I asked pointed to a nearby restaurant with a sign that said Hoca’nin Yeri (Hoca’s Place). I’d find Hoca there, the man said.
I walked into Hoca’s Place and started asking for Hoca. (By the way, hoca means teacher in Turkish.) At the back of the restaurant I met Hoca and told him I’d had breakfast with Nihat the jandarma commander, and Nihat had told me to find Hoca and say hello from him.
Hoca smiled and shook my hand and invited me to sit down next to the fire they kept going for the barbecue. I began telling Hoca, and the people sitting nearby, who I was and what I was doing.
Within moments, and without my even asking, someone brought me a plate of barbecued sucuk (sausage), a huge pile of bread, and a salad. I bit into the sucuk. It was the most delicious sucuk I had ever tasted. I asked Hoca about it. He told me they made it there, themselves, with their own mixture of spices. I asked Hoca what they called the sucuk[ Dialogue?]. He told me it was named after him.
After eating I sat around the restaurant with Hoca and a handful of the villagers making small talk. I could barely understand a single word they said. Their accent was very different from the Konya accent, and to me it was equally unintelligible. Sometimes I could barely even identify their words as Turkish.
Hoca got up every few minutes to greet customers as they came into the restaurant. He acted like he was mayor of the town, greeting people like they were long-lost friends, even though he had probably last seen them less than 24 hours before.
As darkness fell I asked Hoca if I could camp somewhere in the area. I told him I had everything I needed in my backpack — tent, sleeping bag, everything. He said of course, you can camp anywhere you like. I asked if I could camp out on the restaurant’s balcony, which was closed off for the winter. I thought the balcony would be a great place to camp, especially since it was right above the Degirmen creek (for which the village Degirmendere was named), and I could fall asleep to the sounds of running water. Hoca said sure, of course, no problem.
A few minutes later though, one of the earlier patrons in the restaurant, Ali, a man in his early 30s, came back, sat down next to me, and said come with me, you can sleep at my place tonight. I jumped at the offer, especially since I had camped outside in rainy weather the two nights before, and was in fact still a little wet from the afternoon’s rain.
Ali and I left the restaurant and walked the short distance, maybe just 100 meters, to his apartment. Inside the apartment I changed into dry clothes while Ali built a fire in the TV room. The TV room was small, and by the time I finished changing clothes the fire had turned it a nice toasty warm.
I took a seat amongst some pillows on the floor next to the fire. Ali spread out on the couch. He offered me some baklava, and we settled in to watch Evlen Benimle (Marry Me), a popular matchmaking show on television.
At one point some curious neighbor kids came over to meet (read: play with) the foreign visitor. They were Enes, a boy of about 5, and his sister Elif, a girl of about 2. Ali left to take care of some business elsewhere, and I played “horsey” with Enes and Elif. I was surprised that after a full day of walking I still had the energy to let a couple kids climb around on me simultaneously, but I dug deep and found it somewhere. I had no problem with Elif, who was about as light as a feather, but when Enes would decide that the back of my head made a great saddle, I had a hard time supporting his weight with my neck muscles. I didn’t complain when Ali returned and told the kids to settle down.
After the kids’ mom came to collect them, Ali and I watched the second half of Evlen Benimle. We drank some cinnamon and ginger tea that Ali had been warming next to the fire. When Evlen Benimle was over Ali and I went back to Hoca’s restaurant, and to the next door kahvehanesi (coffee house), for some tea and village conversation before bed.
While at Hoca’s restaurant I asked Hoca if he had any children. He said he had two, a daughter, aged 19, and a son, aged 16. Both lived in the nearby town of Silifke. I asked Hoca what his son’s favorite subject was in school. Hoca laughed and said girls, and sports. I told him those were the favorite subjects of just about every 16-year old boy. He laughed and said he just wanted to see his son go to college. Everything changes if you go to college, Hoca said. Life is different. Work is different. Everything is different. (turn this into dialogue)
That night I slept incredibly well, spread out on a nice comfortable couch, the fire still going, and some drama show on TV. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was, being that a mere 24 hours earlier I had been camping out on the side of the road, hiding from one of the most aggressive thunderstorms I had seen in a long time. I’d always found it so easy to take a warm bed and a roof over my head at night for granted, and at some point I probably would again, but for now at least I recognized how there was almost no price that could be put on small creature comforts like that.