On today’s walk I stopped for a bowl of soup at a rest stop (oh, there was such a bounty of food today, compared to yesterday).
As I finished eating and was about to leave, a retired turnip farmer sat down next to me. We ordered another round of tea and began chatting. Partway into the conversation he asked me if I was Muslim. I said no. He said if you were Muslim, you could stay here (presumably he meant the rest stop).
I immediately felt rejected, and I began to buy into the message I’ve been hearing since the beginning of the walk — that I would find that people are less welcoming as I move east.
However, I am not finding that to be true. In the past few days I have been turned down exactly once for my religious beliefs, and I have been offered places to stay four times.
It is my nature, as it is for many, to remember instances of rejection more vividly than instances of acceptance.
That is my nature. However, it is my job to overcome that nature.
Prejudice does not have a profile, prejudice does not have a profile, prejudice does not have a profile. Repeat to self over and over as necessary. If reality is showing prejudice does not have a profile, I do not want to allow myself to think that it does.
Editorial comment: if that guy had been listening to what god tells him, not what others seem to have told him god tells him, he wouldn’t have considered my religious background relevant to my need for shelter.
Slept in a pear orchard next to the road last night. It was beautiful out, so many stars, so bright. I haven’t seen that many stars in years. However, I did not like waking up feeling like I needed to get out of there before I was discovered.
Walked the couple kilometers into Kireli. Had breakfast (sucuklu yumurta – eggs and sausage). Hadn’t eaten since breakfast yesterday, except a few rolls of cookies, so it felt good to get some food in my stomach.
Kireli has a dolmus into Beysehir. I didn’t see any dolmuses between Sarkikaraagac and Kireli.
Yesterday and this morning I’ve been asking myself, “Why am I doing this?” Sometimes it seems pointless. I only have one or two significant experiences each week. Why am I spending three days walking on the side of the road, sleeping in gas stations and pear orchards, to get each one? Is their value going to be apparent to me at some point?
In February, 2011, I watched a TED video where William Ury, a professor at Harvard, mentioned Abraham’s Path and walking as a way to promote peace and understanding in the Middle East. I practically fell out of my chair and said, "That’s what I want to do." Here I am over a year later. I figured I’d better start with Turkey.
I wrote up a more detailed description of my encounter at the school on Turkayfe’s website.
On Thursday afternoon, 11 October, I walked into the village of Bahtiyar. The first thing I came to was a middle school, so within moments I was surrounded by boys about 10 years old. On this trip I have found I am prejudiced against pre-teen and early teen boys. I don’t like it when they eye my pockets and my pack. However, I was very thirsty and hungry — I hadn’t eaten or drank anything all day, except for a few cups of tea earlier that morning.
I asked the boys if there was a bakkal (a corner market) in the village. The boys said yes, but it was up the hill a bit in the center of the village, so they escorted me towards it. As we walked they eyed my pockets and my pack, but in a curious little-boy sort of way, not in a greedy, covetous sort of way like those kids back in Germencik (a village I had passed through earlier in the walk). I reminded myself how the school principal I had met that morning had judged me so quickly, and that I didn’t want to repeat his mistake here, so I told myself to give these boys the benefit of the doubt, to let them surround me and eye my pockets and pack, and see what happens.
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 the village elders waved me into the kahvehanesi. My afternoon and evening of socializing was about to begin.
I sat on the porch of the kahvehanesi with the village elders. One of them was the father of the muhtar (the village mayor), so I knew I had come to the right place. The men asked me where I was from, where I was going, why I was walking, etc — the basic “get to know you” questions people ask me. I asked them a bit about the village. They told me its population was about 1,000. That’s about what I had figured — I am learning that a population of about 500 can support one bakkal, and this village had two.
The men asked where I stayed on my trip, and I told them — gas stations, mosque gardens, public parks, wherever I can 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 (finding a place to sleep) 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 bit 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 follow strangers into unfamiliar situations I barely understand. When I get nervous I remind myself of two things: one is that the best experiences I’ve had here in Turkey have come from situations I don’t understand, and two, that beggars can’t be choosers.
On our walk Mehmet told me he was recently married, a mere month ago. I asked him how he met his wife. He told me they met on Facebook. He told me she is from Turkey, but goes to school in France. Mehmet plans to move to France soon too. He currently works as a sous chef in Antalya, and plans to continue that line of work initially in France, but then wants to study at a university there.
We arrived at Mehmet’s house. In the front yard there were two cows, a cat, and a very shy dog. We entered the house. Mehmet’s father passed away, so now it’s just Mehmet, his wife, and his mom in the house. Mehmet slipped his shoes off quickly, and while I unlaced my boots he said a few words to a woman in one of the other rooms. She turned out to be his wife. I had assumed she would be in France, but she was home from school on break.
Mehmet showed me to a room upstairs with a bed and a couch. He said I could rest there a bit while they prepared dinner. I happily laid down on the bed, but kept my feet on the floor because I didn’t want to mess things up too much. I was cold in my walking shorts and still-sweaty undershirt, and there were extra cushions and blankets piled high to the ceiling in the corner, but I didn’t touch any of them, again because I didn’t want to make a mess. I was just happy to be half-lying on a bed in a quiet room.
