Category Archives: Travel

Turkish Proverbs and Idioms (Part 2)

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Back by (my own) popular demand, here is part two of my series of posts about Turkish proverbs and idioms – exciting!

Sonuna düşünen kahraman olamaz. 

“The one thinking about the end can not be a hero.” I’m not really sure when you would hear this said. I don’t even really remember how I learned this, but I had it conveniently saved in my phone so here it is. I can just imagine some Turkish martial arts movie, though, where the old wise sensei encourages the young student with this droplet of wisdom.

Damlaya damlaya göl olur.

“Drop by drop it becomes a lake.” According to my student this is only ever used in the context of saving money. It is straightforward enough – save enough, and you’ll end up with a huge amount of money.

Hanım köylü.

“From the wife’s village.” This is just the Turkish way of saying that the husband is whipped. Whipped to such a degree, in fact, that he picked up and moved to her hometown.

Hayal kırıklığına uğratmak. 

“To arrive at broken dreams.” This is the idiomatic way of saying that you are frustrated with something. I love the imagery of how being frustrated is associated with a broken dream.

____ senin köpeğin olsun.

“May ____ be your dog.” Dogs are not very highly regarded in Turkey, or actually in Muslim society in general. As such, saying “may ____ be your dog” means that the thing is valueless to you. For example, if someone asks if they can use your car you can respond in this way. It essentially means “of course!” or “what’s it to me?” Apparently this phrase should never be used for food or money, though, as then it becomes offensive as they are necessary for survival.

Where History And Modernity Collide

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Our meeting with Fırsat on the bus to Hatay proved to truly be an auspicious start to one of the most enjoyable weekends I’ve spent in Turkey yet. Although, if I had to wager, I would say that it would be very difficult to not enjoy a weekend in the old city of Antioch – in very few places have I truly gotten the feeling of a vibrant city feeling right at home being the place where history and modernity collide.

For example, although being on the border with Syria and having a strong Middle Eastern influence, Hatay was extremely casual in terms of dress. Whereas Malatya is much more conservative with any inter-sex displays of affection or any sort of daring clothing, women in Hatay “commonly wear mini-skirts, if you’ve noticed” as Fırsat had earlier put it with a wink at me and Fabio over tea. This is all the more interesting when put into context – you’re almost as likely to see a Syrian rebel enjoying some R&R in Hatay in full combat fatigues or military boots as one of these modern ladies.

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The Eager Alawi

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Taking the overnight bus from Malatya to Hatay with Danielle and Fabio, I immediately cursed my bad luck as I was forced to sit next to a wide squat Turk who was expanding into my seat. No sleep for me, I thought to myself; of course, I was wrong. I fell asleep almost immediately and did not truly stir until we arrived in Hatay province.

Still with a half hour to go until we reached our final destination – the city of Hatay, formerly known as Antakya, the old city of Antioch – my seat mate and I made eye contact and started to chit-chat.

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Turkish Proverbs

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Proverbs and idioms are something that fascinate me to no end. The sayings of a language contain much more information than a cursory glance would suggest, and really provide a handle in which to explore the underlying culture and beliefs of a society. In English proverbs and idioms seem almost regulated to a back burner of as a novelty or cliche; in Turkish, however, idioms are a major part of every day conversation and carry significant weight and wisdom.

So, without further ado, here is a quick list of some great Turkish proverbs I have tried my best to remember over the last three months:

Memleketin doğduğun yer değil, doyduğun yerdir.
“Your home isn’t where you are born, but where you eat to satisfaction.” A coworkers wife told me this last night and said it should become my slogan (which could be easy enough judging by how much I eat in Turkey). Originally being from Ankara, she said, it has already become hers too.
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Feeling Like a Foreigner

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When you travel – even within the same country, for instance from the North East of America to the Deep South or the West of Turkey to the East – it is only natural to at times be self-consciously overwhelmed by feeling like a foreigner. Traveling to a different country, where the language and culture is different, only compounds this feeling. During my first stay in Turkey, a two month intensive language program in Ankara, I suffered a lot from culture shock. I think it was only to be expected.

Luckily, my stay so far in Malatya has really been free of any problems; however, I have noticed something about living abroad that I would never had thought of otherwise. Namely, the difference between being a foreigner and feeling like a foreigner.

For instance, I am a foreigner here in Turkey. The way I hold myself, dress, speak and react are all different enough from the locals for people to realize that I am not from around here and there is very little I can do about that – at least immediately. Turks, by and large though, absolutely love foreigners and try their best to be as hospitable and helpful as possible. I have had random men who I’ve asked for directions go out of their way to ensure that I arrive safely at my destination. Speaking a little bit of Turkish does help to grease the wheels, but people are generally overjoyed to help.

