Ulu Camii, Battalgazı

Mehmet’s Kindness


(Mehmet’s Kindness picks up from where The Kindness of Strangers leaves off)

Gorged from the unexpectedly massive lunch of Turkish kebaps, we made our ways towards the bus stop to catch a minibus towards Battalgazı – the site of Old Malatya, which still contains old Roman walls and other historic artifacts. Our end goal was to see an old Ottoman caravansary as well as an even older Seljuk mosque, Ulu Camii, from the turn of the 13th century. It was on this minibus that we met Mehmet, who was collecting money from passengers to help out his uncle, the driver.

The renovated Ottoman caravansary.

“Ooh, American. Are you American?” Mehmet asked Danielle and Fabio on the bus when he heard them speaking English.

“Well, I’m American and he’s Italian,” Danielle responded.

“Very nice! It’s nice to speak English again. I haven’t practiced for two years.”

“It’s very good!” Danielle and Fabio assured him. “Where did you learn?”

“Istanbul. Grand Bazaar, you know it? I worked there for ten years. I learned English from tourists.”

The pleasantries continued for a little while, until I asked him where we should get off for , telling him we wanted to see the mosque there. He assured us it was no problem, and he’d show us the stop.

As we pulled into the center of Battalgazı – a wide dusty square with tens of old men sitting around on low stools drinking tea and fruit sellers on the street – Mehmet got out of the minibus with us.

“Okay,” he said. “The caravansary is there,” he pointed.

“Thank you, have a nice day!” we said.

“Wait!” He looked confused. “Don’t you want me to show you around?” And so Mehmet, telling his uncle he wanted to help the tourists, appointed himself as our guide for the city. Graciously he took us around to the caravansary, telling us whatever history he knew – it was built in Ottoman times to house passing trade caravans (the word in Turkish, kervansaray, literally means caravan palace), and now is used as a place for local craftspeople to display and sell their wares.

Inside the caravansary.

After the caravansary, Mehmet guided us towards the mosque – Ulu Camii. He said he was more than happy to do all of this to help out his new friends, as well as managing to practice his English. Once he found out I spoke a little Turkish, he also encouraged me to speak so that I could improve as well.

Ulu Camii, although not much to look at from the outside, had a sort of unexplainable power within: maybe it was knowing that the mosque was over 700 years old and still had worshipers within it; maybe it was the plush carpets underfoot, or the general peace within it; or maybe it was due to the elaborate tile work in the courtyard, that was still impressive after centuries of wear and tear. Whatever the case, Ulu Camii certainly was grand in a demure way.

Ulu Camii, Battalgazı

Ulu Camii

Ulu Camii

mosque tiles

After satisfying our touristic desires, Mehmet took us to the central square of Battalgazı where he happily bought us tea and Turkish coffee. “You are my guests!” he insisted, when we tried to pay. “I will pay. Please.”

Finally, Mehmet took us all back to his house to meet his family and relax in his living room. Again, he provided us with more tea and baklava – some of the best I’ve ever had. His entire family was just as warm and welcoming as he was – with his uncle being especially pleased to have guests, and even happier to hear that we were loving our time in Turkey so far. Although Mehmet offered us dinner, we sadly had to leave – as well as still being full from the BBQ numerous hours later.

We had Mehmet over for dinner last night. Hopefully that approximates the kindness he showed us, although it is still far from it.

Penny for your thoughts