As I entered the village I greeted a young man coming out of one of the houses. We chatted for a moment, and then I asked him if there was anyone at the mosque a couple hundred meters down the road towards the village. He said that if there wasn’t, there were a couple more mosques in the village proper (a couple kilometers further off the highway), and I could try there, too. The imam, he said, would be very helpful. I asked him what the imam’s name was. He said he didn’t know who the imam was. I walked to the first mosque. It had a huge garden with multiple places to camp. I stood near the door and waited for someone to show up. It was getting colder, though, and darker, so after twenty minutes I decided to try one of the houses at the back of the lot and see if anyone was home.
Someone was home. A young girl answered the door while an older woman wearing a scarf over her head, her mother, I figured, hovered in the background drying her hands on a dish towel. She appeared to be preparing dinner. There was no man of the house in sight. I knew what the answer would be before I even opened my mouth. I told the woman that I had been walking and that I was looking for a place to camp for the night. I wondered if I could camp in their garden. She told me no, that would not be possible.
I continued the kilometer or two into the village proper. The village had two bakkals so I estimated the population was around 1,000.
It was dark out by then, and I could not see much. I stepped into one of the bakkals. It was very busy, teeming with children out of school for the day buying candy and adults just off work coming in for bread and other household goods. “Hello,” I called out.
“‘Allo,” answered a teenager behind the counter. “How can I help you?” He asked in Turkish.
I told him what I was doing, and that I was looking for a place to camp for the night. I asked if there was a place nearby where I could camp.
By then some of the adults had gathered around. They and the teenager began commenting on how cold it was getting at night. I assured them it would be no problem, that in my backpack I had everything I needed for cold-weather camping.
They began chattering amongst themselves but since I was having a hard time with the Konya accent I couldn’t understand them.
I asked the teenager again, “Is there a place I could camp nearby?
“They are looking for a place for you,” he said.
That was almost always a good sign. I’d learned by then that when a group of adults said they were looking for a place, it meant they had taken upon themselves the responsibility of finding a place for me to stay, and that if I were just patient, they would find one. In fact, the places they found tended to be better than the ones I would be satisfied with. At the end of the day, I just wanted a flat spot hidden from the prying eyes of unknown strangers. If that meant a grove of trees outside in the cold, that was perfectly fine with me. But when people told me they were looking for a place, it usually meant they were looking for a sheltered spot indoors.
I sat down in the bakkal amidst the hubbub of people coming and going. A few of them chatted with me for a bit, others just bought their stuff and left in a hurry. After about an hour sitting in the bakkal, the teenager’s father came in and took over the post behind the counter. He and his son had a brief conversation which I gathered was about my situation as they kept glancing over at me. Finally the father said something and the teenager grabbed some keys from the wall and told me to follow him. I grabbed my pack and followed him to a building across the street. He unlocked the door, pushed into the first room, and began rearranging some benches to create a path to the second room. This was a school for Koran classes, but the classrooms hadn’t been used in a year or so, and the rooms were cluttered and dusty. The first room had a cement floor, but the second room’s floor was carpeted. One of the other teenagers who had come in behind us laid out some additional carpets.
“So it will be nice and soft,” he said, patting the floor.
A few other teenagers who had followed us in grabbed a large trash bag and covered up a broken window. The teenagers asked if I would be okay there. I told them this would be great, and I thanked them profusely. They asked if I was hungry or thirsty. I assured them I had already eaten and that I’d had plenty to drink. I told them when I would be leaving in the morning. The first teenager said the bakkal would be open at that time, just stop by and say goodbye and leave the keys. They wished me goodnight, handed me the keys, and closed the door behind them. By that time it was about 6:30 p.m. There was no light in the second room, but there was indirect light from the first room. I set up my tent, took care of some other housekeeping details, and stretched my legs and feet. By that time it was about 7:00 p.m. It was dark. I was cold, and I had nothing to do. I was also extremely tired from the day’s walk, so I turned in early. About 7:30 p.m. there was a banging on the front door. I got up to answer. An older man wanted to find out who I was, and who had told me it was okay to stay there. That happened quite often — a village might be small, but communication was not instantaneous or tight. He was easily satisfied, and I closed the door (leaving it open a crack, though) and went back to my tent.
About 8:00 p.m. the teenager from the bakkal and one of his friends came to check on me. They made sure I was comfortable and not in need of anything, and then they took their leave.
I stayed up until about 9pm and then fell asleep.
Wednesday, 14 November
At 7:00 in the morning, I packed up my stuff, wrote a thank you note, and walked across the street to return the keys and say goodbye.
Mehmet bey, the village mayor, was there to greet me. We chatted for a bit and exchanged phone numbers. I asked him the village’s population. He said 1,200. I congratulated myself for seeing reality yet again hold up my “one bakkal per 500 people” theory.
Mehmet bey asked me what religion I was. At first he had thought I was Muslim, because in my thank you note I used a phrase people say to me often (“Allah sizi korur,” god protects you.). I told him I was not Muslim. He suggested that I convert. I thanked him for his suggestion and said we all love the same god. He liked that. He liked the thank you note and told me he would post it in a prominent place as a memento from the time a foreigner came to stay in their village.
At that point the bakkal became very busy with the day’s field workers stopping by for bread for their lunchtime, so I took my leave and headed out to the main highway.
On the road out of the village a man greeted me near the mosque where the woman had told me the night before I could not camp. He apologized and said that they actually had a spare room, and that had he been home when I arrived it would have been no problem. I assured him that it was not a problem anyway, that I had found a nice place to stay inside the village.
I reached the main road a few minutes later and began my day’s walk south.”
I felt happy and congratulated myself that I had pushed myself to keep going when I wanted to hop a bus to go back Konya where there the surroundings were familiar and there were people I’d already met.