In this way, being a foreigner in Turkey really has very few problems associated with it; people truly strive and welcoming as possible. I am actively encouraged to think of this new country as my new home. Although I am a foreigner here, I am not made to feel like one – the country is incredibly inclusive, at least in my experience. For example, while on my way to Harput last week another passenger on the mini-bus realized I was a foreigner and insisted on sharing his snacks with me. He then went on to lecture me about how I had to visit Izmir, smiling the whole time.

Feeling like a foreigner, on the other hand, can happen anywhere – even if your own country or hometown. This feeling isn’t linked to you nearly as much as it is linked to your circumstances. For example, I am sure everyone has had that one experience of being at a party or a meeting in which you felt unwelcome and excluded; you did not belong, and you felt like a foreigner. Obviously being in a different country, where the language and culture is different, can easily lead to the feeling of being a foreigner.

For the three months that I have been in Turkey so far, I can think of maybe one or two examples at most of when I truly felt I did not belong. The first was in Istanbul, where at a restaurant I was charged five times the normal amount for a cup of tea – the foreigner price – that I begrudgingly had to pay. The second example was when I was having a conversation with a few Turks. When they asked me a question, and I stumbled to respond, they turned to each other and said “Oh, he doesn’t understand!” and then laughed about it.

Overall, though, these are two minor occurrences that I truly had to rack my head about to think of. I am truly lucky to be in a country where, although I an undoubtedly a foreigner, I am almost never made to feel that way. Turkey has, at least for the year that I am here, truly become my new home; as it is Thanksgiving in America as I post this, I can say that I am truly grateful for that.

The Ruins of Harput

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This past weekend, after being completed exhausted from my Istanbul trip, I decided to take it easy and relax in, and around, Malatya for a change; however, I very quickly became antsy – no matter how much Breaking Bad I was watching – and I decided to go check out the old city of Harput in Elazığ, Malatya’s neighboring province and longtime rival. I had thought I would be alone, having only made plans Friday night for Saturday, but my German neighbor Suzanne was also intrigued and volunteered to come along with me.

Harput kalesi

 

So, on Saturday we set out together. After a bus into the city center of Malatya, a mini-bus from Malatya to the center of Elazığ, another mini-bus to a different bus terminal, and then a final short bus ride we had arrived at Harput. Harput reminded me instantly of Battalgazı – b0th are smaller, historic cities that are quickly becoming depopulated and swallowed up by the new city built below it. Whereas Elazığ is a thoroughly modern city, Harput has apparently been the city of dwellings – and castles – since at least the 8th century BC. Pretty intense!

Harput kalesi

 

The original reason that I had set my eyes on visiting Harput was its historical significance. One of the first cities built by the Turks when they arrived in Anatolia, the city remained an important trade-hub and strategic location up through the fall of the Ottoman Empire; today, however, much of the city’s former greatness has been lost following a devastating earthquake a few decades ago. The city is only now truly being restored to it’s former glory. Due to this, the Harput kalesi – which I had hoped to be thoroughly impressed by – was a bit of a let down as only the stronger outer walls survived the devastation.

harput kalesi

The views from the castle’s summit outpost continued to be fantastic, though, especially since modern Elazığ is built in the valley below. I had also been hoping to be able to explore the castle’s dungeons – which one housed Count Baldwin, a crusader king – but they were also unfortunately blocked off. By complete chance, though, Suzanne and I stumbled upon the remains of Mother Mary Church – now just the collapsing outer walls of what was once probably a beautiful structure. This, and the peaceful fall colors of the surrounding hills, made up for any disappointment the castle may have caused.

harput kalesi

harput kalesi

Mother Mary Church

After what we wrongly presumed would be a light lunch – typically – Suzanne and I visited the other famous sight of Harput, Ulu Camii (the Grand Mosque). Although not incredibly interesting or beautiful without context – it is a simple rectangular mosque, which is technically interesting since it follows the Arab design instead of the round design the Turks would later adopt from Orthodox Christians – the mosque is renowned for two reasons: it is one of the first mosques built by the Turks in Anatolia, and it also has a famous leaning minaret which is still in use although it constantly looks ready to topple.

Ulu Camii, Harput

 

On the way back from the mosque we also stumbled upon the shrine, and burial sight, of Mansur Baba – a Sufi saint from the region. Apparently Harput is full of folk heroes and saint shrines, but unfortunately we did not have time to find the rest and we begin our multiple bus trips back to Malatya.

Mansur Baba türbani

 

All in all, Harput may not have been the most amazing place I have seen in Turkey. I did see a beautiful sunset from the mountains there, though, and the historical context of the area certainly made it fascinating in retrospect. There is something about visiting historical sights, especially when they are still living, that truly helps to put give life some sort of, perhaps not perspective, but emphasis.