After a half hour or so Mehmet came back upstairs to get me for dinner. I changed into some warmer clothes and we went downstairs to the living room. Mehmet’s wife brought in dinner, a big round tray filled with dishes piled high with french fries, slices of cheese, diced tomatoes, yogurt, olives, and bread. She set the tray down on the tablecloth, which we eagerly draped over our laps so we could get started eating. The three of us ate together, saying barely a word, but piling into the food as if there was no tomorrow. I don’t know about Mehmet and his wife, actually — I felt like I was piling into the food as if there was no tomorrow, since I hadn’t eaten since breakfast the previous morning and was quite hungry. I tried to show restraint though, watching my hosts closely so I could match their pace and not eat all the food myself.
Dinner finished, Mehmet’s wife cleared the tray and tablecloth and Mehmet and I moved back up onto the couches to drink tea and watch some TV. After a few minutes Mehmet told me we would head back into the village. I was confused, not sure where I would be sleeping that night and not understanding whether to take my pack with me back to the village or not. We established that I would indeed be sleeping in the village, and that I should take my pack with me.
Mehmet and I walked back into the village to the same kahvehanesi we had left earlier. We sat down for a while to chat with the other villagers. A younger crowd began to show up, teenagers who had been in school or doing chores when I had been there earlier that afternoon.
Almost every time I’ve been in a kahvehanesi 100% of the patrons are male. Come to think of it, I don’t think I have ever seen a woman in a kahvehanesi. Mehmet and I watched a few backgammon games and he and the others introduced me around to the new arrivals. 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, because he immediately dropped the subject without saying another word.
At 8:00 pm the patrons gathered around the TV to watch two back-to-back episodes of Kurtlar Vadisi Pusu (Valley of the Wolves – Ambush), one of the most popular shows on Turkish TV. Kurtlar Vadisi has been running for 10 years and was already a popular show when I was in Turkey the first time. It is your basic 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.
About 9:30 pm, midway through the second episode, the muhtar, having made sure my passport and visa were all in order, escorted me to a spare room near his office. I was free to stay there for the night. Happy to finally be “home” for the night I set up my tent and laid down to sleep.
In the morning I packed up, wrote a thank you note, stopped by the kahvehanesi to have a tea and say my thank yous and goodbyes in person, and then hit the road for another day of walking.
On this walk I’ve had the pleasure of attending a handful of dinners at various families’ houses in various villages, and they are unlike any dinners I attended in my six years living in Istanbul. I don’t take photos at these dinners, since they seem to me to be private moments and I don’t want to abuse the hospitality by making a private moment public. At some point maybe I will realize that reticence is mine, not the families’, and I will start taking photos. In the meantime I will briefly describe the dinners here…
The dinners almost always take place in the living room. The TV is usually on. In attendance are all the men, women, and children of the family — multiple generations, usually three and sometimes four if there are that many in the family. The women are almost all wearing headscarves. I don’t know whether that’s because a guest (me) is in the house, or if they also do that when it’s just family.
We sit cross-legged on the floor around a large tin or aluminum tray that contains all the meal’s dishes. The tray sits on a tablecloth, the edges of which we drape over our laps and wipe our hands on when necessary. Usually there’s a main course (green beans stewed with tomatoes and potatoes, for example), a salad, a few side dishes, some cheese and some yogurt, and a soup. There are utensils, but the main utensil used is a hunk of bread. Rarely is a beverage served at this point — that comes later.
There are no individual plates — we eat communally from the dishes on the tray. The eating is fairly quick and there is little ceremony. Some families are quite talkative. Some others barely say a word and all you can hear is the sounds of eager munching.
When dinner is over the tray and the tablecloth are cleared from the room, and the family members — men, women, and children — push themselves back to rest against cushions leaning against the wall, or lay back on the couches, watch TV, and drink tea or coffee. After a few minutes the younger kids leave the room to do their homework and the teenagers leave the house to socialize with their friends.
These meals are easily my favorite aspect of the trip. It’s fun to share a meal with someone in a restaurant, and it’s touching when someone brings a tray of food for me to eat before bed in the mosque garden, but when someone invites me home to eat with the family, I get a taste of something I miss terribly on the road — closeness to others and cozy “family-ness.” All it takes is one family dinner, and I am theirs.
In December I’ll be guest speaking for a week at a school in Tarsus (www.tac.k12.tr).
The students are middle schoolers and high schoolers. The school and I are discussing subjects to talk about, but I’d like outside suggestions too. So bring ’em on.
An interesting little tidbit about this school — this is where Muhtar Kent, the current CEO of Coca Cola (not just in Turkey — the global company), went to school. The teacher tells me drinking Coca Cola in that town is a sign of loyalty to the school. 😉
By the way, the school heard about my walk when a teacher there saw the article on Outside magazine’s website.
What I do
I do communications coaching. I have two companies, Doppler Communications (helping startups and mid-sized manufacturers with their investment pitches), and Krause English (helping CEOs, CFOs, and boards with their language and presentation skills). My clients get projects approved and investments placed.
I have spent 50% of my adult life abroad, with stints living and working in China and in Turkey.
I have extensive international trade and operations experience, including supply chain management, ecommerce sales and customer service, and business communications coaching.