Tag Archives: people

The Fervent Kurd

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It was getting to be time to grab dinner, and a dusky glow was already starting to illuminate the narrow stone streets of the old city of Urfa. Danielle, Fabio and I were hungry from a long day of exploring the city, in all it’s ancient glory, so we decided to grab a quick dinner of pide and lahmacun at a cheap restaurant we passed the day before not far from our pensiyon.

View of Urfa

The night was still early, and few Turks were out eating at all when we slowly approached the glass fronted restaurant with a grill that spilled out onto the street in front. As soon the restaurant owner saw us, he passionately herded us down to sit at a table on the sidewalk in front of his small establishment. Business must have been slow that night, for, except to shepherd a few other customers into the restaurant or to give instructions, he spent the entire night by our table, earnestly explaining his situation.

“This is our soil, our soil, you understand?” He fervently expounded to us, over tea. “This is Mesopotamia, we’ve always been here. This land belongs to the Kurds, you know? If we have to, we should fight for it! The PKK,” he was shouting, but quickly took stock of the fact that he was in the street.

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The Fatalistic Bosnian

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“How was your flight coming in?” Dzemal asked me, as he grabbed my suitcase and loaded it into the back of his ’80s hatchback. “God willing it was a good flight. Did you come all the way from America?”

“No,” I replied, “I came from Turkey. I’ve been teaching English there.”

“Oh, Turkey! Very nice, I know a lot of people from Turkey. Some Turks are staying in the inn tonight. Maybe you can meet them. But I don’t know, maybe you won’t see them. It’s hard to know what will happen, you know?”

Fatalistic Bosnian
The street outside of Dzemal’s house.

Here we go, I thought to myself. It was nice of Dzemal to pick me up from the Sarajevo airport, but I can’t stand the idea of making small talk about possibly seeing some Turks who may or may not be staying in the hotel. 

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Polar Opposites

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“So, how did you meet each other?” I asked the two girls sitting across from me, seemingly polar opposites. One was a fast talking bubbly girl, with long hair and designer clothes. Her friend, on the other hand, was much less energetic and spoke softly. A scarf covered her hair and a dull red overcoat covered her clothes.

“Us?” the bubbly girl asked. “Well, we went to the same dershane (basically extra prep-classes for the college exam) together and we had a mutual friend who introduced us.”

“We didn’t like each other at all, at first,” the other girl pipped in.

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An Ottoman Warrior

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“I have a lot of problems with the Turkish Republic,” he said with a big smile on his face. “I do not like the Turkish Republic. I like Ottoman. I am an Ottoman warrior,” he continued as he munched on an egg and sipped some tea.

“Why is that?” I asked inquisitively. Usually, the answer has to do with politics and how ethnic minorities feel as if they are being assimilated into the overall Turkish sphere.

“Religion!” he put in triumphantly. “Turkey ignores religion. It says Islam is not important, but we are Muslim. We are a Muslim country. It is important that we follow our religion. For this reason, I like Iran. I want Turkey to be like Iran.”

I was amazed. This was the first I had ever heard of anyone in Turkey, no matter how religious they were, openly saying that they wanted a system in Turkey like that of Iran – people always insisted on the opposite.

“You like Iran then,” I said cautiously, unsure of how to proceed.

“Yes, definitely,” he continued as he poured us more tea. “Iran is very good, except for violence towards women. They throw stones at women, kill women. This is bad. You know, I read the Qur’an and it does not say these things. So that violence is very bad.”

“Right, it says be merciful to people, right?”

“Yes, yes, exactly.”

We sat in a short lived silence, as we continued working on our breakfast. “But I do like Iran, you know. I think all women should be covered. You see some women and you think what are they doing. It’s very bad.”

“Yeah… What about alcohol, though? Should that be banned?”

“Absolutely. I never drank alcohol, it is forbidden.”

“Right, but what about for Christian or Jewish people? They need alcohol for their religion. Can they drink it?”

For a second here my friend, the Ottoman warrior, faltered. Although he continued to have his big welcoming smile, you can tell he was trying to work out a conundrum in his head. Within a second though he had recovered.

“Yes, yes, of course they can. You know, I read a lot of Nietzsche. You know Nietzsche? My family always asks me why I have these books. ‘God is dead!’ But for me, no problem. I like reading, I like new ideas. People are people, you know. So for Christians if you need to drink, you can drink. No problem.”

“The Ottomans were like that, right? Every group had their own laws, it was very tolerant.”

“Yes, yes. You know, I am a soft Islamist. Every person is special, so you should not hurt or kill anyone. If I cut you or  I cut myself, it is the same blood, yes? We hurt the same.”

“People are people,” I murmured in agreement.

We sipped our tea and sat for a few moments, admiring the beauty of the traditional Mardin courtyard we found ourselves in.

“So tell me, friend” he said slapping me on the back. “What do you do?”

“I am a teacher,” I replied smiling, expecting the normal positive response that I get from Turks.

“Teachers? I hate teachers,” he said with a big smile. “You know, I was a teacher for a while. Then they arrested me. I was in prison for two months.”

“Why, what happened?”

“In class I told them all how I hated the Turkish Republic, and I was an Ottoman warrior,” he said laughing. “They were not happy.”

The Kindness of Strangers Kars

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Whenever I travel, I generally come across the extreme friendliness of the Turkish people, although up until now this has been most pronounced in Malatya and Urfa. I say up until now because the kindness of strangers Kars version is by far the best I’ve ever been treated; I have never been made to feel more welcomed in my life.