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Harput

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Harput

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Culture Shock

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It was Friday night, and I was staring at a restaurant menu along with three other Fulbrighters in shock. The prices listed were at best twice as expensive as anything I’d seen. Even more surprising, alcohol – several types of alcohol, to be exact – were listed alongside the food. Quickly, the restaurant that had only a few minutes before sat only us, began to fill up as more and more people came in from the street. I can’t believe this, I thought to myself, I’m going through culture shock. Where am I? 

I was in Istanbul, and I had never felt further from Malatya.

Culture Shock from Malatya
I swear there are more people on Istiklal than I see in Malatya on a normal day.

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Fairy Tale Amasya

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This past week I’ve been a bit incommunicado as it was a combination of two holidays – Kurban Bayramı and Cumhuriyet Bayramı – so I have been traveling for the past ten days. Cumhuriyet Bayramı is Republic Day in Turkey, and celebrates the founding of the modern Turkish Republic. Worth noting, though, is that Kurban Bayramı is the Feast of Sacrifice Holiday, and it celebrates the moment in Islam when Abraham almost sacrificed his son Ishmael – not Isaac, as in Judaism and Christianity – to God. Just an interesting note.

Anyway, for the holidays I decided to visit my old host family in Ankara with a three day stopover in Amasya on the way, which allowed me to visit my friends Kate and Erin posted there. I already had fairly high expectations of Amasya from what I had read online, as well as the photographs I saw Erin post on Facebook; however, I was not prepared for how blown away by the city I would be.

Fairy Tale Amasya
My “being blown away” face

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Urfa’s Wild Nightlife

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Before I went to Urfa, I imagined the city – the center of religious pilgrimage in Turkey – to have a very quiet and conservative nightlife. Indeed, a good amount of the population is conservative, I’m sure. Except for the three or four women I saw in full black chadors, though, I saw no outwards sign of religion. Well, except for all the mosques. This didn’t put a damper of the city’s nightlife in the least bit, however.

After a long day seeing sights Friday, I went to a guest house – Türkü Konağı – for an early dinner; I was lured in by their sign claiming to have live music every night. I must have arrived way earlier than any expected customers, though, as all the workers of the hotel were sitting together about to have their own dinner. When I ordered food, they brought me a luke-warm chicken kebab wrap. Not wanting to raise a fuss, but also not wanting to risk eating this – I was warned about food-poisoning in Urfa – I made up an excuse to the waiter and was heading towards to the door when one of the eating workers gestured to an open seat next to me and told me to sit.

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The Kindness of Strangers, Urfa

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Besides seeing the sights of Urfa, I spent a surprising amount of my time in the city also conversing with the locals. Usually, it was just polite pleasantries, although I did have three long drawn out conversations with locals who I believe – for the most part – meant well deep down.

My first such encounter was during lunch on Friday. I was having a small lunch in a cafe at the Balıklıgöl complex when a man came over and sat at my table. At first we were just making chit-chat about what I thought of Urfa and what I was doing in Turkey. Then, very quickly, the man steered the conversation towards how he would love to take me around the province in his car and show me the sights.

It was all okay, he reassured me. He had done the same thing with a couple from the Netherlands that morning, and they loved it! When he still sensed I was hesitant, he pointed towards two men sitting down in the distance. “They’re police officers,” he said. “They’re my friends and we will ask them what they think of me. They will say I’m trustworthy, I know it.”

After we finished lunch and walked over to the men sitting down, they did indeed seem to be off-duty police officers and they did vouch for Yilmaz’s supposed trustworthy credentials. So, I followed Yilmaz to the El-Ruha hotel which was directly outside of the complex; he wanted to show me the hotel since it was built on some ancient caverns that the hotel had turned into dining rooms – it was really cool, and surprisingly swanky.

Urfa Cave

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Şanlıurfa, Glorious Urfa

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Never has a city evoked so many varied emotions from me within such an exceptionally small space of time as Şanlıurfa – Glorious Urfa – managed to do this past weekend. The three days I spent there were actually so amazingly eventful, and unexpected in the most peculiar ways, that I will be splitting my experience into three posts. This one will focus on the city of Urfa itself, in all its glory.

View of Glorious Urfa

I left Malatya for Urfa at 5:30 AM, and I was lucky enough to arrive on a quick intercity bus – made by Mercedes Benz with personal TVs, which I did not take advantage of as I promptly fell back asleep – by around 10:30 in the morning.

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Look On My Works, Ye Mighty, And Despair

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Look On My Works[quote style=”1″]I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read…
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
-Ozymandias, Percy Bysshe Shelley
[/quote]

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