Where Russia and Turkey Met

After exploring Kars and Ani for a day with my friend Ben, who you may remember from Antakya, we each went our separate ways for my second day in the city. Having seen everything worthy of note in the city during my first day, I planned to resummit the castle and read a book in a cafe overlooking the city. Halfway up the summit, daydreaming as usual, I was interrupted by an urgent:

“Excuse me! Excuse me!”

Turning around, an eager woman started walking quickly towards me. “Where are you from?” she asked with a huge smile.

“I’m from America.”

Instantly she switched into broken English. “America?! Oh, that’s wonderful! Why are you in Kars? Did you read Kar, Orhan Pamuk’s novel? All the foreigners come here because of that book. I don’t understand.”

“No,” I smiled, “I came here to see Ani. I’m an English teacher in Malatya.”

“You? You are teacher? But you’re very young! I have a teacher now, from England. But she is very bad. I don’t like her at all.”

Kindness of Kurds

This chit-chat continued until we found ourselves at the top of the castle, where two of her friends were waiting. “Do you know Kurdish?”

“No, sorry,” I said, with a lame smile.

“All of us Kurds, from Batman,” she proclaimed. “This is my friend Mesut, and Şirin. I forgot, my name is Hazal.” This set off a rapid exchange in Kurdish between all three of them. “You like join us?”

“Absolutely.”

“Good. You should learn some Kurdish.”

“Actually, I know a little,” I said. “Maybe like five or six words…” And here I quickly exhausted all my Kurdish knowledge, like: hello, how are you, and my name is. It was all I needed. Before I could wrap my head around it, Mesut and Şirin both had their arms around me and were speaking about everything and anything in Turkish to me, even faster to each other in Kurdish, all the while throwing out whatever random English words they knew.

After a quick exploration of the city and some photo shoots (completely prompted by them), I was being guided towards an old Russian church turned mosque on the other side of the city. Not wanting to disappoint them, I didn’t let them know I had already seen it.

Kindness of Kurds

“My family is very poor,” Hazal continued as we made our way through the city. “I am the oldest with five brothers and sisters. I could not go to school, I had to work to help my family. But I had a dream of being an English teacher. My father said you’re crazy, my mother  said you’re breaking my heart, my brother said you can do it. So I bought all the books and I studied alone for the exams. I passed them, and now I am studying to be teacher at Kars.”

“That’s amazing. You must be very hard working, but I’m sorry your parents were so hard.”

“No problem, no problem. My parents are funny. My dad is a leftist, my mom is very religious and hates him. But my father loves her and always says ‘We are married for thirty years. I don’t need you to love me.'”

“Okay, come on, come on,” Mesut interjected as we had reached the mosque. “Come on, let’s go inside.”

Once inside, Mesut and Şirin insisted on us taking pictures together on the condition that I would share them on Facebook. Şirin even had me partially climb the spiral staircase to the upper floor of the mosque for a good photo-op.

Kindness of Kurds

Then, before I knew it, somehow we had ended up at Mesut’s student house and I was partaking in a Kurdish version of menemen – Kurdish only because it had an inclusion of hot peppers – eaten with hands and chunks of bread and tea spread out on a tablecloth on the floor. Despite there being at least ten other guests for lunch, I was the guest. As such, I was made to eat thirds and fourths way past everyone else had managed to stop eating… Not that I was complaining.

Come Sit On The Grass

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My morning class ended early today. The students were supposed to give presentations, but half the class didn’t show up because they took the National Collegiate Exam yesterday. The students who did come, though, were the creme de la creme. So, to reward them – and also because I had apparently promised them – I found myself ushering them all as quietly as possible past the directors office, out of the building, and onto the lawn outside.

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Jewish Turkish Cultural Similarities

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The other day I was having tea with one of my good friends, when for some reason I decided to tell her the following joke about Jewish mothers:

One Hannukah a mother gives to her son two sweaters – a red one and a blue one. The son is very happy, so the next day he decides to wear the blue sweater to show his mother how much he loved the gifts. As soon as he walks downstairs the mother looks him over and says, “So, you didn’t like the red one?” 

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World of Graffiti

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I’ve noticed that the more I travel the more interested I become in smaller intricacies of each city I see – particularly graffiti. Having just come back home to Malatya from almost three weeks of traveling in Istanbul, Germany and Israel, I am amazed by the amount of amazingly artistic work I saw and the range of topics covered. Particularly interesting was how a large portion of all the art was in English – I guess the world of graffiti is flat.

world of graffiti
Welcome to Tel Aviv – The city’s watching you

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Küçük Şeytan

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During my time in Malatya I’ve made friends with a few families living in my university neighborhood. For the most part they all have small children and work in the hospital on campus. In exchange for giving some free basic English lessons to their children, the families usually invite me over for dinner and provide some hands on Turkish practice.

It’s mostly the food that’s important, though.

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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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A Modern Muslim

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“Do you drink?” Füsun asked me as I got in her car.

“Yeah, sometimes I guess,” I tried to respond coyly.

“Oh, wonderful! You’ll come over for dinner next week and meet my husband. Make sure to bring wine, though! We both drink.”

“Really?”

“Yes, yes! I am a modern Muslim! I don’t cover – I think covered women look so ugly – and I drink. A modern Muslim, I am a modern Muslim woman!” Füsun continued to rant like this switching between broken English and Turkish on the ten minute ride she gave me from the campus shopping market to my apartment.

“Really!” she insisted, bright red dyed hair glinting in the street lights in front of the apartment, “We would love to have you over for dinner next Wednesday. Okay?”

“Uh, yeah, sure” I smiled back at her.

“Wonderful! See you then, iyi akşamlar!” hung in the air as she sped away back to her own apartment.

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